Sound Forge is Sony’s professional digital audio production suite. Long considered one of the frontrunners in its class, SF has garnered much attention and has won the hearts of many with a well-polished user interface and lots of attention to detail.
Probably the biggest new feature in SF9 is its ability to directly record and handle audio streams of up to 32 separate channels. What this means is that you can, for example, capture an entire 5.1 surround sound stream in one pass, whereas previously, you’d have to break the stream into three pairs of tracks and record them separately, synchronizing them after the fact. It’s something of a wonder that this feature wasn’t introduced a long time ago. In this day and age of DVDs and 3D games with cinematic soundtracks, producers are increasingly finding themselves to be dealing with greater-than-stereo mix scenarios, and Sound Forge’s previous two channel limitation was a thorn in the side that many weren’t willing to bear.
While the phrase that would come to most people’s minds in a case like this would be “better late than never,” Sony was obviously not satisfied to hide behind this excuse and used the time effectively to do things right, rather than simply tweaking a few functions to hack in multiple channels in a few places. They took the effort to modify the supporting features of the program to cope with the new information properly, so that things like the spectrum analyzer and mix meter would be capable of showing frequency and phase cancellation issues across the composite of all channels simultaneously.
Additionally, the mix capabilities are appropriately flexible and aren’t arbitrarily limited to stereo-based notions of left and right, enabling you to crossfade and bleed any channel into several others at once so that you can precisely position things when merging down or spreading up. If that’s not enough, they also put in enhanced drag-and-drop between channels and files, and added support for exporting and saving into over half a dozen multichannel file formats, with support for over two dozen formats overall.
In addition to multichannel capabilities, SF9 now comes with Quicktime/MPEG, Noise Reduction 2.0 and the iZotope mastering effects bundle as part of the standard package, which is a significant value boost over the previous version, considering all three are worth a couple hundred dollars by themselves.
The iZotope set is particularly interesting, giving you an EQ, reverb, compressor and limiter, all with real-time graphs and meters that show you exactly what you’re working with (the multiband compressor looks especially useful). Effects also have highly configurable wet/dry mix and crossfade options now, and along with all the multichannel support comes the ability to use multichannel VST pluggins too.
Last but not least, we also get integration with the Gracenote MusicID Media Recognition Service, so you don’t have to waste time manually typing in id3 tag information when extracting songs from audio CDs.
Sound Forge version 9 is definitely a major step forward for the program. With its current feature set and price (and now Windows Vista compatibility as well), it offers a very attractive package that’s well worth considering and should be on the radar of both owners of previous versions, and anyone new who’s just getting into the business.