Product Review (December 2004) - Steinberg
WaveLab 5 Audio Editing and Mastering Suite

Steinberg has a great reputation in the professional audio industry for their products and have recently introduced WaveLab 5, their all-in-one solution for two-channel or multi-channel audio editing and mastering. WaveLab 5 is a powerful software package that can be a bit intimidating for novice users, but once users familiarize themselves with the features, they will quickly realize the benefits WaveLab has to offer. Up to eight channels are supported with this latest version, including nondestructive fades and cross-fades. High resolution audio files (up to 24-bit/192 Khz) can be imported for editing with a variety of DSP functions available including equalization and compression. The comprehensive 748 page operation manual included with the software is fairly easy to follow and covers all the aspects of the WaveLab software. WaveLab 5 is more than just a high quality mastering tool. It is a complete solution for recording, editing, processing and mastering for the creation of CD and DVD-Audio discs with superb audio quality.

WaveLab 5 includes a complete Red Book CD mastering toolset with support for CD text, track-sheet and CD cover layout tools. Audio tracks can be adjusted using signal processing, accurate PQ editing and error detection and correction. DVD-Audio authoring can utilize play-list editing, on-screen video menu design, picture slide shows and DVD-Text. Extended CD burning, including audio, ISO data, and mixed-mode formats is also part of WaveLab 5's tool set. WaveLab 5 even allows users to store projects and data onto CD or DVD media. We backed up large amounts of data on DVD rewritable discs for future reference.

Installation
We installed the software on our somewhat dated Sony VAIO PCV-RX550 PC running at 1.5GHz. Our system has been upgraded with 512 MB of memory, a larger 160GB hard drive, a Plextor CD writer and a Sony DVD±R/RW drive, so we were ready to master and create our own CDs and DVD-Audio discs. Installation was simple and there was an update available from the website for the initial version that came on the CD. This brought us up to version 5.01a.

Audio Montage
The Audio Montage is designed to handle multi-channel editing of complex projects and supports all standard formats with up to eight channels. The window is divided into two panes. The lower section shows the tracks and the clips, while the upper section displays one of eleven selectable views (Edit, Zoom, Clips, Groups, Files, Markers, Video, CD/DVD-A, History, Snapshots or Notes). With this setup, both clip-oriented editing and track-editing are supported. Users can target Red Book Audio CDs for simple two-channel recordings or author DVD-Audio discs using graphic menus, DVD text and multiple track groups. WaveLab 5 can even convert a project to WMA with user defined data rates and selectable channels for web-based content including the latest WMA Pro 5.1 and 7.1 formats. High-resolution surround recordings are supported with resolutions as high as 24-bit/48kHz for all six channels. Higher sample rates with 24-bit resolution would require MLP compression, which is not supported with this software. Creating DVD-Audio discs with WaveLab 5 is simple with two-channel 24-bit/192kHz or 5.1 channels using 24-bit/48kHz or 16-bit/96kHz. Full ASIO, WDM and MME drivers are supported with this version.

The software also includes a set of eight-channel surround plug-ins (OctoComp, OctoX, OctoMaxx, and OctoVerb) including an LFE splitter and combiner for active bass management support. Audio clips and track-based effects can be processed with a number of virtual effects cascaded in series. Volume and panning can also be automated for each clip. An interesting feature provides intelligent overlapping and positioning of the audio tracks to avoid phase cancellation between channels. This is something that can easily occur and cause problems with the final playback. WaveLab also includes the powerful DeNoiser and DeClicker plug-ins designed to help restore old analog recordings.

Master Section Window
The Master Section window contains three sections that provide the user with important information. The top section displays the Effects pane, the middle shows the Master Level pane and the lower section contains the Dither pane. The panes can be hidden by using the hide button located in the upper right of each pane.

The Effects pane displays the effects currently being applied to the audio signal. WaveLab allows the user to insert up to eight effects plug-ins in series in addition to a post-master fader plug-in. There are three supported plug-in formats, one of which is the WaveLab specific plug-in included with the program. VST plug-ins (available from Steinberg and other manufacturers) as well as DirectX or DX plug-ins are supported.

