capsule review

Deck 3.5

At a Glance
  • BIAS Deck 3,5

    Macworld Rating

Jaguar's release was soon followed by a wave of high-end audio-production applications for Mac OS X, but these programs -- with their high prices and pro-level tools -- were not for the enthusiast who simply wanted to record, mix, and master music in OS X, without a lot of bells and whistles. Deck 3.5.1, from BIAS (Berkley Integrated Audio Software), is the first moderately priced program that meets this demand. With this new version, BIAS has expanded Deck's excellent tools that let you create audio for video and the Web: the company has added 5.1 surround mixing, as well as the ability to import OMF (Open Media Framework) edit-decision-list (EDL) files, which provide a convenient way to work with applications (such as Apple's Final Cut Pro) that produce high-end video but have limited audio tools.

Impressive Editing Features

Launched more than a decade ago, Deck was one of the first applications to support multitrack digital-audio recording and editing on the Mac. The newest version offers a modern complement of editing features -- for example, it lets you record full tracks or add overdubs while monitoring previously recorded tracks.

With Deck, you can add audio tracks and regions to imported video files -- a great way to replace dialogue or create and add special effects -- and then mix back to stereo or the newly available 5.1 surround format. You can place regions anywhere on a QuickTime movie's timeline (called "spotting") while you monitor the movie. When you're finished, you just export your master back to your video app -- nice process, nice sound.

The Look and Sound

Deck retains the clean and powerful interface introduced last year in version 3.0, adding an Aqua-like appearance to the OS X version. (The OS 9 and OS X versions work equally well.)

Its basic editing windows are straightforward and easy to use, and the controls in the Transport and Mixer windows mirror those of familiar hardware devices. The Tracks window enables you to record and edit both audio and mix automation; the Mixer window gives you the ability to choose pan and volume values, and it includes controls for choosing any of Deck's on-board plug-ins.

Deck supports the VST plug-in format and ships with more than 20 plug-ins for each OS, but Deck for OS X requires OS X-native versions; Deck for OS 8.6 through 9.2 also supports the Adobe Premiere format. (There's no support for Apple's OS X-based Audio Unit technology yet.) vBox SE, included with Deck, lets you build and modify preset bundles of plug-ins quickly, and it provides a handy way to audition and compare multiple effects lineups.

The application doesn't offer the sophisticated signal-routing power of applications such as Emagic's Logic Platinum or Steinberg's Cubase, but it can record and play back as many as 64 audio tracks with real-time effects, depending on your hard drive and the speed of your CPU. You can use your Mac's sound-input and -output (I/O) connectors, or a third-party card or outboard device, to capture and play back your tracks. (Your devices need to be compliant with Steinberg's ASIO 1.0 format for use with OS 9, and compliant with Apple's new CoreAudio technology for use with OS X.) Deck is limited to 16-bit audio at sample rates of 44.1kHz or 48kHz, which may disappoint users with audio converters capable of handling higher resolutions, but this shouldn't be a deal breaker for enthusiast-level users or even video pros. While many digital-audio workstations and I/O hardware components can handle 24-bit audio files at 96kHz -- which can sound richer when played back on your computer -- you'll need to reduce that sample rate for CD or video distribution, anyway.

MIDI and Mastering

Although Deck supports MIDI, it isn't a sequencer; therefore, it can't be used to create MIDI "music" tracks. Fortunately, you can play back prerecorded MIDI tracks in sync with audio files; you'll need to import standard MIDI files from a MIDI sequencer (which may mean added expense) or create them with a third-party utility such as the freeware SimpleSynth for OS X. And Deck has comprehensive MIDI control and mapping capabilities, so you can sync to SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) time code, or link the program's on-screen faders to an external MIDI control device (such as Tascam's US-428) to remotely control volume, pan, and effects parameters.

The Deck CD also includes a copy of Peak LE. This limited version of BIAS's sample-editing tool lets you work with sound files as waveform "pointers" in a nondestructive way (the original file remains unchanged), with unlimited undos and redos. Peak is great for stereo-track mastering; you can shape and enliven your final mix and then set CD insert points and output RedBook Audio CD-ready files, which you can burn to CD with the included Roxio Toast Lite. Or you can output your mastered tracks for streaming to the Web as either Shockwave or RealAudio files (for more on Peak, see Reviews, July 2002).

Macworld's Buying Advice

Deck 3.5.1 is a fine choice for musicians who want a reasonably priced application for audio recording and production. The addition of OMF support should make this program even more attractive to musicians who use other OMF-capable music applications. But musicians who want to work with higher resolutions, or who need to create MIDI tracks, will have to look to alternative music-production programs, such as Digidesign's Pro Tools LE (OS 9 only), or Logic Platinum or Cubase SX, which run in both OS 9 and OS X. Deck's features aren't as deep as the features in those applications, but its wide array of solid tools can help you take a song from first recording to final master.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Includes all the audio software needed to move songs from idea to disc
    • Reasonable price
    • Addition of OMF support increases integration with video editing

    Cons

    • Cannot create MIDI tracks
    • Lacks high-resolution sample rates
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