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Review of
ACID 4.0
by Sonic Foundry

by Rich the Tweak

New in ACID PRO 4.0
  • Plug-In effects automation
  • ASIO driver support
  • 5.1 surround mixing
  • MIDI piano roll editing
  • MIDI event list editing
  • VSTi support
  • Alternate time signatures
  • Master, Aux and FX bus tracks
  • MIDI step recording
    Yamaha OPT support

Having had ACID here since the 1st days of ACID 1.0, I have watched the program grow considerably since its debut.  When it was first released ACID was a  revolutionary, "dream-come true" program.  For the 1st time on the PC one could assemble loops into arrangements on a grid and have each loop adjust automatically to the project tempo and key.  Up until the release of ACID, these functions could only be done in expensive hardware digital samplers and took a lot of mathematical tweaking to time stretch the loops so they would lock.  Acid breathed new life into those writing techno, trance, DnB and other loop based forms of electronica. 

Mini screenshot of a portion of Acid's screen.  You can extend ACID to a dual monitor for a very large workspace.

Do not be fooled by the fact that you can go to a major department store and find versions of ACID DJ, and other Acid starter versions available inexpensively.  You might delude yourself into thinking that ACID is a program for kids, and think that it cannot possibly be a serious application for music like Logic or Cubase, or Sonar.  Here's something you might not have known.  ACID is used in some of the top studios and yes, people everyday are making bushels full of money using it.  Lets say you are a composer doing TV commercials and you have five 60-second projects due in 2 days.  Can you pull this off?. Maybe by working around the clock 48 hours you might get close, but you'll pay with your health, damaged relations with the significant other (means more expensive gifts)  ah, the list goes on.  You could have done much better off buying ACID Pro and buying all the royalty free loop libraries.   The cool thing about ACID is how fast you can assemble a project, render it down, and finish it.  You could conceivable get down a 60 second clip in a few hours, not a few days. You actually could meet a 48 hour deadline for 5 TV spots. After you add effects and a unique midi track or two, no ones going to know you made your cool sounding clips in ACID.  Except maybe the other studio tweaks doing it too. 

Works with ACID 4.0

The Celestial Windowpane was developed at TweakHeadz Lab and contains 650 megs of space-oriented dance and electronic loops. Listen to a demo

The New 4.0 features:

Tweak has, likes and uses these ACID CD Roms
 Sonic Foundry Bill Laswell Sampler (Loop Library For ACID)  Tweak:  If you have never heard Bill's stuff and want a real treat, get this one.

Sonic Foundry Liquid Planet (Loop Library For ACID)  Tweak:  Those into ambient can't afford to miss this masterful disk created by Robert Rich

Sonic Foundry Universal Groove Elements (Loop Library For ACID)  Tweak:  Delightful potpourri of intersting bits and bytes to add spice to productions

Sonic Foundry Ethnicity (Loop Library for ACID)  Tweak:  Being into world sounds and percussion, this disk gets very specific with differences between geographic areas

 

VSTi's that work with ACID 4.0
Native Instruments Pro-53 (Macintosh And Windows) The Native Instruments Pro-52 carries on the tradition from the legendary days of vintage cult synthesizers. This virtual instrument for Macintosh and Windows platform combines the sonic properties of the unique originals with the practical requirements of the present day. Tweak:  Works great in Cubase SX and in Logic PC and Mac
The Competition
 Ableton LIVE 24-Bit Recording Software (Macintosh and Windows) Live is an audio sequencer that you can play like an instrument. Whether on its own or with other musicians or DJs, live on stage or when remixing in the studio, all you need is Live and a Mac or PC.  Tweak:  The LIVE is a loop sequencer that works inside Cubase SX.  If you have lots of audio loops, check it out. Read my review

I'm just going to give you my initial observations on some of these features, which you can see in the sidebar.  The most important, IMHO, is the MIDI implementation.   You might ask why a loop audio sequencer even needs it, and whether Sonar might be more appropriate for the job of combining loops and midi.  Is not Sonic Foundry encroaching on Sonar's territory here?  Yes they are.  Are they close to what Sonar can do with MIDI?  Nope!  Not even in the same ballpark. Or the same universe.  In terms of MIDI handling, ACID is extremely basic.  You can do piano roll editing, event list editing and step recording, and you can record midi in real time, edit velocity with the mouse, but that's about where it ends for now.  Forget about extensive controller mapping, program changing, groove quantizing or other things you expect a fill blown midi sequencer to have.  What you do get is basic MIDI recording functionality.

But in many projects, that is all one needs.  The new midi recording features essentially free you of a dependence on loops for basslines, arpeggios, pads, solos--OK you got it.   The best part is that it works with soft synths. So if you want a killer trance bassline, stop looking for loops, roll your own with the FM7, Pro 52, Kontakt, whatever VSTi  you can get running. (Note: not all work--see below)  You can point ACID to look in any VSTplugins folder on your system, so if you are already using Logic or Cubase, then your whole setup ports in.

Time Out!
What is a plugin?  A plugin is a small program that is inserted on a track or mix bus that act just like a hardware effects box.  For more on plugins, see my plugin page.

