Peak 4.1, by BIAS
Posted: 16-Mar-2004

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: BIAS Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: MULTIMEDIA

Description
BIAS Peak 4.1 is a professional stereo audio recording, editing, mastering, and processing application. The vendor describes Peak as the "Photoshop" of audio editors. Peak is not session oriented, such as digital audio workstations (DAW) are (e.g., Logic Audio and Pro Tools). Peak is file oriented, meaning that you open an audio file and begin editing. It isn't designed to replace a DAW system, but to live alongside it (much like Quark lives alongside Photoshop). Peak provides powerful features for recording in mono or stereo, mastering a CD, editing the audio from a video project, designing sounds for a video game, or archiving old LPs and cassettes into digital format. Peak supports resolutions up to 32-bit and sampling rates up to 10 Mhz, and supports a wide range of audio formats. It supports VST plug-ins and Audio Units plug-ins.

Peak was the first audio editing software available for Mac OS X. It has evolved on the Mac platform, but this is my first look at it. My experience with audio editing software goes back to SoundEdit 16 for Mac OS 9. Not having experienced the previous version of Peak (version 3), I will note some of the updates included with Peak 4. Its interface has changed from the Jaguar-style windows to Panther metallic windows, and the toolbar buttons now reside in its own window that can be moved and resized.

Peak 4.1 includes Roxio Jam, CD burning software for Mac OS X, and SFX Machine LT, a limited edition of the popular multi-effects sound design plug-in. The inclusion of Jam with Peak creates a complete solution for stereo recording, editing, processing, and mastering. The addition of SFX Machine Lite adds additional sound design features to Peak's robust DSP arsenal.

Features

  • Waveform editing
  • Displays multiple documents simultaneously
  • Multithreaded processing and compatible with multi-processor (MP) Macs
  • Unlimited Undo/Redo with independent graphic edit history for each audio document
  • User-definable display size and color
  • Supports built-in Mac I/O, plus OS X and Core Audio-compatible audio hardware
  • Full DSP (Digital Signal Processing) Toolset, including Fade In/Out, Normalize, Gain Envelope, ImpulseVerb, Reverse, Invert, Harmonic Rotate. Rappify, ultraaccurate Pow-r dithering, Convolve, Reverse Boomerang, Convert sample rate, Mix, Change Pitch, Panner, Amplitude Fit, Find Peak, Bit Usage Graph and more
  • Sophisticated playlist featuring advanced crossfades, real-time effects, and Nudge Regions window
  • Bit depths up to 32-bit
  • Sample rates up to 10Mhz
  • Advanced looping tools-- including Loop Surfer, LoopTuner, Crossfade Loop and Guess Tempo
  • AudioUnit plug-in and VST plug-in support
  • Over 25 VST audio effects plug-ins bundled free
  • Automated Repair Clicks and Remove DC Offset
  • ImpulseVerb -- instantly applies recorded room ambiance to any audio document
  • Reads/writes multiple file formats -- even MP3 and AAC (MP4)
  • Full-featured batch processing options -- including Export Regions and much more
  • Dynamically resizable and customizable toolbar and keyboard shortcuts
  • Supports DV standard (16-bit/48kHz) without additional hardware


Requirements

  • G3 or better Apple Macintosh, iBook or PowerBook
  • Mac OS 10.2 or higher
  • 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
  • 80 MB available disk space
  • 18 ms hard drive (average seek time) or faster
  • QuickTime 5.0 or later
  • ImpulseVerb requires a G4 processor or faster
  • Support for third-party audio hardware may require compatible CoreAudio drivers

Price

Peak 4 retails for $499.


Installation
Peak installs easily from the CD that comes with the commercial package. After installing the software from the CD, an OS X package named
"Peak 4 (G4+)" is placed into your Applications folder. Upon running Peak the first time, you are asked to enter in the license number, and then you can begin using the software.

In Use
Peak comes with an extensive set of menus and toolbar providing a lot of audio editing features at your fingertips. To start off with, you can open an audio file, or import a CD track or a dual mono track. With the audio file open, the audio is displayed in familiar wave form, with a timeline at the bottom. The spectrum analysis of the audio is spectacular.

A helpful feature on this window is the triangle button at the top left. Clicking on this triangle expands the window and inserts a full view of the entire audio file at the top. That way while you're scanning through the audio file piece by piece, you always have a full visual of the entire file, and you can see where in the file you are currently located.


