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Digital Soup Editing Software For The PC

It's very cheap and immensely powerful. Read our review to find out more...


This software package brings the flexibility of non-destructive digital editing to your PC for under £100. Tim Frost can't quite believe it either!


It doesn't take that much imagination to work out that cheap PCs with cheap sound cards will be soon be knocking at the doors of DAR and the AMS Audiofile. The big systems first offered high quality A/D D/A conversion that simply wasn't around at a low cost; now perfectly acceptable 16-bit audio cards come in at £150. High capacity storage was a problem; now with 200MB hard disks also for a couple of hundred quid, that's perfectly accessible too.

The pro systems still have two key advantages over the cheapskate DIY PC recorder: they can handle multiple cards and offer that magic feature — 'non-destructive' editing. Well, things just got a little hotter for the big boys with the release of Digital Soup Professional, a package that offers just that — non-destructive editing with a standard PC sound card for less than £100.

Digital Soup runs under Windows and, like any other audio product, really needs a decent sound card, and a 486 with a reasonably large (100MB+) hard disk if it is going to be used for serious 16-bit work. Once the program is loaded from the single disk, you go straight into the edit screen, which shows two channels with the familiar waveform windows. These should be looked on as the gateway to a 16-channel portastudio with a stereo output, since these two visible channels can be assigned to any of up to 16 independent virtual channels within the computer. Once the main editing work is completed, these 16 channels can be mixed down — again using non-destructive editing — to the two main A & B output channels — giving the option of working with up to 18 totally independent lines of audio.

OPERATION



Recording directly to a Digital Soup track is straightforward, using tape-machine style record buttons. However, if the work you intend to do is pretty 'edit intensive', it's better to record the various elements first as straight *.WAV sound files. These can then be 'imported' into the DS track. Although it then looks just as though the audio been recorded onto the track in the normal way, what has really happened is that DS has added a pointer to the soundfile, so each time that track is played, it simply calls up the original file and plays it. Not only does this make editing quick to execute, since it cuts out a lot of re-recording — which takes time on even a fast PC — it also saves disk space, since there is only one copy of the sound being used, and this works with a vengeance when the sample is used many times. Take the repeated beat guide track. The original *.WAV file can be just a couple of beats long: the full guide track is created by simply repeating the pointer — so, say, after every two beats, DS goes back to the file and simply plays it out again, creating a full-length track from a second's worth of audio.

This pointer system handles all the editing functions of cut, insert, copy and paste, which are executed from either pull-down menus or from the huge box button bar down the side of the screen. To make the system more flexible to use, this button bar can be customised. Buttons that are never used can disappear off the screen entirely and more important buttons can be re-positioned in the most convenient place; DS is dotted with handy operational features like this.

As well as basic editing, DS has the range of effects that should be expected from a software system driving sound cards without additional DSPs. Amongst the more fancy features are time compression and expansion (with or without pitch shift), delays, reverse, repeat, tone generator and compressor. Effects like compression, which have several parameters to set, can have their settings copied to the clipboard, so that they can be used again by simply pasting them into other areas or other tracks — another advantage of working with the pointers that are the essence of the non-destructive editing process. This is taken to extremes with the EQ, where four layers of parametric settings can be stored by name and then recalled and pasted onto any area of audio on any track. The waveform display obviously reflects the changes as they affect the audio.

DS also displays each of the pointers that mark the start and finish of each manipulated section — which are shown as lines coloured according to their function. These can be selectively switched on and off, so you could choose to display only the marks corresponding to level changes, for example. As an extra guide to level and pan settings, the waveform display can be switched to an envelope display, with red and blue representing the left and right output channels.

DS interfaces neatly with CD-ROM for downloading effects/samples. The general idea behind this seems to be soundtrack use, although Digital Soup's case is somewhat weakened in this area, as it lacks the finesse of, say Wave for Windows. DS offers nothing in the way of time-code, frame count or even dB calibrations — everything is altered in percentages — so in reality it is appealing more to the musician than to the high-powered video editor.

VERDICT



As a first hit at cost-effective non-destructive editing, Digital Soup works — especially if you really do need to run serious multi-layering of real audio but on a budget. If you have a decent PC already, Soup and a sound card can add usable CD/DAT quality 16-track hard-disk editing to your setup for as little as £250.

Further Information

Digital Soup Professional £95 inc VAT.

Digital Music, (Contact Details).

DIGITAL SOUP £95

PROS
Workstation-like non-destructive editing for under £100.
Straightforward to use.
Total editing flexibility.
Access to 18 independent channels in total.
Good range of effects.
Nice user-configurable features.

CONS
Can't make up its mind whether it's for musician or sound track use.
Can only view two of the 18 tracks at a time.

SUMMARY
Digital Soup goes cheaply where no other non-destructive editing system has gone before. If you need/want to break into serious multi-layering of real sound now and are considering or already have a PC sound board, go for it.


SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

386 or 486 PC
Microsoft Windows 3.1
At least 2MB of memory
MPC compatible sound card Mouse (or other pointing device)
At least 5MB free disk space


NON-DESTRUCTIVE EDITING

In the standard sound edit package, as with multitrack tape, you cut, change and alter the recording as you go along. Each change is permanent; cutting out a section, changing the EQ, adding reverb, results in permanent and irrevocable changes to the sound track. To get around accidents or last-minute changes of mind, sound edit software normally creates a backup of the original to go back to, or at least an Undo button to kill the last change. But this is limited in its appeal if you are building a complex track of several lines of audio which involves a lot of chopping and changing.

Non-Destructive Editing works in an entirely different way. Instead of taking the sound file and re-recording it with each new change, NDE keeps the original source sound files completely untouched, but adds tags with instructions to create edit points, fades, mixes and effects. When it comes to replay the track, the computer looks up the original sound file and plays it out, executing all the edits and effects in real time.

Take something as simple as a level setting for a vocal track: with NDE, the vocal file remains unchanged, but during playback or mixdown, the software is busily executing the fade instructions. Fine tuning the level means just changing the instruction — nothing else needs to be done.

Where sound files are being used repeatedly, for example in a track for choruses or samples, instead of laying the sample down permanently each time, pointers call up the sound from the original sound file each time it needs to be played. This not only makes rearranging and moving each sample a lot easier, it also means that the user can build in global changes like EQ or reverb that will then adjust every occurrence of the sample. Non-destructive editing has become an essential feature of film and video soundtrack production because of the sheer flexibility it gives the editor to change things around at will and test out different variations of a mix without having to rebuild everything manually from scratch each time.



Previous Article in this issue

Live Saver

Next article in this issue

Monitoring


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Oct 1993

Review by Tim Frost

Previous article in this issue:

> Live Saver

Next article in this issue:

> Monitoring


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