Test Drive: The SAW Plus Software Audio Workshop from Innovative Quality Software

To the right of the track numbers are the Solo and Mute buttons for each track. To the right of the Mute button is the Fader icon. Clicking this icon brings up the fader and pan control and puts two horizontal lines on that track. These lines are called the Mix Entries View and represent fader and pan settings. As either are changed, the lines change to reflect the new settings. Settings can be made and recorded during playback thus providing automated mixing. Adjustments made to the level and pan are heard as you make them. However, there is a slight delay depending upon the speed of your computer. On the system used for this review, the delay was a little less than a second. It's enough of a delay to make recording fast mix changes on the fly a little awkward, but there's another way to make quick and accurate level adjustments, which we'll get into later. Click the Offset button to set the overall track level. To the right of the Fader icon are four small buttons numbered 1 through 4. They are used to select the sound card for that track. If you're only using one sound card, all the tracks are locked to position 1.

To the right of the blue sound card select buttons is the FX button used to access each track's effects "patch bay." The SAW Plus comes with several effects, and optional plug-ins are available. Effects choices include Vari-Pitch/Speed which adjusts the pitch/speed of all entries on that track. Reverse Audio reverses the playback of all entries on the track. Reverse Phase changes the polarity of the track. Center Channel Eliminator changes the polarity of one channel of a stereo track and combines the two channels together into a mono signal, cancelling whatever audio was in the "center channel." The Graphic Equalizer is actually a 7-band parametric equalizer with a graphic equalizer appearance. Changes are heard in real time, and EQ settings can be saved. This is a nice way to apply commonly used EQ settings to a track, for example, a "telephone EQ" effect. Once you've found the right EQ settings, save them as "PHONE.EQ" and simply recall the settings anytime you want that effect on a track. The Echo/Delay effect adds a maximum of 2.6 seconds of delay to left and right channels on a stereo or mono track, and you get controls for Feedback and Strength which adjusts the amount of the effect applied to the signal. Finally, there is a Compressor/Gate/Limiter effect. You get Attack, Release, and Threshold controls for the compressor and the gate, along with Ratio, Peak Limiter, and Output Volume controls. Settings for the both the Echo/Delay and Compressor/Gate/Limiter effects can also be saved to files.

I tried a couple of the effect plug-ins available by downloading the demos from the IQS Web site. The Reverberator plug-in offered some surprisingly nice sounding reverbs, and you even have the option to tweak the verbs, and once again, save reverb settings. This is a "must have" if you want reverb since there are no sends and returns on the SAW Plus. You could, of course, record the reverb to the SAW Plus from an external box, but that would eliminate any clean edits on a voice track with the reverb as part of the original sound file. The Reverberator lists for $299 and is "sale priced" at $149. Another plug-in "effect" I found almost necessary was the Meter Bridge. The only metering that comes standard on the SAW Plus is on the input levels when recording. As you add tracks, it's very easy to begin overdriving the sound card. The Meter Bridge provides pre and post fader metering of all individual tracks, and can also be patched to the Output Track to monitor the level of the combined tracks. More on the Output Track later.

Finally, to the right of the FX button on each track is a red Record button. Clicking on this button opens the SAW Plus Recording Control Panel. SAW Plus refers the audio files it records as "soundfiles." When soundfiles or portions of soundfiles are placed on the MultiTrack View, they are called "regions." Recording soundfiles is very simple. Click the Filename button to name the soundfile and select the directory or folder for it. Click on the Record button and you're recording. The Recording Control Panel has several options. Click the Rate button to select sampling rates from 11.025kHz, 22.05kHz, 32kHz, 44.1kHz, and 48kHz. These rates are available as long as your audio card supports them. Click the Type button to choose between recording a stereo soundfile, a mono soundfile using the left or right channel input, or a mono soundfile which sums the left and right channels. Click the Resolution button to select 8-bit or 16-bit. Click the Input button to choose between Analog and Digital (if your card supports digital). There's a Retake button that enables re-recording to the same file, overwriting the previous take. You can record several "takes" to a single soundfile, and the SAW Plus will simply append each take to the file. Or, you can click the All button to record over all the previous takes in the file and basically start from scratch.

To the right of the Recording Control Panel are two very nicely done level indicators. Each bargraph contains probably 60 to 70 segments starting with green, then yellow, then red. There are Peak overload indicators, a Margin indicator, and a Margin Reset button. The number of the track being recorded to is displayed above the level indicators. Input level faders are on the left side of the Recording Control Panel, and above them is the Close/Save button which exits the Recording Control Panel. At the top of the panel are the transport controls. Click Record Ready to set levels. Click Record to begin recording. Click Stop to stop recording. The S-R-P button enables "Simultaneous Record and Playback" which lets you hear other tracks while recording to another. Above these controls is a Time Remaining indicator (time remaining on the drive) as well as an indicator to show which hard drive is being recorded to. There are also elapsed time indicators. Finally, the H/S (Hide/Show) button lets you hide SAW Plus while keeping the transport controls "on top." This lets you work in another program altogether while still having access to the SAW Plus transport controls. For example, you could have the script for a commercial on the screen with the transport controls up in the corner. Nice feature.

