Final Cut Pro 5 & Soundtrack Pro

Apple Computer Inc.

Final Cut Studio Part 1

By Carlos Garza

Originally Published in Pro Audio Review


Video post production has never been easier or more challenging than it is today.  Easier because of all the tools available, but also more demanding in terms of the complexity.

Broadcast video and optical discs are making strides towards High Definition (HD). TV shows are increasingly being produced in HD with surround sound with more and more network affiliates broadcasting in digital. Motion graphics are everywhere from DVD menus to the evening news.

Apple Computer looked at the workflows involved in video post and integrated a suite of products to address the escalating demands. Final Cut Studio ($1299) comprises three upgraded products, Final Cut Pro 5, Motion 2, DVD Studio Pro 4 and a new product, Soundtrack Pro (all products available separately).

This review will focus on Final Cut Pro 5 and Soundtrack Pro. The remaining products will be covered in part 2.


Final Cut Pro 5 (FCP5) supports editing in a variety of formats from DV up to uncompressed 8-bit and 10-bit HD video. Native editing is supported for long GOP MPEG-2 (HDV), DVCAM, DVCPRO HD, DVCPRO050, Panasonic P2 and Sony IMX.  SD and HDV can be transferred to DVD Studio Pro 4 with markers.

High definition video can be previewed on a high definition monitor or it can be downconverted to standard definition for previewing on SD monitors. External video output devices, such as a second Apple Cinema Display, permit previewing of HD video with real-time effects. The primary monitor remains available for editing windows.

FCP5 supports frame rates ranging from 23.976 to 60 fps. The timeline can display timecode as well as frames and feet for film projects. Audio waveforms with level overlays are displayed in the timeline.

FCP5 allows real-time editing from multiple clip sources. Up to sixteen clips can be viewed at one time and a total of 128 clips can be edited on-the-fly.

Real-time effects processing minimizes the need for rendering and is supported for DV, SD, HDV, DVCPRO HD and uncompressed HD video. Playback quality and frame rate are adjusted dynamically to scale performance based on CPU availability and user settings.

FCP5 supports up to 24 channels of audio for input and output at resolutions up to 24-bit 96kHz.  Each track has level, pan, mute and solo controls.  More than 25 audio filters are built-in.

Many of the products in Final Cut Studio (FCS) are integrated by “round-trip” processing. For example, audio can be sent from FCP5 to Soundtrack Pro for non-destructive editing. Likewise, video clips can be sent from FCP5 to Motion or Shake for non-destructive processing.

FCP5 can control FireWire devices and supports various capture modes. Video clips can be captured on a single workstation and shared by editors with access to an Xsan consolidated storage pool.

FCP5 supports film editing through Cinema Tools 3 and includes support for 35mm 3-perf, 35mm 4-perf, and 16mm-20. 24-fps Edit Decision Lists (EDL) can be converted to and from 29.97 fps. Output includes cut lists, change lists and audio EDL.

FCP5 uses an XML interchange format to export projects to other editing environments, asset management systems and other post production applications.  Audio tracks can also be transferred to Apple’s Logic Pro with XML metadata or other systems using OMF.

The bundled, Compressor 2, provides distributed encoding for MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 and H.264 encoding and performs 2-pass variable bit-rate encoding.

Up to 99 audio and video tracks are supported in addition to 99 levels of undo. Window arrangements and keyboard commands are customizable. The included LiveType application provides animated text and includes a royalty-free animated content library.

Soundtrack Pro (STP) is designed for editing, processing and mixing of multi-track audio sets.  It can be synchronized with MIDI but it is not a MIDI sequencer.  Soundtrack Pro also supports audio resolutions up to 24-bit, 96kHz.  Multi-take recording is possible but with only a single mono or stereo track at once.

Its real-time processing and audio editing features can be applied to mono/stereo files and multi-track projects.  The interface has a timeline view, a global waveform view, a frequency spectrum view, actions list and a waveform display that features animated waveforms. Both FCP5 and STP provide a console mixer interface and support control surfaces using Mackie Control protocol.

Soundtrack Pro uses flexible “action lists” for non-destructive signal possessing. Actions can be rearranged, bypassed or removed from the processing sequence. There are over 50 effects plug-ins, including the Space Designer convolution reverb, Match EQ and a multi-band compressor. Both products accept Audio Units plug-ins.

Other features include time compression/expansion without pitch change, and audio restoration features, such as broad-band noise reduction and “find and fix” for clicks, pops and power-line hum. Room tone can be copied and pasted into or added to sections to maintain consistency.

A library with 5000 or more sound effects and musical Apple Loops is provided. The effects were licensed from third party libraries include Foley effects and ambiences from mostly real-world environments. An Apple Loops browser is included.

In Use

I tested Final Cut Pro 5 (FCP5) and Soundtrack Pro (STP) on a Dual 2.7 GHz. G5 with 4 GB of RAM and Mac OS 10.4.  The control surface testing was performed with a Mackie Control Universal and an Unitor8 MKII MIDI interface. I monitored through a pair of Mackie HR-824s and Sony MDR-7506 headphones.

When I took piano lessons all those years ago, they didn’t tell me I would one day be editing films and producing DVDs. That was a long time ago and I guess one thing leads to another. Thanks to our friends at Film Preservation Associates and Image Entertainment, our scores appear on two surround sound DVDs of classic silent films. We also have an upcoming CD and a film score demo reel.

In addition to the classic silent films I’ve scored with my group, Silent Orchestra, I’ve also become an experimental video producer – in fact, we are producing new silent films for live performance and DVD.  The Final Cut Studio (FCS) suite of products is ideally suited to my demo reel project and to cleaning up the audio of student film projects that were shot on my Canon Elura II mini-DV camera. I love the compact size of this camera but the built-in mic picks up a lot of motor noise.

