Test Drive: Wavelab 4.0 from Steinberg

by Steve Cunningham

Choosing an audio editor is a bit like buying a new car — it’s a combination of both practical and emotional considerations, and it’s intensely personal. And once we’ve made a choice, we tend to defend it using facts from our practical list, but with a religious fervor that borders on irrational. So if I’m being rigorously honest here, I have to say I was underwhelmed to review another audio editor with CD-burning capabilities. After all, just last month we looked at CD Architect (11/02), and shortly before that we checked out the new version of Sound Forge (7/02), a program I’ve used every day for several years.

So when Steinberg’s WaveLab 4.0 showed up on my doorstep in a box that weighed several pounds, I began to question my audio editing belief system. And when the weight turned out to be a “real” printed manual, all I could do was grab my beads and mutter my mantra. I think I may have had a religious experience here.

While definitely on the spendy side at a list price of $599.99, WaveLab is a killer app. This will come as no surprise to those of you who have been using it for a while, but for us newbies it’s an eye-opener. It incorporates a first-rate stereo editor, a multitrack workspace for assembling and tweaking tracks (the Audio Montage feature), a comprehensive CD assembly and burning module complete with labeling capabilities, DirectX and VST effects compatibility (including a nice selection of built-in FX), an outstanding rack of audio analysis tools and meters, and even a backup tool for backing up your projects before taking them offline.


The first thing you’ll notice when opening the box is the aforementioned manual. It’s a 642-page extravaganza, perfect-bound with a soft cover, and you’ll want to keep it nearby because WaveLab is a very deep program. It’s quite complete, and includes a lot of general information on CD formats as well as a step-by-step explanation of how to use WaveLab.

Installing WaveLab is quick, if nothing else. WaveLab’s computer requirements are reasonable (with one caveat); it needs a Pentium II at 200 MHz or better, and although it will run on AMDs, it is optimized for Intel chips. As always, the faster the processor the better, especially for doing real-time processing. Since it is disk-based, WaveLab’s RAM requirements are small — 128 MB, although Steinberg recommends 256 MB of RAM, and 60 MB of free hard disk space. It won’t run on Windows 95 or NT, but 98, Me, 2000, and XP are all fine, and Steinberg recommends XP.

The one notable recommendation is a 24-bit-capable video card. One of the first messages instructs you to set your display to millions of colors, otherwise “some graphics might be slow and not too elegant.” Now I’ve become accustomed to living in a thousands-of-colors world, in an effort to save CPU and bus cycles with software editors, but Steinberg is right about this — redraw time was significantly slower at that setting, so I changed it to millions with no ill effects. Besides, the waveform and accessory windows look so much cooler at millions. (Note: the current update seems to have stopped that dialog from appearing more than once, on first bootup).

WaveLab uses CD-based copy protection, and it asks you to insert the CD on first run after installation. You’ll want to keep the CD in a safe place, since the program also asks for it when applying version updates. And Steinberg releases plenty of these — WaveLab 4.0 has had six updates this year alone. Each seems to add a few features and several bug fixes, and expands the list of supported CDR drives. Nice.