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Steinberg Wavelab v2

Real-Time Sound Processor By Martin Walker
Published June 1998

Figure 1: Some of the many new features of WaveLab v2.0, including additional plug‑ins and playback options.Figure 1: Some of the many new features of WaveLab v2.0, including additional plug‑ins and playback options.

Never ones for resting on their laurels, Steinberg have added a host of enhancements and additions to WaveLab. Martin Walker tries looping the loop, and analyses his WAV file collection.

Unlike most contemporary software, Steinberg's WaveLab has been written largely by one person — Philippe Goutier. Since the last update (to version 1.6), he has obviously been a busy man, and the new version 2.0 sees significant additions and improvements to this capable WAV file editor. First, direct sampler support has been added, using the latest driver from Propellerheads (the much‑lauded Recycle team). An extensive set of audio analysis tools is now available, and VST plug‑ins are now supported alongside WaveLab's internal ones and DirectX. There are also a host of smaller tweaks. As before, the upgrade costs only £69 to existing users, and the full retail price remains at £329.

Choosing a WAV file editor is never easy, since it seems that each possesses 'must‑have' features that are missing from the others. WaveLab and Sound Forge seem to be the clear market leaders, with several shareware programs such as Cool Edit and Goldwave also attracting a large following. However, because MIDI‑plus‑audio sequencers have now begun to provide basic sample editing facilities as an integral part of the package, WAV editors have had to specialise just that little bit more. Both WaveLab and Sound Forge added CD mastering functions, either through extra functions in the main program (in the case of WaveLab 1.6), or in the form of a separate standalone/plug‑in program (CD Architect from Sonic Foundry).

The creators of Cool Edit took a different course, developing it into Cool Edit Pro by adding multitrack audio recording. If you already have a multitrack audio recording program, WaveLab and Sound Forge would therefore seem to be the sensible options, each having its own strengths and weaknesses (see the 'WaveLab vs. Sound Forge' box). With each new release, one seems to leapfrog the other with new features. Since Sonic Foundry have been busy on many other projects, the next Sound Forge update is still under wraps, which leaves WaveLab version 2.0 as the most recent update to the Big Two.

General Tweaks

Figure 2: There are extensive sample looping options, including Crossfades and Wave Equalising — see main text for more detailsFigure 2: There are extensive sample looping options, including Crossfades and Wave Equalising — see main text for more details

The first thing that existing WaveLab owners will notice is that there are two additional buttons on most windows, apart from the familiar Minimise, Maximise, and Close. The Fold button (identified by a green line) folds and unfolds the window down to its title bar. This allows you to quickly hide the contents of a window without losing its position, perhaps when you want to work on others; when you want the window back, a single click on the same icon unfolds it to its previous size. This is far quicker than resizing windows. The purple‑dotted Document button provides drag and drop functions, so that you can quickly copy the file to a database, batch file, CD program, or onto the WaveLab desktop (to create a new copy of the existing window).

There are three additional buttons on the Transport Bar, providing many more playback options than before. The first, Playback Start Position, lets you start playback not only from the current cursor position but also from the start of the file, from the start or end of the selected section, or from various marker positions; there are nine options in all. Playback Skip Mode allows you to skip selected or muted regions, and Playback End Position/Loop Mode provides a selection of looping or stop modes, depending on selected or marked regions.

Cubase VST plug‑ins are now supported by WaveLab, giving you still more tools to play with than those provided by WaveLab, even given the extra plug‑ins provided by version 2.0. Puncher is an enhancer which adds more harmonics to louder portions of the signal, but leaves quieter sections untouched. Its effect varies between subtle and alarming, and I expect it will be used widely with drums and percussive sounds in particular. The Peak Master is an altogether more transparent plug‑in, which boosts the loudness of a signal by limiting transients and raising the overall level by compression. The Output ceiling can be set, along with a control labelled Softness, and once again this plug‑in is capable of a wide range of effects, from a gentle and fairly transparent level increase, to extreme pumping effects.

The Externaliser claims to help headphone monitoring, by simulating the effect of two virtual speakers which can be moved forwards, so that you lose that 'inside the head' feeling. Like many such psycho‑acoustic processes, its effectiveness varies from person to person, but it is useful all the same.

WaveLab 2.0 now supports MPEG 1 Layer 3, which will endear it to people producing Internet music on a limited bandwidth, and you can now also export files in the Exabyte tape format, although this requires an optional module.

Sampler Support

Figure 3: The new Plug‑Ins Manager allows you to organise your entire plug‑in collection any way you wish, as well as selectively disabling those of no relevance to WaveLab, such as the mono‑in/stereo‑out effects provided with Cakewalk Pro Audio.Figure 3: The new Plug‑Ins Manager allows you to organise your entire plug‑in collection any way you wish, as well as selectively disabling those of no relevance to WaveLab, such as the mono‑in/stereo‑out effects provided with Cakewalk Pro Audio.