My first goal was to add some pizazz to an abstract video that we’re scoring. The new 3-way color correction effect was intended to fix colors that aren’t quite “right” and it does a good job of it. In my case, I wanted to actually turn my footage into something that was not quite right. The results were stunning. My muted black and white imagery was bursting with color. If you remember David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes music video, you’ll get the idea. Of course, it also works well for less dramatic uses, such as making snow look really white when it’s “kind of blue” or, um, yellow.

Next, I chose a set of colorful clips of roughly similar length and made a working “multiclip.” While the sequence ran with my music track, I dropped video onto the timeline by clicking in the frames of the multiclip. Once the editing pass was complete, I tweaked the edits and added some artistic cross fades.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my cross fades without rendering. The improved real-time processing, and the dual-processor G5 cut my work time drastically.

Other work flow improvements in FCP5 include “edit overlays” or contextual menus similar to what I saw in the previous version of DVD Studio Pro.  Now when you drag a clip onto the canvas and hold the mouse button you will see a menu of things to do with the clip — insert, replace, fill to fit, etc.

Using the multiclip editing feature is an efficient way to cut video to audio, especially rhythmic audio. Editing a music concert or sporting event footage locked to a common timecode is another great use for multiclip editing.

I added some sound effects tracks and launched the console mixer. The on-screen controls and vertical meters are simple but effective. I had no trouble using my Mackie Control to mute and solo tracks, ride the volume and control the transport.

Soundtrack Pro is not designed to replace high-end DAW applications such as Logic Pro, Nuendo and Pro Tools. The limits on simultaneous track recording and the lack of MIDI support make this clear. But Soundtrack Pro fills a void. First, it’s a resource-friendly waveform editor for mono or stereo files with a boatload of DSP.

Secondly, it’s a multi-track editing and mixing utility — a valuable tool for video post production. Editors dealing with multiple dialog tracks, Foley, ambiences, sound effects and music stems are frequently faced with more than just a mixing challenge.

Apple has made round-trip transfers fairly straight forward. Here’s how it works: A set of audio clips is selected in FCP5 and “sent” to STP as a multi-track project. After editing and processing, the mix is exported (bounced) to a new mix file (usually mono or stereo).  The new mix is imported into FCP5 and added to the timeline, replacing the original clips. When you want to edit the mix again, you just control-click the mix file in the browser and FCP allows you to open the multi-track project that created the file. Individual audio clips can also be sent to the STP waveform editor for editing and cleanup.

I tested Match EQ by recording a few sentences with an AT4033 large diaphragm condenser and again with a Shure SM58 microphone. The recordings were done on a Pro Tools HD|1 with a 96 I/O and transfered as 24-bit 96KHz audio files to Soundtrack Pro. I used the Match EQ in STP to set the template EQ based on the AT4033 recording and then let the Match EQ learn the characteristics of the SM58.

I then played the SM58 recording using the match button and sure enough, the complex EQ curve that was drawn caused the SM58 recording to sound much closer to the AT4033. Obviously, there is more to matching a mic sound than the EQ but this is a very valuable tool.

The spectrum display is a useful way to visualize the effects of EQ and can show parts of the signal that you can’t hear. For example, I saw bands of high frequency sound above 22kHz in my 24-bit 96KHz Pro Tools recordings.

The room tone repair feature is brilliant. It’s as easy as copying a sample of background sound and using it to replace a section of silence or merging it, for example, with a voice-over that was recorded in a dead room. This is a nice feature but I think it could be made even more automatic than it is.

I recorded myself speaking in front of a computer fan to test the noise reduction. I couldn’t use the G5 for this because, it was too quiet! Then I selected a bit of pure noise as the sample and applied it to the whole track for reduction. I listened closely on my Sony MDR-7506 headphones and the results were impressive. My voice remained full and natural sounding while the background was reduced significantly. Albeit, I only did one small test but from what I heard, this feature is comparable if not better than software costing far more than the price of Soundtrack Pro itself.

I tested time stretching with a rhythmic pop mix and slow legato strings. The new length can be specified in samples, seconds, frames or HH:MM:SS. One annoyance was having to change the default specification of “samples” to “seconds” each time I wanted to change the length. You can also drag the selected region with the stretch tool but this works better for shortening than lengthening.

The New Frontier by Donald Fagan served as my rhythmic test sample. After adding roughly 10% more time, I heard only the slightest warble in the tremolo electric piano part. Pushing the length to 150%, resulted in surprisingly listenable audio. The vocals were smooth and the tempo was even but some of the instruments were showing the tell tale warble of time expansion.

I then tried a four part symphonic string arrangement of my own music realized with Vienna Symphonic Library.  At 10% longer, there was almost no degradation in quality.  At 20%, I heard a bit of warbling grunge but it was very minor.  By comparison, time expansion of both pieces in Pro Tools was un-listenable at 10% longer.

I found that reducing the length of a stretched selection sometimes results in a stray tone at the end of the selection. Soundtrack Pro also crashed once when I was deleting an Action. I expect these to be fixed in a future release. (I tested version 1.0.1).

STP can export a multi-track project directly to AIFF with bit-depth and sample rate changes but no dithering. Using Compressor, you can export to AAC, AIFF and Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 (AC-3). In the case of 5.1, you can map each track to a specific speaker. Very nice but why no support for exporting to the cross-industry standard, Broadcast Wave?

The sound effects files and loops provided with STP cover a wide enough range to be useful in many projects. If you are looking for a specific engine or gun sound or an unusual animal sound (bat sounds please), you may need to supplement the set but there are plenty of basics here. I really liked the ethnic music loops, especially the Gamelan loops and ethnic strings.


While it’s not something everyone needs (yet), Apple’s extensive support for native HDV in its products is already in demand. There are good reasons why FCP is so popular with film and video editors.  Version 5 brings support for a host of new HD formats. The enhanced real-time effects, work flow optimizations, multiclip editing and round-trip integration make Final Cut Studio a great value.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Apple has come up with so many cool ways to interface with software.  From the pen-based gestures and MIDI control of Motion 2 (more on this in part 2) to the action scripts of Soundtrack Pro, Apple continues to innovate user interfaces that make complicated tasks easier.

