NewtekPro Magazine
NEWTEKPRO MAGAZINE
Issue Number One


ProView
Subject: Sonic Foundry ACID PRO 3.0
MAY/JUNE 2001
By Bob Ketchum

System Requirements
Minimum Requirements:
System: P3 @ 300 MHz
OS: Windows 2000/Me/98
RAM: 64 MB

ACID. It's not an acronym that I know of. But, if you're often looking for backing music for your video productions or for any other purpose, this is the application that will single-handedly revolutionize the way you work. Unlike many other products, released with much ballyhoo and hype, ACID is a program that really delivers the goods.

What is it?

ACID is essentially a loop based music sequencer which allows you to quickly build projects from snippets of sound. At first glance, ACID may look very basic; but as you dig deeper you can't help but recognize what an incredibly powerful, and time saving application this is.

Have you over-used all the royalty-free music in your library? Is the music track your client has provided too short, or too long for the video you've painstakingly edited? Would you prefer that a particular piece of music was a different pitch, or tempo? Do you wish you had an easy way to add a little spice to your video productions? Then look no further, ACID is the solution to all of those problems and more… and it'll do it non-destructively and in realtime.

I first started using ACID back at version 1.0. But a lot has changed since then. The latest version, 3.0, adds support for video synchronization, additional audio formats, and MIDI as well. But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The In's and Out's of ACID

The staple food of anything you do with ACID, is sound files. These can be anything: songs, sustained chords, instrument recordings, percussion hits, animal sounds, grunts, groans, whatever you like. The program comes with a CD containing more than 600 music loops; but if that's not enough, a quick web-search will surely lead you to musical instruments, sound effects, and samples galore - much of it for free. In addition, Sonic Foundry sells a huge assortment of ACID-ready loop libraries in categories such as: Ambient, Cinematic, Rock, Country, Jazz & Blues, Techno, and Dance. Although ACID has it's own proprietary file formats, it also supports the standards: WAV, AIFF, MP3, etc.

Accessing these sounds from within ACID is easy. A convenient file Explorer view resides at the bottom of the project window. Select any sound file and ACID will immediately audition it, while also revealing details such as tempo (if available), sample rate, mono/stereo, etc. If the sound suits the project you're building, simply double-click it and it'll be added into the Track view. Then, select the Draw Tool and drag your mouse across the track wherever you want the sound to be heard. If you drag out an area longer in time than the actual sound, ACID will automatically loop the sound.

If you only want to use a portion of a sound file, the Chopper view allows you to cut and paste smaller pieces of a sound into the project. This is great for creating drum fills, stutters, and DJ-style effects.

Tracks run from left to right across the project window. Each sound is assigned to its own track, and can be moved back and forth in 32nd note increments. All views are dockable, and therefore can be hidden, resized or repositioned to suit your needs.

For the Non-Musician

Probably the coolest feature is ACID's ability to auto-adjust sounds to fit the tempo of the project. You can also adjust the tempo of the entire project and ACID will automatically update all the clips within that project. Furthermore, if you want to play a melody with a sound, but only have that sound recorded as a single note, you can simply clone it and change the pitch/key. ACID is a godsend to non-musician video editors, because you're not required to know much, if anything, about composing music - ACID does all the hard work for you.

Other quick and easy-to-use edit features include: Envelopes - which allow you to change amplitude (volume), pitch (key), and pan (stereo position) over time; the Erase Tool - to split sounds or to erase unneeded sections; and the Time Select Tool - to select all events within a range of time. Again, everything is done non-destructively, so you can always change your mind without worry that it's too late.

The List Goes On…

ACID includes 18 realtime digital audio effects, including familiar effects such as: Chorus, Distortion, Delay, EQ, Pitch Shift, and Reverb; as well as more uncommon effects like: Gapper/Snipper, Multi-Band Dynamics, and Pargraphic EQ. Because they are implemented as standard DirectX plug-ins, you're not limited to just using these effects with ACID. Any program with DirectX plug-in support can access these.

Other ACID features include: the Beatmapper remixing tool - to add tempo information to sounds, remix and combine music loops, add beats, and overlay samples; a Video track - to add music to an AVI or MOV video clip; CD-Audio Extraction - to add songs from audio CDs into your project.; CD Burning; and MIDI record and playback.

The flexibility of this program is truly amazing, and it is so user-friendly that most people will not even have to consult the documentation to get started. You just drag and drop, and cut and paste your way to musical ecstasy!