The Master Level pane contains the fader controls defined in the channel configuration menu. Six channels (5.1) are shown here in the example. The Link/Unlink button allows the individual faders to be linked together. The Mono button sums two channels and automatically reduces the output by 6 dB to prevent clipping of the signal.

The Dithering pane allows users to add dithering to a signal before it is sent to the audio hardware or saved to disc. Several dithering options exist including WaveLab's own dithering algorithm, Apogee's UV22HR algorithm or an external dithering plug-in. Dithering helps remove the graininess often heard in low level recordings where a limited number of bits are available to quantize the data. This commonly occurs with 16-bit data when levels are low and result in audible quantization errors. Applying the dithering to the signal adds a very small amount of noise that minimizes these errors.

Level/Pan Meters
The Level/Pan meters displays both average VU (Volume Unit) levels as well as peak levels. By default the VU levels are displayed in blue and the Peak levels change color based on the signal peak. The Peak meter segment is green for low levels, yellow for peaks between -6dB and -2dB, and red for peak levels higher than -2dB. All levels are displayed both graphically as well as numerically and update in real-time.

The Pan meter displays the peak level difference between two channels. This applies to any left/right pair such as front channels or surround channels. The upper portion of the Pan meter displays the peak difference between the left and right channels. This two-sided meter can move from side to side depending on which channel is the loudest. The lower portion of the Pan meter shows the average difference in loudness between the channels. This provides the user with a visual indication of the balance between the two channels.

Monitoring levels is a powerful capability with a variety of meter options using the meter toolbox. Up to five meter presets can be saved and recalled with ease. Users are given the flexibility to change the range, resolution and color.

The Bit Meter indicates the resolution of the audio being monitored by displaying the number of bits of a recording. Intuitively one might expect this to alway be the same (i.e. 16, 20, 24, et.). However, due to high precision processing of the audio data, much higher resolution (32-bit floating point) may result from processing the audio. The Bit Meter can help users decide on whether dithering is necessary.

The Phase Scope is a tool that is handy in determining the content of a real-time stereo signal. The vertical direction is drawn when both the left and right channels are in phase and contain the same information. If both signals are identical, a vertical line would be drawn. Deviation from this vertical occurs when the left and right channels are different from each other. A horizontal line would be drawn if the left and right signals are identical and out of phase with one another. A well-balanced stereo signal will be shown as a roundish pattern. If the pattern leans too much to the right or left, then it is an indication that the signal is not well balanced. If the pattern results in a diagonal line then one of the channels is probably muted. The Phase Scope gives users a quick and easy visual assessment of the audio content.

Spectrum Meter
The real-time 60-band Spectrum Meter shows a continuous graphical frequency spectrum from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Each channel is displayed separately and provides useful information on the frequency content of the audio tracks. A spectrum of colors are used to represent the audible frequency components. The meter is basically a simplified version of the Spectrum Analyzer.

The Spectrum Analyzer uses FFT (Fast Fourier Transforms) and displays real-time detailed frequency analysis. The default colors show the current data in red with peak values indicated in purple. Clicking on the camera icon takes a snapshot of the current data, which superimposes the data on the current peak spectrum graph in white. As with virtually all of the graphs, colors can be changed in the settings menu. The user can also zoom in and out of a given area to see more specific frequency detail.

Conclusion
Steinberg's WaveLab 5 offers users an extremely powerful application with the ability to create high quality, multi-channel audio compilations. WaveLab's user interface is familiar to those who have used it in the past making it an easy transition. Red Book CD and DVD-Audio disc creation is fully supported. The software is a must for the audio professional or die-hard musician who needs to not only edit, but process audio tracks as well. WaveLab 5 is somewhat complicated at first, but like many powerful applications you'll soon appreciate all the capabilities of this product. The extensive suite of plug-ins included with this version of the software makes WaveLab 5 a great value even with an MSRP of $699. In addition, the software appears to be very stable as we never had it crash on us during the course of our review. Steinberg offers potential customers a fully functional demo version to take for a test drive to convince you. If you are like us, you'll create some fantastic audio with this software.

