First Look: Adobe Soundbooth

Most software hits the market with a set of features in the first version, then continues to add features with each subsequent release while simultaneously providing fixes for previous features that had—for one reason or another—failed to live up to their potential.

With Soundbooth, Adobe’s new audio application currently available in beta form at the Adobe Labs website, the company has taken a different approach that it feels better fits the majority of the market. According to a representative in a recent interview, the intent of the Soundbooth product is to remove features that the average customer didn’t need in Audition, Adobe’s professional audio editing tool. That, in turn, makes it easier for web designers and other professionals who don’t normally use high-end audio applications—like digital video producers and editors—to do their own basic audio work.

"We took a top ten list of enhancements to new key web development customers," said Hart Shafer, Senior Product Manager for Adobe Audio Products, "but the two pieces of feedback we received were ‘make it work, including export formats’ and ‘make it simple.’ Soundbooth is our answer to those requests."

To address the ease-of-use requests, Soundbooth eliminates some of Audition’s features, but also regroups many of the features into context-sensitive menus, in much the same way that Photoshop or some of Apple’s iLife products deliver a set of tools most likely to be used by the end user. "We added these menus when we found out that customers had difficulty finding key features," said Shafer. "Along with a Photoshop-like undo that’s been added to rapidly undo multiple levels, these new menus are some of our best interface enhancements, allowing customers to find—or even re-find—the tools they use most without having to dig through multiple levels of a pull-down menu."

Another Photoshop-like feature is Soundbooth’s equivalent of the healing brush. While the healing brush in Photoshop is used to interpolate pixels on either side of a scratch or blemish, the audio version of the healing brush is used to "paint over" unwanted sounds such as pops, short shrill noises and the like. During a demonstration of the product, the tool was used to visually identify and eliminate the sound of a squeaking door.

The product runs on both Apple’s Intel-based Macintosh machines as well as Microsoft Windows XP and Vista’s Release Candidate 2 operating systems. Adobe notes that it will take the place of Audition in the Adobe Creative Suite on the Windows platform, and that it will provide roundtripping (albeit only a single roundtrip that will require rendering the audio out) for Adobe Premiere Pro.

On the Macintosh platform it will be sold as a point product, meaning a stand-alone application, as there is currently no version of Premiere for Intel-based Macintoshes. As for Audition, it will be unbundled from the Adobe Creative Suite when Soundbooth ships, but high-end audio customers will still be able to purchase Audition as a stand-alone product. Adobe expects to ship Soundbooth in early 2007.

The fact that Audition is being eliminated from the Adobe Creative Suite has caused a bit of confusion on the message board hosted by Adobe for the Soundbooth beta. To answer these questions, including the bigger question of where Soundbooth fits in Adobe’s product line, Peter Green, program manager for Adobe audio applications, recently posted a synopsis to the message board.

"Soundbooth will go in future versions of the suite instead of Audition," said Green, "but audio experts can continue to buy Audition as a point product. Soundbooth is not an Elements product, which has a target of a hobbyist-level audience. It is for video and Flash professionals that need to do professional level audio editing without audio know-how."

To address the professional Flash developer market, Adobe has added some features that will make audio integration easier. The most impressive Flash integration feature shown during a demonstration was the ability to create millisecond-accurate timing points on the fly, with the ability to export these timing links—and any text or other data that might be attached to a timing point—to XML for use in Flash or to edit via a text editor. This is especially beneficial for those Flash developers who need timings for subtitles and alternate language support for animations.

Finally, in a nod to the streaming media industry, Adobe is including its Adobe Encoder with Soundbooth on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Previously only available as part of other Adobe products, Encoder will allow stereo or mono audio files to be output from Soundbooth in formats that can be used in on-demand streaming or FLV or SWF files. To prove the point that Adobe is serious about Soundbooth and Adobe Encoder on the Macintosh platform, the entire demonstration was done on a stock MacBook Pro.

All in all, our first take on Adobe’s Soundbooth is positive. Not only did the company pare this stereo audio recording and editing tool to its bare essentials, but it also moved back into the world of cross-platform content development. With a few tweaks and additional stability of the beta features, the launch of the final version of Soundbooth in early 2007 should allow Adobe’s customers to focus on their core work, with Soundbooth providing ample audio capability for the vast majority of its web and streaming customers.

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