Speaking of documentation… it's all online and there's plenty of it. One interesting inclusion is a Signal Flow Diagram, which makes it easy to understand how all the different functions of ACID work together. A large Glossary of terms and a section of Tips and Tricks are also very helpful.

Bonus Tools and Sounds

Also included are feature reduced versions of two other popular Sonic Foundry audio production applications. Vegas Audio LE allows you to record, edit and mix up to eight tracks of audio. Sound Forge XP Studio 5.0 is a digital audio editor and file format converter, which includes over 1,000 sound effects organized into categories such as: Aircraft, Applause, Doors and Drawers, Explosions, People, Science Fiction, and Transitional Elements.

Planet Of The Acid People!

After you've installed ACID, and you played with all the cool toys and sounds, the next thing to do is click on Get Media in the tool bar. This will take you to an exclusive area of the Sonic Foundry website where you can download free media. This is updated monthly, so be sure to check in often.

After that, click on the ACID News icon (or go to www.acidplanet.com) to find out what's going on in the world of ACID. Here you'll find tips to make the most of your ACID experience (these seem to be randomly chosen each time you visit), learn about contests in which you can win various Sonic Foundry products, and best of all… find out about the latest 8Packs.

What's an 8Pack you ask? These are free downloads that contain eight loops and an ACID project file - every one is different, and they're always a learning experience. And guess what… they change every week. That's right, and it's been going on for years. Sadly, you can't access old 8Packs, so be sure to add this adventure as a regular event in the scheduler of your palm computer. 8Packs are the perfect way to see how experienced users build their projects. All their secrets are revealed!

ACID In Action

I create many of my own production music tracks, for corporate/industrial or training video projects, with just a few good ACID music loops. Lately, I have been using it to produce audio tracks for television commercials, too.

I start by recording my voice - I use Soundprobe for this, but the audio tools included with ACID should do the job nicely. Then, I'll add a bit of slap echo or small room reverb to the track. I may even use a little compression so it stand outs in the mix. When it's just the way I want it, I save it out as a WAV file. Then in ACID, I select loops to fit the mood of the project (usually drums, a bass, guitar, keyboards or synth pad) and add in my voice track. Next I add volume envelopes that follow along with the narrative. And finally, I save the results out to a WAV file, and drop that into an audio track on my non-linear editor.

It's a done deal in a few minutes! And there are no copyright/royalty issues to worry about, since I created it all by myself.

Trippy Technical Support

These days it seems like technical support consists largely of FAQ's, and an endless labyrinth of automated telephone sub menus. Not so with Sonic Foundry. This company, founded in 1991, seems to be largely made up of young musicians with advanced technical savvy. Somehow they've managed not to loose sight of what makes for a good relationship between a manufacturer/developer and its product users.

I know these things, because my installation of ACID didn't go as smoothly as one might hope. The first thing I had to do was hunt down and install DirectX 8.0a. No problem - Sonic Foundry had the appropriate links to the Microsoft download areas right on the page where I downloaded ACID. Next up was to install ACID, and it's various bonus tools. Somehow the registration process got confused though, and when I restarted the programs I had to go through the registration process all over again. I also couldn't get ACID to recognize sound files. Things weren't going so good, so I emailed technical support. Within a few minutes, literally, I received an email back suggesting a solution. I followed the instructions and it worked perfectly!

Well… almost. Everything looked good-to-go, but when I tried to play a project I'd created in ACID 1.0, the sound kept stuttering. Again, it didn't take long before I had the answer. A simple adjustment of the Playback buffering from the default 0.25, to 1.0 seconds, and I was on my way. All has been great in the world since.

Admittedly, I was testing this out on an old machine, a P2 @ 333 MHz, under Windows 98. The same installation on a P3 @ 800 MHz, under Windows 2000 was quick and totally painless. Sonic Foundry's minimum requirements are very reasonable. Of course, faster computers will be able to take advantage of more effects, a larger number of tracks, etc.

Concerns

The only hardware problem we encountered was with an M-Audio Delta 1010 professional sound card. This is a sound card that has multiple inputs and outputs, and under Windows 2000 it requires applications to support WDM drivers to make use of advanced features. Although ACID appears to support advanced audio hardware, attempts to enable these functions were unsuccessful.

ACID had no problems accessing a basic sound card, ESS Maestro 1, in its default sound hardware configuration.

A Version For Every Budget

ACID PRO 3.0 has so many possible applications in a video production environment or as a music composition tool, that it's worth the price of admission. But for some, the price might be too high.

