Audition, the storied professional Windows audio editing application, has finally made its debut on the Mac—both as a separate $349 application and as part of Adobe’s $1,699 Production Premium and $2,599 Master Collection Creative Suite 5.5. ($99 upgrade pricing is available to those with any version of the now-discontinued Soundbooth and previous versions of Audition.) Adopting an interface similar to Soundbooth’s, Audition CS5.5 offers a greater variety of features and better performance. Despite its improvements, however, some audio pros and musicians will find Audition’s current implementation unacceptable because of its lack of support for control surfaces (hardware mixing boards used to control audio applications) and MIDI.
Features and functions
Audition has been a popular professional audio editing application for Windows for years. Based on Syntrillium Software’s Cool Edit Pro (acquired by Adobe in 2003), the current version has been rewritten, using Cool Edit’s code base. In addition to the features you’d expect from a professional audio editing application, Audition includes a broad collection of tools for cleaning and mixing audio, native 5.1 multichannel support, roundtrip Adobe Premier Pro editing, and support for OMF and XML import and export (allowing you to exchange projects with Avid’s Pro Tools and Apple’s Final Cut Pro). Like Soundbooth, Audition includes royalty-free soundtracks, sound effects, and loops, available through Adobe’s Resource Central. It’s also significantly more responsive than Soundbooth.
Views on audio
If you’ve used Soundbooth, Audition’s interface will seem familiar. Like Soundbooth, Audition offers two primary work environments—waveform and multitrack, which you select via menu commands, keyboard shortcuts, or by clicking tabs in the main Audition window. Surrounding the main panel you find smaller tabbed panels for file navigation, markers, effects, and video. You can call up additional panels for an audio mixer, amplitude statistics, and batch processor from the Window menu. You can undock any panel so that it becomes a separate window. Selection and editing buttons appear at the top of the window and transport controls appear near the bottom.
Within the Multitrack view you’re offered tools for moving, slicing, and selecting portions of clips. Within each track you find typical controls including volume, panning, mute, and solo. You can additionally choose an input source (stereo or mono) and, unlike Soundbooth, assign a track’s output to a specific device or bus. Also, unlike with Soundbooth, Audition allows you to assign markers in Multitrack view.
Choose the Waveform view and selection (marquee, lasso, and paintbrush) tools and a spot healing tool become available. Additionally you have the option to expose a spectral display, which defines a sound’s characteristics via a colored graph. Using that spectral display and the Spot Healing tool you can “paint out” unwanted frequencies and noise that can’t be removed via one of Audition’s noise-removal/reduction tools.
Speaking of effects, Audition comes with a nice complement of them organized in such collections as Amplitude and Compression, Delay and Echo, Filter and EQ, Modulation, Noise Reduction/Restoration, Reverb, Special (including Distortion and Guitar Suite), and Stereo Imagery. The application also supports compatible VST and Audio Units effects. As with Soundbooth, you can gang together groups of effects into an effects rack, save that rack, and then apply it to other tracks and within other projects. When working in Multitrack view you have access to non-destructive effects. When you switch to Waveform view you can work with these same effects as well as with destructive effects including DeClicker, DeClipper, Delete Silence, and Stretch and Pitch effects. You can additionally select a consistent noise (something like the constant hum of an air conditioner), sample it, and then ask Audition to remove that noise from the entire clip.
Nearly all of the effects allow you to extensively tweak the effect’s settings. For example, with the Stretch and Pitch effect you can choose between either the iZotope or Audition algorithms (the iZotope algorithm sounds better but is more processor intensive), adjust the stretch percentage (under 100 percent speeds up the clip whereas over-100 percent settings slow down the clip—each without changing the clip’s pitch), and change the pitch plus or minus 36 semitones. You can also preview effects within an effect’s window before applying them.
Pleased as I was by the quality and number of useful effects included with Audition, I was less happy when I tried to locate some of them. While working through projects I found myself bouncing around from Multitrack to Waveform view, between the Effects Rack and Diagnostics tabs, and then up to the menu bar to ferret out exactly where a particular effect could be found. Certainly you’ll learn in time where Adobe has parked Audition’s many effects and restoration tools, but it would be nice if they were more centrally located.
While Audition can be used for music projects (ones that don’t require MIDI or such musical features as a metronome, notation view, and beat mapping, as these features aren’t supported), its target audience is broadcasters and media producers. As such, I used it to produce a couple of episodes of the Macworld podcast—cleaning and tweaking tracks recorded via Skype, filtering background noise, editing out breathiness from a too-close headset microphone, balancing volume between speakers and within individual tracks, and mixing in music. Normally I do this work with GarageBand and easy-to-use as it may be, it doesn’t give me nearly the flexibility I found with Audition.
