July 11, 2005


PRODUCT: Apple Soundtrack Pro

PRICE: $299

WEB SITE: www.apple.com

- music loops & effects

- powerful waveform editor

- restoration tools

- faster than realtime bounces

Apple's Soundtrack Pro is chasing Pro Tools like Final Cut Pro chased Avid a few years ago. I remember mixing a show for Fox many years ago that was edited on the Avid except for one segment which was cut on Final Cut 1.0.2. Man did I complain. OMFs didn't work, I won't go into all the reasons. That was a long time ago in this fast-paced tech-world of ours. Now many people, including myself, love Final Cut.

Enter Soundtrack Pro 1.0. Apple is touting this as "the next indispensable addition to your professional workflow." Interesting wording since I may want to add this to my toolset. To really compete with Pro Tools however, Apple needs to step on the gas a little.

The Good

Upon reading the rest of Apple's PR on Soundtrack Pro, I found that they are not saying STP is a Pro Tools killer. This product is really there to be a companion to the video editor.

[Editor's Note: Apple says STP "works well with applications like Pro Tools, Logic Pro, etc."]

Soundtrack Pro comes with a pallet of well-organized music loops and sound effects. In the browser I can perform a category search with text. Or with buttons, I can click on ambiences and a list of background SFX are ready to audition.

One feature that STP has that I've been missing in Pro Tools is the ability to have multiple projects open simultaneously. Just like FCP, It works the same way with tabs. This feature is great if you're working on commercials or promos.

STP has a Favorites tab. I can quickly add SFX that I use frequently to a particular project. Layouts are nice to have as well. STP has some pre-configured window layouts with the ability for me to save my own layouts. The different windows arrange themselves in size and space on the screen.

Faster than realtime bounces are another fantastic feature that some other DAWs are still in the dark about. There seems to be no limit, other than computer power and perhaps stability, to the amount of plug-ins or sends I can add to a single track.

STP has a waveform editor that far exceeds other platforms. It's called action-based editing, where I can completely change the order or bypass any action that I create.

The ability to perform sound restoration is a must have in post. The fact that STP does this in Version 1.0 is ahead of the curve.

The Bad

There is no machine control in STP. However, it can sync to MIDI timecode. So forget about controlling that Digi Beta for layback.

STP only records one track at a time. It is possible to use Final Cut as the link to the deck, now that FCP can record multiple tracks. Just use the "Send to Soundtrack" command in FCP. However, many of us have a need to record multiple tracks from a Digi Beta or a DA-98, and using FCP to accomplish this is a bit of a work around.

Currently there is no OMF implementation in STP. As I stated before, Final Cut has a "Send to Soundtrack" command in addition to an OMF export, and a XML export. However many facilities have both Final Cut and Avid. If STP cannot import OMFs, then how can we import Avid projects into STP?

[Editor's note: Apple says OMFs would be imported after they are converted to XML. Products like those from Automatic Duck do this.]

STP has a global recording preference for the application. New recordings are placed in the same directory regardless of which project you have open. Unless, of course, you change it every time you switch projects.

There isn't a distinction between mono tracks and stereo tracks. If I have some dual mono elements that are supposed to be stereo, there is no way to create a stereo track and move the dual mono elements to the stereo track. Nor is there a way to group tracks. In addition, if I try to move clips from one track to another, there is no option to lock the clip to prevent sync issues.

Currently you can?t have video playback out of one device and audio out of another.

The Badder

Apple says STP can create a submix. Submixing is mixing certain categories of tracks together. I may do this to create different output configurations like an M&E (music and effects) for foreign distribution and language dubbing.

All tracks that STP can create, (audio track, bus track, and output track) can only route to an output. They cannot route to a bus. Only sends route to a bus.

Apple's procedure in creating submixes is as follows: In STP, I can create different "Output Tracks" and name them "Dial" "Music" and "SFX." These names automatically show up as output options in all the audio tracks. And all these "Output Tracks" can be routed to outputs 1 and 2.

There are some limitations here. If I use this procedure, I cannot create a Master Track to give me the ability to compress the mix. Nor can I create different configurations to route to different outputs. I am hopeful that future versions of Soundtrack Pro will be able to work a little more like a console.

The Reality

If you're a Final Cut Pro owner, then Version 5 with Soundtrack Pro is a great addition. You will have more audio tools at your disposal and you will have some great plug-ins. Soundtrack Pro can be a great addition to Pro Tools.

[Editor's note: Apple recommends using STP as a sound design tool with Pro Tools as the main DAW. "With Soundtrack Pro you have access to the professional Logic Pro plug-ins like Space Designer and Match EQ which then can be applied to files and used in Pro Tools."]

You could turn that edit room of yours into a limited mix room in a pinch.

[Editor's note: Apple believes the batch processing, provided by Soundtrack Pro, can be a helpful asset to Pro Tools setups.]

However if you're a mixer and are thinking about some alternatives to Pro Tools you will notice that STP is far ahead of the curve on some things and still behind on others.

The price for the stand-alone version of STP is only $299. And STP is now just out of the gate at Version 1.0. If we use Final Cut as a model of improvement, then Soundtrack Pro may be just a couple of version numbers away from being more than just an "addition to your professional workflow."