The ability to transfer files to and from a sampler, for editing with all the benefits of a large colour screen, is useful to many of us. Sound Forge has featured such sampler support since its initial launch, and WaveLab v2.0 has now also added extensive sampler support. Samples are transferred between PC and sampler via SCSI or MIDI, depending on the capabilities of the sampler.

There are several major new items in the Sampler menu. As you might expect, there is a Crossfade Looper, which has three main sections. Loop Points provides the usual set of nudging buttons for loop start and loop end markers, along with some more intelligent jumps to 'good' loop points. Rather than just leaping to the next zero point, as many other packages do, there is a pair of extra parameters — Correspondence Desired and Search Accuracy. The former sets how well the start section should resemble the other end of the loop, and this can be set between 0 (completely different) to 1000 (a 100% perfect match). The default setting is 700. Search Accuracy determines how many sample points are included in the match — the larger this value, the longer the processing time to find a loop point that (hopefully) matches the criteria. These options can greatly help the search for a good loop point. There are also four horizontal zoom values, and an automatic vertical zooming option, so that the loop waveform always fills the loop window.

If all else fails, and a perfect loop point cannot be found without crossfading, you can apply it in a particularly attractive graphic window that allows you to adjust both the length and the shape of the crossfade. Post‑Xfade further refines things, allowing WaveLab to use waveform data beyond the crossfade loop point provided the WAV file has a release portion after the end of the loop.

Some loops have an obvious cyclic quality, even after your best crossfading efforts, a problem that particularly affects sounds such as piano where both the level and harmonic content change significantly through the loop. The Wave Equaliser plug‑in allows you to chop the loop into several slices, which are then mixed together and repeated. For instance, if you specify eight slices, your loop is cut into eight sections which are mixed together to make a composite slice — this shorter composite is then replayed eight times to fill the loop, and a pre‑crossfade option ensures a smooth transition into the loop. Although this may sound bizarre, in practice it works extremely well (provided you have applied a crossfade first), since it averages out the changes in the loop, leaving a comparatively smooth transition.

File Analysis

Figure 4 (below): Global Analysis can identify glitches, clipping, loud and soft areas, as well as the normal peaks, and drop markers ready for closer examination.Figure 4 (below): Global Analysis can identify glitches, clipping, loud and soft areas, as well as the normal peaks, and drop markers ready for closer examination.

Anyone using WaveLab for pre‑mastering will appreciate the new options in the Analysis menu, which include Global Analysis, Level at Cursor, File Comparer, and the Audio Signal Test Generator.

Global Analysis is a great help during those nail‑biting sessions where you have spent an hour transferring a DAT tape onto your hard drive before topping and tailing, adjusting the track positions and putting in fades for an album of material. It is not unknown for glitches to appear during the transfer (due to a misaligned DAT tape or machine), and these glitches are not always obvious.

The Global Analysis window has five sections. Peaks will find the highest levels in the file, and you have the option of inserting markers at those points, which makes it easier to home in on problem areas. Loudness looks at sections of audio, rather than individual sample points, to isolate particularly loud or quiet sections. Pitch is useful if you need to tune one sound to another by accurately measuring the pitch of a selected section; this only works with mono files.

WaveLab is an elegant, comprehensive editor and processor, and the clutch of valuable new features introduced by version 2.0 endow it with yet more polished performance.

The Extra section checks the DC offset for you, but it is the final new Analysis option, Errors, that is perhaps the most useful of all. This searches for glitches (sudden discontinuities) and clipping (a number of adjacent points at maximum digital value), according to user‑defined limits. As you might expect, this level of analysis is processor intensive, but on my Pentium 166MMX machine I measured glitch and clip analysis at 6x real time — ie. a one hour album would take 10 minutes to check, and proportionally less on a faster machine. This ability to potentially spot a single glitch in an hour's worth of material is a valuable function.

The File Comparer facility is useful when you have several versions of a file, but can't remember what (if anything) you changed from one version to the next. It is also valuable for checking for dropouts between two different files. You can choose to drop markers in either or both files at points of difference, or to generate a 'delta' file which is the difference between the two. This will also show the result of running a file through a plug‑in, allowing you to examine just the change in the signal.

The Audio Signal Test Generator does exactly what it says, and is useful for providing WAV files for lining up and calibrating external audio equipment, for testing soundcards, or for more educational purposes. A wide variety of basic waveforms is provided, along with adjustments for phase, frequency (sweeps are possible), and level. Up to 64 layers can be combined allowing you to, for example, combine discrete tones of several frequencies. Thankfully some presets are provided to get you started, including a sine wave tone swept from 16Hz to 22kHz.