The Skype track presented a couple of issues. The first was the typical-for-Skype tinniness of the track. A quick application of EQ settled that. I then had to filter out some background hiss, which I was able to do by sampling that sound and then applying the Noise Reduction effect. (Using a Noise Reduction slider I was able to tweak the effect so I lost most of the noise without also losing the clip’s high frequencies). The speaker’s volume was sometimes too hot and the DeClipper didn’t provide all the help I needed. However, with the use of the Hard Limiter effect set at -3db I kept the volume under control. This track also had a lot of breathy noises in sections that should have been silent. They weren’t consistent enough to sample and eliminate with the Noise Reduction effect so I simply selected them and chose the Silence command from the Effects menu.
One of the trickier parts of mixing a multi-participant podcast is balancing the volume levels between the speakers. Audition’s Match Volume takes care of it. Just drag the files you want to balance to the Match Volume panel, configure the settings (you can match to total RMS, loudness, perceived volume, or peak volume as well as impose limiting), and click the Match Volume button. In short order, the volumes of the two tracks are matched. Although I didn’t have to do it, you can also use a Speech Volume Leveler to make the volume in a single track consistent should a speaker’s volume vary wildly.
Adding the music wasn’t difficult. I just chose my background music tracks and dragged them into the Files window from the Finder. (Regrettably, Audition doesn’t include a media browser for storing often-used clips.) I then dragged them into position. Audition doesn’t include an automatic ducking feature (a feature that automatically drops the volume of one track when another plays). Some people used to this feature may regret its absence but I prefer to draw in my own volume curves, which I could easily do in Audition.
I’ve used Soundbooth for this same kind of work and I’m happy to report that Audition is significantly more responsive. On my 2.66GHz Dual-Core Mac Pro with 8GB of RAM it would take Soundbooth several minutes to save a project. Audition does that work in a fraction of the time. Also, when applying a processor intensive effect—which, under Soundbooth, would completely tie up the application until the processing was done—you can continue to do other things in your project while Audition renders the effect. An effect like time and pitch can still take minutes to finish, but you don’t notice it nearly as much because you can carry on with other Audition chores while it finishes rendering.
I also tested Audition’s interactions with Premiere Pro as well as its compatibility with Final Cut Pro. I found that opening a complex Audition project in Adobe Premier Pro can take several minutes, though all the elements eventually make their way to Premiere. The same can’t be said for projects opened in Final Cut Pro. Stereo clips and tracks are converted to mono, overlapping clips are combined, no effects and EQ are exported, and you lose all your automation envelopes except clip volume and mono-to-stereo track panning. Additionally older copies of Final Cut don’t work. For example, Final Cut Pro 5 refused to open a Final Cut XML Interchange Format file exported from Audition.
While I produced a couple of good-sounding podcasts that could have been more troublesome with GarageBand, there were some features I missed. As I mentioned, it would be nice to have a window that contains frequently used clips—commercials or background music that you use time and again. I also wish that I was able to preview clips within the Files panel. You can preview clips when you’re importing them, but once they’re in the Files panel you can hear them only if you open them in the Waveform view. When you have a couple of dozen clips with names like Bumper01, Bumper02, and Bumper03, it would helpful to be able to quickly preview them in order to tell which is which.
Audition offers no support for enhanced podcasts—podcasts that you add chapters, images, and links to—so I had to take my finished audio work and import it into GarageBand where I could add these elements. And while I understand the idea of having two separate Waveform and Multitrack views, I like GarageBand’s hybrid view where I can see not only all the tracks in a project but also the waveform view of the currently selected tracks. I often move between these two views when editing and being able to keep an eye on one view while working in another is useful.
I don’t use a control surface, but many audio professionals do. And for them, this version of Audition is likely a dead end as it offers no support for such hardware. Adobe understands that this is a priority so it will undoubtedly come at some time, but for now, no.
Macworld’s buying advice
Despite the missing features, I found Audition CS5.5 to be a solid tool largely because of its wealth of useful, good-sounding effects and its cleaning and tweaking tools. It’s now my go-to podcast production editor. If I routinely worked with Premiere Pro, I’d like it even more, as trips between the two applications are nearly seamless. Also, if you have the opportunity to upgrade at the $99 price, it’s a terrific bargain. But it’s not a perfect fit for everyone. Musicians looking for a full-featured Digital Audio Workstation won’t find it here. And audio pros who depend on control surfaces will stick with what they have—perhaps returning to take a look at Audition when it supports their hardware.