Adobe Audition CS5.5: A Surprising and Welcome Upgrade

July 19, 2011 12:06 am

Tags: Adobe, After Effects, Audition, CS5.5, Premiere Pro, sound

Product Review: Adobe Audition CS5.5

"...we've spent the past two years re-writing Audition from the ground-up, preserving or updating our core DSP, modernizing the code to take advantage of current hardware and operating system technology, and emphasizing increased productivity and speed with every feature. ...our focus for the CS 5.5 release was to build a platform that supported those workflows but remained open and flexible enough that expanding the application to support other audio users would be simple and straightforward."
-Durin, CS5.5 thread, Adobe forums

It's been three long years since Adobe has updated their popular digital audio workstation software, Adobe Audition. Adobe purchased Syntrillium (creators of the Cool Edit audio application) in 2003 and built Audition on its back, since Adobe needed a good audio editor to work alongside their superb video editor, Premiere Pro. Two great updates to Audition in 2006 and then in 2007 brought a very large user base consisting "primarily of broadcast - radio, podcast and video," but also including a growing number of users interested in recording, creating and mixing music.

So, why have they waited so long to update an application steadily growing in popularity? Well, Adobe had a problem because, as Durin on the Adobe Audition forums puts it: "the Audition team looked at the 15 years of legacy Windows code and were not confident the application could be ported quickly enough to satisfy the CS release schedule. As an audio editor was necessary in the suite package, we created Soundbooth which was a simple audio editor built on top of Premiere Pro's media playback engine."

I certainly understand their decision, but it put Adobe in a bind, along with loyal Audition users, as they were now developing two separate digital audio applications competing in the same market and requiring more development time and attention than a single application would. Moreover, Soundbooth was seen as a kind of "dummies" audio editor which complemented their flagship video editor, Adobe Premiere Pro. This is nonsense, of course, as video editors are just as interested in refining audio as they are in refining video. Users of Audition were frustrated at the attention paid to Soundbooth and Soundbooth users were frustrated because they really wanted Audition in the Creative Suite packages since it was a much better program.

How would Adobe solve the problem?

A comparison of Audition 3.0 and Audition CS5.5 GUI

Surprisingly, Adobe ditched Soundbooth. Or, rather, they took the best aspects of Soundbooth, combined them with a re-written Audition and did what they didn't have time to do several years ago - add Audition to the new CS5.5 Creative Suite. Now, I liked Soundbooth (see my review here at Renderosity last year), but I was really waiting for a big upgrade to Audition, since I edit and mix sound for animation, and Audition is the tool I use for the work. Believe me, I was thrilled that Adobe updated my favorite program, and even more excited that it was part of a Suite of programs that rival anything being released at present for digital audio, video and still images: the Adobe Creative Suite Production Premium CS5.5.

Our focus is on Audition today, though. And, wouldn't you know it, I got a sound editing job the same day I received the newly updated Adobe Audition CS5.5 as part of the Production Premium. Believe me, I had a chance to run Audition CS5.5 through its paces for about 30 hours of sound editing and mixing. I was very pleased (with some reservations) with the new Audition, and after I go over some of what's new and different in the program, I'll tell you how the program held up.

Audition CS5.5 Spectral view

What's New in Audition CS5.5?

This isn't meant to be an exhausting list (you can check the Audition CS5.5 page at Adobe for the full list), but I do want to cover some of the major improvements and changes for the program. Here's Durin again, from the Adobe Audition forums, on some of the work put into the new Audition: "The audio engine has been re-written to take advantage of multicore CPUs and multithreading. Our goal was to provide performance that was better than Audition 3 on all supported platforms. Audition CS 5.5 runs great on the lowliest netbook, and unbelievably fast on the latest 12- and 16-core systems."

  • Audition CS5.5 is now available for the Apple OS X platform AND Windows with "feature parity for both platforms"
  • Re-designed UI with emphasis on ease of use and simplicity
  • New, high-performance audio engine
  • New Audio effects including Volume Leveler, Surround Reverb, etc.
  • Round-trip editing inside of Premiere Pro which allows for non-destructive editing of a single clip or an audio sequence in Audition CS5.5.
  • New History panel (like Photoshop) which auto-saved, non-destructive XML session files.
  • Audio Effects workflow improvements: edit/play multiple effects for audio while making adjustments
  • Easy project exchange with third party DAWs and NLE's using the OMF import/export along with XML session format.
  • Native 5.1 multichannel support

What's Missing in Audition CS5.5?

Unfortunately, in producing an update for Audition in time for the release cycle of the Creative Suites, Adobe had to make some hard choices since they couldn't create a version of the program that had all of the features of the previous Audition 3.1. Durin, in the CS5.5 thread, put it this way: "Nothing has been officially deleted from the Audition feature list, but there is a lot that was in Audition 3.01 that has not been updated and ported to the new codebase. In some cases, a feature did not make it into CS 5.5 because it fell too low on the priority list, others could not be developed to our level of expectations within the timeframe we had or without negatively impacting other features that were deemed more important for this release."

