Test Drive: WaveLab 5 from Steinberg

by Steve Cunningham

I’ve been using Steinberg’s WaveLab 4 (which we reviewed in the January ’03 RAP) as my primary stereo editor for a couple of years for several reasons. Sure, it does all the standard cut, copy, and paste stuff that all the others do, and it does them well. But it has several tools on which I now depend, sort of like having a good spell-checker in a word processor. It certainly helps that it’s quick and easy to use (for the most part), and Steinberg has issued updates on a timely basis. Best of all it hasn’t crashed on me — ever.

So when I started getting promotional emails announcing WaveLab Version 5, I was definitely interested. According to the literature, the most significant addition to the program is full surround sound and DVD-A capability. Frankly I’m not that interested in either today — my car dealer clients certainly aren’t asking for it, even if Orban and Omnia think they should be. But there were enough new things that were interesting that I popped the $99 for the upgrade from version 4 to version 5... and along the way I found a few pleasant surprises. If you’re already using WaveLab, the upgraded features are well thought-out and shouldn’t send you off to read the manual. If you’ve never used WaveLab, it might be time to take a look.

WaveLab combines a first-rate stereo editor, a multitrack workspace for assembling and tweaking tracks, a comprehensive CD and DVD assembly and burning module complete with labeling capabilities, DirectX and VST effects compatibility (including a nice selection of built-in FX), and an outstanding rack of audio analysis tools and meters. And while the surround capabilities aren’t compelling at first glance, in reality they change WaveLab from a stereo-only editor to a multitrack editor with up to eight outputs.


WaveLab 5 differs from previous versions in its requirements, primarily in that it runs only on Windows 2000 and XP and no longer supports Windows 98, Me, or NT. It wants an 800MHz Pentium 3 and 256MB of RAM, but you’ll definitely want more of both. Windows XP is abysmal on P3’s, and painful with less than 512MB of RAM. A nice P4 at say, 1.5GHz or better and a full gig of RAM will make it (and you) quite happy.

Installation is simple and direct. Just inserting the CD demonstrates your ownership, but you also need to enter a serial number. In any event, copy protection is not onerous — if your hard drive dies in the middle of a session, you have the security of knowing you can easily re-install and authorize the software. You’re also allowed to install it on both your laptop and your desktop machine, a nice touch.

Once you’ve booted the program, all that remains is to tell it about your sound card using the Audio Card tab in Preferences. WaveLab has full ASIO support, which you’ll want to use for the multitrack outs provided by the surround features. A “Connections” button in the Audio Card screen lets you map the surround outputs to specific physical outputs on your sound card.