Soundbooth CS4: New features and workflows
by Lawson Hancock
Adobe introduced Soundbooth with Creative Suite 3 to empower web designers, videographers, and other creative professionals without a background in sound engineering to easily record, edit, and master audio. Whether you're working on a video or an interactive project created with Adobe Flash, Soundbooth ensures you have great sound for the visual experiences you're creating.
Since Soundbooth CS3 was released last year, we have received lots of feedback from our user community that we incorporated into the latest release. In this article, I explore some of the new capabilities of Soundbooth CS4 that open up new creative possibilities for adding and enhancing audio in your projects.
Soundbooth CS4 now offers multitrack support, which enables you to mix multiple audio clips, sound effects, and so forth. This has been the most requested feature since Soundbooth CS3, which worked only on individual mono or stereo audio files.
Figure 1. New multitrack support lets you combine audio clips, sound effects, and more.
Within Multitrack view,you can place any number of audio clips across multiple tracks (see Figure 1). There is no limit to the number of tracks you can combine, but in most cases, you will only need a handful of tracks to arrange your audio clips. For example, if you're creating an ad in Flash, you might layer a voiceover, an MP3 music file, and a few sound effects for your animation on three or four different tracks. You can easily add fades and adjust the volume of the individual clips and tracks in Multitrack view.
You can still edit individual mono or stereo files in Soundbooth CS4. Simply select the individual audio file from the Files panel or double-click a clip in Multitrack view. You'll work in the familiar audio editor from Soundbooth CS3. From there, you can add filter effects (such as reverb and EQ) and edit the individual waveform to remove noise or cut out a specific section.
Multitrack projects can be saved in several different audio formats, including AIF, WAV, and MP3. When saving to MP3, Soundbooth CS4 provides a new preview option that enables you to select different compression bit rates and preview what the mix will sound like before you save the file. The preview also displays an estimated file size, so you can quickly determine the optimal tradeoff for your compression settings before you save the MP3. We've also introduced a new file format called the Adobe Sound Document (ASND), which helps you easily package multiple tracks into one convenient file that you can use in other Adobe applications.
The Adobe Sound Document is a new file format that enables you to easily share the audio you create and edit in Soundbooth with other Adobe applications such as Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, and After Effects CS4. For multitrack projects, the ASND file contains all the audio clips (including fades and filter effects) and the stereo mixdown. Other Adobe applications that support ASND can then open and use the mixdown portion of your sound files. (In Soundbooth, the volume level and pan knobs on each track, along with master volume knob, control the mix of all the audio clips played together on the timeline.) You can even set the mixdown output for your ASND file in the Soundbooth preferences. By default, the preference is set to 16-bit/44.1kHz for use with Flash.
ASND is a nondestructive file format that preserves your original audio assets. The ASND file makes a copy of your original assets, so you can always revert back to them if something goes wrong. Also, you can save the current state of the changes in your ASND files using a new feature called Snapshots. This makes it easy to revert your changes at any time when working with an ASND file.
To make it even easier to work with audio when building interactive experiences, you can now launch Soundbooth from Flash CS4 Professional to edit audio assets. This new integration delivers a roundtrip editing experience when you're working with ASND files. For example, if you select an ASND file in Flash CS4 Professional, you can choose the Edit in Soundbooth option to open the file in Soundbooth and make changes to individual clips (such as adjusting the volume level or adding additional filter effects). Once you're finished with your changes, you can save the new mixdown, and it automatically updates in Flash.
You can also take advantage of this roundtrip editing workflow in Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects CS4.
Soundbooth CS3 introduced the concept of task-based tools for correcting audio problems like removing clicks, pops, and other unwanted sounds. Soundbooth CS4 offers a new task-based tool for easily fixing volume level problems called Volume Correction, which enables you to correct volume problems within individual clips with Equalize Volume Levels or across multiple clips with Match Volume. Equalize Volume Levels helps you correct problems in a voiceover or dialog clip where two people are speaking at different volume levels. Match Volume lets you set multiple clips to a specific volume level, which makes quick work of setting the volume for all or part of your clips in a multitrack project (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Using Match Volume to set the volume for multiple clips to a specific level.
If you want to adjust the volume of a specific audio clip over time, Soundbooth CS4 includes volume keyframe support. All audio clips in Soundbooth CS4 display a blue line in the center of the waveform. You can simply click the blue line to create keyframes and adjust them up or down to raise or lower the volume level across the audio clip.
With the enhanced is Create A Loop feature, Soundbooth CS4 can now display the beats in an audio file, which makes creating music loops easier than ever.
Figure 3. Viewing beats in an audio file to create a loop.
In Figure 3, you can see the beats indicated by the orange markers in the waveform from one of my songs called “Virtual World.” To see the beats on your audio files, simply choose View > Enable Beats from the main menu. You can use Create A Loop to mark your in and out points and then save your file to any of the supported audio formats. That's it.
Another major innovation in Soundbooth CS4 is Speech Search, which enables you to find keywords in your audio assets. To use Speech Search, you must first generate a text transcript of the selected audio file by choosing Edit > Speech Transcription from the main menu. The accuracy of the transcript will vary depending on the type of audio content and the quality of the recording, but this feature is designed to capture distinct keywords within the audio file, so you can quickly find the edit points you're looking for. The transcript is displayed in a metadata panel where you can also correct words in the transcript (see Figure 4). You can even export the text as markers that can then be used with ActionScript in Flash to enable the text from the audio to be searched within a SWF file.
Figure 4. The Metadata panel displays the editable transcript of audio clips.
Speech Search is also available in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4. Both Soundbooth and Adobe Premiere Pro are components of Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium.
Soundbooth CS4 also contains additional royalty-free Scores. Soundbooth Scores are customizable music files that automatically resize to fit the length of your project. Scores come in a range of musical genres, and they provide parameters for adjusting instrumentation and intensity levels. Ambient and Environment are two new genres in Soundbooth CS4. Ambient Scores create a cinematic mood (science fiction, horror, etc) and Environment Scores generate natural soundscapes such as the ocean, crowd noise, and city sounds. You can use multiple Scores in the Multitrack view and even layer one on top of another. For example, you might want to use the City Street Score and then layer a music Score on top of it.
Soundbooth CS4 offers more than 100 scores, which you can access via the Resource Central panel. Over 40 of them are free to download, and the rest come in bundles of 5 for US$49. You can also access thousands of royalty-free sound effects via Resource Central.
These are just a few of the new Soundbooth CS4 features. Soundbooth is a component of Adobe Creative Suite 4 Web Premium as well as Production Premium and Master Collection.
Lawson Hancock is senior product manager for Adobe's audio products and technologies. He is also a singer and songwriter and has performed under the band name Blue Tree.