I found Soundtrack Pro to be very useful for audio clean up tasks, especially the kind of problems I found in location productions. Noise reduction and other audio cleanup chores are quick and simple. The ability to view video in a small window was a plus when editing audio from FCP5.

This is a bountiful set of tools at a very reasonable price. The room tone filler, noise reduction, convolution reverb and multi-band compressor make Soundtrack Pro a real bargain.

So, yes, there’s more the think about but like I said, it’s never been easier.

(c) 2005 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library – Opus 1 and 2 Orchestra

Orchestral Sound Library

Review by Carlos Garza
Originaly Published in Pro Audio Review

Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL), GmbH is based in Vienna, Austria and is distributed in the US by ILIO.  Their main product lines, First Edition and Pro Edition, are symphonic orchestra libraries for Windows and Mac OS Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs).

Our look at the Horizon Series begins with Opus 1 and Opus 2 Orchestra, a selection of string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments from the Pro Edition.  Opus 1 and 2 are available individually and bundled.

All products in the Horizon series are available for Apple Logic’s EXS24 sample player, TASCAM’s GigaSampler/GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt.  The EXS24 instrument programs were tested for this review.


Opus 1 covers the standard instruments of the modern symphony orchestra.  Opus 2 expands on the articulations in Opus 1 and adds instruments.  Note the use of, “Instrument” for VSL sample programs and lower case “instrument” for real-world objects in this review.

Opus 1 Orchestra contains around 1,300 Instruments using over 40,000 samples (25GB) and ships on four DVDs.  Opus 2 Orchestra includes almost 400 Instruments, using around 13,000 samples (9.3GB) and ships on two DVDs.

VSL reports that the samples were recorded using Schoeps mics through a Millenia Media HV3D preamp and a Daniel Weiss ADC1 MK2, 24/96 AD converter.  They created the original 24-bit/96kHz.recordings on their “silent stage” with minimal room ambience.  The samples have  the same resolution as the Pro Edition, 16-bit/44.1kHz.

The Instruments are nearly identical for all platforms with only small differences based on sample player features.  EXS does not support release velocity, for example, while GigaStudio does.  The unique Performance Instruments are powered by VSL software that integrates into EXS24 and runs as a standalone utility for the other environments.

VSL Opus 1

VSL Opus 1

Opus 1 includes solo harp and ensembles with 14 violins, 10 violas, 8 celli and 6 double basses with articulations including staccato, tremolo, pizzicato, trills and more.  The “bonus files” include major scale runs on violin and viola and harp glissandi.

Opus 1 includes Performance Legato Instruments for all woodwind, brass and string instruments, except harp.  Opus 2 includes solo violin, viola and cello and bass with basic articulations.  It also includes sixteenth-note repetitions and harmonic minor, chromatic and whole tone runs for ensemble strings.

Opus 1 woodwinds include solo piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, English horn, bass clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon in a variety of articulations including Performance Legato.  Opus 2 adds looped solo woodwinds including piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon and performance legato bass clarinet and contrabassoon.

The brass family in Opus 1 is represented by solo tuba and solo and ensemble trumpet, trombone, and horn.  Opus 2 adds muted solo and section trumpets and trombones, and a stopped horn section.

Opus 1 includes a comprehensive percussion section with timpani, snares, bass drum, cymbals, gongs, thunder sheet, bells, glockenspiel, xylophone, celesta, assorted hand percussion and, of course… TUBULAR BELLS (couldn’t resist).  Opus 2 adds marimba, vibes, cencerros (Brazilian cow bells), waterphone, plate bells and timpani glissandi.

The Performance Tool included with each version of the product must be registered to activate its features.  This tool, created by VSL’s engineering team, creates a more authentic sounding performance through real-time sample substitution.

In Legato Mode, the tool substitutes samples of notes played in succession in place of individually played notes.  The Repetition Tool substitutes alternate samples to avoid the “machine gun” effect.  Alternation Mode allows switching between different articulations in a single phrase or performance.  Notes outside of the instrument range are used to select the articulation change dynamically.

In Use

I tested VSL Horizon products with Logic Pro 6.4.2 and 7.1 under OS 10.3.7 on a G4 2x1Ghz Mac with 1.5GB RAM and a Pro Tools 96 I/O.  The sounds were monitored through Mackie HR824 speakers.

All installation DVDs contain both EXS24 and TASCAM GigaStudio Instruments and audio files compatible with all formats.  Installation is accomplished by dragging the compressed Instrument and sample archives to appropriate hard drives and folders and uncompressing them.  The sample files can be stored on any fast drive — preferably not the system drive.  I used a external FireWire 400 drives for the samples.

HALion and Kontakt Instruments can be downloaded from the VSL website after registration.  Updates to Instruments and samples can be downloaded by all registered users.

A good way to get a feel for the range and power of VSL products is to download a MIDI file and a corresponding MP3 demo from the VSL web site (  MIDI files and MP3 demos are posted by VSL on their public site and by users on the Forum.

I chose a realization of Ravel’s “Little Ugly” posted by an Opus 1 user because it uses articulations and performance features in several instrument families of Opus 1 and includes around 60 Opus 1 Instruments.

I imported the standard MIDI file into Logic Pro, moved each region to an Audio Instrument track and assigned the recommended Opus 1 Instrument in the EXS plug-in.

In a large arrangement, you could have thousands of sample files open at once.  Before I could load all the Instruments and associated sample files I ran into an OS X limitation on the number of open files.

I could have bounced a few Audio Instrument tracks to regular audio tracks and removed some EXS24 instances.  However, a less compromising solution is available with EXSManager from Redmatica, which performs a number of useful chores for owners of large EXS24 sample sets.

One function takes a large number of sample files for an Instrument and merges the audio into fewer yet larger files.  Also, EXSManager drastically improves the initial load time for Instruments with many sample files by pre-linking the Instruments and samples.

Once the MIDI tracks were active, I could hear the sounds individually and see the mod wheel and volume data that makes the sounds come alive.  The mod wheel controller was used extensively in this realization to cross-fade samples with different dynamics.

