A new player has entered the professional two-track digital-audio-editing arena: Spark 1.01, from TC Works. Unlike its competitor Berkeley Integrated Audio Software’s Peak, Spark is intended to be a complete audio-mastering solution rather than a powerful, general-purpose audio editor. Lending credence to this claim are many of Spark’s features: an expansive effects matrix that supports the industry-standard Virtual Studio Technology (VST) effects plug-ins, direct export of playlists to Adaptec’s Jam and Toast CD-R-writing applications, and support for third-party audio cards. But as impressive as these features are, Spark could learn a thing or two from Peak.
Spark’s intuitive interface makes it easy to edit audio regions and add them to playlists.
Spark’s interface is a model of efficiency. From within the program’s Browser View window, you manage audio files and playlists and edit waveforms. The Transport window contains controls for playing, pausing, and recording audio files, as well as the Jog Shuttle wheel, which controls audio scrubbing, time stretching, and variable playback speed. To add new audio files to Spark, you either click on the Add button and select a new file from the resulting dialog box or drag and drop files into the Files portion of the Browser View window. Adding an audio region to a playlist is as simple as dragging the region from the File View section to the Playlist View section. From there you can change the volume and impose crossfades between regions. With a click on the Create CD button, regions are saved and opened in Jam or Toast (the latter is bundled with Spark).
The Master window is your gateway to Spark’s impressive signal-processing capabilities. In this window, you can route audio through up to five VST-compatible plug-in effects in a series, one after the other. At the same time, you can run four of these serial streams in parallel. Running 15 or 20 effects will overwhelm even the most powerful G4; thankfully, the Master window also displays a gauge that indicates how much CPU power your current effects configuration demands. Spark includes some suitable VST effects, including a collection of EQs, filters, and a reasonable reverb. Effects unlikely to be used on a master recordingchorus and flange, for examplearen’t included.
Like all of today’s other professional digital-audio/MIDI-sequencer applications, Spark supports Steinberg’s ASIO and Digidesign’s Direct I/O protocols, allowing you to use high-quality audio cards from such companies as Digidesign, MOTU, Korg, and Emagic. Spark also lets you swap audio data between your Mac and a sampler through MIDI and SCSI.
Although Spark handles mastering well, sampler users who depend on their audio editor to make seamless loops may prefer Peak. Unlike Peak, Spark has no function for automatically locating desirable loop points. Those who have become accustomed to Peak’s unlimited-undo feature will likewise be disappointed with Spark’s inability to undo more than the last command. And although Spark lets you create crossfades, the program lacks an easy way to preview them. Finally, TC Works’ copy-protection measures are unlikely to please anyone. We waited more than a week for a response code that allowed us to use Spark on a floppy-drive-less Power Mac G3.