VocALign's main window displays two waveforms: The top waveform (Guide) is the alignment reference; the bottom (Dub) is the waveform to be aligned. Five degrees of processing can be auditioned, via the Preview button or an alignment trace. (Click image for larger view.)















June 28
Review: S
ynchro Arts VocALign AS
Audio alignment software

by Erik Hawkins

Is it my imagination, or does life in audio production land just keep getting better with each new plugin that comes along? I used to spend hours cutting and splicing tracks, meticulously placing sound effects, carefully nudging vocal phrases and painstakingly moving drum hits—one waveform at a time. Now there are plugins that handle many of these tasks automatically. Enter some parameters, adjust a threshold, assign your sample and voila: Yesterday's dialog is locked to today's groove; a new sound effect is dropped to the old markers; every squeak below -20 dB is gone; and the lead singer's flat performance is perfectly in pitch.

One such plugin is VocALign AS by Synchro Arts. This amazing plugin helps make audio alignment a snap. Take two dialog lines at completely different locations, saying the same thing, but with totally mismatched meters. VocALign can lock these two performances together, spotting, fixing timing and laying back the dub in the blink of an eye. Tailor-made for ADR, clearly, but let your mind wander, and it's obvious this plugin also has a wealth of potential applications, from sound-effects editing (e.g., replacing effects cues) to music production (e.g., tightening up loosely sung background vocals).

Previously, the VocALign plugin was a stand-alone application. While it worked with Pro Tools, importing and exporting SDII files, it was not an actual AudioSuite plugin. VocALign AS is a real AudioSuite plugin. (The AS stands for AudioSuite.) The catch: VocALign AS is only compatible with Pro Tools Version 5.0 or higher. Forget about using the plugin with earlier versions of Pro Tools; it won't work. According to Synchro Arts, the developers worked closely with Digidesign to implement specific code in Version 5.0 that enables the AudioSuite operation. I put VocALign AS Version 1.0 through its paces on a Mac (there's no Windows version) for this field test.

Prepare to align
Past experience told me that upgrading to Pro Tools 5.0 might be rough. I was in the midst of mixing an important album and wanted to wait until the project was complete before upgrading for fear that there would be compatibility issues between the versions. The last thing I wanted to find out, after doing the full install, was that 4.3.2 sessions didn't translate properly to 5.0. But if I wanted to use VocALign, which I did, it was time to upgrade. This isn't a Pro Tools field test, but I'm happy to report that the 5.0 install was a piece of cake, and all my 4.3.2 sessions are booting and playing fine.

With Pro Tools upgraded, I was ready to install VocALign. The plugin comes on CD-ROM: Simply place the CD in your drive, and run the installer program. The installer places the plugin in the plugin folder inside your system's DAE Folder. A folder labeled VocALign AS is dropped into your hard drive. Inside the VocALign AS Folder is a PDF manual and a tutorial session. The complete install, including the uncompressed SDII files used in the tutorial, eats up about 5.5 MB.

Synchro Arts recommends the tutorial for first-time users, but the program is so easy to navigate most folks will be able to dive right in after a quick skim through the manual. However, the tutorial's audio files are optimized to show off VocALign's capabilities, so they're great for getting an idea of what the program can do in a best-case scenario. Incidentally, the manual, while it is clearly written with lots of useful application tips, is poorly bound. After a few minutes of page turning and flattening, all the pages fell out. A plastic spiral binding would be much more convenient and durable.

Copy protection is via key disk. One install is provided. If you lose the install, Synchro Arts will provide a challenge response code to registered users—a good reason to register.


Reprinted with permission from Mix Magazine, May 2000. Copyright 2000, Intertec Publishing, a Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.