Peak Pro XT 5
Dedicated waveform audio-editing programs are indispensable tools for recording stereo sound, preparing files for larger multitrack projects, and polishing audio for CDs and other digital distribution. Whether you’re a hobbyist producing podcasts or a pro creating studio-quality projects like CDs or game soundtracks, BIAS’ Peak Pro XT 5 could fit the bill.
Digital audio workstation sidekick
Peak combines basic stereo editing with built-in audio effects, third party plug-in support, and CD-authoring tools. There are three versions of Peak 5: LE, Pro, and Pro XT. For light use, LE includes most of Pro’s editing and CD-authoring functionality and incorporates digital-video functionality formerly available in Peak DV (now discontinued), but lacks features like batch processing. Peak Pro 5 is a full-blown editor, with advanced features—like Vbox effects chaining—that LE lacks. The new XT bundle includes the Peak Pro editor and adds a suite of mastering effects and noise-reduction and audio-restoration software.
Peak Pro 5 will only let you edit one stereo audio file at a time, and it has no multitrack mixing or surround-sound capabilities, but it makes an ideal companion to multitrack software like Apple’s Logic Pro ( June 2005 ) or BIAS’ own Deck ( ; February 2003 ). It also has a robust and easy-to-use batch-processing feature, which makes it a terrific tool for managing lots of audio files. Combined with Peak Pro’s new RMS Normalization feature for matching average dynamic levels, the batch-processing feature appeals not only to audio engineers but to podcasting aficionados as well, since it’s useful for prepping large groups of audio files for radio or podcast programs.;
There’s a reason why Peak has been a long-time favorite on the Mac: it’s unmatched for detailed editing of individual files. New Region Split functions and Snap To options in the Pro 5 version make its slicing and looping capabilities more powerful, but the most welcome addition is high-resolution, tape-style scrubbing. Tape scrubbing, the sound analog reel-to-reel tape makes as it’s moved slowly over a playback head, doesn’t always translate well to software, but in Peak Pro 5 it functions and sounds the way it should. Even if you’ve never edited with tape, you’ll see that the scrubbing feature makes finding exact edit points by ear much easier.
Peak Pro 5 also shines for its plug-in capabilities: it’s the only Mac waveform editor that supports both VST and Audio Unit (AU) plug-ins. Thanks to Peak Pro’s addition of AU support in the Vbox effects matrix, you can easily assemble multiple VST and AU plug-ins into chains and save them as presets. If you’re designing sounds for samplers or other instruments, you’ll appreciate Peak’s continued support of hardware samplers and the addition of live MIDI input and VST and AU soft synth support, which lets you play and record audio from instrument plug-ins without leaving the program.
Macworld has noted in the past that some elements of Peak’s interface could be improved, and that’s still the case. While BIAS has redesigned some of the more confusing toolbar icons in this version, the monochrome gray-on-gray toolbar is still hard to read at a glance, and isn’t as customizable as standard OS X toolbars. Managing Peak’s multiple windows can also be clumsy; the new Tile and Stack commands help, but there’s no way to save custom window sets, and windows often overlap. These complaints aside, menus are well organized and the interface is usable overall.
Peak has new competition from Apple’s Soundtrack Pro ( October 2005 ): Soundtrack’s support for Final Cut Pro integration, surround sound (import/export though not true surround panning and mixing), multitrack editing, and action layers can assist in design and editing workflows that Peak doesn’t cover. But Peak remains the better choice for many stereo sound-editing tasks, and it integrates CD authoring, which Soundtrack lacks.;
CD mastering and authoring
The most prominent new feature in Peak Pro 5 is the overhauled Playlist editor, which can be used to combine several audio files with cross-fades, construct and burn CDs, or to prepare disc images for a pro CD-mastering house. Peak Pro 5 adds high-quality POW-r dithering to Peak’s excellent sample rate conversion, so you can convert higher-resolution audio with a minimal impact on sound fidelity. You can then bounce the result to an audio file, burn it to a Redbook-compatible CD, or with an optional plug-in, export to a Disc Description Protocol (DDP) file that can be sent to a CD-mastering house.
WaveBurner, an application included with Apple Logic Pro, has much of this CD-authoring functionality (though no VST support or DDP export option), but for users of other programs, integrated CD-mastering features alone could make Peak a must-have tool. (If you don’t need the ability to create custom track cross-fading, Peak LE includes all the CD-authoring features, minus the graphical Playlist editor.)
XT: Special effects house
Peak Pro 5 XT adds significant value to the editing package via a generous selection of bundled effects. If you already have a wide selection of plug-ins or do only light production work, you may not need XT, but if you’re looking to add a suite of polished processors to your effects arsenal, the bundle is now one of the best deals on the Mac.
The XT version includes both SoundSoap 2 and SoundSoap Pro ( November 2004 ) for noise reduction and restoration. The Master Perfection Suite included with the XT version includes dynamic processing, Repli-Q spectral matching (which can be used not only to match hardware EQs but other audio, as well), analysis and metering, and parametric EQ. Dynamic processors include 3-band and 5-band versions of Sqweez, for multi-band compression, expansion, and limiting, and the GateEx gate/expander. The interfaces are beautifully designed, particularly in the case of Sqweez, which incorporates an unusually detailed graphic preview. All include A/B/C/D compare buttons, making it easy to find the best setting; it’s too bad more competing effects don’t incorporate this feature.;
The plug-ins are currently limited to use with Peak Pro, but BIAS promises to add compatibility with other hosts in a free update, to be released soon. (The Master Perfection Suite will also be available separately for Pro Tools RTAS, AU, VST, and Windows for $599.) The only bad news is that Peak Pro 5 requires a USB key to operate, but fortunately for institutional settings, key licenses can be accessed over a network.
Macworld’s buying advice
Being effective in the studio is often a case of choosing the right tool for the right job; and when it comes to day-to-day work with stereo files, you’ll have a hard time finding a better tool than Peak Pro XT 5. Most users will be well-served by Peak LE 5, but the Pro and Pro XT 5 versions are worth consideration for their batch-processing abilities, and XT is one of the best values on the Mac for processing bundles. Whichever version you choose, you’ll find Peak Pro 5 is an irreplaceable timesaver alongside your multitrack software of choice.
Editor’s Note: This review was updated on January 4 to clarify information about Soundtrack Pro’s surround sound support and to clarify that SoundSoap 2 is included with Peak Pro XT. Also, the caption on the second screenshot was corrected to state that the Sqweez multiband dynamics processor is included in the XT version, not the Pro version. These changes did not affect the mouse rating of the product.Peak Pro 5’s new Playlist window can be used to assemble CDs visually, complete with precise timings, cross-fades, and CD text.The Sqweez multiband dynamics processor is one of a group of high-end plug-ins included in the XT version of Peak 5. The graphical preview in the center of the interface allows precise control over dynamics in different frequency ranges, with visual feedback as the effect operates.