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Review: Sony Pictures (Sonic Foundry) CD Architect
Posted Mar 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 3 next »

A sophisticated mastering and layout tool for audio CD professionals, Sonic Foundry's CD Architect 5.0 ($299 MSRP; $209 download) combines a clear and intuitive user interface with a sophisticated palette of cross-fades, effects, and time and track manipulation functions that make it indispensable to anyone doing ambitious audio work. Keyed to the intricacies of the Red Book audio standard, CD Architect is a powerful CD tool, ideal for CD mastering houses, pro and project recording studios, and DJs pursuing a high-acuity, dynamic CD mix.
NOTE: Subsequent to the completion of this review, Sonic Foundry's desktop software division was acquired by Sony Pictures Digital for its Screenblast channel. For the latest information on CD Architect, visit (Incidentally, Sony Pictures has "maintained the Madison operation.")

I've spent most of my life living in the shadow of one university or another, though Madison, Wisconsin is the first real "college town" I've ever called home. Everywhere else, there's always been a distinct strain of resistance to the college culture among the surrounding populace: most of Durham, North Carolina, a cigarette and cotton mill town, barely knew Duke existed until it opened its own factory in the basketball program; the hard-shanked Polish-Italian capitular of Middletown, Connecticut did its best to ignore the adenoidal agitators of Wesleyan University until they swooped in and stole the mayor's office; and the drag-racing, hell-raising hicks I worked with on the northside of Hanover, New Hampshire had nothing but contempt for the "pinheads" at Dartmouth College who matched their contempt with supercilious disdain.

And even though there's a good bit more to Madison than the University of Wisconsin (it is a state capital, after all), the city seems to take the college more or less in stride (drunken student riots notwithstanding). Maybe it's the public/private thing, or maybe it's just that local merchants seem more aware than their counterparts in those other burgs that the disposable income and penny-foolishness of college students make for booming business.

In any event, in the absence of so-called town-gown tensions, you're left to enjoy the peculiarities of the student population with genial bemusement as they take shape in an indulgent environment. For example, I'd barely been in town a week before I noticed a preponderance of Vespa-like motor-scooters parked around my student-saturated neighborhood of multi-unit houses, and how many of these dwellings found five or more scooters moored in their front yards.

As it turned out, these scooters had been endowed as the birthright of all UW varsity athletes, which explained why I'd seen so many hulking linebackers puttering around the neighborhood, hunched over their scooters like circus bears on unicycles. Goofy as they appeared, I had no idea how seriously these local heroes took their scooters—or that the phenomenon might go national—until I read a Sports Illustrated article on the "Elite Eleven" football camp, which assembles the country's top high school quarterbacks for exclusive tutoring in the intricacies of the college game by its own best and brightest. It seems that the 2002 camp was graced by the presence of the UW's own Brooks Bollinger, who was kind enough to bestow upon his charges a 20-minute discourse on one of the most important choices a college quarterback can make: Whether or Not to Get a Scooter.

I never had to face that choice in college; even for varsity athletes (whether stars, or marginal ones like me), scooters were not an option. Which is not to say we runners weren't compensated for our service to the school; by my senior year, as I recall, our post-race meal stipend was up to $4, cash money. In retrospect, I suppose the fact that I was stuck hoofing it around campus like the non-athlete hoi polloi made me appreciate my sport even more, since it was my only means of venturing beyond the campus confines and seeing the town and outlying environs. To this day, running is how I get to know a town, and Madison is no exception. It was thus I made my first acquaintance with the impressive digs of tech-industry local heroes Sonic Foundry, Inc., which adorn several of my favorite local runs. Sonic Foundry overlooks the icy waters of Lake Mendota, stands opposite the local lock and dam, and lies at the gateway to the Maple Bluff neighborhood that's home to the governor's mansion, a house with its own kids' railroad, and excellent views of the green-and-gold, Packers-logo'd shantytown of ice-fishing huts that take possession of the lake come winter.

Of course, I'd been familiar with Sonic Foundry for years before I started devouring regular eyefuls of their office. Over the years, I'd watched them evolve from a developer exclusively of professional-quality audio editing and mastering tools—such as their flagship SoundForge—to a more diversified rich media company, entering into myriad partnerships with providers of streaming portals and solutions. No longer just a software company, Sonic Foundry divides their business into software, systems, and services divi- sions, with increasing emphasis on media encoding and delivery for various types of audio and video content distribution business models and platforms.

That said, it's their content creation and mastering tools that continue to hold the most interest in the digital studio space, and here we look at their pro-level audio CD mastering tool, CD Architect, now available in a full-step, fifth-generation revision that boasts high-resolution audio (192kHz) support, advanced editing and effects, real-time pitch change and time stretch, and other features essential to professional audio production. While you don't get the sort of recording and production tools available in full-featured creation tools like SoundForge, CD Architect matches up well with the likes of Minnetonka Audio's FastEdit for sophisticated management of existing tracks for high-acuity custom CD mastering, as well as Roxio's Jam on the Mac side.

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