- Kevin Nakano







OneCall: Your Home Theater, Digital Camera, and HDTV Experts



Review System

Projector: Optoma - H77 High Definition HD2+ DLP Projector
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100" Luxus Deluxe FireHawk Screenwall
Preamplifier/Processor:
Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 TripoleŽ Surround Speakers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial HDTV Receiver with DVI
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
Laserdisc Player: Pioneer CLD-D704 CD/VCD/LD Player
A/V Cables: Ethereal A/V Cables
DVI Cable: Transparent Audio High Performance 30-foot DVI-D Cable
DVI Extender: Gefen DVI 1000HD DVI Extender Systsem
Video Generator: Sencore VP300 SDTV/HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Video Signal Analyzer: Sencore VSA794 NTSC Video Signal Analyzer
Color Analyzer #1: Sencore CP5000 Multi-Display Color Analyzer
Color Analyzer #2: GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro with ColorFacts Software


Review - At a Glance


Steinberg - WaveLab 5

Multi-channel Audio Editing and Mastering Suite


Features

  • Multi-channel surround audio support from input to output
  • Up to eight audio channels for recording, editing, processing and mastering
  • Complete DVD Audio authoring toolset
  • Playlist editing, on-screen video menu design, picture slide shows, and DVD text
  • User definable surround-to-stereo down-mixing
  • DVD Audio burning, including video data
  • DVD Audio extraction, conversion, and archiving
  • New “Smart” Video Thumbnail Track for editing audio for video
  • Track effects in Audio Montage
  • Multi-channel metering and analysis with up to eight channels
  • ASIO instant remapping for instant audio compare at the touch of a button
  • WMA Pro 5.1 and 7.1 export, AVI audio import
  • Intuitive and fast user interface
  • Complete, fast and accurate Audio Editor
  • Uncompromised audio quality with up to 32-bit and 192 kHz resolution
  • Apogee UV22HR dithering
  • Powerful Audio Montage window for multi-track editing of complex projects
  • Complete red-book CD mastering toolset
  • Signal processing, accurate PQ editing, CD text, and track-sheet
  • CD cover layout tools and error detection and correction
  • Extended CD burning, including audio, ISO data, and mixed-mode formats
  • Clip based (and now also track based) realtime plug-in effects (VST plugin support)
  • Audio restoration with special DeNoiser and DeClicker Plug-Ins
  • Supports WAV, AIFF, AU, MP3, MP2 (M.U.S.I.C.A.M.), RAW, Windows Media 9, etc.
  • Resolutions (8/16/20/24 bits with up to 192 kHz)
  • AES-31 support: import and export, including interpretation of Steinberg Nuendo
  • Powerful batch processing and scripting features
  • Audio database support with drag and drop to Nuendo and other applications
  • Support for surround plug-ins like Steinberg Surround Edition
  • Includes 8-channel surround plugins: OctoComp, OctoX, OctoMaxx, and OctoVerb
  • Also supports LFE Splitter and LFE Combiner for active bass management
  • Minimum System Requirements

  • AMD/Pentium 3 or above, 500 MHz
  • 256 MB of RAM
  • 10 GB of free hard disk space for DVD Audio
  • Windows XP, Windows 2000
  • Display: 24 bit required for DVD-A (menu creation)
  • ASIO compatible audio hardware with at least 8 channels
  • Microsoft DirectX 9 for video operations

    Recommended System Requirements

  • AMD/Pentium 4, 2 GHz
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 10 GB of free hard disk space for DVD Audio
  • Windows XP
  • Display: 24 bit required for DVD-A (menu creation)
  • ASIO compatible audio hardware with at least 8 channels
  • Microsoft DirectX 9 for video operations

    WaveLab 5 Demo Version for Windows


    Company Information
    Steinberg Tech Support
    7340 Shadeland Station
    Indianapolis, IN 46256-3919

    Tech Support: 317-577-8770
    Fax: 317-577-8771

    Monday-Thursday, 9:00am - 5:00pm Eastern Time
    Friday, 9:00am - 4:00pm Eastern Time

    Source: Manufacture supplied
    MSRP: $699

    URL: www.steinberg.net

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