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Surfing the Broadcast Wave

Taking a file on a roundtrip through multiple DAW applications By Frank Moldstad


This file began its life as a guitar solo recorded in SONAR. It didn't start until midway through the track, as the gray area to the left of the waveform indicates.
f youve ever gone through the nightmare of trying to line up audio files with different start times in a multitrack project, the Broadcast Wave file format (BWF) is the key to your salvation. Originally developed by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) the late 1990s, the BWF format has since been endorsed as a standard by numerous other professional organizations, from the Audio Engineering Society to The Recording Academys P&E wing.

The Broadcast Wave format is an extension of the WAVE audio format, and its extra information includes details such as a files SMPTE Time Stamp reference. When an encoded file is imported into another application that supports BWF, the file lines up precisely at its original position on the timeline. The BWF format also includes metadata information about the origin and history of the file, including an artists name, the take number and the recording date. All of this makes it a seamless format for cross-platform collaboration and archiving.

For instance, a project that was recorded with Cakewalks SONAR 5 on a PC can be edited with Apples Logic Pro 7 on a Mac or vice versa. Many DAW programs on both Mac and PC now include BWF import and export capabilities. In addition to SONAR and Logic Pro, other DAW programs with BWF import/export capabilities include Pro Tools, Nuendo 3, Cubase SX 3, Adobe Audition (just added in version 2.0), Soundtrack Pro (import only), Tracktion 2 (import only) and others. A number of hardware recorders from companies such as Zaxcom, Nagra, Tascam, Fostex, Marantz (and many others) also support BWF format.

Broadcast Wave export option in SONAR
Creating a BWF file is simply a matter of selecting Broadcast Wave from the export options in a DAW application. (Many applications permit recording in the BWF format as well.) For the purposes of this article, I exported a file from SONAR 5 as a Broadcast Wave, and then imported it into both Logic Pro 7 and Adobe Audition. I chose a track containing a guitar solo that started midway through a song, to show how the BWF format can line things up in their proper place.

It worked perfectly in each case. But if the file had not been in the BWF format, it would have simply started at the beginning of the track into which it was imported. That would have meant manually lining it up relative to other tracks. Although this can be done by zooming into the timeline and dragging the file left and right until its in the right place, this is not practical for a multitrack projects worth of files. For this example, I used only one file, but the same procedure is used to export an entire project in the Broadcast Wave format. Each file in the project, regardless of its length or position, will fall into place when its imported into another application.

One important caveat: When choosing a file or files to export in the Broadcast Wave format, the cursor must be at the beginning of the track, or else the Time Stamp will not be correct.

File lined up in Logic Pro 7, and then was reexported and sent to Audition (below).

Imported from Logic Pro into Audition, and then reexported again.

The roundtrip was complete when the file was imported back into SONAR

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Related Keywords:Broadcast Wave, BWF, SMPTE, Time Stamp, WAVE, audio, import, export, multitrack, European Broadcasting Union, SONAR 5, Logic Pro 7


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