Price: about $45 at time of this review, but originally listed at $60 (there is a free 30-day demo version).
I’ve used Sound Forge since its first release in the late 90’s, and was actually a beta tester when it was a product of Sonic Foundry in Madison WI. I’ve had about every (pro) version since, and when asked to review Sound Forge Audio Studio 12 (SFAS12 from now on), I decided it might be enlightening to see how the former LE version compares with the ‘pro’ versions.
What I Do with Sound Forge ‘Pro’
I do not record with Sound Forge Pro, nor do I use its multitrack capability - it is my main audio editor that pops up when I double-click an audio track in my DAW. I use it daily, both to make adjustments and measurements on single tracks, and to trim and normalize the final mix from my DAW. It also is my usual converter from 24 bit WAV to mp3 when I need to send a ‘lossy’ sample to someone in an email. So, could the Audio Studio version do all that I normally do with Sound Forge? And would it be a useful program for someone who only needs to copy audio from vinyl, tapes, or other format, edit the sequence of files and burn them to a CD or a thumb drive?
I wouldn’t normally discuss installation since for most software I’ve used, it is a painless process. But the first issue I had in trying SFAS12 was that the MAGIX site noted an active Internet connection was required to authorize the software. Since I intentionally keep my studio as far from the Internet as possible, I decided to load it onto an Internet connected office machine since I didn’t plan to actually use it in my studio. Note that MAGIX is working on an offline authorization process, but I did not test that procedure.
The download of SFAS12 itself took about 4 minutes - there were options to also download a free copy of Ozone 7 Elements (which I already have) and a couple other programs, Audio Cleaning Lab and Music Maker, but I did not need these either. One slightly confusing choice in downloading is languages - DE, the default, is of course German, and I assume JP is Japanese, but English is listed as II which I assume is Inglese Internacionale! So far, so good, but the install operation was not so smooth, and it hung with a “Cause Exit code 1603”. It continued the installation process when I clicked an OK button, but in the end I received an Installation Error message! Not the cleanest installation I’ve seen (and I’ve seen hundreds). It instructed me to send a “Customer Service Inquiry” that would attach a detailed error report - however, I got a “connection failed” message when I tried this (several times) even though my PC was connected to a working 100 Mbps WiFi system.
I was about to give up when I noticed a Sound Forge icon on my desktop - and clicking it brought up the program with options to authorize it or run a demo for up to 30 days. I chose the demo! Hopefully MAGIX are working to clean up their installation process.
The Program and Manual
This light version is pared down from the full ‘pro’ program, enabling you to edit only one stereo track, but includs a good set of tools for basic editing and cleaning up audio. It is aimed at the novice or ‘sometime’ user and the manual makes this very clear upon reading the first few pages - it jumps right to audio cleaning techniques, recording from vinyl/cassettes/podcasts, burning CDs, and briefly describes editing sound for video. It runs 30 pages before the description of the program interface, but it then spends another ten pages on some rather basic information about recording with a PC and manipulating audio selections. Since I’ve been recording and mixing audio for decades, I could understand what the manual was trying to describe, but I felt the order of topics and some of the descriptions might be confusing to a novice.
Although I’ve never used a ‘lite’ version before, I see that SFAS12 is now a native 64-Bit program (needs a 64 bit OS), and has added some new editing techniques like slice editing, soft cut, and cross-fades. These are not new to most audio editing programs, but certainly useful to have. SFAS12 also allows using high-resolution audio up to 32-bit/384kHz, not that most novice users would need such resolution! The desktop view is similar to the pro version and enables docking or floating a number of auxiliary windows, and provides pretty much all the views and information anyone needs.
I found many of the same processes and effects in this ‘junior’ version as in my classic ‘pro’ versions including DC Offset, Fade, Invert/Flip, Mute, Normalize, Resample, Reverse, Smooth/Enhance, Swap Channels, Time Stretch, and Volume in the Processes menu, and Amplitude Modulation, Chorus/Flange, Delay, Distortion, Dynamics, Pitch Bend, EQ, Gate, Limiter, Resonant Filter, Reverb and Stutter in the Effects menu. In addition, you can use VST2, VST3, and if you have a pile of really old plug-ins, you can use DirectX! Again, the intended user, a newbie in my estimation, might not have any plug-ins and may not even know what a plug-in is, but the included processes and effects should cover about anything anyone needs.
