Sony Sound Forge 7 v Steinberg Wavelab 5 test and review

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Sony Sound Forge 7 v Steinberg Wavelab 5

Sound Forge and Wavelab - the two leading Windows audio editors - are now under new management. How do the latest versions compare?

While Sound Forge and Wavelab aren't the only credible Windows audio editors, they are the heavyweights. A new version of each has recently appeared, the first to have been released under new management - Sound Forge (formerly a Sonic Foundry program) is now owned by the Media Software arm of Sony, while Steinberg, the maker of Wavelab, was taken over by Pinnacle Systems.
We've tested earlier versions of both products, most recently V4 of Wavelab and V6 of Sound Forge. Each offered comprehensive audio editing functions, support for CD burning and high bit-rates and sample-rates. While we were impressed by both products, the video features within Sound Forge gave it an edge for the video editor. However, those looking for Red Book CD burning were better served by Wavelab - with Sound Forge this required the purchase of a separate product (CD Architect). So, what new features do the latest releases provide, and has there been a shift in the balance of power?

Sound Forge 7
Sound Forge's user interface is little changed, and all the basic mono/stereo file editing functions available in earlier releases are still there. Naturally, the program retains the ability to work with audio contained in video files. Once any audio fine-tuning has been performed, the video file can be rendered out with the new audio in a variety of formats. These include AVI and WMV, but MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 output is only possible if the separate MainConcept plug-in is purchased (although users of Sony's Vegas Video may already have this installed). We have always found Sound Forge's interface to be one of the program's greatest strengths and, for routine editing tasks, the unfussy approach makes for an efficient workflow. Over 40 built-in effects and processing options are provided, including graphic and parametric EQ, reverb, delay, time-stretch, pitch-shift, chorus, noise gate and compression. For mastering applications, the excellent Wave Hammer and Multi-band Dynamics plug-ins are capable of excellent results. The Acoustic Mirror plug-in is also present and this provides an 'environment simulator' - a high quality reverb based on convolution processing.

Wavelab 5
On the surface, there appears to be little change with the new release of Wavelab. For audio editing work, two views still dominate. The standard editing window is used when working on single files, while an Audio Montage can be created when multiple files are to be combined in some way. That could be for CD creation or when mixing multiple audio tracks for video use - dialogue, sound effects and music, for example.
Given that the VST plug-in standard was a Steinberg invention, it is hardly surprising that Wavelab is supplied with a respectable range of effects. These cover much the same territory as those supplied with Sound Forge - including compression, noise gate, reverb, delay, and various equalisers. Declicker and DeNoiser plug-ins can also help with audio cleaning, although the DeNoiser does not offer the same level of control as Sound Forge's Noise Reduction. The Multiband Compressor provides a very useful tool for mastering a final audio mix. Numerous free and shareware VST effects plug-ins can be found via the web and, since Wavelab can also use DirectX plug-ins, it is easy to increase the range of effects options.

Sound Forge and Wavelab are capable of very professional results. But for CVE readers, Sound Forge still comes out on top for ease of use. It also represents excellent value for money now that CD Architect 5 and Noise Reduction 2 are included. On the downside, Sound Forge doesn't support VST plug-ins or surround-sound - and that may be critical. Wavelab has the more comprehensive feature set, with the excellent Audio Montage facility and support for multi-channel/surround-sound. However, it also has a somewhat steeper learning curve and a considerably higher price tag.
If considering which of these two programs to buy, the requirement for multi-channel/surround-sound support may be the deciding factor - and the choice may depend upon the audio capabilities of the prospective purchaser's video editing software. For straight mono/stereo audio editing work, we would stay with Sound Forge, but if we thought some additional surround-sound capability would be useful (for example, for mixing or sound design work), Wavelab's extra features would justify the extra cost.

John Walden

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