When you're through recording, click the Stop button then the Close/Save button. The soundfile appears as a region on the MultiTrack View. This is where the fun begins. IQS has made editing and moving regions in a multitrack environment very easy and very fast. To move a region, click the Select icon (or just press "S" on the keyboard) to put the cursor in the Select mode. Then click the region. It changes color to show it's selected. Now use the SHIFT key on the keyboard with the left mouse button to click and drag the region anywhere on the track. Use the CTRL key to move the region vertically to other tracks. Using both the SHIFT and CTRL keys lets you move the region anywhere on the MultiTrack View. Several zoom in/out functions let you configure the MultiTrack View to whatever view best suits the situation at hand.

You can effectively produce broadcast production recording directly to the MultiTrack window much like you would to a tape based recorder. Simply place the cursor at the point on the track where you want to start recording, click the Record button, and off you go. And once your elements are on the MultiTrack palette, you can move them anywhere on any track faster than the same function can be performed on many high-dollar DAWs. It really is as simple as click, drag, and drop.

Editing on the SAW Plus is also a breeze. There are several ways to "mark" areas to be edited. Use the "B" and "E" keys on the keyboard to mark Begin and End points. Areas can also be marked with a click and drag function in the TimeLine area at the bottom of the MultiTrack View. Once marked, there are several functions for splitting, cutting, and splicing regions, and edits can affect any or all tracks at once. Of course, you need to be able to find your edit marks. Waveforms can be displayed in the MultiTrack View and zoomed into well enough to see exactly where to place an edit point. Or you can use the Loop Scrub Mode to hear your edit points by pressing the CTRL key with the left mouse button, then simply move the mouse left and right in a scrubbing motion to move through the soundfile. There are many disk-based systems on the market that have a more responsive scrub mode, but they cost quite a bit more than $500. The scrub mode on the SAW Plus is more like using the search function on a CD player, and with the system used for this review, there was about a half-second delay between a movement of the mouse and hearing the actual move. Still, the combination of both the Loop Scrub Mode and zooming in on waveforms allows for marking very accurate edit points rather quickly.

While most editing you might need to do can be performed in the MultiTrack View, this is what the SoundFile View is better designed for. (In fact, the Loop Scrub Mode is only available in the SoundFile View.) The SoundFile View is also the only other window that you can record from. Click the Record button to bring up the Recording Control Panel as before, only this time, the recorded soundfile will be displayed in the SoundFile View rather than put into the MultiTrack View as a region. In the SoundFile View, the recording can be edited and regions defined for later assignment to the MultiTrack View. This would be one way to record both parts of a 2-voice spot when getting each voice at different times. Record voice one to the file, then record voice two to the same file, appending the audio to it. It now becomes very easy to mark each segment of the dialog, define the regions, and move them to the MultiTrack View.

Defining regions is another simple facet of the program, and there is a separate window for maintaining your growing list of regions. The Regions View is a small window that simply lists the regions in alphabetical order. At the top of this window is the Add To MT (MultiTrack) button. When a region is defined in the SoundFile View, it is automatically added to the Regions View. If you had a commercial that consisted of a donut jingle and a single voice-over, you might record the jingle and the voice-over to the same soundfile as described earlier. Then, in the SoundFile View window, create two regions, one for the jingle and the other for the voice-over. Once created, just highlight the jingle region in the Regions View, click on the track (in the MultiTrack View) that you want to put the jingle on, then click on Add To MT. Do the same for the voice-over and you've built your multitrack session. Now you can begin setting levels and adding effects, etc.. If, during your multitrack session, you decide you need to edit a breath out of the voice track, double click that region on the MultiTrack View screen and the soundfile that contains that region is instantly loaded in the SoundFile View for editing. When done, pressing CTRL-U updates the region in the MultiTrack View. Or you could simply and easily perform the edit on the region itself in the MultiTrack View and keep the soundfile in its original form.

If your multitrack session contains several elements, you'll end up with several tracks with a "sequence" of events on each track. The Sequence View window lists information about events or regions on the selected track such as the length of the region and the in and out points in the production.

Another handy window is the Full View window. This window provides a view of the entire selected soundfile whereas the SoundFile View might show only a small area of a soundfile depending upon whatever zoom level was active. The Full View window provides an easy way to navigate throughout a large soundfile. For example, you might choose to create projects by putting all elements into one soundfile--music, voice, sound effects, etc.. Placing the cursor anywhere on the timeline below the waveform in the Full View and clicking the mouse instantly transfers that area of the soundfile to the SoundFile View window for editing.

Press the "M" key on the keyboard to place markers in the MultiTrack View or SoundFile View windows. The Markers View window lets you name markers and go to them instantly with one click. If you have a large project, this is a great way to mark different elements and get to them quickly.

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