Several things became clear after trying several MIDI files and my own pieces.  First, a great amount of knowledge went into the generous selection of Instruments and articulations.  The VSL creative team clearly understands how each instrument and section functions in the context of a symphony orchestra.

Secondly, the VSL samples are very well played and recorded.  The MP3 demos on the site are a useful preview but compression loses the full quality of these gorgeous recordings.  With the performance features and a nice reverb, you have the makings of a very realistic sound.

The realism in the Performance Legato Instruments is a major breakthrough.  The Performance Tool is not snipping note starts as other sample libraries do.  This is real legato playing.

The woodwinds and strings are detailed and expressive.  The English horn in the Opus 2 set practically sings with joy.  The performance legato contrabassoon and bass clarinet are positively spooky.  Hitchcock would have loved these sounds.

The brass instruments are resounding.  I was disappointed in the lack of muted brass until Opus 2 came along.  The muted trumpets and trombones are going to get a lot of use in my next animation score.

There is plenty of variety in Opus 1 — strings for every occasion and percussion to launch an army.  The variety of articulations in the cencerros  and waterphone in Opus 2 is a real plus for anyone interested in exotic percussion effects, especially suspense, sci-fi and horror composers and sound designers.

Another favorite from Opus 2 is the “flautando string” sound.  It’s mysterious but not as edgy as tremolo.  The solo flute with vibrato in Opus 2 is beautifully executed and includes a graceful embouchure change with a progressive vibrato.  Lovely touches like this have been very hard to find in orchestral samples at any price.

The lowest octave in the grand marimba in Opus 2 is an awesome sound.  My only gripe is the bottom two notes, which sound a bit on the bright side compared with the rest of the octave.

The vibes were programmed with a long release, which makes it impossible to vary the length of each note.  I’d rather use the sustain pedal to get longer notes.  Maybe this will be fixed in an online update or another user will post a version without the long release time.

Note that VSL customers are free to swap Instruments but not the underlying samples.  This is a good move as it has allowed the VSL products to be improved by their user base.

Another gripe — 24-bit/48 kHz samples would benefit those of us working in higher resolutions for audio and video production.  I realize that would turn a 6 DVD set into a 9 DVD set and require faster drives and more memory but I suspect the sound would be awesome.


Opus 1 is an impressive collection and combined with Opus 2 it’s even more remarkable.  The nuances in the playing and tone quality of the recorded instruments make these sounds come alive.  The sound is nothing short of beautiful.  Articulation playing requires new playing skills and possibly some patience to perfect but the payoff is astounding.  Realism has never been this close in sampled instruments.

But you are wondering, are they worth the price?  Opus 2 is roughly half the price of Opus 1 but is closer to one third the size.  To quible about this would be missing the point.  Opus 2 combines some basic articulations of instruments from other Horizon sets and adds articulations and instruments not found in Opus 1 and the First Edition.  The highlights include basic articulations of solo strings, ensemble flute and clarinet, muted brass, looped sustained woodwinds, French oboe, marimba, vibes and percussion effects and the phenomenal Epic Horns.

The Opus 1 and 2 bundle canno be compared with the two to three hundred dollar mini-sets because it so broader and deeper in every instrument family.  User feedback went into the selection of sounds in Opus 1 and 2.  It is also priced well below the Complete Orchestral Package, Pro Edition, which lists for $5990 and the First Edition, priced at $3690.  The combined bundle has enough variety to fill the needs of composers and arrangers working in almost any genre without breaking the bank.  If you need a comprehensive orchestral set and are just jumping into the Horizon series, then the two together are a excellent value.

Opus 1 and 2 are the cornerstone of VSL’s Horizon line.  In other reviews we will look at how other Horizon products such as Solo Strings, Chamber Strings, Epic Horns and the Woodwind Ensembles expand on this versatile library.

Fast Facts

Applications:  Symphonic and pop composing and arranging, television and film scoring, music education.

Key Features:  Opus 1:  Over 25GB of symphonic instrument programs for Apple Logic EXS24 sample player, TASCAM’s GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt.  Opus 2 adds 9.3GB of instruments.  The sets include strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.  Performance Tool adds realistic legato, note repetitions and dynamic performance.

Price:  Opus 1, $895 USD; Opus 2, $495; Opus 1 & 2 bundle, $1,295

Contact: ILIO at 800-747-4546,

VSL web site:

Product Points

VSL Opus 1 & 2


–         Impeccable recordings of stunningly beautiful instruments

–         Large variety of articulations and instruments

–         Performance Tool is a major innovation in realism

–         Purchase cost applies fully towards upgrade to Pro Edition

–         Opus 1 and 2 together form an extensive orchestral library


–         Requires DVD drive to load samples

–         A fast computer with at least 1GB of RAM is recommended (3GB is better)

–         Higher resolution samples would benefit the post production and high resolution audio communities

The Score

An outstanding value for a very complete and versatile collection of professional symphonic orchestra samples.  An affordable way to get started with the Vienna Symphonic Library.

Carlos Garza composes music for films.  His work has been heard on DVD, Turner Classic Movies and the National Gallery of Art.  He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2005 Carlos Garza

DVD Studio Pro 3

Apple DVD Authoring Software

By Carlos Garza

With all the buzz about Apple’s new hardware products, it’s easy to forget that Apple is also a software company.  Final Cut Pro is probably the best-known member of Apple’s family of postproduction applications that includes LiveType, Cinema Tools, Soundtrack, Motion and Shake.

The recent upgrade of Apple’s DVD-Video authoring application, DVD Studio Pro 3, brings new features and new levels of integration.  With considerations towards workflow efficiency and a rich set of features, Apple has raised the stakes for professional DVD authoring on the Mac.


DVD Studio Pro 3 (DVDSP3) sports three customizable layouts.  The main windows are the menu editor, the track editor, the Assets tab, the Palette and a graphical project overview.  The product also includes two stand-alone compression applications.

