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BIAS DECK 3.5 (MAC)

August 1, 2003
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electronic musician webclips additional contentAs its name implies, BIAS's Deck is a multitrack audio editor based on the paradigm of a tape-recorder/mixing-console combo. Version 3.5 makes Deck available for Mac OS X, and the update adds features such as 5.1 surround mixing capabilities, the ability to import OMF files, and fader linking in Deck's Mixer.

Deck does not require a particularly fast computer or a lot of RAM, because it primarily plays audio files, which it streams from your hard drive. It does support VST effects plug-ins, and if you use a lot of them you will want a faster computer. On my Mac G4/800 PowerBook, I easily ran 24 tracks, with effects, and the CPU meter stayed below 20 percent.

ONE BY ONE

All audio tracks and mixer channels in Deck are mono. That makes it a good choice for live recording, mixing, and manipulating mono tracks. Deck automatically converts stereo audio files into Sound Designer II split-stereo format, and to use them you need to drag each channel to its own mono track. If you use a lot of prerecorded stereo audio files — from sample CDs, for example — Deck may not be well suited to your needs: when you want to use an insert plug-in, you need to use a separate insert for each channel in order to maintain the stereo image. The two channels of a stereo file cannot be linked, so it's easy to get them out of sync by moving or chopping one and not the other. Deck does provide options to minimize that inconvenience. On the other hand, you can do some interesting things with unsynchronized channels, as the MP3 example Crisscross shows.

FIG. 1: Deck's Tracks window (top) can hold up to 64 playable tracks and 999 nonplaying Work tracks. The Mixer window's channel strips (bottom) provide a visual mixing surface. But aside from plug-in control, all of the Mixer's functions can be carried out in the Tracks window.

Most of Deck's action takes place in its Tracks and Mixer windows (see Fig. 1). The Tracks window is for arranging regions of audio data on horizontal tracks along a timeline. The Mixer window is for controlling the playback volume, pan position, and effects on each of those tracks. The left column of the Tracks window contains all the Mixer window settings (except for effects), and you can change the Mixer settings in either location. This allows you to fill the screen with the Tracks window and still have control over the mix.

Deck distinguishes between two kinds of tracks: Playback tracks and Work tracks. Only Playback tracks play audio, and they are always at the top of the tracklist, followed by the Work tracks. The maximum number of Playback tracks is 64, but you can set the actual number in Deck's preferences. Playback tracks are indicated by a number in the oval display to the left of the track name. You can have up to 999 Work tracks, indicated by a W in the same oval display.

Work tracks, which can be created as needed, hold audio regions that you may want to use in the future, such as alternate takes. Any track can be instantly swapped with any other using a pop-up menu in the Tracks or Mixer window. This allows you to swap various Work tracks to test different arrangements, as well as reorder your Playback tracks. All data, including mix automation, is swapped.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Deck has two modes — Range and Object — for working with audio regions in the Tracks window. The Range tool allows you to lasso rectangular segments of audio data across multiple tracks. Once selected, the segments can be dragged or nudged vertically and horizontally, or simply sliced out to create new regions.

One very nice feature of Range mode is that the computer keyboard's Arrow keys can be used to move the range around without moving the actual data. That allows you to, for example, select a perfectly cut drum loop, then move the range around as a cookie cutter to select the same amount of time in another audio file. Having done that, you can nudge the range back and forth to home in on a perfect loop in that file.

The Object tool allows you to select individual regions for resizing and moving. Multiple, noncontiguous regions can be selected and altered as a group. Resizing regions is possible because a region is simply a pair of pointers in the audio file. Moving its end points just moves the pointers, causing a different part of the audio file to be played.

Creating regions not only allows you to rearrange audio clips, but also is the first step in creating crossfades. Deck's crossfade strategy is powerful and simple. Once two regions are butted up against each other, you simply use the Range tool to select the crossfade range, then invoke a default crossfade shape or select a custom one. The only thing you need to be aware of is whether there is data in the audio files in the crossfade area beyond the region boundaries. You can also set up a default crossfade time and use it to crossfade butted regions without having to select the crossfade range. That technique can be applied simultaneously to multiple regions and is great for quickly smoothing out transitions between regions. The MP3 example Crisscross processes a one-bar stereo guitar loop by changing the length of one of the channels and crossfading all the butt splices.

In addition to crossfades, fade-ins, and fade-outs, you can create volume and pan automation in real time or after the fact. Real-time automation can be entered with a MIDI controller or using the onscreen faders. After-the-fact automation is entered graphically, directly on the tracks with the mouse. However entered, automation is part of the track and is not anchored to audio regions.

BIAS has added extensive support for MIDI automation using the Tascam US-428 USB control surface. While not offering full MIDI integration, Deck does support synchronized MIDI file playback using QuickTime or an external MIDI device.

ASSET MANAGEMENT

With Deck, you can record audio input simultaneously on as many tracks as your audio interface supports. Theoretically, you can multitrack record your whole band in one pass, or you can overlay individual parts. Because you are in the digital domain, you can bounce tracks if need be without any loss in audio quality. You can record as many takes as you want, moving earlier ones to Work tracks for later comparison.

FIG. 2: The Add Audio To Library dialog and associated Library window control Deck's audio file and region management. Only audio references are added to the Library: the audio files remain on your hard drive and do not take up RAM.

Alternatively, you can import audio files from your hard drive in all the popular formats. As mentioned earlier, stereo files will automatically be converted into SDII-format split-stereo files. Fig. 2 shows Deck's Audio Import window. The Finder section at the top is for locating audio files. If the selected file has regions and loops defined in a format that Deck understands, they can be imported individually.

One major drawback to Deck's import feature is that files cannot be auditioned — the Play button is permanently grayed out. According to BIAS, that is due to changes in the way OS X handles audio, and Deck may be modified to restore auditioning in the future.

When importing audio, you can choose whether to simply refer to the original or to make a copy in another location. Files on nonvolatile media such as CDs, as well as files that are not in Deck's audio format, will be translated and copied automatically.

Deck's audio Library window, seen on the right in Fig. 2, shows all the audio regions that have been recorded, imported, or created by operations in the Tracks window. In short, all available audio regions are there for dragging onto tracks. Audio regions can be deleted from the Library window without affecting the actual audio data on your hard drive. Deck also has a destructive Compacting process for automatically getting rid of unused audio data. That, of course, should be used with caution.

STACKING THE DECK

Deck is a simple but effective multitrack audio editor. It is best suited to mono tracks, although stereo tracks can be handled with a little extra effort and care.

If you work extensively with stereo tracks, need sophisticated loop-management tools, or use MIDI instruments, a similarly priced midlevel digital audio sequencer might be a better choice (although those typically don't offer 5.1 surround mixing or OMF support). As an audio editor, Deck is well designed, efficient, and reasonably priced.


Len Sasso can be contacted through his Web site at www.swiftkick.com.

Minimum System Requirements

Deck 3.5
G3/266 MHz; 128 MB RAM; Mac OS 8.6

PRODUCT SUMMARY

BIAS
Deck 3.5 (Mac)
multitrack audio editor
$399
upgrade from 3.0 $149

FEATURES 3.5
EASE OF USE 3.5
DOCUMENTATION 2.5
VALUE 3.0

RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Simple user interface. Easy to learn and use. Easy on CPU and RAM.

CONS: Can't audition audio before loading. Manual is inaccurate and out-of-date. No key commands for horizontal zooming and scrolling.

Manufacturer
BIAS (Berkley Integrated Audio Software)
tel. (800) 775-BIAS or (707) 782-1866
e-mail sales@bias-inc.com
Web www.bias-inc.com

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