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Amadeus Pro: The Classic Continues

If the Book of Ecclesiastes were written today, it might include some jaded commentary on the plethora and ephemerality of computer programs – something along these lines: “Software cometh and software passeth away, and countless as the sands are the reviews thereof.” Nevertheless, those sands do conceal an occasional treasure; and one such is Martin Hairer’s Amadeus.

Amadeus is a sound file editor. I’ve been using it for over six years, for a variety of purposes, and throughout that time it has remained firmly and indispensably central to my sound-processing activities. It has an amazing breadth of abilities, combining serious power with delightful simplicity, at an astonishingly low price. To use it is to love it.

As of mid-January 2007, Amadeus comes in two versions. The program I’ve been using all this time, properly called Amadeus II, is a Carbon program. The current version of Amadeus II (3.8.7) runs natively under Mac OS X, and also works fine under Mac OS 9.2. (If you’re still reveling in the retro experience, you can even obtain an earlier, unsupported version that runs under Mac OS 8.6.) The “II,” by the way, was added to the name years ago, when the original Amadeus, which could run on a 68K Macintosh, was updated to version 2.0 and became PowerPC-only.

Amadeus II, however, runs under Rosetta on an Intel-based Mac. The developer recognized that an Intel-native incarnation was desirable, and took the opportunity to update the program to a Cocoa interface. This update has been released as Amadeus Pro, a universal binary with a somewhat broader feature set than its predecessor.

Past and Present — My affection for Amadeus is intimately bound up with how I came to start using it and the sorts of thing I’ve done with it over the years. Back in the days before Mac OS X, in December 2000, I looked sadly at my massive collection of cassette tapes, thought about all those little magnetic particles silently hydrolyzing or falling off or whatever evil deteriorative activity they were indulging in, and resolved to transfer all this music into a digital format before it evaporated forever.

My working method began with a play-through of the cassette, recording it onto the computer as an AIFF file, using a wonderful piece of freeware called Coaster. This turned each entire side of the cassette into a single sound file. But what I wanted were multiple sound files containing individual songs, and that’s where Amadeus entered the story. (I use the word “song” loosely, in the way that iTunes does; on an audio CD these would be called “tracks,” but the word “track” has another usage in Amadeus Pro, similar to its use in GarageBand or iMovie, so I’m deliberately avoiding ambiguity.)

So, I opened the file using Amadeus, which showed me the waveforms of the right and left stereo channels, along with an overview of the entire file. I could use the overview to help navigate. I could zoom in and out to see waveform details or to get the larger picture. I could click to start playing at a certain point, or play a selected region. I could insert a bookmark designating a point of interest in the file, and navigate to it easily later on. And of course I could cut and paste a selected section of the waveform. Thus, it was simple for me to work my way through the file, finding the start and end of each individual song on the tape, and marking those points. Then later I would use those bookmarks to select one song at a time, along with a little of the surrounding silence, and copy and save that selection as an individual song file.

Doubtless that sounds extremely simple – as, indeed, it was. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, though, is that it was simple in part because Amadeus made it simple. Over the years since then I’ve used many other sound-editing programs, but none that lets me interact so directly and simply with a waveform. Certain acts and gestures are fundamental to working with sound files: play from a point, stop, have the insertion point either remain where you stopped or return to where you started playing from; zoom in or out; select; copy and paste; navigate within a large file. Every other sound-editing program manages somehow to make one or more of these acts difficult, clumsy, or frustrating. Amadeus has always been a model of sparkling ease and clarity in this regard; I find it nearly impossible to perform detailed editing of a sound in any other application.

Moreover, Amadeus has evolved since the year 2000, so that to perform that same task of recording a large sound file and splitting it into songs today is even easier. First of all, Amadeus now has the capability to record, and I often recommend it for that purpose. Second, Amadeus now has a feature allowing you to search your file for clips. (This feature, like several others, was added at my suggestion. A “clip” is a place where the recorded signal was too loud for the system and exceeded its maximum bandwidth, so that the top or bottom of the wave was cut off; it is crucial that your recording contain no clips, since when played they sound like little explosions and are bad for your equipment.) Third, Amadeus can split a file at its bookmarks, so it’s sufficient to go through the file, mark the start and end of every song, and let Amadeus break it up for you. In fact, Amadeus can even help you isolate the individual songs by marking areas of silence automatically.

Now here comes my second major use of Amadeus. Having broken up the file into individual songs, I examine each song for clicks and pops. (Many of my tapes came originally from vinyl LPs, which often had scratches or foreign matter on the record surface.) You can find these by listening, or else you can let Amadeus search for them, selecting each spot that it thinks might be a click. When you find one, you use the Interpolate function; Amadeus smoothes out the jagged interruption of the selected click into something based on the surrounding sound, so it magically vanishes and becomes just part of the music (or, in more difficult cases, a barely audible glitch).

