When Sony Pictures Digital acquired Sonic Foundry desktop software assets earlier in 2003, you couldn't help but wonder how the acquisition might affect Sonic Foundry's flagship product, the ACID music mixing software. Long a favorite of musicians and filmmakers—of both hobbyist and pro varieties—ACID was simply too good a product to mess with, and thankfully the folks at Sony realized that. Now called Screenblast ACID 4.0, the tool is as robust and feature-rich as ever, and with a membership to Sony's Screenblast Web site, it's also more in tune than ever with the needs of digital video pros.
This review marked the first time I "did ACID," though I'd seen the product in action many times in friends' home recording studios and in the tightly controlled conditions of the trade show demo booth, as well as using a limited version found on the Standing in the Shadows of Motown DVD. Each time, I watched the creation of full audio tracks from the ground up, either built with Sonic Foundry's sound clips or from original vocal and instrumental input that was far beyond my meager musical skills. Needless to say, I was a bit intimidated by the thought of building tracks myself, despite my friends'—and Sonic Foundry reps'—assurances: "It's easy. Trust me."
Turns out they were right. Using loops and one-time audio clips (things like cymbal crashes not designed to be looped) and video clips from the Screenblast Web site—which costs $39.95 for an annual subscription—I was soon creating a hip-hop/rock soundtrack to aerial footage of the Los Angeles night sky. It's something of a trial-and-error process, mixing and matching the right bassline to the right percussion loop, figuring out if I could make a heavy metal guitar riff work in the context of a hip-hop beat. Screenblast organizes and names the clips by style and tempo, though, so you can get a pretty good idea what will work without even previewing. The tracks all show up in the Track Header window, which will be familiar to anyone who's worked in a DVD authoring timeline. In addition to clocking minutes, seconds, and tenths-of-seconds, the time display also shows measures, beats, and ticks. But the timeline display renders such digital clocking almost unnecessary. Then in the Track Properties window, you can adjust the pitch and tempo (two separate functions; ACID will increase or decrease tempo without changing pitch) of each track to better match the mood and speed of the video clip.
The ACID FX window lets you add distortion, EQ, low-frequency delay, and reverb, as well as a flange/wah function that's new in version 4. The most important addition to version 4 is surround sound capability, and with a plug-in pack from Screenblast you can create full surround mixes for DVD with Dolby digital sound and animate surround-sound panning. (Unfortunately, none of the EMedia testbeds is outfitted with 5.1 soundcards, so we didn't get to test that feature.) ACID also includes the ability to create MIDI tracks either input from a MIDI instrument or created within the software's MIDI editor. That's a lot of professional-level power in a tool that's both easy to use and boasts consumer-level pricing. And considering that the Screenblast subscription gives you more than 200 video clips and well over 1,000 loops, music clips, and sound effects—all royalty-free—even the novice can get into top-shelf soundtrack creation for around $120. Kudos to Sony for making a good thing even better.
Minimum system requirements: Windows 98SE, 2000 or XP; 400mHz processor; 64MB RAM; 80MB available HDD space for installation; Microsoft DirectX or later.