Now that 3.0 has been released, its still very powerful predecessor, ACID Music 2.0, has seen a price reduction to $79.00 ($69.00 download). That makes taking your initial plunge into a professional version of ACID an easy option. See the sidebar ACID Music 2.0 vs. PRO 3.0 for a comparison of features.

If you're more likely to need a particular style of music, $39.96 ($34.97) will buy you special 2.0… DJ, Hip-Hop, Latin, Rock, or Techno versions.

And if that's still out of your budget, don't worry - Sonic Foundry has you covered with a free version, ACID XPress. As you would expect, it has limitations such as only 8 tracks, and no plug-in Effects; but this version is still very usable.

You Can't O.D. on this ACID!

Many audio tools have come and gone, and spawned a swarm of wanna-be's in their wake. ACID, however, has held its own as a seemingly competitionless audio production tool. For me, the decision to use any kind of product in my production studio, comes down to two criteria: (1) The product has to be easy to use, and quick to learn (2) it has to work consistently and remain stable. Without a doubt, ACID hits the mark on both.

Even though I am a musician, with many years of music composition experience, I can honestly tell you that you do not have to have any kind of musical training to operate this program. The program is so user-friendly that if you've used any computer software at all, you'll intuitively grasp how this gizmo works. I mean, how difficult is it to drag and drop files into the project window and then stretch out the loop until it plays as long as you need it to? Adding tracks is equally simple and in no time at all you can create a complete musical composition.

Before ACID came along, I spent way too much of my time composing and recording background music in a professional studio environment. In the time it would take to just get all my music gear set up to record a single music track, I could create a dozen completely different and unique music tracks with ACID. I kid you not.

Did I mention that you don't even have to know how to play a musical instrument? Or keep one in tune? Nor do you have know how to properly mic and record that instrument? ACID is a must for anyone who needs to create background music video, radio or television commercials; or just noodle around the house creating cool and modern sounding music compositions. It actually turns work into fun.

A quality product, great technical support, freely available and regularly updated exclusive downloads, fun, frolic, and all at prices to fit any budget. What more could you ask for?

Hey! If it's got a good beat, and you can dance to it… I say, buy it!

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Product:
Sonic Foundry
ACID PRO 3.0
Loop based music sequencer, ideal for the non-musician.
Price:
US$399.96 / $349.97 (download)

Contact:
www.sonicfoundry.com
www.acidplanet.com

1617 Sherman Avenue
Madison, WI
USA 53704

800.577.6642
608.204.7680

Features: 4.0
Ease of use: 4.0
Documentation: 4.0
Value: 3.5
Installation/Setup: 3.5
Technical Support: 4.5

Pros: An excellent production tool for creating everything from background tracks for video to standalone music compositions.

Cons: Possible problems with advanced sound hardware.

FOR A MINI-REVIEW OF THREE ACID LOOP LIBRARY CD'S GO HERE.

TIPS on using ACID:

- Use the erase tool to create entirely new loops from longer length clips. You could take a kick drum from one project and a snare drum from another and make an entirely original drum loop. And remember you can then record that loop and create a composite .WAV file of the new loop, then drop it into a new project window. In 3.0 use the Chopper tool for even more flexibility.

- When you cut & paste, you will notice that after pasting, the cursor will advance to the end of the previous paste operation. This is useful when you intend to create a long loop. So you just copy, then paste, paste, paste……

- Double-clicking in the extreme lower-right corner of the Track View will zoom the project out all the way. This is a real time saver. In 3.0 the timeline is draggable and can be precisely adjusted to just the right window size.

- When you select multiple tracks (using shift/select), their faders, mutes, solos, and output selections will all be globally adjusted.

- When you highlight a clip in the project window which contains envelopes and then paste into a blank space in the track timeline, the new clip will have inherited the copied clip's envelopes.

- When using multiple loops it's easy to make the mix too busy. Use the erase tool to selectively remove portions of the loops. This will give more character and personality to your project.

- If you are building a drum track, try shifting the high hat track just a little before or after the correct sync mark. This will add a "human feel" to the drum track. (In other words, you've made the drummer "sloppy").

- By entering false information about the length of a loop, you can speed it up or slow it down relative to the tempo of the project. Go to Track Properties and change the number of beats parameter to half of it's normal value for a loops that will now play twice as fast. Double the number of beats to make the track play half as fast of the project.

- A great new feature of ACID PRO 3.0 is when you click on any track and select volume, pan, or efx, the program will automatically select the same assignment on ALL tracks. This makes it very easy to do global adjustments with a minimum of mouse movement.

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