Acoustica 4 - A Valued, Solid Performer
Acoustica 4 is an audio editing utility that is easy to install and use. Acoustica is a great value, letting me put finishing touches on the soundtracks of my personal videos.
Acoustica is an easy-to-use and robust utility that delivers what its online marketing material says it will. It's easy to install and a pleasure to use. It does the work, freeing you to use most of your energy doing the creative thinking to achieve amazing things with sounds.
For users like me, making movies and photo stories for YouTube, a DVD, or a website, there’s no need to rip the audio from video files or do file conversions. Simply drag and drop your video file into Acoustica and it’ll let you start working with the audio track.
In addition to standard audio file types, Acoustica supports many video file types: Photo Story 3 videos, WMV files from Movie Maker, MPEG-2, DV-AVI, ASF, and VOB files from DVDs. It doesn’t support video files in Flash, MOVor Real Media formats. And Acoustica crashes if you happen to have an iTunes video file in a batch of files being opened.
Besides the user interface, Acoustica programmers have a great product "under the hood." It meets most of my personal expectations for a Windows utility: it installs smoothly, uses minimal computer system resources, and runs well on both Windows XP and Vista.
But there's always more to do. With the software supporting multiple files and open projects, combined with it becoming more robust, there's now a need for a Project Save feature. A saved project file would let you to save your work and go back to it later, or pick it up and dust it off, as I had to after Acoustica crashed when I tried to open an iTunes video file.
One weakness is offset by another strength. In the screenshot below Acoustica is using the Sony Sound Forge Click and Crackle Removal tool as an external third-party plug-in.
The new user interface in Acoustica supports customizable toolbars, menus, and window positioning.
And with Acoustica's integrated digital emulation of a phono preamplifier, there’s no longer a need for an external one. Your record player can be connected directly to the sound card of your computer. Other Acoustica niceties: it installs and runs in Windows Vista, and supports VST effects (external third-party plugins).
The software's real-time analyzers let you assess the output audio like a professional, including volume level metering, frequency analysis, phase correlation metering, and a big time display.
A new declipper feature restores audio recordings that suffer from digital or analog clipping. And Acoustica's declicker includes a new decrackle option to remove short but frequent clicks (crackle) more efficiently.
Finally, there’s a greatly improved Cleaning Wizard that guides you through all the steps from connection of stereo equipment and recording to restoration and CD burning. It also allows more detailed editing and makes it easier to transfer old recordings to CDs. My main test file for fixing audio was really bad, so I didn’t expect anything close to a clean audio file after running it through Acoustica's cleaning process. It needed multiple passes of really hard scrubbing, but in Acoustica the passes don’t get applied to a project unless you save it to a new file and bring it back in to run it through the cleaner again. And the cleaning process wasn’t nearly as good in sound quality as it was after using a similar feature of Sony’s Sound Forge (admittedly, a much higher-priced app).
Price to Value
Rating What's Hot:
At $40, Acoustica delivers everything you need to work in digital-audio editing. Unlike the much-acclaimed open source and free Audacity, which needs WAV or MP3 files ripped from video files, Acoustica can directly open the soundtracks of many types of video files, without the hassle of ripping or conversion.
If you're not sure you want to plunk down a couple of twenties right away, there’s a trial version with all features and reasonable limits.What's Not:
Adding a project saving feature, and not crashing when I attempt to open an iTunes file, would notch up its price-to-value rating.
Installation & Setup
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I installed Acoustica on both XP Media Center Edition and Vista Home Basic. I encountered no issues. It installs to a new C:\Program Files\Acon Digital Media\Acoustica 4 folder. Nothing special was needed during my install. For example, I didn't have to turn off virus protection. Acoustica appropriately uses the registry, and is self-contained; it does not replace files used by other apps.
The code seems fresh and recent. The help file says the Preferences Directories page contains only one setting, the directory for all temporary files created by Acoustica, and advises you to set it to a directory on a fast hard disk with sufficient free space. Acoustica works extensively with temporary files ,and the speed of the program depends to a large degree on the speed of the hard disk where the temporary files are situated. The default is shown in the figure below:
Acoustica's system requirements are modest. Per Acoustica's help file, you'll need a Pentium or compatible processor with a clock rate of 800 MHz or more, a minimum of 256 MB RAM, and 16-bit color depth. You'll also need a Windows-compatible sound card;
Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista; and DirectX version 8.0 or later.
Acoustica uses the word "subdirectories" to describe what Microsoft refers to today as "folders." It's a minor point, but the word change dates back to Windows 95, and should by now find its way into the terminology of current Windows-based software.
Working Hand in Hand with Video Files
Rating What's Hot:
I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it differently here: for myself and others who make movies and stories, the working relationship between video and audio editing apps is even more important than the synergy between two audio editing apps using the same plugins.
I’d have rated Acoustica a perfect Excellent if I hadn’t already seen how Sony’s Sound Forge works--admittedly, at almost 10 times the price.What's Not:
When I try to open an Apple iTunes video file, I wish Acoustica would give a warning message, as it does for other files it can’t handle, instead of crashing.
