|Adobe unveils Soundbooth, invites you in
October 26, 2006 Adobe today announced Soundbooth, not just a new audio application, but a new way for visual professionals to work with audio. Publicly demonstrated for the first time today at the Adobe MAX conference in Las Vegas, Soundbooth is also available immediately as a public beta, shipping in 2007 and replacing Audition in the Adobe Production Suite.
“Audition is a great application for audio-centric pros,” says Hart Shafer, Sr. Product Manager for Adobe's Audio Products, “and will continue to be available as a point-product for audio professionals.
The limitation of Audition and similar applications, he says, “is that a lot of people who need to do audio work are video professionals, and Flash professionals, and other kinds of visual professionals who don’t happen to be audio professionals.” Audition was stretched to cover these two very different groups of people.
It’s a matter of approach, he says. “Programs like Audition are tool based. You can only find your way if you know what the tools are, and where to find them. Once you do, though, Audition is extremely powerful and flexible. It’s designed to be the hub of a professional audio workflow.”
This is frankly more than most creative pros need. They don’t need an audio tool designed to serve as a new hub, says Hart. They just only audio to be one spoke in the visual workflow they’ve already established.
To be properly designed for them, audio tools need have tools that are easily discoverable, or they’re just obstacles. Of course, a lack of power is every bit an obstacle in its own way, too. This lays out the challenge: Soundbooth works all the way down to the sample level…but how do you get there?
“We asked ourselves, how do we make audio more accessible for professionals who aren’t audio professionals, without sacrificing power?” says Hart. “We thought about a wizards-based approach, but that was exactly wrong: professionals find those frustrating after just a couple of times.
Hence, Soundbooth, a new approach to the audio tasks that visual professionals need most often.
Fast, Easy, Agile
Those are the three words that seem to best summarize Adobe’s approach in Soundbooth. They also describe Hart’s presentation to me in Boston from his hotel room, via Adobe Acrobat Connect. Like the enterprise-class Adobe Breeze, Acrobat Connect is a Flash-based collaborative environment that combines web conferencing with screen sharing. I consider myself a Breeze ninja, but I was delighted to see the power and performance of Acrobat Connect, even over a hotel internet connection.
Dissolve and waveform close-up
"Looking over our customers’ shoulders, we saw that when nearly every one of them brings a clip into an audio editor, they need to trim, fade, and normalize,” says Hart, “so we wanted to put those tools right up front.”
There are one-click, highly-visible buttons for all these functions, along with a drag and drop approach that rewards just clicking around. To minimize clicking around, though, Soundbooth offers tabs organized in classic Adobe fashion, including Tasks, Effects, and Markers.
I’ll cover the last two, quickly for now.
Markers are one illustration of the level of integration that Soundbooth offers with other members of the Adobe family, starting with Flash cue point integration. Soundbooth can also export its markers to XML as part of interactive design
For many of the video professionals in The COW, I’ll point out the “Edit in Soundbooth” integration with Adobe Premiere, just the sort of thing we’ve come to expect.
We also expect unmatched support for file support, both incoming and outgoing that’s here too. The full Adobe Media Encoder is built right in, including the full Flash encoder. Everything about import and export is, as Hart says, “the real deal.”
As for effects, my favorite feature there? That the Effects tab is almost empty. Even though Soundbooth supports up to five filters in real time, there are only four currently in the rack, waiting for you to direct the Soundbooth team on the rest that need to be there. Adobe is taking their public beta very seriously.
“This is the first public beta coming out of our group, and it’s exciting for us to offer Soundbooth at this stage of its development,” Hart says. “We want users to guide us which are the filters they really need, what will really help them. There are real benefits to user participation at this point in the process.”
Note the contrast of this approach to others in the industry. Many developers hold their cards closely to their vests, releasing products beta tested by a dozen or two outside testers -- and often less whose interests and skill level has little chance of lining up with yours. I certainly did.
With only four of them currently defined, the Tasks tab is similarly underpopulated pending your input. At the same time, Soundbooth’s Tasks tab is every bit as compelling as an Adobe approach to task-centered development should be.
As promised, the tools here are both simple and powerful. Automatic noise reduction, and one-click mastering and voiceover polishing are especially strong examples of this.
Even more interesting to me as a visually-oriented producer is Soundbooth’s Visual Healing.
