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Steinberg Wavelab v1.6

Audio Editor Upgrade By Martin Walker
Published October 1997

The latest upgrade to WaveLab version 1.6 includes CD writing in its arsenal. Martin Walker loads up and dives in...

As sequencers sprout ever more real‑time audio facilities such as EQ and effects, stand‑alone stereo editing programs face an increasingly hard time. The 'Big Two' — WaveLab and Sound Forge — are both restricted to editing a single mono or stereo file. This is fine in multimedia work, for producing spot effects in film and game work, or editing individual music tracks. However, for adding high‑quality effects to music on a track‑by‑track basis, using a separate editor has limitations. The only way to avoid committing yourself to a fixed level of effects is to use your editor to create a separate 'effects only' WAV file. You can then run this as an additional track in your MIDI + Audio sequencer, changing its playback level to adjust the effect 'return' level. The disadvantages of this are that you use an additional audio track (more PC resources used up, and fewer tracks available for other audio purposes), and that if the effect settings need later tweaking, the effect track will have to be re‑recorded in the editor. The arrival of real‑time plug‑in effects removes this limitation and, now that sequencers can increasingly take advantage of this technology, we're able to carry out all these treatments in real time, direct from the sequencer. It would seem that this makes the separate editor largely redundant — so where does this leave WaveLab and Sound Forge?

Since the forte of these programs has always been real‑time stereo processing, the obvious solution is for them to concentrate on features more suitable for stereo mastering, rather than for multitrack audio recording. It's no surprise, then, that both editors are now having additional CD‑R facilities added to their arsenals, to turn them into stand‑alone mastering programs able to take a stereo file, tweak it for best quality, and then write an audio CD. WaveLab 1.6 is first off the starting blocks, with a new upgrade that shows significant improvements on the previous 1.5 version.

Plugging The Gap

Even on its initial, version 1.0, release, WaveLab was a mature and stable editing platform, but the first major upgrade, to version 1.5, added a large batch of improvements, the most significant being a range of plug‑in effects that could operate in real time. Thankfully, WaveLab 1.6 doesn't need a more powerful machine than 1.5 — a Pentium 133MHz processor or better, a minimum of 16Mb RAM, and either the Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0 operating system. If you read my 'Bottleneck Blues' feature in the August issue of SOS, you'll already know that a true Pentium will give much better performance than the Cyrix chips, and that realistically you need at least a 166MHz device if you intend to run a few plug‑ins in real time.

One of the significant new features in version 1.6 is support for DMSS (DirectX Media Streaming Services — see my July PC Notes column for further details). With the arrival of DMSS, a rare thing has emerged — a cross‑application standard, that allows plug‑ins from one manufacturer to run in applications written by any other that adheres to the DMSS guidelines. The list of such applications is growing, and at the time of writing (late June) stands at WaveLab 1.6 and Sound Forge 4.0a/4.0b, as well as Cakewalk Pro Audio 6; the PC version of Cubase VST is hiding in the wings and is due in late August. Hopefully, DMSS should mean that software developers will move some of the existing Mac plug‑in designs across to the PC platform, since their potential market for PC plug‑ins has effectively quadrupled. To look at it another way, an added benefit for users is that you can use the same DMSS plug‑in for both CD mastering and multitrack recording.

WaveLab 1.6 recognises every installed DMSS plug‑in — the first time I ran the program it already had the entire contents of my Waves Native Power Pack in its list, along with the CFX effects supplied with Cakewalk Pro Audio 6.0. Unfortunately, the bundled plug‑ins that arrive with WaveLab remain resolutely non‑DMSS, so although they appear in the WaveLab selection list they will not be available to any other DMSS‑compatible program. Steinberg say that these bundled plug‑ins are likely to remain as they are; otherwise, all the world and his dog would copy them for use with other programs. The only bonus of this approach is that the dedicated plug‑ins take slightly less processor overhead than the DMSS ones. Although the more expensive (and copy protected) plug‑ins for WaveLab — such as the DeNoiser, DeClicker, Spectraliser and Red Valve‑It — currently only work with WaveLab, the next upgrades for these will probably have DMSS compatibility. Sound Forge, Cakewalk Pro Audio and Cubase VST owners can then also use them, giving Steinberg a bigger potential market.