Rating What's Hot:
Start by using your favorite file manager to drag an existing file onto the Acoustica desktop icon. It’ll open with the file displayed and ready to use. Drag other files to the workspace, which can contain several audio editing windows, CD projects, or Cleaning Wizard projects--even mixed ones. Don’t overdo it without a feature to save your current project.
Most of my work is with digital video, helping users of Movie Maker and other apps make personal videos and get them to places like DVDs, YouTube, and personal websites. Many clips from my camcorder need some audio fixing. Wind noise is common, as are snaps, crackles, and pops from whenever the camcorder is touched during shooting.
My files are typically already on the computer and I’m often in video editing apps when I notice audio in need of fixing or enhancing. My experience with audio utilities is with free tools such as Audacity, which opens audio files but not videos. Common steps are to rip the audio track from the video and convert it as needed to get it into the audio editor. When I'm done with the fixing and enhancing, the audio track goes back into the movie-making app.
Acoustica’s drop-down list of file types includes AVI and WMV files--the commonly used file types for DV and Windows Media Video compressed files.
My first test was to drag four movie files to the workspace:
• Type II DV-AVI file
• Newer type I DV-AVI file
• Movie in WMV format saved by Microsoft Movie Maker
• Story in .wmv format saved by Microsoft Photo Story 3
Acoustica is outstanding in this feature. It accepted each; ripping and conversion isn’t needed.
The space bar is the keyboard hotkey to play and pause the selected item, as expected by users of multimedia apps. What's Not:
The lack of a project saving feature is a disappointment. The workspace can contain several audio editing windows, CD projects, or Cleaning Wizard projects, but none of them can be saved to a work-in-process project file for usual "save and save often" purposes, or to take a break and pick up a project later. With the more robust interface and extra features, a project save option is more desired.
Copy/paste from a file manager into the workspace doesn’t work, but the preferred drag and drop is sufficient.
The name of the open file is visible at the top of each window, but I couldn’t find info about the full path. With my ever-growing gaggle of external drives and the ability to work across a network, such info is more important than it used to be.
Rating What's Hot:
Acoustica's user interface was designed with speed, accuracy, and ease of use in mind. The support for audio resolutions up to 32-bit and sampling rates up to 192 kHz allows you to record and edit in amazing audio quality.
A large range of high-quality audio tools and effects are already integrated in Acoustica, including tools for dynamic processing and equalizing; numerous effects such as reverb, chorus, and flanger; and time-stretching and key transposition tools.
I mentioned the audio tracks of video files above. Another source of music is your personal CD collection. Put a disc in your drive and choose File -> "Import Tracks from Audio CD," and Acoustica will rip any track you want in seconds.
The audio CD files come in as 44.1 Khz, 16-bit, stereo. If you’re coming in with sound from a microphone or sound card, check out the Recording Console tool.
Recordings distorted by noise, clicks, crackle, clipping, or missing high-frequency content can be restored. And if the tools included in Acoustica aren’t enough, there is support for DirectX and VST plugins so you can use tools and effects from other third-party manufacturers.
You can monitor the effect of your editing steps visually using Acoustica's real-time analysis tools, such as FFT analysis (frequency spectrum) or the phase correlation meter.
You can then add effects such as reverb, delay, flanger, or any third-party VST or DirectX effects. The effect chain editor simplifies mastering by allowing you to chain internal tools and effects as well as DirectX or VST plugins and store the chain, including all the effect settings, for later use. This makes this feature somewhat of a project file; you just need to keep notes about which effects were in the chain.
The Cleaning Wizard fixes audio and adds effects, and removes loud clicks, pops, short but frequent clicks referred to as crackle, analog or digital clipping, and static noise like tape hiss.
However, it’s a one-pass process. My test file was so badly in need of fixing that with the sliders all the way up, I still needed to make another pass. Some audio editing apps apply the results of each pass, allowing multiple passes without having to save the new file. Acoustica doesn’t dynamically apply the pass to the working file. I needed to save the first pass of restoration and then open the new file and apply the filters again.
Rating What's Hot:
Acoustica has very reasonable needs in terms of memory -- 26 MB of memory with six open files -- and other resources. It releases all memory when closed. As to file size limits, none were given. I opened my largest file, a one-hour, 13 GB DV-AVI file on an external drive, and saved its audio track to a WAV file. The WAV file was 478 MB in size.
As I usually do after ripping an audio track, I put the original video file and the new audio file in Movie Maker and look at how well the wave patterns align. The check was positive.
I'd like to see a project-file saving feature.
I’m happy to have found Acoustica. When I travel and hear some sounds I want to record, such as a passing fire engine in Times Square or a big oriental gong on a garden shop’s patio, I instinctively reach for my camcorder. Using Acoustica to dig into the middle of my DV-AVI file to rip these sounds and add them to my library of sound effects is a pure joy.
I recommend Acoustica to users who want to enhance their audio files or the soundtracks of their videos, or build their stock library of audio and sound effects.
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