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Adobe Audio Redux with Soundbooth CS4

By Mike Jones

When a new software version is released there is an unavoidable decent of vultures to pick at the bones of the young software hatchling and uncover the newness. Such pickings invariably focus on either big new features or previously unknown additions or dwell on the implementation of long awaited fixes or missing components. When the software release is as big and multi faceted as Adobe CS4, undeniably the most comprehensive and application rich software suite on the market, it is inevitable that such picking and scrambling over the features are long winded and detailed.

But when the dust settles it is often the small things, those that don't make the top of the New Features press release, that prove to be among the most interesting and forward thinking.

In Adobe CS4 there is much discussion of improved integration between applications, expanded metadata handling particularly in Premiere Pro, and a host of workflow improvements in apps such as After Effects. Likewise among the younger/newer apps in the suite such as Soundbooth, the focus falls to its multitrack options that move it beyond the basic waveform editor it used to be. But there is something else in Soundbooth which hasn't gathered as much immediate attention but heralds some great options for integrated post production.

With Soundbooth CS4 Adobe has introduced a new audio format called an ASND File - which it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce stands for Adobe SouND file. Certainly the last thing audio post production needed was another audio format - WAV, BWF (broadcast wave) and the lingering AIFF serve perfectly well and provide consistency across applications. But what ASND offers is something quite special.

ASND provides a format that allows for free exchange between a mulitrack arrangement and a stereo mix down. It works like this; a multitrack arrangement is built up in Soundbooth CS4 which is now a substantial step closer in functionality to Audition, Adobe's very powerful DAW favored in a range of industries, particularly radio. SBCS4 has automation envelopes, multi-clip and multitrack mixing and editing and an expanded range of processes for designing soundscapes rather than just editing them. This includes a scoring window for arranging music and sound to picture.

When it comes time to transfer that audio multitrack to your NLE, the traditional process would have you mix down or bounce the multitrack to a single stereo file. All fine and dandy until the time comes that you need to make changes to your sound design and you're forced to go back and mix down again and swap out old for new in your NLE timeline.

In SBCS4 you trade this process for one that is much more integrated and efficient. You save your multitrack project as an ASND file, which encapsulates and bundles together all the multitrack information, all the individual audio files and the mix, effects and processing info. In this regard thus far the ASND acts much like bundled project files such as the AcidZip file used by Sony's Acid or the Cakewalk 'Bun' file used by Sonar.

In SBCS4 you trade this process for one that is much more integrated and efficient. You save your multitrack project as an ASND file, which encapsulates and bundles together all the multitrack information, all the individual audio files and the mix, effects and processing info.

Where ASND differs however from the traditional Project File concept is that along with the multitrack data, a stereo mix down file is also packaged along with the multitrack all in the one single ASND. When you then import the ASND into Premiere Pro, the NLE will read the ASND file as a normal mixed down stereo audio file complete with timeline visible waveform. Premiere Pro treats the ASND no different than it would a normal WAV file and it has all the same real-time performance qualities.

However the coolness of ASND becomes evident when you need to make changes to your multitrack. Open the same ASND in Soundbooth, make changes to the original multitrack and save; the file on the timeline of Premiere Pro is automatically updated. Indeed you can have Soundbooth and Premiere open at the same time, the same ASND present in both and changes are live updated from Soundbooth to Premiere.

ASND combines the project file bundle concept with the efficiency of the mix-down in a wonderfully dynamic and integrated format. The potential downside is that the ASND files can become rather large in data size but it is still nowhere near the size of video files themselves. In the age where hard drives measured in Terabytes, big audio files are not really an issue. The embedded mix down waveform present in the ASND ensures real-time playback performance in Premiere Pro no matter how complex the multitrack arrangement is in Soundbooth.

Despite the clever and forward thinking nature of ASND however, it seems Adobe may have pulled up short and missed an opportunity. Whilst ASND wraps up all the individual audio files in a multitrack, it cannot also encapsulate a video stream. If it did it could present a dynamic solution to dual-system sound syncing.

Dual system sound (where sound is recorded separate from camera and audio video need to be re-synced from slate in post) is one of the more tedious and time consuming (and, by proxy, costly) parts of production. This is particularly true for indie filmmakers who can rarely afford extra crew in the form of assistant editors to wrangle such tasks.

If ASND enclosed the video file with the audio it could make the sync process from Soundbooth to Premiere Pro incredibly simple and efficient. Imagine this; import dual system video and audio files into Soundbooth. Edit, filter, process, clean up and normalize the audio. Then align and sync the audio with the video by the slate marks on the multitrack Soundbooth timeline. So far nothing new. . . until you save out as an ASND.

If Adobe had gone the whole hog with ASND and enabled it to encapsulate the audio stream and video stream, it would have the potential to make a highly functional non-destructive new clip that functions much like a combination of sub-clip and project bundle. The sync would remain freely adjustable at any time by opening the ASND in Soundbooth and live updating to the same clip in Premiere. Essentially in Premiere you would edit all your synced footage as ASND files which are in effect referencing bundle files of audio and video that playback as a mixed down and synched AV clip in premiere but actually contain independent audio and video streams. ASND as universal project file Audio and Video wrapper.

There is much to like about ASND taking elements of OMF and multichannel BWF and encapsulating them in a highly efficient and simple format. In an ideal world other software developers would see the opportunity and get on board, allowing ASNDs to be moved between platforms and applications. Of course this is highly unlikely and ASND will remain internal to the Adobe Creative Suite and for the time being at least be audio only. Similarly it seems Adobe has missed the obvious move to have ASND include video streams as well which could be a paradigm shift in how we engage and work with media files in a digital workflow.

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Mike Jones is a digital media producer, author, educator from Sydney, Australia. He has a diverse background across all areas of media production including film, video, TV, journalism, photography, music and on-line projects. Mike is the author of three books and more than 200 published essays, articles and reviews covering all aspects of cinematic form, technology and culture. Mike is currently Head of Technological Arts at the International Film School Sydney (, has an online home at and can be found profusely blogging for DMN at

Related Keywords:audio editing, digital audio, ASND, audio format, audio post production

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