Marking Time

Steinberg have completely overhauled their audio file marker system for CD‑R use. There are now three basic types of marker:

  • Generic
  • Temporary
  • CD Track

Generic markers are saved with the file, whereas temporary ones are not. CD Track markers include Track Start, Track End, Track Boundary (a single marker that is both the end of one and the start of another), and Track Sub‑index (used to pinpoint sections within a single CD Track, but largely ignored when played back on consumer CD players).

This is (as far as I know) the first all‑in‑one package that allows graphical waveform editing and CD burning without making you leap in and out of several programs.

There's a useful 'Quantise to CD frame' option for Track Ends and Boundaries, which moves the marker to coincide exactly with a CD frame (each frame written to the CD is 588 samples long). Leaving the option box unchecked allows WaveLab to add a tiny amount of silence to the pause between tracks, to ensure that the Track End marker is exactly on this boundary. However, if you need to place a marker in the middle of a live set, this option is extremely useful, as it simply moves your marker slightly towards the next boundary. Fortunately, the markers retain their position relative to the audio data, even if other material is added or deleted. Markers now also react to undo/redo commands.

CD‑ROM With A View

Since the new raison d'etre of WaveLab is CD mastering, there are several new choices in the File menu. You can now create a New CD Program (which contains details of your tracks), and the Open option contains two new entries — the aforementioned CD Program, and Import Audio CD Tracks, which allows you to use your CD‑ROM drive to grab audio from standard audio CDs. This only supports SCSI CD‑ROM drives, but worked well with a Sony drive I was testing at the time. Although I can see the sense of this restriction, as grabbing from IDE CD‑ROM drives has often been a bit hit and miss, there are still a lot of people out there with the cheaper IDE CD‑ROM drives who would find audio grabbing useful for other purposes.

The CD Program is basically the list of WAV file segments, with user‑defined pauses between them, that will end up on your CD. Steinberg recommend burning 'on the fly,' which avoids having to create a further complete image file (in the case of a typical full CD this would be in the order of 600Mb). When a CD Program is active, a new menu, called CD‑Wizard, appears; you can also open this menu from the top left corner of the CD program window. Once you've assembled these file segments, using the Add Track command on this menu to point to additional WAV files, you can drag and drop the items on the list in any order, or drag and drop a whole WAV file or a portion of one from another WaveLab window. You can also adjust the length of any pauses between them, though you cannot adjust CD Track Starts, Ends or Sub‑Indexes from the CD Program list: this must be done using markers in the audio files themselves. Any WAV file may be opened, to adjust the markers, by double‑clicking on the Start Time field in the current CD Program. ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) data can be included for commercial releases if your CD‑R machine supports it, as can UPC/EAN (Universal Product Code) details.

The Master Section from this window (which you use by setting a Preference under the new CD‑R tab) allows plug‑ins such as the Waves L1 Ultramaximiser mastering tool to be used to tweak your album in real time, although you need to use the Apply option to permanently change your data before you attempt a burn. You can join all the tracks in the CD Program into a virtual file, with or without any inter‑track pauses you have added, and this virtual representation of your CD can be saved as a single file for archive purposes. Unfortunately, the virtual file and CD Program are not linked, so if you make any further changes to either window they will get 'out of sync' (although you can open a fresh virtual file that will always reflect the current state of the CD Program window at the time of opening).

Going For The Burn

Once you have completed the CD Program to your satisfaction, you simply click on the Write CD option, which causes a dialogue to pop up. This allows you to either test‑write the first track or the whole CD, or to actually perform the write. The CD writing engine is courtesy of CeQuadrat, who wrote the WinOnCD program I mentioned in the TEAC CD‑R50S review in the May issue of SOS, and specific driver updates can be obtained from the CeQuadrat web site. You can set writing speed at 1x, 2x, 4x or 6x, depending on your drive and system capabilities.

