Edit Review: Steinberg WaveLab 6
Earlier this year, we took a look at Bias Peak Pro 5, the latest version of a stereo waveform editor that many consider to be among the finest available for the Mac platform (see digitalcontentproducer.com/videoedsys/
revfeat/video_bias_peak_pro). But we wouldn't want to leave the PC-based audio pros in the lurch, so this month we'll give Steinberg WaveLab 6 a spin. WaveLab has been a PC mainstay for years; the newest version offers a number of advancements that make it even more attractive.
Backing up for a moment, let's ask ourselves a fundamental question: Why does an audio-for-video pro need a waveform editor? True, more editing capabilities are being built into digital audio workstations, and you can easily open up third-party VST or DirectX plug-ins within them. Nonetheless, if you need to conduct major surgery on your audio files, or execute complex batch operations, you're going to need the tools that a program such as WaveLab 6 offers — especially because it comes with full surround-sound integration.
For example: A producer client comes to you with a problem. On a recent corporate video shoot, audio was poorly recorded in the field, with bad microphone placement that resulted in a wide fluctation in levels. Over the course of a two-hour lecture, the presenter frequently moved from one side of the stage to another. There are periods of time when she can barely be heard. Can you establish a constant level? Of course!
Using WaveLab's Metanormalizer, you can achieve this task easily. You could divide your track into a series of discrete clips, bring all of them up to the same level, and go have a cup of coffee while the application's batch processor executes the task. Naturally, you'll also have bumped up the noise component of those clips, and thus you may have to lean on the restoration package that ships with WaveLab 6 to fix the problem. No sweat. This can also be included in the batch-processing phase.
Once you've installed and registered WaveLab 6, the next step is to open up an audio file on your hard drive. Under the File menu, move to Open, and you'll find lots of options. You can call up an Audio Montage — that's what Steinberg calls a multi-file project that's perfect for compiling a CD or burning a DVD that includes audio and video clips (which can be synched to timecode during the edit process). Or select individual audio clips, or even the labeling software that ships with this product. For now, we'll simply select Wave and make a selection. I chose “Merci Monsieur P.,” the same movement from the trio I wrote that I worked on in the Peak 5 review. You could just as easily extract one or more cuts from a sound library CD for editing to picture. WaveLab 6 now includes Dirac Time-stretching and Pitch-shifting algorithms. They're very good, and will help you slide timings around to match picture when you're dealing with sound libraries.
I took the four bars leading into the first clarinet statement, which were performed a bit too quickly by the pianist. Slowing them down to the desired tempo wasn't a problem, but I noticed a slight digital click at the front end after the task was completed. To zoom down to the single sample level, all you have to do is click in the ruler area and drag over the spot you want to examine in detail. Very handy. Unfortunately, once I got down to them, I couldn't find any waveform distortions that I could correct with the pencil tool. I achieved the result I wanted by drawing a box several samples wide around the offending area and choosing the Fast Mute option under the Edit menu.
To test the effectiveness of the DeNoiser and DeClicker components of the program, I opened up a problematic audio file. The liner notes to War Whoops And Medicine Songs, an Ethnic Folkways Library LP released in 1964, don't say when the tracks were recorded, but the Native American songs and chants were clearly captured in the field with some primative equipment. The content is startling, but the material, some of which I have transferred to hard drive and used in my own work, has lots of clicks and background noise. In other words, the tracks presented a real challenge to these plug-ins.
Steinberg did a reasonably good job of bringing down the noise floor and attacking the clicks and pops in WaveLab 6, but the Waves Restoration Bundle (sold separately at www.waves.com), which includes similar software, did an even better job of homing in on the offensive material and surgically removing it. Of course, any time you perform these kinds of operations, you've got to balance what you're losing (in terms of desired signal) against the bad stuff that you're getting rid of. You also have to balance the price of a dedicated package such as the Waves Restoration Bundle against the fact that a similar, but not as good, restoration package is included in the WaveLab 6 sticker price.
Fortunately, plug-ins reside in the Mastering section of WaveLab 6, and they can be inline. In other words, you don't have to render your files, and you can remove the plug-ins altogether or touch up the amount of noise reduction, for example, at any stage in the process. The same thing applies to any plug-in you drop into your mastering chain. If you develop a string of plug-ins that works well, you can easily save it and recall this chain when you're working on another assignment.
Its ease of operation is one of the things I like best about WaveLab 6. There's a lot of power in this app, and a detailed printed manual that helps you get at it, but much of the strength can be accessed simply by intuition.
Take the Analysis section, for example. Global Analysis allows you to see the peak level of your file and its loudness, and check for any DC Offset problems. The Audio Error and Detection feature is outstanding. Run it on a clip, and it will point out where problems exist. From there, you have the option of telling the program to draw out the error it's found, or even to clean up all errors at once. It's a good thing that WaveLab 6 can handle a lot of clean-up work on its own, but it doesn't make up for the fact that an adjustable-speed scrub wheel is missing. The scrub wheel lets you hone in on clicks and pops with great precision. The workaround here is to zoom all the way down to an area that's several samples (or fewer) wide, and have the application play only that portion of the audio file. It's an OK compromise, but not as good as having a wheel.
Audio-for-video editors will use WaveLab 6 in two ways. As a straight stereo waveform editor, it can help you clean up poorly recorded audio tracks and bring them all into a normalized range that is suitable for playback to video. You can also use it to create sound-design elements for use against picture. These capabilities alone are enough to recommend WaveLab 6.
If you want to go deeper and create multi-track audio projects that can be burned to a DVD and used in surround-sound video masters, the Audio Montage section adds another realm of possibilities.This corner of the application is aimed primarily at those who want to assemble and edit CD tracks and prepare a master disk for duplication purposes. Moreover, Audio Montage can import video as well as audio, so it can be used to check your work against picture. You wouldn't want to substitute WaveLab 6 for a dedicated surround-sound DAW such as Steinberg Nuendo or Digidesign Pro Tools, but the Audio Montage component will help you get an idea of how your audio clips will work against picture.
In conclusion, I was very impressed with WaveLab 6. There are a lot more features beyond what I've mentioned, including a detailed set of metering tools that give an excellent graphic representation of your signals. Ease of use, again, is a main factor in its favor. Backing up a project can be a problem, but WaveLab 6 lets you spill your contents across multiple CDs easily. If you work on the PC side and are in the market for a stereo waveform editor that also works overtime in surround sound, WaveLab 6 is a worthy candidate for your studio.
Buena Park, Calif.; (714) 228-3301
Product: WaveLab 6
Assets: Ease of use, detailed set of metering tools gives an excellent graphic representation of audio signals.
Caveats: Backups can be a problem, no adjustable-speed scrub wheel.
Demographic: Audio-for-video editors on the PC side.