Can sound editing be as intuitive as graphics editing in Photoshop? That’s the question Soundbooth, the new Adobe sound app, poses.

Waiter! There’s a lasso tool in my audio editor!

I’ll give Adobe this: they know their audience. First, they woo audio fans with this sweet-sounding phrase: “A brand new audio application in the spirit of Sound Edit 16 and Cool Edit 2000.” Then, they throw in some tools from Photoshop, just to make sure everyone feels at home.

The good news is, Soundbooth betas show a lot of promise: it could well become the simple audio editor “for the rest of us”. Not everyone needs the full feature set of tools like Audition on Windows or Peak Pro on the Mac (and Soundtrack Pro, before Apple annoyingly decided to give it only to Final Cut buyers). As we saw in my preview of the first beta, Audition offers a really elegant way to edit, taking some of the best of all these programs and packaging them in a single, streamlined tool. This is still a beta, so it’s too soon to say for sure how well the finished product will work — and readers immediately pointed to some missing functionality they wanted to see. But it’s already great fun to play with, and getting more so fast.

Today, Adobe launched beta 2, with some nice new extras. Hart’s Audition, the blog of Adobe audio product manager Hart Shafer, has the full list of additions:

  1. The Lasso tool in the Visual Healing task is active
  2. Many new effects added (including EQ, Reverb, Compressor, & Dynamics)
  3. Copy and Paste between audio files
  4. Mix paste audio into and between audio files
  5. High-quality time and pitch shifting
  6. Normalize button now “Louder” button–multiple clicks apply hard limiting
  7. Click and drag the CTI to scrub
  8. Auto-heal cut/paste boundaries to eliminate clicks on edits
  9. AutoComposer saw many improvements
  10. Familiar Adobe tools panel
  11. Many performance and usability tweaks throughout

Check the “Advanced” menu to find the hidden controls for effects like this convolution reverb. There are actually some decent effects packed into Soundbooth — serious tools for an entry-level app.

So far, so good. I love the new “louder” button. Scrubbing isn’t working at all for me yet, but this is a beta. Best of all are the visual tools, which showed so much potential in beta 1: it’s really possible to select and edit in the spectral view to work with sound in the way you would normally edit bitmap graphics. There’s even a “heal” function; it’s not quite as easy as Photoshop’s healing brush, but it’s close. And the ability to mix in audio when cutting and pasting saves a lot of time versus using multiple tracks for simple jobs.

Beta 2 is most definitely workable for day-to-day use in a way the first beta was not. I found most of the needed functionality in place, and may use this for quick edits. Dig into the “advanced” settings on the effects and you’ll find most of the controls are there; there’s even a full convolution reverb. This comes nowhere near the depth of effects in Soundtrack Pro, borrowed by Apple directly from the Logic Pro effects suite, or the great mastering tools in Peak Pro. Of course, they really shouldn’t be — this is an entry-level tool. But I do hope a future version of Audition Pro can combine Soundbooth’s ease of editing with expanded effects tools.

In the meantime, more kudos to Audition: that program just saved a whole recording session that had acquired some nasty pops and clicks when an audio driver misbehaved.

Now all we need to know is, when will this software come out, how much will it cost, and where will it be positioned? (The beta expires at the end of February, so I expect the “when” might be somewhere around the release of CS3.)

Here’s my impassioned plea to Adobe: please allow us to get Soundbooth unbundled from CS, and please price it for a broad audience. The music and sound markets in general desperately need such a tool, particularly a cross-platform one (even if Adobe snubs PowerPC Macs). I’d love to see Soundbooth show up in the iLife / Photoshop Elements price range, maybe around US$49 or $69. (And, hey, don’t forget — you’re competing with tools like Peak LE on the Mac.) The kind of user who would want Soundbooth is also the kind that doesn’t want to spend a whole lot of money. It’s also not hard to see Soundbooth fitting perfectly for musicians alongside GarageBand, Ableton Live, or other programs that lack a waveform editor — and those musicians, in turn, suggesting it to friends who need to edit a podcast or voiceover. I think with some additional fit and finish, Soundbooth could fit the bill perfectly.

Full info from Adobe:

Adobe Soundbooth Beta [Adobe Labs]

Soundbooth Beta 2 Now Available! [Hart’s Audition]

A complete look at Soundbooth with details a lot of its features, by Adobe’s Bob Donlon. Focuses on beta 1 but still useful. (Note to Bob: yes, some people don’t know what to do with a mixer. But a lot of us who DO know what to do with that big mixer from Audition also need a streamlined tool now and then.)


Adobe Soundbooth Beta First Look: Simplified Audio Editor for Quick Sound Editing (Windows, Mac)

Adobe Defends Intel-Only Mac Release for Soundbooth

The Problem with Audacity

I have to rant for a moment as an aside. Enough with mentioning the open-source option Audacity: for a tool that should be embracing an entry-level audience, that software is generally buggy, incomplete, and hard to use. I’m not picking a fight here, either: I’m frustrated that I can’t recommend Audacity as a free, basic tool, because everyone I point in its direction comes back with a bad experience. (Contrast, by comparison, superb audio tools like JACK, Hydrogen, the open-ended sound toolkit Pd, and the massive Ardour project, among others. Audacity is hardly the best open source has to offer.) And yes, while you could theoretically contribute to the development effort, I have some serious questions about Audacity’s foundations; it seems like we need a new program entirely.