Peak Audio Edit Window

The Peak toolbar includes buttons grouped by category, and includes file I/O functions, editing functions, navigating functions, and DSP (Digital Signal Processing) functions. All of these functions are available from the menus as well, but the toolbar provides much quicker access. The toolbar does take getting used to, as most of the icons on the buttons are going to be unfamiliar to non-Peak users. You'll be using the helpful popup text descriptions for awhile to help you determine what each of the buttons do.


Peak Toolbar

The menu system includes many more options than just available on the toolbar, and is broken down as follows:

  • File: I/O functions, including import and export
  • Edit: Editing functions, including setting up insertion points
  • Action: Navigation functions, such as zoom, nudge, and markers, and also includes a "Loop Surfer"
  • Audio: Typical player controls, such as play, stop, forward and backward (also includes record and hardware settings)
  • DSP: Digital Signal Processing tools, commonly referred to as Filters in other audio applications
  • Sampler: Allows you to transfer audio to and from SMDI Samplers
  • Plug-ins: Allows you to insert VST plug-ins
  • Options: Various Peak options, such as Scroll During Display, Show Cursor Info, and Auto-snap to Zero, for example
  • Window: Opens, closes, and activates various Peak windows
  • Links: Web links related to Peak support

Peak supports opening files from a variety of formats, including AIFF, Sound Designer II, WAVE, QuickTime, .dv, Raw, System 7 Sound, Sonic AIFF, Paris, Jam Image, AU, MP3, and MP4. In one test I wanted to work with OGG audio files, but unfortunately that is not one of the formats Peak supports (although Amadeus II does support that format). Another problem I noticed when opening files is that it doesn't handle long filenames very well. It opens the audio file just fine, but the long file name gets truncated.

At first usage, the interface felt very simple to use, sporting a Mac savvy GUI. After spending some time with the software, however, I began to find holes in the interface; namely, in the lack of intuitiveness, and in some cases, inappropriate behaviors. Small little things started to add up, such as the very confusing way it supports plug-ins. There's a Plug-ins menu that has choices for "Insert 1", "Insert 2", etc.. Within each insert is a submenu for VST and AudioUnits. Then, within the VST submenu is a list of the available plug-ins, such as "BIAS Freq4", "BIAS Sqweez", "vbox", etc.. Once one of these is selected, it opens a window for that specific plug-in, and that plug-in becomes an option under the "Windows" menu. A Windows menu typically displays all of the available open windows in the application, but if you close the plug-in window, it still shows up as an option under the windows menu. The "insert" action put it there, not the fact that you opened the window. Mac users may have trouble getting used to this (I know I did).


BIAS Freq4 VST Plug-in

There is a lack of consistency with the plug-in windows, both in behavior and theme. It is also a study to figure out how to use each one, as their function is not intuitively obvious. The VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plug-ins themselves, however, provide some powerful functionality that I have not seen in any other audio editing program before. For instance, BIAS Freq is a professional caliber 4-band equalizer supporting from -18 db to +18 db gain values, 0.1 to 10 Q (bandwidth) values, and more. BIAS Sqweez is a professional quality compressor/limiter that provides independent input/output meters, threshold, gain, attack, release, ratio, and knee controls, as well as auto-gain and soft clip modes. The vbox plug-in window starts with an empty 4x4 "matrix", and you can assign and control various VST plug-ins in each slot of the matrix.


BIAS Sqweez VST Plug-in

For the most part, I found Peak to be quite reliable in terms of functionality, and although the interface is not always intuitive, it did feel pretty stable. I did have a problem in one situation where I opened two files at the same time. While the first file was playing, I opened the second file, and the controller window continue to show "play" action even though the second file was now in the foreground and it was not playing. After I clicked the play button off, clicking play again resulted in neither file playing. Even after closing one window, the play button did not activate. I had to click into the waveform window to trigger the play to begin.

Another interface oddity is the Preferences. The Preferences window is basically a list of bubbles, with each bubble depicting a particular preference group (e.g., "Colors", "Scratch Disks", "Blending", etc.). Clicking on the button opens another window with the preference options. The Mac savvy may expect all of the options to be in the same window, with the preference categories as tabs such that clicking a tab simply changes the options within the window. Peak's button approach is a little different, but is perfectly functional, and I didn't have a problem with it.

