Product Review: Adobe Soundbooth CS5
When Soundbooth, first appeared with Adobe's Creative Suite 3 in 2007, users of Adobe's high-end audio program, Audition, were scratching their heads trying to understand what Adobe was up to. Why would the company compete with itself by releasing another audio editing program when it already had a highly successful one in it's stable? Was Adobe phasing out Audition and replacing it with Soundbooth? Since Adobe released a version 3 of Audition in the same year, it certainly didn't seem like that was the case. So what was going on?
Over the last 3 years and two upgrades to Soundbooth, it's pretty clear that what Adobe is up to is creating an audio editing tool that is aimed at video editors who don't have time or the need for the complexity of Audition and it's tool-oriented design. I'm not sure the CS3 release of Soundbooth was up to the task with it's lack of mulit-track capability. The much-improved Soundbooth CS4 is probably the program they should have released as it not only had decent multi-track capability, but improved effects and tight integration with other Adobe products, most notably Adobe Premiere Pro, the superb digital video editing program. In effect, Soundbooth and Premiere Pro are halves of the same program. At least, the interaction between them makes you feel like you are working with one program.
With the recent 2010 release of the outstanding Creative Suite 5 Production Premium (CS5), Adobe added it's third version of Soundbooth. Since the second release (CS4) was such an excellent upgrade (see my review here), I came to the program with high expectations. One thing I've done since then is add Soundbooth to my animated film sound editing toolkit. A committed Audition user, I'd finally gotten over my own prejudice and found that Soundbooth CS4 allowed me to move from video editing to adjusting/tweaking in easier and faster ways than Audition. My sound design for animation is still primarily Audition-based, but Soundbooth allows me to do some things more easily and I now use both programs in tandem.
So, let's take a look at what's new in Soundbooth CS5 and see how the upgrade measures up.
Soundbooth CS5 Multi-Track View
What's New in Soundbooth CS5?
In addition to music, Adobe has raised the amount of royalty-free sound effects you have access to up to 10,000. Another nice touch is the ability to drag-n-drop the effects right into Soundbooth, instead of having to import them separately. While the sound effects collection is generalized, it still is quite a collection and is certainly adequate for most video projects. Sound design will require a larger variety, but using Soundbooth's well-designed editing tools you can re-work existing sounds, mix them and create entirely new sounds.
Downloading music score from Resource Central into Soundbooth CS5
Using Soundbooth CS5
Rather than create a simpler version of Audition, Adobe chose to create an entirely new type of audio editor. Where Audition is tool-based, Soundbooth is task-based. Imagine you are working on a video edit in Premiere Pro and you notice some background noise in one of the actor's dialog tracks. You right-click the track, choose "edit in Soundbooth" and the track is opened in Soundbooth. Instead of trying to find the tool to do the job, you look for the task which is smartly listed in a task window to the left, under "clean up audio." You fix the file, bring it back into Premiere Pro and you are ready to go. It's really that easy.
Soundbooth CS5 is designed to be simple to use and intuitive. My initial experience with the CS4 version of Soundbooth was awkward, mostly because I was spending time looking for tools to get my work done. Now that I understand how Soundbooth is organized, it's much, much easier to get around and get my work done.
Editing individual files in Soundbooth CS5
Using the same gray-gold color scheme as other Adobe products, Soundbooth CS5 opens with a three-track project and major task window to the left. File and History menus are located above and below the tasks window, while the effects, markers and properties windows are tabbed above the tasks window. Standard windows drop-down menus allow you to access other simple tasks, like normalize, fades and auto heal.
A very useful tool is the re-sizer, above the multi-track or single-track, which allows you to change the size of wave form or score with simple mouse passes. Editing, copying and examining sound files is simple drag-n-drop. And with the new ability to shape and change the track sizes, it's a snap to get right down into the sound file for subtle editing and sound shaping. If you make a mistake, hit "undo" or go back in the history file. Half an hour of working with Soundbooth and you know what it can do. Speech to text, auto beat detection, custom workspace, advanced metadata, custom loop creation, sound design with a wide variety of video formats; this is just some of the useful functionality of Soundbooth CS5. While it doesn't have the deep sound editing capabilities of Audition, it's a perfect fit for those who need to do general sound editing and design, especially for video editors and producers.
Editing sound to video is easy in Soundbooth CS5
Although the new additions to Soundbooth CS5 seem slight compared to the previous CS4 version, which was a major upgrade, I still think the upgrade price is very much worth it. The additional sound effects and scores alone are excellent additions. The resizing capabilities in multi-track are good to have, but probably should have been included in the previous upgrade. And the fact that Soundbooth CS4 is still 32-bit is problematic. Plus, there are still some niggling issues, like not being able to see marker names in multi-track view, and the inability to adjust sound properties to a clip and view other clips at the same time that need to be resolved for Soundbooth to grow. Plus, some users report problems with stability, although I've had none myself.
Adobe also should beef up the documentation and support for Soundbooth. There are standard "how-to" videos at AdobeTV and a support forum. The Soundbooth manual/help file is decent, but short compared to other programs I've used. However, the program is pretty simple to use, so perhaps deeper documentation is not as essential here.
Overall, I like Soundbooth CS5 and can recommend it with only minor reservations. It's a solid and relatively inexpensive sound editor that is easy to use and comes with lots of free music scores and sound effects. I plan on using it in more animation sound effects projects in the future.
Soundbooth CS5 can be purchased individually for the PC and Mac at $199 (USD); the upgrade fee is a very reasonable $99 (USD). The program is also part of several software Suites that Adobe offers. System requirements are decent and can be reviewed here. There is a useful comparison of features between Soundbooth and Audition here. You can also test drive Soundbooth CS5 for 30 days free at this link. Adobe has a nice overview of scores and soundtrack mixing here. This review was conducted using an Intel-based processor on a medium level system using Windows 7, 64-bit.
My sincere thanks to Adobe for providing Soundbooth CS5 which was part of the incredible Creative Suite 5 Master Collection. I can't recommend this suite of programs more highly.
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Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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