At a Glance
Here's the good news: Digital audio on Mac OS X is reaching new heights, thanks to powerful two-track audio editors such as Peak 3, from Berkeley Integrated Audio Software (BIAS). (It runs in OS 8.6 and later, too.) Suited to musicians and video and audio professionals, Peak 3 takes advantage of OS X's new audio architecture and includes several user-interface enhancements and some new audioprocessing plug-ins. But there's bad news: The program continues to suffer from user-interface flaws, which can make it frustrating to use.
Audio Tool Kit
Peak's tools are generally intuitive, and the dialog boxes for Peak's more advanced audioprocessing functions include helpful descriptions. Peak continues to offer powerful batch-processing capabilities that let you easily apply its audio-tweaking talents to a hard drive full of files. These batch features come in handy--for example, when you want to normalize the audio in a set of files before editing them. And the program still has many components aimed at musicians who edit audio files before transferring them to sample-playback instruments.
Peak 3 comes with 25 plug-ins, a few of which are OS X native. The plug-ins range from one that de-emphasizes sibilance to one that simulates Leslie rotating-horn speakers. But the most notable are the new VBox SE, a slick plug-in that lets you combine VST plug-ins and route audio signals between them, and BIAS Freq, a four-band parametric equalizer for boosting or attenuating certain frequency ranges.
The program also sports improved features for converting between sample rates, some redesigned tool palettes for its editing and scrolling tools, and an improved audio-level meter, which displays audio levels as a clip plays.
Most of the enhancements in Peak 3 center around OS X. Peak now employs OS X's user-interface elements, although the program's toolbar has a crude, black-and-white design that looks out of place in the colorful world of Aqua.
Peak 3 also supports OS X's Core Audio technology, which is more reliable than the Sound Manager in previous Mac OS versions--at least in theory. At press time, the driver software for most professional audio hardware had not yet been updated to work with OS X, so OS X users will have to use their Mac's built-in audio circuitry until an update is released.
Running Peak almost exclusively in OS X, we used the program to edit several voiceovers. Peak was always fast and responsive, even when working with audio clips that were 30 minutes long.
But throughout the process, the program crashed randomly, often becoming unstable as an editing session wore on. (BIAS confirmed that version 3.0 had numerous bugs, and it released version 3.0.1 at press time. We've spot-checked this update, and it appears to address the instability issue).
However, Peak's user interface, historically rough around the edges, still needs a makeover. For example, Peak doesn't have a Preferences command that leads to a dialog box. Instead, it offers a Preference menu containing a whopping 28 commands. Peak also doesn't have contextual shortcut menus, which would help users execute common tasks more quickly.
What's more, Peak lacks a printed manual. The documentation, a 198-page PDF file, contains ample information, but such a complex program (especially one that ships in a box that's about 3 inches thick) should include a printed manual.
Peeking at the Family Tree
Peak is also available in two low-end, OS Xnative editions--the $99 Peak LE and the $199 Peak DV. With the LE and DV editions, you don't get Peak 3's batch-processing feature, some of its audio-processing capabilities, or support for the same number of high-end audio formats and sampling rates that professional audio hardware can use.
Peak LE is suited to basic audio work, such as editing recordings before preparing them for Web delivery; Peak DV, which is bundled with Apple's Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro 1.5, is geared toward video editors. Peak DV has more audio-processing features than Peak LE--features for converting between mono and stereo formats and repairing audio clicks, for example. Peak DV can also open QuickTime movies and play them as you manipulate their audio tracks.
Despite having fewer features, these versions are similar to the top-of-the-line Peak 3: they offer unlimited undos and operate nondestructively, and your edits and modifications to the original audio file take effect only when you apply the Save command. (A fourth version of Peak, the $699 Peak TDM, works with Digidesign Pro Tools audio hardware, but it has not yet been updated for OS X.)
Macworld's Buying Advice
Peak 3 is a fast and powerful program, but it's hampered by a cumbersome interface. Peak remains an excellent tool for musicians and audio and video professionals. And now that BIAS has made Peak OS X native, the company should start sweating the details so it can deliver another update that addresses this version's interface flaws.