The Palette has a collection of templates, styles and graphics that can be used in projects.  The pre-built interfaces are suitable for a variety of professional projects including industrial, wedding and entertainment titles for film, video and music producers.

The Menu Editor is where you arrange the buttons, text, background images and video clips that create the user interface for your DVD.  In some cases, multiple tasks can be accomplished in a single step.  For example, holding the mouse button while dragging a graphic yields a context-sensitive “Drop Palette,” or menu, where you can select options such as creating a button or simultaneously creating a button and a track and linking the two.  Graphical elements can be placed in drop zones to build a composite image for the menu background.  Buttons and drop zone graphics can be resized.

The Assets tab is simply a listing of graphics, video clips and audio that has been imported into the current project.  Audio clips can be added to your project via the Assets tab or pulled from the iTunes library via the Palette.  Apple Motion projects can also be imported and used for animated menu graphics or Alpha Transitions.

The bundled A.Pack application encodes PCM audio into AC-3 with channel configurations up to 5.1.  The Compressor program supports batch processing of video into several MPEG formats, including MPEG-2 with one and two pass encoding.  Compressor encodes HD video sources directly into MPEG-2 and stereo AC-3 audio with bit rates up to 256 kbps.

Audio can be imported into DVDSP3 from MPEG-1 Layer 2, AC-3, DTS, WAV and AIF sources.  Note that DVDSP3 does not provide a means for encoding DTS audio but it can be integrated in projects.

DVDSP3 imports MPEG-1, MPEG-2, D1 and QuickTime video formats.  Several new features are aimed at integrating DVDSP3 with Apple and third party applications.  For example, DVDSP3 can work directly with layered Photoshop files, it can import iDVD4 projects and chapter markers are read from Final Cut Pro/Express and iMovie.

Alternate languages are supported with up to 32 subtitle streams and up to 8 audio streams.  The “stories” feature provides alternative sequences for your video clips.  This could be used for alternate endings or selective scene skipping by the viewer.  DVDSP3 is compatible with PAL and NTSC video standards and supports up to 9 video angles.  It also supports dual layer discs.

Slideshows can be created with up to 99 still images.  The durations of each image can be set globally or on a per-slide basis.  Individual slide durations can be automatically set so the length of a group matches the length of an audio track.

DVDSP3 supports writing to DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW.  Professional authoring formats, such as Data Description Protocol (DDP 2.0 and 2.1) and Cutting Master Format (CMF 1.0) can be written to DLT or hard drive.  Copy protection is supported through APS, which requires a license from Macrovision and CSS, which is applied by licensed replicators.

Thirty adjustable transitions are available for menus jumps, buttons, slides and still images in a timeline.  Graphics can be customized through direct launching of Motion and Photoshop.  Alpha Transitions, a new feature in version 3, add the use of video clips to the transition options.  The compositing engine can preview transitions without an extra rendering step.

In Use

I set out to create a film score demo reel using segments from my two commercial DVDs and a few short films I’ve scored.  I used DVDSP3 on a 1 GHz G4 Dual with 1.5 GB of RAM and OS 10.3.7.  The audio came from Pro Tools sessions created on my HD|1 system and Logic Pro 7.  The video clips were prepared in iMovie and Final Cut Pro 3 (FCP) and saved as QuickTime or MPEG-2.

The menus are very easy to set up especially with the Apple supplied templates.  The film-themed backgrounds and pre-made buttons saved me the trouble of trying to be something I’m not – a graphic artist.  I found it handy to be able to type text directly into the background of the menu and directly onto buttons.

My Demo reel became more complex as I added sub-menus for specific types of projects and a slide show with biographical information.  The Graphical View is helpful for visualizing the hierarchy of menus and relationships between menus and tracks (and the graph can be printed).  I also found the graphical view was the easiest way to navigate the project while I worked on different sections.  Follow the tree, click on a menu or double click on a track and it comes up in the menu editor.

Occasionally I hear complaints from people about the lack of a second button on Apple’s factory supplied mouse.  A second mouse button could, for example, put a contextual menu on the screen where you are pointing.  DVDSP3 answers this call to a certain extent through the Drop Palette.  Once I set the preference for the Drop Palette to appear faster, and got used to holding the mouse button, I found this feature to be a real time saver.

Aside from the standard dissolves, wipes and fades, DVDSP3 also has transitions that fade through color, a water splash effect and a generous assortment of spinning, flipping, melting and zooming effects.  The new Alpha Transitions feature adds some nice eye candy.  One of my favorites was a short clip of scratchy old film that makes a perfect lead in for a classic film title.  I found that judicious use of transitions made my project look far more professional.

I wanted to test the menu navigation before burning a DVD.  After dealing with video editors that require rendering with each little change, it’s a pleasure to see that you can see moving graphics and transitions in the Simulator without the extra step of rendering.

The DVD-Video format allows surround audio only in compressed formats.  I used the bundled A.Pack utility program to encode my surround stems into AC-3.  My source files were 24-bit, 48 kHz WAV and DVDSP3 supports up to 5.1 channels of 24-bit, 48 kHz AC-3.  I fed the 5 stems of the 75 minute score into A.Pack and had a 5 channel surround AC-3 file in no time at all.

While the DVD-Video specification does not allow for surround mixes in PCM formats, it is possible to incorporate stereo PCM with sample rates as high as 24-bit/96 kHz.  I took advantage of this to sweeten a slide show with a dropped in section of high-resolution audio from Logic Pro.

DVDSP3 is not intended to replace the audio and video editing features of programs like FCP and Logic but you can trim audio and video to an extent.  There are restrictions to keep in mind.  For example, video trimming is restricted to Group of Pictures, or GOP boundaries.

I feel that a bit more attention could be given to the features and information in the track editor.  For example, the ability to fade audio streams in and out would avoid a lot of outside editing.  It would also be nice to be able to set a level for an audio stream, at least when PCM audio is involved.

