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Review: Sonic Desktop Sonicfire Pro
Posted Aug 11, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Synopsis: Sonicfire Pro makes it simple for both novices and pros to put together top-notch soundtracks, with its ingenious mix-and-match blocking feature. It's not likely to appeal to the casual consumer user (Sonic Desktop offers the $50 Movie Maestro for them), but for the prosumer or small studio, it offers a competitively priced way to give professional-quality video projects equally professional-sounding sonic accompaniment.

When Sonic Desktop first introduced SmartSound for Multimedia in 1996, it was the first sound editing program targeted specifically for video content creators. The logic behind it was simple: give video editors the tools they need to create soundtracks quickly and easily without having to become part-time sound engineers. Their latest version, Sonicfire Pro, makes that job even easier, importing video (DV, AVI, MPEG, and several other formats are supported) right into the sound editing interface, letting users preview different audio/video combina- tions in real time.

Sonicfire Pro's other big selling point is SmartSound's "content palettes"—CDs of licensed music organized by theme and style with names that say it all, like "Maximum Action," "Midnight Moods," and "Positive Outlook." SmartSound currently offers more than 40 titles, each including between 10 and 20 different tracks, and they're releasing more at the rate of two a month. Ranging from rock to smooth jazz to techno to light classical, all of SmartSound's music is solid, slick, studio-quality material.

The SmartSound tracks are broken up into segments or "blocks." Any given track might be composed of 15, 20, or more different blocks, which can be rearranged, repeated, or removed to best fit both the mood and the length of the video clip. By letting the user pull blocks from the block window to the timeline window and moving them around, Sonicfire Pro offers what's essentially a drag-and-drop approach to sound editing. Once you drag a block into the timeline, the program highlights blocks that would make good follow-ups with a green indicator. Users also can break their own audio files down into blocks (after clearing all copyrights through the appropriate channels, of course) and use them as building blocks for their own soundtrack creations.

So why would you want to use canned SmartSound music? Well, in addition to being licensed, the blocks are encoded in such a way that the program can stretch them out or shorten them to fit, without losing the feel of the tune or the quality of the sound. The SmartSound files are stored on the disc in a proprietary format, but they convert automatically to industry-standard file types such as WAV, AIFF, AU, and others when exported. Sonicfire ships with two discs of music and sound effects for $349 and four discs for $499. (Additional discs are $99 for 44kHz broadcast-quality or $69 for 22kHz multimedia quality.)

At its most basic level, Sonicfire will let you take a video clip of, say, 3 minutes and 15 seconds long and a music clip of 4 minutes, and it will do an internal edit of the song file to shorten it down to 3:15. It's not always pretty—some of the edits Sonicfire made on my own audio files were fairly jarring—but it works. And with the SmartSound files, the edits sound just fine. (The program also is capable of doing a "smart extend"—if you've got a 47-second video clip but a SmartSound music file that's only 43 seconds, it will stretch it out almost imperceptibly to fill up the extra time.)

Of course, most video editors want more control over their soundtracks, and Sonicfire makes it simple. I was able to take a 4:30 hip-hop track, edit out the intro and a lengthy middle section and put the remaining two blocks together so that the edits were almost impossible to notice. The "smooth" button lets you transition almost seamlessly from one block to another, even if the two come from completely different sections of the track. It does this not by a simple cross-fade, but by actually extending one of the blocks into the other. If you do want a cross-fade, Sonicfire's sliders give plenty of control over the length of both fade-ins and fade-outs. Sonicfire also will automatically loop entire tracks or individual blocks, a feature especially useful for kiosks or point-of-purchase retail videos that must play continuously.

Available for both Windows and Macintosh, Sonicfire Pro features a fairly intuitive GUI; with a little assistance from the software's "help" FAQ, I was editing music clips and putting them to video within 20 minutes of installing the software. It's not likely to appeal to the casual consumer user (Sonic Desktop offers the $50 Movie Maestro for them), but for the prosumer or small studio, it offers a competitively priced way to give professional-quality video projects equally professional-sounding sonic accompaniment.

Sonic Desktop

Price: $349/$499

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