Tag Archives: soundforge

ACX Studio Gear Series Part 2: DAWs

We’re back with the next entry in our ACX Studio Gear series! We covered microphones and preamps in part 1, and today we’ll get into the recording software that you’ll use in conjunction with that hardware, as well as provide the pros and cons of some of the most popular options.

DAW Things Considered

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and we like the definition and history provided by Sweetwater:

[DAWs] are typically defined as having some ability to record, manipulate, and play back audio recordings or samples. In their early days DAWs were primarily considered editing stations. Material was taken from the primary recording media (usually tape) and dumped into one of these systems for editing, and then returned to the original media for the remainder of the project. Nowadays DAW’s can act as an entire recording studio with all mixing, processing, and mastering on one computer.

What To Buy

There are many DAWs available for purchase, and choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. It’s important to remember that many of these programs are created with music recording in mind, and you likely won’t need all the bells and whistles for your voiceover work.

Andrew Grathwohl, ACX‘s newest Audio Production Coordinator, has some advice on what to keep in mind when choosing a DAW:

The most important aspect of a DAW is that it is easy and efficient to use. It is wise to avoid any software that will eat away at your productivity. It’s also important to pick software with your workflow in mind. Some programs offer a lot of flexibility at the expense of ease of use, and others offer a straight-forward user experience at the expense of customization. If you’re the kind of person that likes to learn all of the shortcut keys to your programs and customize the layout of the various windows, you will likely prefer a different DAW than a person who likes a more intuitive experience.

With that in mind, lets go over the pros and cons of some of the more popular DAWs:

GarageBand by Apple

GarageBand_Logo

The Good

The Bad

  • Free to those who own Mac.
  • The interface is easy to learn and use.
  • Mac only.
  • Doesn’t include any of the tools you’ll need to master your recordings (a requirement for ACX).
  • Unlike some of the other DAWs we cover below, you can’t download any plugins to get around this.
The Verdict: Skip it.

Audacity (Open Source)

audacity_logo_r_450wide_whitebg

The Good

The Bad

  • Free.
  • Available for Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Open source, so any software programmer can modify and improve the program for future versions.
  • Easy to lean and use (here’s a free, comprehensive online tutorial).
  • Doesn’t come with the ability to master your audio, though you can download VST plugins to get around this (see the bottom of this post for recommended plugins).
  • Does not have the ability to measure RMS values or peaks.
  • Saves files in .aup format, so you’ll need an encoder (like LAME) to convert to .mp3 format (another ACX requirement).
The Verdict: Decent basic software that will get the job done. Good for those on a very tight budget who are willing to do a little more work to get results.

Reaper by Cockos

reaper

The Good

The Bad

  • Low price ($60-$225, depending on which license you qualify for).
  • Free, “no risk” evaluation period.
  • Known for having a robust user community to support newbies and those who run into trouble.
  • Comprehensive program with many options that can be overwhelming for beginners.
  • Lack of dedicated audio editing window.
  • Some design choices have been omitted, requiring users to try out the interface customization process whether they want to or not.
The Verdict: Reaper is a good, powerful, well priced option for audiobook recording. Their forums can be a great help for those new to self recording, editing and post production.

Audition by AdobeAudition

The Good

The Bad

  • Fully capable DAW available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
  • The newest version is now a 64-bit application, which can mean faster processing.
  • Much lower upfront cost ($19.99/month for the software and the Creative Cloud membership)
  • Ability to pay for the software only when needed
  • Includes 20GB of cloud based storage.
  • You do not own a copy of Audition; $19.99/month only buys you a license to use the software for that month.
  • Your monthly payments will eventually eclipse the one time fee you would pay for other software on this list.
  • You have to depend on Adobe’s pricing policy; with other software you can choose not to upgrade if the cost is too high – you can work with your older version for many years. Creative Cloud requires you to pay for the subscription no matter how high the price rises.
The Verdict: The software itself will surely meet your audiobook production needs. The way you feel about Adobe Creative Cloud will determine if this DAW is right for you.

SoundForge by Sony

Soundforge

The Good

The Bad

  • Has all of the tools needed to master your audio, as well as perhaps the best noise reduction tool of any DAW on this list.
  • Allows for batch processing of files, which will save you time and effort when mastering.
  • Allows you to set custom keyboard commands.
  • User friendly and easy to learn (includes numerous “show me how” tutorials).
  • Mac version doesn’t include some of the most useful feature of the PC version (batch processing, customizable commands).
  • Uses a large amount of system resources.
  • At $400, it’s one of the most expensive DAWs on this list.
The Verdict: This software is user friendly and powerful, as long as you’re not on a Mac. Many of Audible Studios’ in-house editors use this to edit and master audiobooks. A good choice, if you can afford it.

WaveLab by Steinberg

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The Good

The Bad

  • Available for Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Among the most stable DAWs available.
  • Versatile license (can be installed on any number of different computers with only one license).
  • Capable of batch processing.
  • High learning curve.
  • Fairly complicated to use and not recommended for newbies.
  • Uses a large amount of system resources, so a powerful computer is required.
  • Tends to work best when paired with other high end audio hardware.
  • Expensive – new licenses cost $500.
The Verdict: A very powerful piece of software that, due to the price and learning curve, is best suited for seasoned pros.

ProTools by Avid

ProTools EX

The Good

The Bad

  • A powerful DAW that will work with Windows and Mac OS X.
  • Capable of meeting all of your audiobook recording, editing and post production needs.
  • Comes bundled with an Mbox, which will act as your preamp and audio interface.
  • Includes nearly all of the plugins needed to master your recordings.
  • ProTools Express doesn’t come with all the plugins you’ll need, specifically a brick wall limiter and noise reduction (though the full, more expensive version does).
  • One of the more expensive options on this list, though it does include the Mbox.
  • The availability of many different versions of ProTools may confuse users when making a purchase.
The Verdict: The linked Mbox and ProTools Express is, at $499, a good deal for someone setting up a studio who is in need of both a DAW and a preamp/interface.

Bonus Plugin Recommendations

Should you decide to go with one of the DAWs listed above as not coming bundled with some of the plugins needed to master your audiobooks, we’ve got  links to free plugins you can download, courtesy of Audible Studios Post Production Associate Darren Vermaas:

Acoustica Kjaerhus Classics Bundle – Includes a great EQ and Compressor for the low cost of nothing.  PC only.  (Note that the limiter included with this bundle is not good for your audiobook needs, as it doesn’t have output ceiling control.)

Audio Damage Rough Rider CompressorHas everything you need in a compressor, and it’s free! Mac and PC versions available.

4Front Technologies W1 LimiterCapable brick wall limiter for Mac and PC (Note – not compatible with ProTools/AAX)

Now that we’ve provided a roundup of some of the most popular options, you can make an informed decision as to which best fits your budget and needs. Keep your eyes peeled for part 3 in our series, which will cover home studio setup, coming soon!

What’s your DAW of choice? Why?