SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 4 Music Creation Software Review
$800

SmartSound

8550 Balboa Blvd., Ste. 180

Northridge, CA 91325

(800) 454-1900

www.smartsound.com

Are You In The Mood?

SmartSound's Sonicfire Pro 4 offers a unique and innovative music composition experience that is easy to use. It's a great tool for any professional videographer who wants more control over the mood and mix of music compositions, without the burden of micro-managing individual notes and melodies.

Tuning Your Orchestra

Installing the software was a snap on a Dual 1.25GHz Mac G4 Desktop with 2GB of RAM (see below for system requirements.) The Mega Bundle includes all 10 volumes to date of the Strata Series music library. Every track of this series has up to 8 individual instrumentation layers, which Sonicfire Pro 4 utilizes for its Mood Mapping feature (more on this later.) Installing 10 volumes will take up roughly 22 gigabytes of hard drive space and about a good half-hour of your time. It's not mandatory to install every volume at once, but saves you from having to keep each volume disc handy whenever you want to preview or install a track. Also, if you are upgrading from an earlier version, Sonicfire Pro 4 allows for migrating your sound files to the new software.

The location for installing the music tracks is configurable to any drive connected to your system. Any folder can be set as the default for multiple imports. You can also configure additional locations for Sonicfire to search for other music or sound effect files. In this way, the software becomes a true multi-track audio composer and not just limited to its own music.

Big Picture, Big Sound

The interface of Sonicfire Pro 4 is rather intuitive and allows you to compose music with the big picture in mind. SmartSound also has a free tutorial on its website, (www.smartsound.com), which helps you get a sense of the workflow. One of the key features of this software is the Maestro window. Maestro catalogs all your music volumes into tracks, making it easy to customize a search for a particular track based on keywords. You can search for a particular instrument, musical style, intensity, music library, or a keyword. It can also query SmartSound's We site for music, so you can preview and purchase new music.

Back On Track

The real beauty of this software lies in its multi-layered tracks. These tracks allow you to do several key things to your music composition. First, you can make a Strata Series track any length by simply dragging the beginning or end of a track forwards or backwards to your desired length. Each track is built with a series of "Blocks" which are essentially just music loops. And, each layer of each track has its own blocks. So, when you extend the length of a track, Sonicfire Pro adds more blocks to your track. You can also customize your scores by building each track from scratch using the Blocks from a selected track. The program will help you choose which blocks fit best by highlighting complimentary blocks in the Tracks and Block window. This feature is critical to fine tuning the sound, although there are limitations as to how much creativity can actually be poured into predetermined musical blocks.

In the Mood

Mood Mapping is the prized feature of this program that allows you to change the mix of a multi-layered track. To find those key moments in your video where the music needs to change, you can import and sync your video to the audio timeline as easily as clicking the import video button.

Essentially, what Mood Mapping does is change the volume levels of specific instrumentation layers to preset Moods. In this way you can have a music track playback full-throttle in the "Full" preset, then transition to a "Dialogue" preset by ducking down the instrumentation layers (i.e. Lead Guitar) that compete with a voice over or dialogue. In this way, Mood Mapping gives you a more professional sounding mix, because you won't have to compromise the whole gain of a music track for dialogue. There are other Mood presets, too, depending on the track. "Mysterious," for example, will keep the synth and choir layers up high while dropping the percussion to give it that mystery feeling. Furthermore, the transitions from one mood to another are made with key frames in the mood track of every music track. You can customize the speed of the transitions so that the mix slowly fades up or down.

Feeling Good, Feeling Great

While you can't change a funky song to a classical orchestra with mood mapping, the feature allows you to make more professional sounding mixes. After years of ducking down entire music beds to hear a voice over, this feature is a real treat. Professional music producers have been perfecting mixes to meet certain moods and needs for video and now it can be done quickly and easily with Sonicfire Pro 4. So long as SmartSound continues to offer new Strata Series music libraries, Sonicfire Pro 4 could be the easiest, most dynamic music composing software around. Make sure to check out the trial version on SmartSound's Web site.

TECH SPECS

Compatible Audio: AIFF, MP3, SDS, SSUP, WAV

Compatible Video: AVI, MOV, MPEG-1, WMV (Windows), MPEG-4 (Mac)

OS: Mac OS 10.4 or Higher/Microsoft Windows XP SP1 or better

Processor: PowerPC G4 or G5/Intel 1GHz Pentium or equivalent, 256MB RAM, 50MB hard drive space (minimum), DVD-ROM Drive, Speakers/Headphones, QuickTime 6.0.1 or newer, Windows Media Player 9 or newer (PC only)

STRENGTHS

  • Intuitive design
  • Mood mapping
  • Easy learning curve

WEAKNESSES

  • Limited music library

SUMMARY

Sonicfire Pro 4 magically fits music built according to the desired mood exactly to the length of any project on a Mac or PC.

Mark Montgomery is a producer for commercial television.

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