Are ACID Loops different than Wave files?  Can I use Wave files in Acid?  A file is "acidiized" when it has a software flag that says how many measures the loop is and what key it is in and whether it is a one shot, or looping file.  The program will guess how many measures a non acidized file it and does it really well.  You can adjust these parameters in Acid and resave these files to acidize them, or you can use sound forge to do it too. You can use any standard wave file in acid.

Are all your Celestial Windowpane Loops 100% acidized?  Yes.  The product works perfectly in all versions of ACID. 

Do you have any tips for building unique sounds in ACID?  But if course!  Here's my ACID tips page

Go to Tweak's ACID PLANET Site

These some new stuff going on with Plugins in Acid 4.  Most notable are the automatable effects.  There is a flange/wah, 4 band parametric EQ and best of all a resonant filter.  The filter is really nice. Easy to automate.  It's not going the rival the Ableton's effects, but its pretty cool to finally get some filter sweeping done in Acid. For those of you with Waves plugins, a nice bonus is that the Waves Doppler, L1 Untramaximizer +, the RComp and Trueverb are automatable as well.  By the way, all my Waves plugins can be used in ACID.  Additionally, if you have Sound Forge 6, you can use any of the plugin chains you made in Acid.  Magically, these show up in the well organized plugin list.

Acid 4.0 also features ASIO support, no doubt to help users run their VSTi's in ACID with as little latency as possible.  On my system, using a delta 1010, which works excellently in many asio driven applications, the results have not been stellar.  I am experiencing clicks and pops when moving or resizing windows and have had a few crashes that I think I can attribute to the asio driver. The Windows "classic" driver, which appears to actually pass the audio to the Delta WDM driver in my case, works better.  Performance on my SBLive is very good if not using soft synths. 

Surround

Perhaps the coolest new feature in ACID 4 is that you can use it to make and render surround source tracks.  With the new surround features enough to verify that I can move files to the front, back, corners of a 3 dimensional listening area. And guess what, it works well!  This feature can be mind blowing for those with surround capable soundcards who have never tried it before.  A true delight. If you get the optional surround 5.1 plugin pack from sonic foundry, you can render your surround mixes to DVDR with full dolby digital sound.  Amazing huh? And you thought this was a program for kids! 

The Competition

Acid's main competition comes from the Ableton Live.  Read my review.  I can't do an exhaustive comparison here, but I will tell you what I think on the most basic of basics level.  Ease of Use: Acid has a much more friendly interface. The Live is less intuitive though perhaps more powerful  MIDI: The Live uses midi to trigger loops in real time.  Acid uses MIDI traditionally, to record and play MIDI notes.  Effects: The Live has interesting, effects and they automate intuitively. The Live lets you use VST plugins.  Acid comes with some sonic foundry plugins and lets you us DX plugins.  Arrangement:  Acid has a better way to get loops into the program. The Live is a little awkward, IMHO.  But the Live lets you put different loops on the same track.  Acid does not.  Mixer: Acid has an easy to understand mixer with definable busses.  The Live mixer is very basic.  ACID lets you use VSTi's. The Live does not. In Use: The Live has a light feel that lets you work fast. This lets you manipulate and transform your mix in real time, usually without glitches.  Acid feels heavier to use, more geared towards creating a finished product, with lots of export possibilities, including CD Burning.  

Things to watch out for:  (i.e., things you might expect to work that do not)

Acid 4.0 does not work with Native's Dynamo. That's excusable, as Dynamo has badly needed an update for a long time.  Multiple VST outputs are not supported. Lets hope they figure that one out.  Battery, when used in Acid, may have problems on win 98se and WinME.. Absynth may have MIDI input problems.  There is a note that if you are using an Audigy card that you may need to disable other soundcards (!) on your computer (I did not find this to be true with my SB Live).  As I wrote above, there is an issue using ASIO with M-Audio delta cards.  (No big loss, the windows classic driver works OK).  Oh, one more thing.  Sonic Foundry has a way of telling you to contact "the other manufacturer" when there is a software conflict with other applications, plugins, hardware drivers.  Is this Elitism?  Does everyone else have to change because Sonic Foundry is the only company that does its coding right?  This "blaming the other guy" has got to go in this business. It sure would be nice if software/hardware makers all worked together before a product release to ensure compatibility.  After all, it is in both manufacturers' interests to do so. And definitely in the consumer's interest. My friends, we must insist that companies communicate better rather than enlisting us to do their dirty laundry.   To Sonic Foundry's credit, they do tell you the known issues in their products.  Its far worse when a software maker does not.

Update: M-audio has now fixed their drivers so the issues no longer occur.  Yay!

In the balance

Definitely a worthy upgrade if you are already using ACID pro.  If you need tools for fast, efficient construction of loop based compositions, ACID is the way to go.  The good stuff is all here.  Fast creation of music, export to wave, mp3 and other formats.  You can track alongside a video file, make a surround mix, go crazy with automation. 

You can find out more about ACID 4.0 at Sonic Foundry's Site  It's available in packaged or downloadable form. 

 

All the best,

Rich the TweakMeister