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.
The built-in CD-burning application is basic but solid and helps make Sound Forge Audio Studio an ideal program for creating mix CDs. For example, you can import a couple of MP3s, two audio CD tracks, and several WMA files to the same track window; use the program's intuitive cross-fading tools to get a nice flow; add your own DJ voice-over; normalize the track; then burn it to CD. The only thing that users might miss is the ability to specify track index points, where the listener can skip to the next track on the finished CD.
Sound Forge also features the time-stretching and looping tools needed to create samples and loops for the popular ACID Music Studio software. Once the tracks are constructed and optimized, you can drop these files into ACID and create professional-sounding loop and sample-based tracks that aren't dependent on tempo or pitch.
While the program is compatible with more than 10 popular audio and video formats, it really shines as an export utility, though MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 are unfortunately compatible only when used with a separately purchased plug-in. Any file can be saved to formats such as RealAudio, RealMedia, QuickTime, AVI, MP3, OG, AIFF, WMA, WMV, and so on. Being a Sony program, Sound Forge Audio Studio can also export files directly to a Sony NetMD player/recorder but only if you have Sony's Open MG software installed. Likewise, Sound Forge Audio Studio includes an option to export audio as an MP3 to a CLIE handhelds. Perhaps the most empowering feature for novice users is the publishing option, which uploads musical creations to ACIDplanet.com, a vibrant online community of music makers spanning all genres. Here, members can publish their songs, bios, and commentary, as well as listen to and rate others' compositions. Users can also download more free samples, view homemade videos, join discussion forums, and enter contests.One of the application's major strengths is its ability to handle almost everything that's thrown its way--in a speedy manner. It takes only a few seconds for the program to build peaks during the WAV conversion process or to apply an effect to the entire track. There's no waiting around. And the transport controls are instantaneous. The latency we've often experienced with computers and audio is a thing of the past. The program was also reliable; we experienced no hiccups or crashes on our Windows XP Pentium 4 machine with 1GB of RAM.
Sound Forge Audio Studio works on Windows 2000 and XP only. Sony recommends a 400MHz processor with 128MB of RAM and at least 60MB of disk space for the application. You should also have a sound card and a CD burner if you want to burn CDs.Sony's free support options come in the form of a FAQ and Forums. The help files within the program are handy for the basics, although a built-in tutorial would have been nice. In a couple of instances, we were confused when a help file stated that Sound Forge Audio Studio had a specific feature when, in fact, only its big brother Sound Forge had it. Overall, the forums offer a well-organized source for general and more-advanced questions, but you must register to post. Phone support is available, but it will cost you $14.95 for a single call, $49.95 for 60 days of support, or $99.95 for 180 days of support.