One ‘modern’ process available is spectral editing, though it is a simplified version compared to the spectral editor I use in my studio. I tried it, and it works very well. However, the manual does not describe its operation very clearly and I had to mess with it a bit to get the hang of it. For one thing, the cursor first needed to be changed from the normal edit mode to the spectral cleaning mode (this is done under the Edit toolbar, using the Tool command). However, once I figured it out, the results were very impressive, with even loud coughs, pops and other extraneous sounds being almost completely eliminated without much change to the music itself.
There is also a set of restoration tools, including DeClicker/DeCrackler, DeClipper, DeEsser, DeHisser and DeNoiser that work reasonably well on appropriate artifacts, but the spectral editing was more effective for clicks and sporadic sounds like creaking chairs and coughs.
The Elastic Audio tool in Effects is very flexible and the results when shifting pitches, even brief sudden excursions up or down, were very impressive in their lack of artifacts. This tool has a graphical control window so that pitch may be changed dynamically anywhere in an audio file.
There are a good set of meters and other displays including a level meter that can indicate vu and peak levels (including true-peak), as well as rms values. And there is a “Visualization” display along the bottom which can be set up to show the peak/vu/rms meter, a vector scope, a correlation meter, a direction meter, a spectroscope, a spectrogram, an oscilloscope, a tuning meter and a bit meter. Each of these display types has a comprehensive set of scale and mode settings, and every display I tried worked as expected. Again, this is likely more than most newbies would actually need, but could provide an educational experience for a novice.
Although I did not try it, SFAS12 can edit audio for video, so this could be useful to people interested in improving the audio of their home video creations.
Does It Work?
In short, from my testing, SFAS12 does what it is designed to do, and compared to the earliest releases of Sound Forge, could be considered ‘advanced’. Again, the intended user will probably be using an internal sound card and not be concerned with high resolution audio, but SFAS12 can handle any audio format one needs.
The audio quality with every effect and process I tried was excellent, and several tools like the spectral editor and elastic audio implementation are as good as any similar tool I have used.
It is missing some functions I use regularly in SF Pro, and while it can hold several stereo or mono audio files ready to edit separately, it cannot merge or play audio from more than one file at a time. And, for me, it seemed a bit clumsy in use, but possibly because I’m used to my ‘classic’ pro version, and to full featured DAWs.
As a final note, some people have posted that Audacity, the rather excellent free audio editor, is a better program (after all, it’s free!). I tested results of some of the more complex processes like de-click and spectral editing using Audacity and SFAS12, and Sound Forge yielded significantly better audio results. For simple editing, EQ, level changes, etc., Audacity does a fine job, but if you need audio restoration, SFAS12 will likely do you a better job
- Good set of effective built-in processes and effects.
- Can preview effects (but not process) in real-time before executing them.
- Can use VST2, VST3 and even DX plugins.
- Spectral editor, though basic, does an excellent job removing clicks, pops, even loud coughing, from recordings with minimal change to the musical content.
- Can handle audio resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz, and about every audio format in the known universe.
- includes Ozone 7 Elements which itself is a handy set of tools for mixing and mastering.
- Installation was very buggy in my experience, and I decided not to even attempt authorization! Hopefully this will be addressed soon.
- Errors and omissions in the manual, such as a description of the Arrange/Maximize function under the Window menu (which does not exist in the program). The function exists but is called Tile/Untile. And on my PC, the indicated Shift-F4 did not activate the tile/untile function. There were a number of other disconnects between the manual and program operation.
- Can play only one stereo or mono track at a time. Not a multitrack workstation!
- A bit clumsy to use, especially if you are used to any DAW program, but linked to a DAW as its external audio track editor it could handle about any task.
SFAS12 would be useful for anyone needing to digitize and edit old vinyl records, cassette tapes, or downloads, and for simple audio editing of video files. It could also serve as an adjunct to a DAW, as its default audio track editor. And with Ozone 7 Elements provided at no extra cost (currently selling for $129), it’s a very good buy.