Some other interface issues: If you choose to burn a CD even with no audio window open, it still asks you to insert a blank CD. What is it going to burn? When I was savings files, at one point the File menu had all of it's "save" options disabled. I let go of mouse, went back to the menu, and the options were enabled. In one test I saved an audio file as "Anahl Nathraq.mp3", yet the saved file was actually "Anahl Nathraq.mov". The option to choose the MP3 format was grayed, and it appears to just switch to .mov without a prompt that it's going to save under a different name than the one you typed in.

Interface issues aside, Peak offers some serious professional stereo audio editing and processing capabilities, and does support a "bus load" of different formats. Peak includes some great features for creating CDs, such as the ability to include track indexes, track names, and ISRC codes for the production of commercial CDs. It supports DJ-quality crossfades between tracks, performs automatic adjustments to normalize the tracks (so that there is consistency in the CD), supports the Jam audio format, and much more. For creating duplicate-ready commercial CDs, Peak really shines.

I'm a hobbyist audio editor, and there is more features to Peak than I'll probably ever use. However, I enjoyed playing with the different features, especially the BIAS Freq4 plug-in (great for setting input/output levels and adjusting frequencies). For users of other audio editing tools that are geared for hobbyists, most of the features you are familiar with (that you usually find under the "Filters" menu) are available in Peak under the DSP menu. These are features such as Fade In, Fade Out, Gain Envelope, Change Pitch, etc.. Peak filters go beyond those basics, however, and includes even more functions. Some of these extras include Harmonic Rotate, Phase Vocoder, Rappify, and Reverse Boomerang. These features may not be for everyone, but for the professional audio editor, it's good to know that they are all there if you need them.

So is Peak the "Photoshop" of audio editing? Like Photoshop, there are more features and functions in Peak that most people will ever use, and it does give you an amazing amount of power for audio editing. Both Photoshop and Peak are more useful as you learn more about what it has to offer and how it works. Photoshop, however, is far superior in the user interface, as it is more Mac savvy than Peak and far more intuitive.

In addition to all that Peak has to offer, Peak 4.1 also comes with two additional programs, SFXMachine LT and Roxio Jam 6.

Documentation
Understanding Peak by just experimenting will not get you very far. At some point you will need to explore the documentation. Peak comes with a paper Users Manual in the retail box, and the software has a "Help" option under the "Peak" menu that takes you to the
Bias web site where a lot of PDF documents are available. The Peak Users Guide is quite extensive, and both helpful and necessary in getting the most out of the software. Besides explaining how to use Peak, it also explains what each of the filters and plug-ins are used for.

Summary
Bias Peak 4.1 is the most extensive audio editing application I have worked with. I am a hobbyist when it comes to audio editing, and have used tools such as SoundEdit 16 in Mac OS 9, and Amadeus II in Mac OS X. Peak's features far exceeds both of these audio editing tools. Peak provides an arsenol of filters, and a lot of editing functionality, but it also includes some amazing audio plug-ins, such as Bias Freq4 and Bias Sqweez. For those looking to create professional quality CDs, Peak offers a lot of features centric to CD production, and also comes with Roxio Jam, a CD burning tool. In terms of features, Peak 4.1 truly is the "Photoshop" of audio editing, but it has a lot of catching up to do with regards to its user interface. There are enough inconsistent and non-intuitive behaviors in Peak 4.1 to cause the average Mac user a bit of frustration. The learning curve for figuring out how to get the most out of the software is quite high as well, but the Users Manual is very extensive and quite helpful for getting up to speed. There may be a lot more functionality in Peak than the hobbyist audio editor has need for, so for the cost advantage, you may want to check out less expensive and less capable products, such as Amadeus II. For those looking for more out of audio editing software, whether an ambitious hobbyist, a professional sound editor, or someone who wants to produce professional quality CDs, Bias Peak 4.1 has a lot to offer. Add in SFXMachine LT and Roxio Jam 6, and Peak 4.1 is an excellent and well-rounded professional audio editing package.


Pros

  • Powerful set of features and filters for audio editing
  • Make professional quality CDs
  • VST plug-ins
  • Includes Roxio Jam 6 and SFXMachine LT
  • Excellent documentation

Cons

  • VST plug-ins and some other features are not intuitive
  • Inconsistent and unexpected behaviors in some functions
  • Does not support OGG audio for input
  • Steep learning curve
  • May be overkill for the average audio editing hobbyist


Overall Rating:

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice