In 1998, Acid didn’t just change the world — it created a new one, where audio went from a rigid bunch of bits to the musical equivalent of Silly Putty. Perhaps more significantly, Acid provided a shortcut to the “look and feel” of musical talent for those without any.
It was miraculous, scandalous, and the birth of serious groove software. It was even the kind of program that made diehard Mac addicts who’d drunk the Cupertino kool-aid hold their noses and get a PC, just so they could run this wild new software that turned the sequencing paradigm inside out.
Acid’s claim to fame was that you could bring audio of just about any tempo and key into the program, and like magic, convert it to the current project’s tempo and key. Previously, you had to either fit your tune to the available audio, or apply arduous digital signal processing techniques that usually did considerable violence to the audio quality. The program even included a bunch of loops to get you going, and Acid aficionados started to notice them in everything from dance music to TV commercials.
GIMME (VERSION) FIVE
You’ll note there’s no Specs sidebar; Sony’s web site has all the specs you need — go www.sony.com/mediasoftware click on Products, and then go to the Acid Pro 5 page. We’ll concentrate on the main update features, and their impact on the user experience.
Version 5 has three obvious goals:
Higher quality sound and more flexible looping
Better project management and workflow
Improved compatibility with the rest of the world
Acid also has a more efficient audio engine. The engine stops while you’re inserting effects, but then picks up where you left off. There’s also a blip when you insert a bus, but other than that, it’s pretty gapless.
You insert the CD, install the program, then the Media Manager (which requires installing the included Microsoft Data Access Components 2.8), then restart. If MDAC is already installed, this step, including restart, is unnecessary. Next up: Install the Native Instruments Xpress Keyboard Instruments, call up the program, enter the serial number, and finally, authorize the program on the Sony web site.
I was pleasantly surprised at the two CDs of loops, one with 439 new loops for Acid (Electronica, Dance, Hip-Hop, Rock, Organ, and Ambient Cinematic). The other is a sampler of 668 loops from Sony’s deep library of Acid grooves. Yeah, it’s a teaser, but it’s license-free — so don’t complain.
TOP 10 NEW FEATURES
Let’s take a graphic tour of Acid Pro 5’s greatest hits.
Acidization markers tell the software where hits occur so they can maintain the correct rhythm when the tempo changes. But Acid now offers separate beat anchors and beat (stretch) markers. You can force a note that’s off beat to hit on a beat anchor, but you can also shift the beat anchor and fool the loop into thinking that’s the beat. This lets you lag, lead, swing, or correct beats.
Overall, there’s a lot more control over stretching characteristics with the new groove tools, including the ability to apply grooves to acidized files. Acid Pro 5 comes with 52 grooves, but you can create and customize your own based on how you’ve placed stretch markers in an acidized file.
The stretching sounds better, and the beat detection engine seems more accurate, requiring less “tweaking” to get loops to stretch over a wide range. Although Acid hasn’t added Rex file-type capabilities to change characteristics of individual slices, it has reclaimed first place as the best environment for creating acidized loops.
Acid has always had a “one loop, one track” philosophy. This makes it easy to draw loops in a track, because Acid always knows which loop goes in that track. The downside: Variations on a part can chew up a ton of tracks.
Folder tracks group tracks into one track. You can nest folders within folders, and do anything with a track within a folder (change track height, move, split, add envelopes, and so on) that you can do when it’s not in a folder — including “cluster edits” on collapsed folder tracks. You can also mute and solo folder tracks, however, you can’t do operations on the folder track itself. Drag parts out of the folder any time, as well as minimize folders to minimize space; this is a fine implementation of a much-needed feature.
Yes, that’s a VST effect (out of a chain of five) you’re seeing — Acid speaks something other than DirectX, and it still maintains PDC so the sound doesn’t get all phasey when it goes through multiple buses. It’s also learned how to shut up its effects, thanks to a “bypass all” command, and can do multiport VST instruments.
Acid can now tell time, thanks to effects (Amplitude Modulation, Flange/Wah-Wah, Chorus, and Simple Delay) that can sync to tempo. All I can say is — it’s about time.
When you’re finished with your masterpiece, burn it to CD (disc or track at once). Well, at least you can; my computer refuses to talk to the Sony, Sequoia, or Wavelab CD burning engines ever since I made the mistake of installing Roxio CD burning software that came bundled with a DVD drive. (Guess I’d better hack the registry and get rid of it.)
MIDI’s been spiffed up a bit with constrain to scale (just noodle on the keyboard, then snap to a specific scale/key to banish bad notes). The MIDI implementation is still kinda low-rent; don’t expect a lot of editing goodies, or the ability to plug-in MIDI effects. But it will get you through recording your virtual instrument parts.
I use a lot of bus effects, so I’m happy it’s possible to route a bus to another bus (and it won’t let you do anything stupid, like set up a feedback loop).
Customizable media folders help organize the files you use in a project, and you can
save a project path in a rendered file to edit a rendered file’s source project. But the killer feature is Sony’s new Media Manager technology for locating different types of files, as well as the ability to tag, search and browse files with metadata that makes specific attributes easier to find — think “database and search” functions. The program even gives you access to a listing of all 130+ CDs in Sony’s Loops & Samples collection, tags the libraries you already have, and provides immediate links on how to purchase a particular collection.
Acid can serve as a ReWire 1.0 client and ReWire 2.0 host. Well, sorta. It worked perfectly as a client with Adobe Audition, but when I hit stop with Sonar 4 and Live 3, Acid would freeze. It hosted Reason just fine, but audio sync would fall apart with Project5 — unless P5 had the focus. And as a Storm 3 client, the audio was garbled; as a host, it didn’t work. Sony had done a lot of testing with a variety of programs (but not some of the ones I used) without problems; maybe the issues are unique to my setup, but in any event they indicated an interest in getting more data so they can do any necessary fixes.
Part of the Pro package is Native Instruments’ Xpress instruments (B4, Pro53, and FM7). These are not keyed to Acid so you can use them with other VST hosts (thank you!).
There are other goodies too, like downmix monitoring for surround projects, easier ways to create loops out of one-shot hits, a chopper window, Macromedia Flash format import, event reverse, and assignable keyboard mappings. And here’s a real labor-saver: Changing a loop envelope can affect all selected loops. If you’ve ever noticed a click on a loop after you’d painted in a zillion instances, then had to go into each effing loop and add a teeny fade to get rid of the click, you’ll appreciate this.
The biggies: No one-click “freeze” function to premix a virtual instrument track, then archive it to give the CPU a vacation. Nor can you control the level faders, or any parameters for that matter, using external hardware control boxes. This is a major omission if you’re into adding the human element by working with a control surface. Put this on the “must-have” list for Version 6. As to MIDI, editing options remain limited; it’s really a record/playback engine.
Acid started as a simple, elegant program. When it added features to compete with more conventional programs, it started to lose its way; MIDI had a tacked-on feel, and little was done to tweak the user interface. Version 5 smooths out Version 4’s rough edges, while adding significant features that greatly enhance the experience of making music on Acid. I mean, with Acid.
I still wouldn’t say Acid competes with hosts like Cubase SX, Samplitude, Sonar, and so on; they’re apples and oranges. But I also feel it shouldn’t try to — by zeroing in on being the best implementation of Acid it can be, Version 5 shows it’s neither willing, nor ready, to cede its long-held turf. And it’s still the quickest way to put music together on Windows.