When you start thinking about composing with sample loops, whatís the first thing that pops into your head? Most musicians will say Sonic Foundryís ACID Pro. ACID Pro has been on the scene for quite some time now, winning awards from the music industry as well as praise from users, and rightly so. ACID Pro was the first music software application to make the daunting task of matching up unrelated sample loop pitches and tempos a breeze. It also opened the avenues of music composition to just about everyone. Well, now at version 4, ACID Pro provides a host of new features including surround sound mixing, enhanced MIDI capabilities, plug-in effects automation, alternate time signatures, and more, bringing it to a new level of usability.
One of the most exciting new features of ACID Pro 4 is surround sound mixing. Instead of having to spend big bucks on an application like Steinbergís Nuendo, now anyone with a moderate budget can do surround mixing. Of course, youíll also need a 5.1 surround compatible sound card plus an applicable speaker system to listen to your mix (Iíll talk more about surround mixing with ACID in a future issue of the DigiFreq newsletter. Although, ACID gives you the option of using a sound card with three stereo outputs or three separate stereo sound cards, which is very nice. And applying a surround mix to an ACID project couldnít be easier. To do this, you use the new Surround Panner, which is a window that displays the surround audio field with a flashing orange diamond designating the panning position of the selected track. Simply drag the diamond to a new place in the field and your track is panned there. You can also automate the panning for some awesome surround effects. To distribute your creation, however, youíll need to encode your project to Dolby Digital AC-3. This requires Sonic Foundryís 5.1 Surround Plug-In Pack, which is an additional cost. But this is actually a good thing since not everyone needs surround mixing and the cost of ACID would be much more otherwise. Iíll be doing a separate review of the Plug-In Pack as soon as it arrives.
Many ACID users rejoiced when Sonic Foundry decided to add MIDI support to their beloved application, but this support fell short in previous versions by only providing basic recording and playback. ACID Pro 4 brings MIDI support to a new level with Step Recording, Piano Roll Editing, Event List Editing, and VST Instruments. Step Recording allows you to record MIDI tracks without a keyboard by inputting MIDI note timing, pitch, and velocity values with your mouse and computer keyboard. MIDI controller events (such as volume and pan) are not accessible though. The Piano Roll editor also allows you to add and edit notes in a MIDI track but itís more intuitive because all values are displayed graphically. Again, however, MIDI controller events arenít accessible. In addition, the editor doesnít adjust its configuration when working with percussion tracks, but even worse, you can only edit one track at a time. The Event List editor is a bit more flexible allowing you to edit all aspects of your MIDI data including controller events, but again for only one track at a time. Add to the fact that ACID only provides basic editing (such as copy, cut, and paste) for multiple MIDI events (for example, you canít change the velocity of multiple notes at once), and you can see that even with these enhancements, ACID needs more work in the MIDI department. Of course, thereís the addition of VST Instrument support, which is definitely welcome because now you have access to software synthesis and all your sound generation can be done within the computer.
ACID Pro 4 includes many smaller but very significant improvements both ďover and under the hoodĒ such as ASIO driver support; alternate time signatures (anywhere from 1/1 to 99/32); master, auxiliary, and effects bus tracks; an optimized audio engine for todayís CPUs; Yamaha OPT (Open Plug-in Technology) support; loop cloning; optimized DLS soft synth model; new balance and constant power audio panning models; new smooth, sharp, and hold envelope fade types; enhanced time stretching; hotkeys for muting and soloing tracks; Windows Media audio and video importing; customizable track default settings; and enhanced video handling. I like the fact that you can preview and rename loops in the Explorer view, although I would like it better if the loops didnít play one at a time but all simultaneously. And I would definitely be remiss if I didnít mention the new effects automation abilities. Using envelopes, you can automate individual effects parameters using any DirectX effect plug-in that provides automation. ACID only includes three automatable effects though: Flange/Wah-Wah, Resonant Filter, and Track EQ. It would be nice to see the other included effects take advantage of automation as well. Also, I should note that even though version 4 includes VST Instrument support, it does not include VST effects plug-in support.
As you can see, ACID Pro 4 has been given some great enhancements especially when it comes to surround sound support, effects automation, alternate time signatures, VST Instrument support, and ASIO driver support. All of these new features take the application to a new level of usability. But even with the new step recording, piano roll, and event list features, ACID still needs some major MIDI data editing improvements. When it comes to composing with sample loops, however, ACID is still the king. And with the inclusion of the aforementioned enhancements, ACID brings some very high-level music technology to masses for a reasonable price.