Editors' note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our ratings scale. Find out more here.
Creating and manipulating digital audio with a computer is clearly growing in popularity--and need. Whether you're recording audio via a microphone or trimming the annoying silence off the beginning of an MP3, there are a number of software options available on the market for less than $100. Perhaps the most complete and easy-to-use application for Windows PCs is Sony's $70 Sound Forge Audio Studio. This single-track audio-recording and -editing program includes more than 30 built-in effects, an intuitive and customizable interface, and compatibility with more than a dozen popular audio and video formats. Based on the more capable and, at $400, much more expensive Sound Forge application, Audio Studio is a solid performer that gets the job done efficiently and includes some nice extras, such as built-in burning and easy uploading to Sony's community site ACIDplanet.com. Windows XP installation is a breeze. Along with the main program, you have the option to install the Preset Manager, which offers a simple interface for managing and renaming effects and other plug-in presets. You can also browse the included 1,001 Sound Effects, a collection of royalty-free samples and loops that we recommend storing on your hard drive for easy access.
Like most audio-editing programs, Sound Forge Audio Studio has a utilitarian look and feel, with windows for sound-wave editing, volume levels, media library access, and track-transport controls, plus a window for viewing any video associated with an audio track. A convenient feature in this program is the high level of control the user has in customizing the interface. For example, you can resize any window and drag it to any part of the screen, where it will automatically conform to the rest of the viewable interface. Do you prefer the Explorer media library on the bottom or top of the screen or simply as an independent window? Is it easier for you to edit the track when it's maximized, or do you want to nestle it down below other open audio tracks? It's really up to you. You can even customize the various toolbars with more than 50 different functions.
The Explorer window in particular deserves mention. It's organized like Windows Explorer, so you can preview a track, then drag files onto the interface for editing or even within an existing track to create a mix on the fly. Here, you can organize, rename, delete, and add tracks to the program's Favorites folder with drag-and-drop simplicity. You will also see all the technical information related to a specific file when you highlight it.
The track view is pretty standard, with the typical right- and left-channel perspective and the ability to maximize the screen and to zoom down to the sample level. Overall, it's easy to select a portion of a track (either stereo or a single channel) to edit, process, or resize. If you open a video file, you'll get thumbnails of video that correspond to points in the audio, down to the sample and frame level. This view gives you the ability to precisely synchronize audio and video. Each track window has its own basic transport control, while the main transport toolbar includes record and loop buttons. You can also organize your tracks by a number of criteria, including samples, time, frame, measures and beats, and various SMTPE video formats (such as Film Sync 24 Frames Per Second). More-advanced features include frame numbers, play-level meter valley and peaks hold, setting regions, and animation of video frames/clips.
Sound Forge Audio Studio includes more than 30 built-in DirectX effects and processes, including delay, reverb, chorus, reverse, and a very nice EQ. Each plug-in can be tweaked in great detail by the user, and all come with useful presets. For example, the Flange/Wah-Wah effect has presets named Bouncing Flange, Mad Flange, and Slow Wah, while EQ presets include Boost Bass, Cut High Frequencies, and Cut Midrange. All these plug-ins can be previewed and adjusted in real time (typically there's a delay of a second or two), which allows you to efficiently experiment without applying changes to the track until you are satisfied with the results. The application even includes the popular vinyl-restoration plug-in that virtually eliminates pops and hisses from old records.
Unfortunately, Sound Forge Audio Studio doesn't include Sound Forge's chainer plug-in, which allows you to join up and preview up to 32 DirectX effects for the ultimate plug-in mix-and-match party. The program also lacks compatibility with third-party plug-ins. However, there are enough track-tweaking tools included to keep most audio mashers occupied.