WaveLab is an elegant, comprehensive editor and processor, and the clutch of valuable new features introduced by version 2.0 endow it with yet more polished performance. Thanks to the context‑sensitive help, these new features can be picked up fairly easily; a good thing, given that there is no manual provided with the upgrade (although I understand that new purchasers do get one). This review has inevitably not covered all the new facilities, so rest assured that there are still more goodies to uncover if you're thinking of upgrading.

If you already have version 1.6 you should upgrade as soon as possible, but if you are still debating which editor to buy, then this latest upgrade should ensure that WaveLab v2.0 moves at least one place up your list of contenders.

Wavelab VS. Sound Forge

Anyone looking for a WAV file editor is faced with an extremely difficult decision due to the complexity of these applications. Thankfully, both Steinberg and Sonic Foundry make demo versions freely available, either in additional demo folders on the CD‑ROMs of other applications, or as downloads from their web sites. Although these demos will have Save features disabled, they can give a valuable insight into each product. However, there is no substitute for actually using both packages to carry out real work, and it is easy to get a distorted impression of certain features if you only have time for a quick overview. You might, for instance, find one package a lot slower when loading large files, until you discover the preference that disables the creation of a huge backup file first, without which the two programs are neck and neck again.

I found the initial Sound Forge 4.0 release slightly easier to use and more comprehensive in some ways than WaveLab. Also, although CD burning features were introduced first in WaveLab 1.6, I still find CD Architect from Sonic Foundry easier to use because of its graphic approach, and the way that you can drag and drop tracks to change their spacing or overlap, and even add real‑time crossfade loops between CD tracks. Sadly, the proposed addition of fade in/out and crossfade options for the WaveLab CD section have yet to appear. The huge downside of CD Architect is that it has to be bought separately, whereas WaveLab incorporates CD mastering into the main program for free.

However, I now find myself increasingly turning to WaveLab when it comes to mastering, since its 6‑slot Master Section approach is far more elegant than the Sound Forge Audio Plug‑In Chainer when you want to audition several alternative plug‑ins. WaveLab also provides a graphic overview window, which is a useful way to see what is coming when your main window is zoomed; on the other hand Sound Forge offers the option of smooth scrolling in its zoomed window, whereas WaveLab can only flip‑screen scroll.

WaveLab can support 24‑bit recording and playback, but Sound Forge can not, and this may be important to you now or in the future. The list of smaller differences goes on and on, but Sonic Foundry tell me that an update to Sound Forge is imminent, so we can expect some more leapfrogging in the next few months. There is no ultimate winner — each package has its strengths and weaknesses.

Going Loopy

I do wish that the standard for WAV file looping was a bit more robust. I extracted a looped sound from a SoundFont to see if I could improve its looping with WaveLab, but although both Sound Forge 4 and Cool Edit Pro recognised the existing loop points, WaveLab totally ignored them. I sent the file in question to WaveLab's designer, Philippe Goutier, who told me that it had an invalid setting in its header. The patch to version 2.01, however, would allow WaveLab to read the file despite the error, after displaying an error message. This patch (which also cures a few other tiny bugs, and improves the dither/noise shaping in the MasterSection) certainly did what he promised, and it should be available from the Steinberg web site by the time you read this.

Once I eventually loaded the file, I discovered that WaveLab has a different convention from most other looping editors on my hard disk. Although the loop start point is always the first point inside the loop, WaveLab (along with the Awave shareware utility) makes the loop end the first sample beyond the loop, whereas every other editor I tried (Sound Forge, Cool Edit Pro, Resample, Vienna 2.1, Wein) decided that it was the last sample inside the loop. The loop itself played identically — the only difference is that the reported value for the marker had changed by one sample.

Sadly, playing back the loop itself also uncovered anomalies between packages. Only Awave agreed with the Wein loop points, whereas all the other packages required that the loop end point be moved back by one sample to produce a smooth loop. If you only work with one editor, you are unlikely to come across these problems, but it is something to be aware of when importing loops from elsewhere.

The good news is that, once adjusted, the WaveLab 2.0 Crossfade function made a huge improvement to the existing loop. After saving this improved version, the new loop points created by WaveLab 2.0 were recognised by Sound Forge and Cool Edit Pro, but the Wein SoundFont editor refused to reload the improved WAV file. C'est la vie!


  • Excellent loop and analysis functions.
  • Pricing is good for both existing owners and new ones.
  • Additional plug‑ins included.


  • Still no specific fade or crossfade functions available for CD mastering.
  • No proper Playlist Editing other than by creating a CD program.


A worthwhile upgrade with enough new features to perhaps lure some potential purchasers from Sound Forge.