Test Drive: Express Digital Audio Workstation from Spectral, Inc.

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This is not your father's multitrack

The main EDITOR screen has a "zoomable" track display, with individual track controls. You can highlight an entire track for editing; select play/record/punch-in modes; solo and mute a track, and set pan and volume. A small 3-segment meter on the left indicates signal presence. Touching the dividing line between adjacent pairs of tracks gangs them together as stereo tracks, automatically adjusting the pans and locking their volume controls as well.

A time "ruler" runs directly across the bottom of the track display, with a button to select Hours/Minutes/Seconds/Milliseconds, Hours/Minutes/Seconds/Frames, or Bars/Beats/Thousands.

Just below sits the "marker area," with two types of markers at your command. A single set of LOOP markers create the in and out points for looped playback. Up to 199 "normal" markers, CUEs, can also be used. Markers may be placed by several methods using the mouse, and by hot-keys on the keyboard and controllers!

Underneath the marker area are four time displays. One tells you where on the timeline your mouse pointer is, two others show in and out points of a selected area, with the fourth showing the length of the selected area.

Express' "Edit Command Center" sits just above the Control Panel. The master fader and a pair of 72-bar segment meters are on the left (see picture).

In the "Audition" department, left clicking HEAR SELECTION will play a highlighted area, while a right click plays a highlighted area in loop mode. Clicking SKIP SELECTION plays what is on the screen without the highlighted area, letting you hear your edit without making an edit!

The "Zoom" controls determine how far you ZOOM IN or ZOOM OUT. There is a button for ZOOM ON SELECTion, and another button labeled SPEECH DETAIL that Spectral's "experts have determined is perfect for dialogue editing." If you would rather edit with your ears, a keyboard/mouse scrub is available, but the infinity wheel on the CS-10 is far superior.

There are two "Modes" used in the editing process: AUDIO EVENTS and TRACK REGIONS. In Audio Events mode, your editor is set to manipulate individual segments of audio represented as "blocks" on the screen. In Track Regions mode, editing can encompass numerous audio blocks or events across several tracks, or you can edit an area within a single audio event.

The "Edit Now" controls are buttons marked COPY, CLEAR, PASTE, SPLIT, CUT, and INSERT. After highlighting an area to edit, one click, and you're done. The buttons are large and situated almost directly above the transport controls. Of course, they can also be assigned to hot-keys!

On the far right, the "Edit Mode" control is one of the things that make Express so nice to work with. Edit Mode has settings for your "Drag" and "Drop" actions that predetermine what happens when you edit, and whether edits will be moved only to a different track or to a different track at another point in time. Drag has three settings: cut, copy, and clear. Drop has two: paste and insert. Two buttons, a 4-headed arrow and a 2-headed arrow, control your vertical and horizontal movement across the timeline (2-headed keeps edits "locked" in time). If you were to choose "clear" for Drag and "paste" for Drop, and the 2-headed arrow was selected, two mouse movements (highlight, then grab) would paste your selection to another track at the exact same place on the timeline, and leave a clear space on the original track.

Fade ins and outs also become a simple task. Grab the top corners of an audio event and drag a fade envelope into place.

Another spiffy feature is the "Parking Lot." Call it a palette to temporarily drop things to, or 4 storage bins, if you want. But whatever you call it, having a temporary place to store anything is a godsend.

Of course, there's an "undo" button (with 10 levels), and a "redo" button (to redo what you just undid).

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