Adobe's focus in releasing Audition CS5.5 was their prime user group: broadcast video and audio. So, they concentrated on features that would most impact that group. Understandable, but disappointing, since what's important to one group may not be so important to another, even within broadcasting. This means that a lot is left out of this version of Audition. Here are some of the missing elements in the this release:

  • No support for Midi-based hardware control, playback or virtual image sequencing
  • No legacy session support. Previous sessions of Audition will not open in Audition CS5.5
  • Some effects have been renamed or not included in this release (tone generation, scientific filters, etc.)
  • No playback of audio files in file manager or while searching for files inside of Audition.
  • No Clip Grouping.

So the question becomes: if the CS5.5 version of Audition is missing features that were present in the previous 3.0 version of Audition, then is it really worth the upgrade? Well, that depends upon how you use Audition. Frankly, if you use the application for music production, you should probably wait until Audition CS6.0, when I expect the midi support will be present. However, if you are involved in audio or video production, I think this version of Audition is very fast and very useful. And I can say that honestly because I just put Audition CS5.5 through nearly 30 hours of production sound effects and sound mixing and I loved working with the program, despite some missing elements.

New "Match Volume" function in Audition CS5.5

How does Audition CS5.5 hold up in Production?

It's a bit risky to use an untried version of an application, even one you know well, for a new production project because you simply don't know how well the program will function under fire. You could run the risk of losing or having to do over a lot of work. But after a few minutes of looking the new Audition CS5.5 over, I was very excited about how it would affect my work.

My project consisted of creating sound effects and mixing sound for an 18 minute animated film. Some effects were already in place, but I new I was going to re-work a lot of material. The process involved sampling effects from my own sound collection and from online sources, like, creating new sounds by combining and processing existing sounds, timing them and shaping their tonality to fit each scene, and, finally, to mix the music, voice and effects into a unified whole that supports the story.

Audition CS5.5 held up like a champ. Despite some slowdown at the beginning while I got used to the new GUI (much improved, by the way), I began to get into a rhythm and brought the whole project in faster than with any previous version of Audition. I discovered some nifty improvements along the way, too. For example, I've always had trouble with the two volume and pan lines inside of each track; they'd get in the way and you'd have to futz with them to be sure you were raising the volume and not panning the sound to one side or another. Now, Audition CS5.5 has made each line a different color, and when you click on one line, the other line moves to the background so you can't accidentally click it by accident. Big time-saver for me.

Another nice addition (taken from Soundbooth) was the ability to see the wave form of a sound along with the spectral view at the same time. The re-worked controls for zooming in and out (moved to the side on the right) allowed for quicker interaction with sound files. Plus, the new audio engine smoked on all of the save, normalize and additional functions that change sound files. Given that the entire Adobe Creative Suite Production Premium is 64-bit, Audition CS5.5 just zooms in my quad-core Windows 7 system.

Yes, not being able to listen to sound files within the Audition CS5.5 file import browser, or in the program file manager itself is a problem, but I'm confident they'll bring this into the next upgrade. I hope they'll add the ability to create special bins for sound, like you find in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5. It would be very useful to create collections of sounds like footsteps, nature, voice overs, etc., in order to save on limited space inside of the file browser.

Audio effects inside of Audition CS5.5 are not as robust as in Audition 3.0, but there are several new effects taken from Soundbooth (voice over effects, match volume and new effects rack tab) that proved to be very helpful. The ability to isolate tracks or bus them together is easier in Audition CS5.5. It also found my microphone easily - something I had to spend considerable time with in previous versions of Audition.

Easy to edit in Audition CS5.5 straight from Premiere Pro CS5.5

Final Thoughts

Adobe Audition CS5.5 is a much anticipated upgrade to a top quality audio processing application. In my own experience using the program solidly for two weeks, I found it to be superior to any previously released version of Audition. It's faster, more intuitive, has a better layout of tools and just fits better into my workflow. And in all that time I had only a single crash, which Adobe Crash Protector took care of so that I only lost one effect I had created. Audition CS5.5 interacts perfectly with Premiere Pro CS5.5 and After Effects CS5.5 so that they all seem to be one program. I completed two other short video projects using Audition CS5.5 and Premiere Pro CS5.5 in short order and am looking to start work on a third.

It's been a long wait for this upgrade to Audition, and although it's not perfect, the application is much improved and by the next upgrade cycle in 2012 should be among the best professional audio applications you can buy. Adobe has gotten out of the corner they've painted themselves into with Audition/Soundbooth and are back on the right track. Users like myself can only stand up and applaud.

Notes: Adobe Audition CS5.5 is available as a standalone application for $349 ($99 for upgrades) or as part of the excellent Production Premium, which includes Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop, Flash and more. Full details on Audition CS5.5 and the Production Premium CS5.5 can be found at the appropriate links.

Audition is now available for the Mac! Details on system requirement for both Apple and Windows operating systems can be found here.

Although I'm disappointed that there is no longer a printed manual for Audition, the help section which can be accessed through the Audition CS5.5 help menu, is excellent. I found every answer I looked for written in clear, understandable prose, often accompanied by helpful illustrations. The learning center at the Adobe website is very good as well. Adobe Audition forums are lively and helpful, too. I also like the relatively recent Adobe TV site which has a lot of video tutorials related to Audition and Premiere. If you are diligent, you can find everything you need to learn Audition CS5.5, or to answer questions relating to this new version.

My thanks to Adobe for providing the Production Premium CS5.5 and Audition CS5.5 to review. The company is always helpful with materials for the press, for which (and this reviewer) is grateful.

Be sure to visit:

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.
July 18, 2011

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