The video display in the track timeline is an opaque blob with a single thumbnail image at the beginning and a solid color indicating the length of the video.  The inclusion of a filmstrip view such as found in Logic Pro and FCP would be a big help in placing subtitles and audio clips.


Apple has taken the user-friendly interface to a new level with the addition of contextual Drop Palettes.  Once I got the hang of it, I was able to work much more quickly than I would have otherwise.

Apple’s extensive support for the DVD video specification and the ability to create professional authoring formats make DVDSP3 well suited to professional applications.  Considering the rich visual features, the batch encoding and the ease of use, I have to say that Apple has come up with a winning solution at a great price.

At a Glance

Applications: DVD authoring for professional applications, including movies, shows, music videos, industrial/educational films and commercial event videography postproduction.

Key Features:  streamlined workflow, templates for professional applications, Alpha Transitions, batch encoding, familiar interface, supports DDP and CMF writing to DLT

Price:  $499 (US), $199 (US) upgrade from DVD SP 1 or 2
Contact: (800-MY-APPLE)
Product Points

– Workflow enhancements
– Professional Templates and graphics
– Batch encoding of MPEG-2 and surround AAC
– Extensive support for DVD specification
– All standard writable DVD formats supported

– No filmstrip view in track editor
– No audio level controls or audio fade options

The Score

A very well designed application that streamlines complex DVD authoring chores while providing a very extensive set of options for authoring.

Carlos Garza is a film composer who produces and engineers surround scores for broadcast and DVD and is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2005 Carlos Garza

EXSManager Utilities

By Carlos Garza

Redmatica has packaged a collection of utilities for Emagic’s Logic Pro EXS24 sampler in a program called EXSManager.

The batch update function is a valuable feature that updates the locations of sample files in a set of EXS instrument files.  This makes a large improvement in the load times for EXS Instruments.

Another useful feature is the ability to combine sample files into larger sample files to get around the limitation of 10,000 files open by any single program running under OS X.

The program can also identify identical samples found on your hard drive using a file hash to make the comparison.  I was not aware until I ran the program that I had managed to load one of the Opus 1 instrument sets twice.  After manually deleting the clone directory (named with a “.1” at the end by UnStuffit), I re-ran EXSManager to make sure that no instruments pointed to the deleted directory.

At 40 Euro, the Standard Edition covers the most of the essential functions.  The Pro Edition adds the sample merging and sells for 80 Euro.  An upgrade path is available.  This is a must-buy for anyone planning to own a large quantity of EXS24 samples.

See for more information.

(c) 2004 Carlos Garza

Bitheadz Unity Session

Sampling and Synthesis Software

Reviewed by Carlos Garza
Originaly Published in Pro Audio Review.

Have you ever thought that the difference between sampling and synthesis is obvious? I used to think so, but that line has been getting blurry for years. Unity Session from Bitheadz is a sample and software synthesis editing environment that provides a single interface for its multiple sound generation engines. Unity closes the gap even more by combining multiple architectures in single instruments.


Unity Session combines the DS-1 sampler, AS-1 synthesis, physical modeling synthesis, and a plug-in architecture that includes MIDI and audio effects. It is only available for the Mac OS. DS-1 was previously reviewed in Pro Audio Review (see the _____ issue). The modular approach described in that review is also present in Session. Separate applications provide editing, live playback, mixing, and MIDI input selection. On screen keyboards provide click and play sound previews.

We reviewed version 3.0.6, which recommends a G4 with 256+ MB RAM, Mac OS 8.6 or higher and 2 gigabytes of disk space for the complete installation. Bitheadz claims to have rewritten the core code base to take advantage of OS X, the AltiVec, and multiprocessors. We tested the package under OS 9 and OS X on a G4 dual 1 GHz Mac with 512 MB RAM. For sequencing, we ran the RTAS plug-in in Pro Tools 5.3.1.

Unity ships with a companion sample ingest application called Osmosis. While Unity can read Gigasampler format natively, other formats, such as AKAI and Roland can only be imported into the Unity environment using Osmosis.

Unity provides a synthesis engine that is compatible with AS-1 patches. It features up to three stereo oscillators and two stereo filters per voice. Also included are synthesis plug-ins for physical modeling of bowed strings, flutes, clarinets, and hammered strings. Programs based on sampler, physical modeling, and synthesis plug-ins can be combined into layered or split instruments.

In Use

Getting the most out of Session requires patient attention to configuration parameters (as we found with DS-1). Getting the memory, sample buffer, processor use, and other parameters at their optimum settings requires trial and error and, oh yes, it helps to read the manual. An email exchange and a phone call with Bitheadz tech support was all I needed to get things working properly. I’m happy to report that Bitheadz tech support was prompt and knowledgeable.

The only snag I found with installation process is the attempted placement of the entire 2 GB sample library in my System Folder! This is clearly not workable if you have repartitioned your drive a created a smaller boot volume. I’m told that this will be fixed in an upcoming release.

I focused mainly on the editor and mixer components for my testing. I found that some operations are a bit slow under OS 9. I also experienced a few crashes but these may have been due to extension conflicts or incorrect settings. I also tested the mixer under OS X and was pleased to see that the application loaded much faster, the screen redraws were faster, and the application is much more stable.

I also tested the Osmosis sample import application. Osmosis had no trouble with the Miroslav Vitous Mini set  (AKAI) or the Ultimate Strings library (Roland). Both were on CD. The program was also able to read my zip discs with a few other sample sets that I use in my live performances. Osmosis creates an editor document for each volume that is ingested. The editor document contains the samples and sample zone layouts for each program. Samples can also be ingested indecently from their programs if you want to use them directly in an audio application.

Even though a variety of sample formats can be read Unity Session does not necessarily support all parameters native to each format. Whereas the AKAI format supports individual volume and filter envelops for each sample in a program, the DS-1 architecture provides envelopes only at the program level. Be aware that your sample library may not behave exactly as it does in your native sampler.

I was amazed at the sound of my AKAI library through the 96 I/O converters on my Pro Tools HD system. Granted, the comparison is unfair given the age difference between my S2000 samplers and the HD system and their intended use. However, the point is that making use of my existing sound library without having put them through analog and back to digital is a big plus.


