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REVIEW: Soundbooth CS4

Soundbooth CS4 box

There are two applications I think of when I think of Adobe Labs: Lightroom and Soundbooth. These were the two applications I played with the most back when they were mere beta versions; now Soundbooth and Lightroom both are version 2, though Soundbooth is known as Soundbooth CS4. Both applications are quality products even though they are only in their second major release, and I think it’s because of all the mileage put upon them by users during the beta testing periods.

Multitrack support is here

Soundbooth CS4 multitrack

Multiple tracks are in Soundbooth CS4—’nuff said. Click the image for a better view.

I use Soundbooth mostly for cleaning up audio and editing for Flash multimedia, but there’s more to it than that—especially with some of Soundbooth CS4’s newest features such as multiple track support. Soundbooth CS4 users can add multiple audio and video tracks, making the program a lot more flexible and useful.

Volume correction

I love this feature: Soundbooth CS4 can correct volume across multiple files so they are the same volume. It’s a comparable thing to Photoshop’s Match Color command. Depending upon microphone setup, sometimes you can get some excessive loudness or softness in a clip—or maybe you have clips for speech, background music and sound effects. With Match Volume, it’s an easy process to synchronize their volume.

Soundbooth CS4 match volume

Clips’ volumes can be matched in Soundbooth CS4.

You can either match volume to synchronize the peak volumes, average volumes or sync to one of the selected files. This is the setting I use the most if one of my clips has good volume. It works very well and doesn’t take long—maybe 15 seconds or so to match one clip to another.

Along with Volume Correction’s Match Volume option, you’ll find a tab for equalizing volume. This process is designed to equalize volume in a single clip.

Searching for speech

Soundbooth CS4 has new “Speech Search technology” that allows the application to process sound clips and transcribe speech as metadata text. This is a wonderful new feature if you handle a lot of speech clips and need to transcribe them! It takes some time to process and transcribe speech but not an excessive amount—it took me 2–3 minutes to transcribe a 6:40 clip at the medium setting and 2 minutes to transcribe a 0:20 clip at the high setting.

Soundbooth CS4 speech search

The Speech Search capabilities in Soundbooth CS4 are impressive but they require a clean clip—no noise or music—and even then it’s designed to pick up just enough metadata for the main points.

I tested Speech Search on three clips: a song with lyrics, a 40-year-old British radiocast with good quality and a present-day movie clip of two men talking in a quiet room. The Soundbooth team tells me Speech Search is designed to capture enough keywords to identify points on the timeline, and it isn’t optimized to capture keywords in lyrics or poor quality clips. This was my experience with the first two clips, though the second (the British radiocast) did capture some quality keywords. The third clip had the best results but it was not good enough to get a fairly complete transcription. The Soundbooth team said they are continuing to develop Speech Search, and currently the best way to optimize its effectiveness is to work with high-quality voice clips and/or clean the noise with Soundbooth’s tools.

Better looping

Soundbooth CS4 beats

The beat indicators are shown in orange.

Since I often design sounds for Flash, loops and looping are very important to my work. Soundbooth CS4 has improved its looping capabilities with automatic beat detection—beats show up in the Editor as orange lines, and it helps when finding good in and out points. There were two aspects of the beat indicator feature that bothered me, but there are workarounds:

  • “Show Beat Indicators” is off by default, because it takes some processor power to have it on all the time. If you enable beat indicators in the View menu, the setting will remain even if you end the current session and begin a new one.
  • In and out points normally do not snap to a beat indicator. This can be changed with View > Snapping > Snap to Beats.

Adobe Sound Documents and Adobe Dynamic Link

Adobe has positioned Soundbooth CS4 to be a more integral part of the CS4 Production Premium suite with two new technologies: the non-destructive Adobe Sound Document (ASND) file format and the Adobe Dynamic Link, which links assets like sound files with larger projects in other CS4 applications. Dynamic Link is particularly helpful because sound and other supporting files can be linked directly to Premiere Pro CS4 and After Effects CS4 project files, and a change in a sound file with Soundbooth CS4 will show up in the other projects linked to it. ASND works with Premiere, After Effects and also Flash CS4 Professional, making round-trip editing easier.

Soundbooth CS4 dynamic link

Right-click on the movie clip and you can either Render And Replace or, thanks to the new Dynamic Link, Edit Source File and work with the clip in its native application.

MP3 compression preview

One more small change has been made to Soundbooth CS4, but it’s quite a time-saver so I’ll elaborate: the MP3 output dialog box now has a compression preview button so you can hear the sound quality before actually exporting. I am always fiddling with various exports and trying them out to check quality, so being able to do this before actually processing the export is a big benefit. The Flash development team should consider doing something similar in the Flash Media Encoder CS4!


Now that Soundbooth is in the Creative Suite 4, it has become my go-to application for audio work. Other applications can do similar things and some do it better, but since Soundbooth CS4 is tied into the other CS4 apps including Flash CS4 Professional I have an easier time working with it. The failure of Speech Search to catch the speech is a glaring problem, and I hope it will be improved upon in the next version.

Soundbooth CS4
Adobe Systems
Rating: 8/10
US$199/$79 upgrade