Steinberg WaveLab 6 review

Price when reviewed

The last version of WaveLab added DVD-Audio authoring to its armoury, offering 5.1 surround sound, 24-bit resolution, sample rates up to 192kHz and accompanying image slide shows. This new release retains the one notable exception: the Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) codec used on commercial DVD-Audio discs to get around the specification’s 9.6Mb/sec bandwidth isn’t included due to its prohibitive cost, so you still can’t generate DVD-Audio discs with six-channel, 24-bit, 96kHz audio. The uncompressed PCM audio it supports is in keeping with the format’s base specifications, but doesn’t realise its full potential.

While new features in version 6 are less soundbite-friendly, they’re arguably much more useful. One of these, the Spectrum Editor, uses Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) to allow the user to peer right inside audio files, and linear-phase filters to execute precise frequency-based edits. This is particularly useful for removing prominent unwanted noises such as coughs, clunks and clicks from audio files. These types of sound are clearly visible in the spectral display and can be selected using a Marquee selection tool, then either attenuated or replaced with similar material from nearby areas. Using this tool is an involved process, but it’s extremely precise and effective. However, at times its flexibility comes at the expense of ease of use. It’s possible not only to change the temporal position of a section of audio but also to alter its frequency, but because FFT works in a linear rather than logarithmic basis, shifting frequencies inevitably sounds artificial. Holding down the Shift key locks the vertical axis while moving the marquee selection, but we’re surprised that this isn’t the default editing mode – without the Shift key the results sound neither convincing or particularly pleasant.

Audio restoration of this kind is a specialised task, but the Spectrum Editor is equally adept at experimental sound design. Being able to manipulate frequency and time with such dexterity allows for some interesting audio montages, which is ideal for electronic musicians looking for uncharted sonic territory to explore.

WaveLab 6 also introduces a new time-stretching algorithm called DIRAC. It’s slow to process – around half real-time speed for a CD-quality file on an Athlon 64 3000+ PC – but the quality of the results is first-rate. The options are exhaustive, with the ability to define time-stretch values in samples, seconds, beats per minute or as a percentage, and five algorithm variations ranging from time localisation (for solo instruments) to frequency localisation (for complete mixes). We were able to time-stretch vocals from 50% to 200% while maintaining excellent audio quality, making this a valuable tool for remix producers. A new sample rate converter, improved file handling, some minor new analysis tools and integration of external audio hardware complete the line-up of new features.

The only real competitor in this field is Sony’s Sound Forge 8, but the two have become so dissimilar that the choice will depend on your specific needs. WaveLab supports surround sound and DVD-Audio authoring and is well equipped for audio CD authoring. Sound Forge is much more straightforward – it’s simply a stereo editor – but it’s easier and quicker to use and its effect automation gives it a slight edge for sound design and mastering duties. Meanwhile, the bundled CD Architect software lags a little behind WaveLab’s built-in CD-authoring features, even though it rarely feels limited in use.

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