The Soundbooth interface
The example Hart used was an unpleasant squeak at the beginning of a warehouse door opening. Looking at a spectral view of the clip made it easy to identify the squeak, illustrated here. A click or two with the Auto Heal brush identical in function to the one in Adobe Photoshop made the picture of the squeak blend back into the surrounding image…which is all it took for the sound of the squeak blend back in.
There are other aspects of Soundbooth’s approach to noise reduction that go much, much deeper, but for many of us, even the easiest and most obvious ones will provide power that we’ve not experienced before.
This is exactly the goal, says Hart. “We wanted to take some of the deepest tools in Audition, make them more accessible, easier to use, and faster.”
Tasks: Automatic Soundtrack creation
Now this is some amazing stuff.
Audition is a great way to create loops, but to really take advantage of them, it helps to have at least a sense of music composition. More to the point for visual folks, loops aren’t especially useful in day-to-day production. By their very nature, they don’t have particular durations, and are frequently difficult to fit into video-oriented audio environments that also include voiceover, natural sound, and more.
Soundbooth’s AutoComposer takes care of all these limitations at once. As the name suggests, it creates dynamic soundtracks using real instruments played by real musicians. They have a beginning, middle and an end, and their length can be determined by the duration of the reference video clip you provide, or dragged to a specific length.
Anyone familiar with SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro has seen something like this in action. Even if not, the idea is a simple one: the musical compositions in the library are modular, which is what makes them so easily combined to any length. With SmartSound doing it so well, why bother?
The fact is, that’s only the beginning for Soundbooth.
The Soundbooth AutoComposer
“One of the things we’ve done is to take products in a similar niche and abstracted them one more layer, to make them more gestural,” Hart says. “In SmartSound, I could adjust one instrument or another, one at a time, but I can’t use a single slider to dynamically affect intensity with combinations of instruments and arrangements.”
As you might guess, this is exactly what Soundbooth does. A slider for Intensity changes the entire “feel” of a track at once. In one example, a piece at its lowest intensity is all acoustic, and as the intensity rises, it becomes electric until, at the top, it becomes a distorted, overdriven electric version. Although the initial beta version has the intensity sliding between 1 and 6, this one clearly calls for a slider that goes to 11.
Melody sliders provide a similar function, helping to isolate instruments to feature more or less of the melody. Both Intensity and Melody are keyframeable of course, so that the character of the piece can be animated over time. This is in addition to the usual volume keyframes, which can be added for the entire clip or for any and all of these attributes individually.
As a result, Soundbooth refers to these compositions as “templates,” which is really what they are here: outlines, with included ingredients for you to add or combine as you see fit. By the time Soundbooth ships, several dozen of these templates will be included, all as uncompressed WAV files for maximum quality.
To make things even more interesting says Hart, “we’ll publish the way to make these scores. You can do the basic compositional work in Audition or your favorite DAW [digital audio workstation], and this metadata tool that we’ll provide will help you create a template that tells Soundbooth the length of the elements, how they fit together, and so on.”
While this tool will likely not be available during the public beta it’s much easier to build and test templates in a fully-baked application -- it’s easy to imagine a cottage industry blooming around the creation of these templates.
The eagle-eyed will have noticed from the screengrabs that Soundbooth will be available on Mac, as well of course on PC, with support for both Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista.
Note that on Mac, only Intel Macs will be supported. Hart pointed out that, while Adobe was certainly interested in having Soundbooth available to the widest range of customers, focusing on the latest Mac platform helped streamline the development process and enable a better customer experience.
As mentioned earlier, Soundbooth will replace Audition in the Adobe Production Studio, and Audition will carry on as a separately sold point product.
Soundbooth’s pricing will be announced, with a final release in 2007.
Important details, but in the larger picture, it may sound like I’ve swallowed the Adobe pitch hook, line and sinker. I reply, what’s not to like? I’ve been exactly the target audience for Soundbooth two decades before it arrived: a visual specialist who found myself exasperated by a pile of software apps growing year after year that simply weren’t designed to do what I needed, in anything resembling an acceptable timeframe. If this sounds even vaguely like you, you’re going to love what you see in Soundbooth.
And if you don’t, Hart and his team are ready to hear from you. Even if you feel as strongly about it as I think you will, they’re ready for your help to help bring this very exciting beginning to its proper conclusion.
Ready to get started? Visit http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/soundbooth/ for more information, including directions to the download.
Tim Wilson is the Associate Publisher of Creative COW Magazine, and Associate Director of CreativeCOW.net
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