Sound Forge Digital Sound Editing for Windows

By Rob Albertson

Once upon a time, all audio production was edited with reel-to-reel tape, a splicing block, and razor blades. This method had several drawbacks. For one, all of your material would be lying around the room in long sections of tape that were often several feet long. Another problem would be, if your edits weren’t exactly perfect, you would have to splice the original back together and redo your edit. (Let’s not even discuss the band-aids you’d go through.) Finally there’s a better way. Sound Forge for Windows let’s you non-destructively cut & paste your audio together in much the same way without the headaches of the old method and also lets you add effects processing that was previously only available with a large rack of expensive studio gear.

Sound Forge works with any sound card that has Windows supported audio drivers. With Sound Forge 4.5, dynamic ranges as high as 24 bit and sampling frequencies as large as 96 kHz are supported. The program will also allow you to save files as low as 8 bit mono for the gaming/cd-rom producer. Once files have been recorded, edited and processed, the files can be saved in a wide variety of formats including, .WAV, AIFF, as well as MP3 and Real Audio. In fact I find saving files using Sound Forge’s codec for Real Audio to be superior to Real Audio’s own encoder.

The flow of a typical session in Sound Forge is as follows:

  • Record audio into the program.
  • Edit your material.
  • Do effects processing on the file.
  • Save the file.

So far nothing earth shattering. What I love about this program however is the elegance and simplicity it uses to achieve it’s end. Let’s take a look at how easy it is to manipulate sound with this program.

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Fig. 1

Recording Into Sound Forge

When you first open the program you are met with Sound Forge’s main screen. The screen has the familiar look of a tape recorder transport with rewind, fast forward, stop, play and record buttons. At the top of the screen are a number of icons which include common and some more esoteric applications such as new, open, save, save as, cut, copy, paste, mix, play clipboard, trim/crop, undo, redo, repeat, and edit, magnify, and pencil tools. In other words, clicking on one of these icons can perform most of the basic editing operations. Also included in this opening screen are sets of stereo led meters that show what your playback levels are as you hear them. In order to record a file you click on the large red record button. This will cause the record screen to pop up.

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Fig. 2

The tape recorder transport appears along with another set of led meters that show the level that you are feeding your sound card’s input. By clicking on the monitor box you can use these meters to see your overall levels as you record. Other lines on the screen inform you of the start time of recording, duration of the recording, hard-drive space left, and SMPTE or sample times depending on your preference. There are several different styles of recording that you can perform in this screen including creating multiple takes creating Regions (more on Regions later), Automatic retake, create a new Window for each take, and Punch-In mode.

You can also define a pre-roll time, which is especially useful in Punch-In mode.

I have found the level meters to be extremely sensitive to any sound or noise being received by the sound card. Even small levels of noise or signal will appear on these meters. When you record your sound file you can also change the default record quality settings (CD quality 16 bit, 44.1 kHz) to a variety of settings depending on your application. You will want to make a test pass without recording to make sure that you won’t distort the inputs. If you do distort or clip the inputs the results are unmusical and disturbing. Once everything is set simply hit the record button and record away.

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Fig. 3

Forging Ahead

Figure 3 shows a what your waveform will look like after recording. Once audio is recorded into Sound Forge you can then perform a wide variety of editing and processing in the program. In order to edit you must first highlight the audio that you want to manipulate. To do this simply left click on the beginning of your edit, hold down the mouse button and sweep across to the right until the end of the edit. If you would like to edit the entire file, double-click on the file with the cursor. Sound Forge will allow you to highlight just one channel of your audio (left or right) so if you want to process both channels make sure that you click on the middle bar to highlight both channels.

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Fig. 4

As I mentioned before, basic editing can now take place such as cut, copy, paste, clear and delete. Where Sound Forge really shines are in the other types of processing and effects that you can perform without any additional plug-ins. The Process menu includes Auto Trim/Crop, Channel converter (coverts mono and stereo files), Convert to 8-bit, Graphic, Paragraphic, and Parametric EQ’s, Fades-in, out, and graphic, Insert Silence, Invert/Flip, Mute, Normalize, Pan/Expand, Resample, Reverse, Smooth/Enhancer, Time Compress/Expand, and Volume. The Effects menu features Amplitude Modulation, Chorus, Delay/Echo, Distortion, Dynamics, Envelope Shaping, Flange/Wah-Wah, Gapper/Snipper, Noise Gate, Pitch, Reverb, and Vibrato. If you still need more effects Sound Forge supports any Direct-X plug-ins that you may have. Using software effects algorithms with other programs has often left me wanting more, but the effects processing in Sound Forge is very musical and usable.