This feature alone is worth its weight in gold. I’ve tried many other programs, some of them quite high-end, for removing clicks and pops; none of them does the job as well as walking through the file with Amadeus. (Actually, an application called ClickRepair has recently emerged, and does a splendid job of automated de-clicking; even so, I find that my results are improved if I use it in combination with manual de-clicking in Amadeus.)

The Interpolate feature is also great for joining pasted material smoothly. For example, I’ve sometimes cut out the coughing between songs in a live recording, or, in a recording of myself speaking, I’ve removed a verbal stumble, a breathing noise, or an overly long silence; after such a cut, the waveforms at the point of removal don’t match up, until Interpolate turns the break into a smooth, undetectable join. Alternatively I might use, at such places, an Amadeus feature called Transition, where the material on the two sides of the discontinuity is shifted together so as to overlap along with a crossfade.

Features and Futures — Often, as a song is about to achieve its final form, I use some additional features of Amadeus. If the recording has some hiss or other low-level noise, I might use Fade In at the start and Fade Out at the finish, so the sound doesn’t begin and end abruptly. Typically, to avoid clips, my recording is a little softer than it needs to be; one would usually prefer to make the fullest possible use of the available bandwidth, with the loudest part of the signal nearly as loud as the maximum allowable. Amadeus’s Normalize function takes care of that for me.

Also, there is Amadeus’s capability to open and save a wide variety of sound file formats, converting as necessary. For example, these days I typically record in 24-bit AIFF format. If I want to make an MP3 file from such a recording, I have to convert to a WAV first, because my preferred MP3 compressor is LAME, which doesn’t understand 24-bit AIFF files. Since I’ve typically been working in Amadeus anyway towards the end of the preparation process, I use it to save as a WAV. (You can save as an MP3 directly from Amadeus, which has LAME built in; but Amadeus II doesn’t let me tweak LAME with the command-line arguments I prefer.)

Amadeus can also apply filters, including any VST or Audio Unit filters you have, along with some specialized equalization filters for processing files made from phonograph records. However, the crudeness of the interface limits the usefulness of these features: filter settings interfaces are presented in a modal dialog, which means that you can’t select different regions of your sound to audition, and there are no facilities for adjusting the wet/dry mix, A/B comparison of different settings, and so forth. For this reason, I generally apply filters using a more advanced program specifically aimed at hosting them, such as DSP-Quattro.

Features that I’ve used less often include Amadeus’s capabilities to change a sound’s pitch, with or without changing its speed; to reverse a sound; and to provide a graphic analysis of a sound’s frequency components as a spectrum or as a sonogram.

Amadeus Pro introduces two major features. One is that a sound file can now contain multiple tracks, each with its own adjustable amplitude envelope. So, for instance, one track might be the two stereo channels of an accompaniment, while the other might be the single channel of a voice track. Thus, Amadeus Pro invites use as a mixing program. Such use would probably be limited to combining existing material, however, since you can’t (except in the most rudimentary fashion) record one track while listening to another. The other new feature is batch processing, enabling you to do such things as normalize and convert the file format of multiple files with a single command.

Conclusions — Although I’m pleased to see Amadeus II modernized into Amadeus Pro, and although Amadeus Pro is a universal binary, sports a Cocoa interface, and is in some respects better behaved than Amadeus II (in particular with regard to its memory management and its use of the computer’s CPU), I can’t help feeling that something has been lost in the translation. The basic action of selection and repeated playback has become fussier and more confusing, in part thanks to a newly introduced differentiation between the playback head position and the insertion point. And Amadeus II’s facility for letting you adjust the sensitivity parameters used when seeking suspected clicks and pops is completely missing in Amadeus Pro. For these and other reasons, I’ll probably continue to stick with Amadeus II for a while yet.

When considering Amadeus, you must take into account, I think, four things: your own needs and experience; the breadth, variety, and downright generosity of the program’s features; the interface; and the price. The combination is unbeatable, making Amadeus the single basic sound editor that every beginner should have. There are, and I have used, many other sound editors, ranging from freeware to high-end; but for basic editing actions, such as splitting a sound file into songs, adjusting and fading its endpoints, cutting out material and seamlessly joining the remainder, and converting from one format to another, Amadeus is the tool to which I always return. Add to that its unparalleled capability to detect and nullify individual clicks and pops, and you can see why it has been a staple of my sound-processing repertory since the day I first used it.

Amadeus Pro is $40 ($25 for registered Amadeus II users). It requires Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or higher, and is a universal binary. It’s a 12 MB download, and is available as a 30-day demo. Amadeus II costs $30 (free, on request, for registered Amadeus Pro users). It requires Mac OS 9.2 or higher, and runs natively on Mac OS X (under Rosetta on an Intel-based Mac). A 15-day demo is available as a 3 MB download.

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