For people who have a neat collection of WAV files, ready topped and tailed, and all at the correct sample rate, the CD Program is a neat and easy way to produce a master CD. However, anyone who wants to move the entire contents of a DAT tape digitally into the PC, highlight the start of each track, and then burn a CD, will find it a lot easier to remain largely within the normal Wave window. As long as you use Track Starts and Boundaries rather than Generic markers (which are ignored by the CD Program), you can leave your hour‑long WAV file in one piece, and mark the start of each new track graphically. Any crossfades between tracks can be carried out using the normal WaveLab editing facilities, and the desired position for the Track boundary between the two can be marked as well.

Once you've done this, you simply select New CD Program, and then use the Add Track command to load in your annotated album length WAV file, which then appears with all the PQ codes in place. You can still juggle the order of the tracks, and adjust the gaps between them, before burning your CD. If you prefer to adjust pause lengths from within the Wave window instead (so that you can see the actual waveforms move in real time), you can use Insert Silence or Delete on a selected area, and then adjust the 'Default Pause before a Track' preference to zero before creating your CD Program.


WaveLab 1.6 is a valuable upgrade — and free of charge for 1.5 owners too. Adding the capability for DMSS plug‑ins gives it more versatility, and the updated marker system works well. Being able to import audio from CD is also a useful option. Many people have been waiting for a good quality stand‑alone CD mastering suite on the PC, since the current packages for CD writing, whilst excellent for general purpose CD‑ROM use, often leave something to be desired in the audio department.

I did find it slightly confusing at first that there are always several different ways to do the same thing, especially since there's no new manual for the upgrade, but fortunately the help file is comprehensive and informative, even giving a good section on the background of CD‑R.

This is (as far as I know) the first all‑in‑one package that allows graphical waveform editing and CD burning without making you leap in and out of several programs. No doubt future upgrades will link the CD Program and the graphical virtual file more closely, but even at the moment I think 1.6 does enough for many people's applications. Far from becoming obsolete as sequencers take over the task of real‑time music effects, WaveLab 1.6 has stepped neatly sideways into a new and exciting role.

Getting Converted

One of the perils of assembling complete CDs of audio data is importing data at differing sample rates. If these get mixed, some tracks may end up being burned at the wrong pitch; it is not unknown for this to happen, even on commercial pressings. Wavelab will flag an error if you attempt to write a CD, save a CD image file or use the Check option if there are any tracks that are not at the correct 44.1kHz sample rate. However, it would be more useful if a dialogue appeared during the process of adding tracks to a CD Program, if the file was not 44.1kHz, offering the option of converting to this rate and saving under a different name. Currently, anything that you load into a CD Program (whatever its sampling rate) is played back at 44.1kHz (and perhaps, therefore, at the wrong pitch). If you don't have full familiarity with the material you're assembling, this might not be noticed until you try to burn a CD. The moral is clear — check the sample rates of your WAV files carefully, and if any are not at the required 44.1kHz rate, load the individual file into Wavelab, use the Resampler plug‑in with Apply, and then re‑save the file.

Watching Your PS And Qs

PQ codes contain information about the positions of each track start, as well as any Sub‑Indexes and Pauses. They also contain timing information in minutes, seconds and CD frames. Although entering such details is not difficult, there is also a set of rules about having silent frames before each track, and pauses before the start and after the end of the whole CD, which ensure that your CD should play back successfully on all CD players. This sort of arcane information can be difficult for beginners to master with some software, but WaveLab usefully collects all these 'hidden rules' into an Advanced Settings box, whose default settings can normally be left well alone.

Further Reading

SOS reviewed version 1.01 of WaveLab almost exactly a year ago, back in the August 1996 issue. That review will clue you in on the established features of the program.


  • Easy to use for basic CD writing.
  • DMSS plug‑in compatibility allows other mastering tools
  • Comprehensive help file.
  • Excellent value!


  • Can be slightly confusing at first without a printed manual.
  • No link between CD Program list and graphic virtual file.
  • Add Tracks in CD Program allows non‑44.1kHz files to be loaded.


A bargain upgrade adding significant facilities for basic CD writing, as well as support for third‑party plug‑ins.