The samples provided are a good starting point for any collection. I’d like to see more attention in the General MIDI set since these tend to be the most useful sounds. The pianos are workable but if you are serious, you may want to look into a higher end orchestral set. Speaking of which, the ability to ingest popular sample formats such as AKAI, Roland and Gigasampler mean that a good supply of high-end samples is readily available.

At version 3.0.6, I saw very few crashes. Still, I’d like to see some improvement in the stability of the product and speed in loading sounds under OS 9.

If sample playback alone is what you are after then you may want to look at DS-1. If you are interested in a product that mixes samples with a variety of synthesis architectures then Unity Session might be for you. It packs a lot of punch into a versatile set of tools.

At a Glance

Applications: Software sound module for sequencing and live performance

Key Features: synthesis, physical modeling and sample editing; imports AKAI S-1000, S3000, Roland S-760, S770, and TASCAM Gigasampler formats. Also reads Bitheadz Retro AS-1, and Unity DS-1 sound sets. Supports Logic, Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Cubase and others.  OS X support.

Price $649

Contact: Bitheadz: 888-870-0070

Product Points


  • Single interface
  • Pro Tools HD compatible
  • 96k sampling rate
  • Reads AKAI, Roland, and Gigasampler formats
  • Ability to combine synth programs, physical models, and samples in a single Session “instrument”


  • Mac only
  • Configuration intensive
  • Could be more robust

The Score

A good value considering the multiple synthesis engines, the ability to ingest AKAI, Roland and Giga sample sets, and the helpful support staff.

(c) 2003 Carlos Garza


By Carlos Garza
Originaly Published in Pro Audio Review.

DACS (Digital Audio & Computer Systems) has been producing hand-made products in the UK for more than 10 years. The DACS MIDI Patch Bay ($275), one of its oldest products, was recently re-engineered and is now available in the US through Independent Audio. The company set out to design a unit with simple visual feedback of signal path and high-performance specs.


The DACS MIDI Patch Bay concept owes more to audio patch bay design thanconventional processor-based MIDI patch bays. Each of the single-rack-space unit’s 10 identical blocks house rear connectors for MIDI inputs and outputs as well as front panel patch points for routing the signal between blocks. Here’s the cool part: the front panel patch points are standard 1/4-inch two-pole audio jacks!  The signal is converted to Transistor Transistor Logic (TTL) format for it’s journey over two conductors.



Each block on the front panel has a pair of MIDI outs, a MIDI in and a MIDI thru. Patching is accomplished by attaching a 1/4-inch cable from one of the MIDI outs to the MIDI in of another block. Each block can drive only two other blocks directly, but the MIDI thru in any block provides a copy of its input signal that can be sent to an additional block. The active circuitry is powered by the MIDI signals flowing into the unit from the MIDI outputs of your devices. You need to connect a MIDI output for each MIDI input that you attach to the unit or it will be underpowered.

Optionally, an external 6.5V power supply can be used in lieu of matching the number of MIDI inputs and outputs. Individual blocks can be normalized to other blocks by soldering a wire between a “normal” pad on the top PCB to another pad labeled “in” on the bottom board. The MIDI Patch Bay has an open construction with exposed PCBs on the top and bottom. Some of the I/O labeling is on the PCBs.

In Use

My only real gripe with the unit is the shallow depth. I installed it in my Anvil rack between a Furman power conditioner and an AKAI S2000 sampler. The Furman reaches about halfway back into the rack and the AKAI goes all the way back. With the Patch Bay installed in the rack (and no gaps), I was not able to get my hands between the surrounding units to make the MIDI connections.

My studio environment is oriented around a Power Mac for sequencing and recording. My dilemma in testing the unit was figuring out how to integrate it with my existing MIDI interface. My fear was that repatching my modules through the DACS would make obsolete the OMS studio setups in the Mac. I attached my three AKAI S2000 samplers and a pair of controllers to the DACS. I also attached a few MIDI in/out pairs of my Opcode Studio 64 XTC MIDI interface. In a rehearsal scenario, I found that I could quickly and easily patch either controller directly to any module or several. For sequencing, could easily route either controller to the computer, back to the DACS, and on to any sound module. The visual feedback of the patch cables kept things clear.

I tested the speed of the thru circuits by daisy chaining a controller signal from the first block through every other block and finally into the Studio 64. I recorded several test sequences and I was not able to measure any latency between the DACS “delayed” signal and a parallel signal from the same controller (Kurzweil PC88MX). The test was conducted in Studio Vision Pro at 500 BPS and a resolution of 480 PPQ.


The DACS MIDI Patch Bay solves many common patching problems. My earlier gripe about the difficulty in making connections is somewhat mitigated by the fact that rear connections are not expected to change very often in a studio patch bay. On the other hand, making connections for transient equipment could be easier if the unit had a set of MIDI connectors on the front. Then again, you could just leave a couple of long MIDI cables attached to a block for visitors. For band rehearsals, it is nice to change MIDI routing without having to power up the Mac and launch OMS. Studios that use MIDI for automated mixing or effects patch changes may like the ease of swapping control signal sources and destinations.

The DACS would also be useful in environments that rely on rapid patching of multiple controllers to multiple modules (such as classrooms). Even environments with limited but frequent re-patching will benefit from the simplicity of a dedicated high-performance MIDI patch bay.

Contact: Independent Audio at 207-773-2424,

(c) 2002 Carlos Garza

Aphex Systems Model 204 Aural Exciter

By Carlos Garza
Originaly Published in Pro Audio Review.

Aphex Systems, celebrating 26 years in the pro-audio industry, has unleashed a revitalized version of its famous Aural Exciter. The Model 204 Aural Exciter with Optical Big Bottom is a big name for this single rack space box that packs a lot of flexibility into an affordable package. Engineers are constantly dealing with customers who want the loudest mix. “It has to go to 11 and have a big bottom.” Aphex was obviously listening and came up with a pair of effects that create the impression of a cleaner, louder mix without dangerous side effects.


