Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge XP
One measure of a good basic tool is the amount of time it takes you to
learn and use it. Ideally, you should be able to put a software disk into
your computer, install it with a minimum of fuss, and run it without years
The Sound Forge XP audio editing program from Sonic
Foundry lets you do that and more. It's just so intuitive that you
might not use it for months at a time, but you won't have to worry about
relearning it. Syntrillium's Cool Edit used to be that easy to use, but
it's been changed into a high-end monstrosity with too many features and
not enough interface. Even so, Sound Forge XP -- actually the "small
version" of Sonic Foundry's own high-end Sound Forge audio program
-- has plenty of features of its own, and it's an unmatchable value for
Apart from the easiest drag-and-select sound editing I've seen yet, Sound
Forge XP gives you the following effect capabilities, which in most cases,
you can apply to all of a file or a selected portion, on one or both channels:
- Compression: this is what radio and TV stations use to make commercials
sound much louder than everything else. But it's also useful for smoothing
out the peaks in music, so the loudest sounds don't go "over the
line" and distort, and the softest sounds don't drop too far down
in volume. You get control over attack and release times as well as
threshold and compression ratio.
- Noise Gate: this allows you to "drop out" noise or hiss,
based on the amplitude of the noise and the surrounding content that
you want to keep. Controls are similar to those on the compressor.
- Distortion: fuzz, grunge, and clip...just click the mouse and turn
acoustic guitar into death metal!
- Delay/Echo: you get lots of control over delay/echo characteristics
here, including post- and pre-delay.
- Chorus, Flange, Reverb: These are good effects, but each one is limited
to five "canned" sounds.
- Pitch Bend: Sound Forge actually lets you draw an "envelope"
with your cursor to specify exactly how you want to adjust the pitch
of a selected area.
- Make Waves: generate your own sound waves by specifying them in a
menu, as well as telephone touch tones to insert into a sound file (phone
phreaks will love this feature :-).
- 10-band Graphic Equalizer: lets you adjust the loudness of sounds
- Fade/Pan: you can change the channel separation or fade in/fade out
characteristics of a selection by either a single click or by drawing
your own "curve" with the cursor.
- Time Compress/Expand: want to slow down a fast guitar riff to learn
it, without changing the pitch? Or squeeze 27 seconds' worth of an interview
into 25 without making it sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks? This is
- Normalize: this function is usually used to adjust the level of an
entire sound file for the optimum volume, or to make sure that all tracks
on a CD being mixed are about the same volume.
- Reverse: ever wonder about those "hidden messages" in popular
songs? Click the mouse and find out if they're really there...or make
- DC Offset: Sound Forge can automatically (or manually) remove a component
called DC Offset that's often found in sound files. It's generally caused
by using low-quality or poorly-grounded sound cards, and it's almost
like a virus, because if it stays in a sound file it ruins the symmetry
of the sound wave.
Ironically, a great place to see this last problem is The Microsoft Sound
file in Windows' Media directory -- and the Windows NT Login/Logoff Sound
files, as delivered, are perhaps the worst I've ever seen. Playing the
original files through a high-quality digital sound setup made me think
my speakers were going to come apart, but after 5 minutes with Sound Forge
XP, I not only cleaned them up by getting out the DC offset and noise,
but adjusted the fadein/fadeout and shortened them while I was at it.
Click here to see/hear Sound Forge
play a WAV file...
To speed editing of often large files (a typical stereo CD track takes
anywhere from 30 to 50 MB of disk space), Sound Forge XP edits in "direct
mode" by default, which means it edits the file in place without
making a copy. Backup strategy is therefore judicious use of the "undo"
key. You're limited to a "mere" 999 undo levels, and Sound Forge
tells you exactly what function is being "undone", which is
handy because otherwise it would be easy to lose track of what you did
5 minutes ago. In any case, if the idea of working directly on your precious
files makes you nervous, you can simply disable direct edit mode.
In fact, you can enable, disable, or change a startling number of program
parameters and set it up exactly the way you want it to work. Sound Forge
XP reads and writes almost two dozen file formats including WAV, AVI,
AU, AIFF, VOC, and RealMedia.
And that last is one of the greatest timesavers of this program, because
all you have to do to convert a sound file to RealAudio is "save
as" and pick your resolution. No separate programs, no encoders,
no nothing. I was able to take a minute's worth of audio and make a few
RealAudio clips in different resolutions in just seconds; the files ranged
from 200 KB to 420 KB, which are much more suited for the Web than the
original 13 MB WAV file.
Sound Forge XP is a fast, capable tool that excels at basic mono/stereo
sound editing tasks for even relatively large CD-quality audio files.
You'll probably never even have to open the help file.