capsule review

Sonicfire Pro 3

At a Glance
  • SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 3

    Macworld Rating

All moviemakers want soundtracks that match films perfectly. SmartSound's Sonicfire Pro 3 is centered on prebuilt, though somewhat customizable, score libraries that you can scale to meet your timeline needs exactly. And like soundtracks made with Apple's Soundtrack (bundled with Final Cut Pro 4 [   ; September 2003]), those made with Sonicfire Pro 3 dress up video projects with a royalty-free musical score. But their approaches are different: Sonicfire yields results much faster, especially with longer proj-ects. However, it does so at the expense of overall diversity of audio material.

Sonicfire Pro 3 comes in two versions: one with two 44K SmartSound CDs ($299), and the Bundled Edition, reviewed here, which includes five music CDs ($499). Either version lets you take advantage of Sonicfire's new Infinite Search Maestro search engine, and owners of version 2 (   ; July 2001) can upgrade to version 3 for $79.

Score One for Sonicfire Pro

Sonicfire Pro 3's reason for being is to simplify the very tedious and often expensive process of adding a musical score to a project. Not everyone is musically inclined, but people still know a good thing when they hear it -- and Sonicfire is based on this principle. You can listen to premade soundtracks, and audition them with your imported QuickTime video. Sonicfire Pro 3's new Infinite Search Maestro lets you search intelligently -- by style, intensity, instrument, and keyword -- in not only the SmartSound audio already on your Mac but also the SmartSound libraries available on the company's Web site. This is particularly useful because you can find exactly the track you need, even if you don't yet own it. Downloading it will run you $20 -- more than an iTunes Music Store purchase, for sure, but not that expensive when you consider that you can use the track without paying royalties. This can also be a bargain, since buying a SmartSound CD would cost you $99 even if you used only one track.

Minimal Assembly Required

SmartSound audio is useful because it has been preprocessed into sound blocks that Sonicfire can easily manipulate. Sonicfire Pro's intuitive interface lets you quickly load the music into the timeline and make any necessary adjustments. You can also preview your movie (as a QuickTime file) with different soundtracks to see which works best.

The program will string together the music blocks to fit the length you need, and it does so in such a way that the music never ends abruptly. In fact, the SmartExtend feature always ends the clip in a manner that makes musical sense. You can also load your own audio into Sonicfire Pro and segment it into blocks; however, the program doesn't adjust non-SmartSound audio with the same finesse.

One downside of the Sonicfire workflow is that you can't change the actual music, as you can with Soundtrack. If you don't like the harmonica or violin melody on a clip, tough luck. A more grievous problem is that the program is a victim of its own success: We actually recognized some of the tracks because they had been used in local commercials.

The weakest part of the program is its PDF manual, especially the confusing tutorials.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Sonicfire Pro 3 is a useful application for video professionals who need a quick way to add high-quality, made-to-fit, royalty-free music scores to their productions. People who are insistent on stamping their own personality on their music are better off tinkering with Soundtrack or hiring a composer.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Ability to sample and purchase individual royalty-free tracks online
    • Quick music-score creation
    • SmartSound audio fits any movie length

    Cons

    • Weak PDF manual
    • Included music selection is limited
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