With their first update since buying this innovative spectral editing software, Steinberg have integrated it into ARA-compatible DAW programs.
Spectral editing is a powerful, if specialised, tool that has applications in audio restoration, creative sound design, vocal/instrument isolation and forensic audio analysis. As yet, though, it hasn't become a staple technique in mainstream music production. There are perhaps three main reasons for this. First, the most popular software choices operate as stand-alone editors, with limited DAW integration. Second, spectral editing is very different in nature from conventional waveform editing. Third, the available spectral editing software generally comes with a suitably specialist price tag.
With the release of SpectraLayers Pro 6, Steinberg are beginning to tackle the first of these issues. One of the major new features of this release — Steinberg's first update since they acquired it from Magix — is support for the ARA2 plug-in protocol. If your DAW or audio editing host supports ARA2, as Steinberg's own Cubase Pro 10 and Nuendo 10 both do, you can now run SpectraLayers within that host as an ARA2 extension. This should help to integrate spectral editing more easily within a music-production context.
Unlike conventional waveform-based editing, where you work with a two-dimensional representation of your audio showing amplitude against time, spectral editing displays frequency against time, and superimposes the amplitude of the audio at any given frequency using brightness (or colour) gradations. Most spectral editors, SLP6 included, also offer a 3D representation as a display option, giving you a perspective view on the amplitude dimension.
Although even inexperienced users will soon begin to 'see' elements of their audio within the spectral display, such as transients, sustained sounds and melodic lines, editing within this view is a completely different experience from conventional waveform splicing. It can therefore take some time to become comfortable with the spectral editing process and feel you can do something useful with it. That said, the potential of the approach has been evident since SOS first looked at (then Sony's) SpectraLayers Pro 1 back in the October 2012 issue, and a quick dip into the SOS archives would be worthwhile as I'll focus here on the more significant changes and additions in this first Steinberg release.
A couple of introductory points are worth emphasising though. First, spectral editing may be an unfamiliar environment, but the process (and the SpectraLayers user interface) has something in common with photographic image editing. This is a comparison Steinberg are keen to encourage, describing SLP6 as the "advanced audio editing tool you already know". Second, having reached version 6, the rough edges Nick Rothwell mentioned in his 2012 review have received plenty of extra polish, and SLP6 now feels like a mature application. It's also worth noting that SLP6 can work with mono, stereo and surround audio formats. So what's new?