So, what’s new in this replacement for the original Model 104? The new model adds frequency and dynamic control of low-end response, a revamped front panel and an internal power supply. The new millennium shiny finish and slightly textured knobs add a bit of sex appeal. The rear panel has a pair of operating level switches allowing independent selection between -10dBV and +4dBu. Inputs and outputs now include XLR connectors in addition to the 1/4-inch TRS found on the older model. Both inputs accept unbalanced inputs as well.

The manual is loaded with useful information on cable wiring and avoidance of ground loops. This includes diagrams for “pseudo-balanced” wiring of unbalanced equipment (for example, 1/4-inch TS to XLR).

The Model 204 also has separate controls for the Aural Exciter and Big Bottom. This means that you can use one channel as a low-end enhancer and the other as a high-end enhancer and bus each channel into separate effects sends on your console. The Aural Exciter and the Big Bottom sections each have a tuning knob that lets you select the range of frequencies for processing. You have to refer to the manual if you want to know exactly which frequencies you are selecting. A continuously variable knob is used to select the amount of harmonics added by the Aural Exciter.
The Tune control for the Aural Exciter sets the corner frequency for the high-pass filter. The lowest setting enhances frequencies from 800 Hz on up. Turning it completely clockwise means that you are only enhancing frequencies above 6.1 kHz. Likewise, the Tune control for the Big Bottom sets the highest frequency for bass enhancement (from 49 to 197 Hz).

The big story is the Optical Big Bottom circuit. This new circuit features a Light Dependent Resistor (LDR) that allows coupling of a controllable light source to a variable resistor. After passing the signal through the low-pass filter, the signal is fed through the adjustable drive circuit, which feeds the LDR. In principle, the LDR reacts immediately to the bass signal but fades slowly like a long release on a compressor. If you have the drive knob set correctly, you should hear more sustain from only the loudest notes. This is designed to produce a dynamic and resonant bass without a big increase in peak level.

In Use
I set out to restore some 1980s-era garage band recordings that originated on 1/2-inch 8-track and were mixed to 1/4-inch 2-track. I transferred the tracks into Pro Tools at Pepperland Recording and attached the Model 204 to the Digidesign 888 I/O using the balanced XLR connections. I created an effects loop using channel sends and an auxiliary bus for the return.
On some tracks, I wanted to bring out the vocal so I dialed in the lowest frequency on the Aural Exciter tuner. In cases where the vocal presence was fine, I went for enhancement of higher frequencies with the single goal of getting more “air.”  The manual says the 204 can “restore presence and clarity, improving transient response of individual tracks or the whole mix.” The 204 did not disappoint in this regard. Some of the tracks suffered from a distant and muted-sounding snare drum. The Aural Exciter made the attack transients brighter and sharper.

Of course, it will not fix a bad mix, but it can help produce a cleaner overall sound. When bypassed, I felt like I had to work to hear all of the instruments. With the effect in, I had no trouble hearing each part. The whole mix was up front, wider, and more balanced. Every instrument seemed to sit more consistently in its own space. The guitar had more bite, the keyboards were shimmering, the vocal was present and the words more intelligible.

One important aspect of the Aural Exciter and the Big Bottom is that the effects are more perceptual than physical. It sounds like there is a lot more bass and high end than is present on the signal meters. I found myself using less EQ in general. The Model 204 can also be used to preprocess tracks for low-quality playback. Listeners can be fooled into not missing the high frequencies that are lost in typical MP3 and cassette recordings if the high end that they do hear is enhanced.

I created some MP3 files and found that the effect was less noticeable than I had hoped. Cassettes had a more noticeable improvement (possibly because I used a high-grade tape). Some of my customers ask me to prepare backing tracks for dance and vocal competition. The final product, which goes out on cassette, has to sound clear and big. I found that the Big Bottom added a lively punch on most mixes.

Some of these sessions are rush jobs and it’s nice to be able to quickly see the when the input signal is being processed by the Big Bottom. I started with the Tune set at “12:00” and drive knobs turned all the way down. I then raised the drive slowly until the LED showed that the effect was active on most of the bass hits. Then I adjusted the Big Bottom Tune to focus the effect on the kick drum.

The result was more interesting than just adding low end EQ. The louder notes seemed to hang a bit more than the quiet notes. The intelligent transient sensitivity also made a muffled kick drum on one track sound crisp and clear. The effect was like changing a soft beater to a wooden beater. This is a very musically useful effect.

I only had a few quibbles with the 204: I would like to see the frequencies labeled on the front panel for the tuning knobs. I can imagine in a mixing situation dialing in frequencies on a shelving EQ and wanting to adjust appropriate frequencies in the Aural Exciter.
I also wish there was more control of the Big Bottom effect. Specifically, a release control for the low-end enhancer would really help tailor the effect to the tune/tempo.

I have had several studio customers that wanted to digitize and “restore” old recordings. Remember that a processor like this will not put back something that has been lost. When an analog tape has lost its high end, it is usually gone for good. However, the Model 204 can put a lot of life into a dull sounding track.

The harmonics that it constructs are useful and musical. You will hear each part with more clarity and presence. The versatility of inputs and separate channel processing makes this a worthy addition to any studio rack or live sound rig. At a suggested retail price of under $400, it is something to get excited about.

At a Glance

Tracking; mixing; restoration; broadcast; webcast; live sound; dance clubs.

Key Features:
XLR and TRS I/O (+4 and -10); independent channels; independent control of aural Exciter and Big Bottom processing.

$399 MSRP
Contact: Aphex Systems, 818.767-2929,, or circle Reader Service XX.

Product Points

• Independently operable channels for effects bussing
• Safely adds perceptual loudness
• Improves attack transients
• XLR connectors

• Front panel lacks frequency indicators
• No Big Bottom effect release control

The Score
Versatile effects in a refined package for a reasonable price.

(c) 2001 Carlos Garza