Noise Removal

One of my favorite ways to use this program is to convert and clean up vinyl albums and then put them onto cd. There are two ways to digitize the albums into Sound Forge. One method would be to plug the turntable outputs into a mixing board and route the mixing boards outputs into your soundcard inputs. If you don’t have a mixing board you can plug the outputs from the turntable into a Y cable that has 2 female rca plugs on one end and a male 1/8 inch stereo mini-plug on the other end. (The male plug size will be determined by your sound cards inputs). Make sure in either case that you tape the ground wire from your turntable onto a piece of metal from the computer or board to get rid of the ground hum.

There are three tools that Sound Forge has to help you make your scratchy LP’s sound better: Click removal, Noise reduction, and Vinyl restoration. In order to do this you first record the track into Sound Forge. You then highlight the track and click on Tools>Click Removal. Sound Forge will find the first noticeable click or pop and offer to remove it. Typically I have found that most albums only have a few of these major clicks on them so this isn’t as time consuming as it might appear. If you want to perform a general clean up of the LP choose Vinyl Restoration in the Tools menu and it will perform a general clean up of the audio. Noise reduction can be used for vinyl restoration and also any noise that you may want to remove (air conditioner noise for instance). I have used this filter to take out helicopter noise, wind noise, shirt ruffling against the microphone, etc. The only downside to this tool is that it is practically real-time. In other words, if your file is 30 minutes long it’s going to take around 30 minutes to process the file. Of course processor speed and ram are going to contribute to these times.

Processing

Fig. 3 shows the wav for Funky Sax Riff, a brief sound file that ships with the program.

As you can see by Fig. 4, I highlighted the last 3 parts of the sax riff. From the Effects menu I chose Chorus. Chorus is a nice effect for the saxaphone, giving it a thicker, larger sound reminiscent of David Sanborn’s recordings. When I chose Chorus, the chorus screen pops up offering a wide variety of ways to sculpt the chorus effect. In fact, each effect that you choose offers up this screen which mimics a high-end effects processor.

Each effect has several template presets you can choose from, or you can create your own preset from scratch. Under the preset name listing I counted 22 different types of chorusing including Cheap TV, Chorus’ 1-5, Chorus/Vibrato, Echo/Vibrato, Fast Flange, and Slow Flange. This is all for just one type of effect! After you choose a preset or create your own you can then control input gain, dry out, chorus out, feedback, chorus out delay, modulation rate, and modulation depth. Hitting preview allows you to hear what the effect is doing to the sound. It only takes a few seconds to build your preview and hear the effect. Should you decide to apply the effect, hit the Okay button and the effect is applied to your sound. (Click here to hear it.) Should you decide that the effect is not what you wanted you have an Undo menu choice in the Edit menu. Sound Forge will automatically create Undo’s for you unless you override this option in the Edit menu. The program has 99 levels of Undo for most applications.

Each effect has this same level of control offering you extensive parameter editing that is only found on extremely high-end effects processors such as Lexicon and Yamaha. Because Sound Forge is Direct-X capable, you also have access to a increasingly growing amount of third party effects in addition to the effects that ship with Sound Forge. Companies such as Wavelab, Cakewalk, and Steinberg are creating effects programs that can be shared by any program that uses Direct X. A common usage for this might be to bring in an audio file with Cakewalk Pro Audio, fly that into Sound Forge and do all of your looping, processing, etc., then send it back to Cakewalk to add midi files and perhaps more audio.

Fade Out

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, two track digital audio editors are a dime a dozen these days. Most of the major players have moved on to multi-track digital audio (Cool Edit Pro for example). Despite this trend, Sound Forge has opted to stay with its two track stereo editor. By improving and building upon an already great program, they have created the software that others are judged by. When you factor in all the great editing tools, processing capabilities and effects (worth the price of the program itself), Sound Forge quickly separates itself from the pack. In my recording business I use this program for one application or another everyday. What could be better praise than that?

- Rob Albertson

Albertson double-dips as both a professor at the American Intercontinental University in Atlanta, Georgia and owner/operator of Rare Air Studios, Inc. He can be reached at www.mindspring.com/rareair.

For more information on Sound FOrge, see Sonic Foundrys web site at http://www.sonicfoundry.com/main.html