Acon Digital Acoustica 7 Premium Edition by DennisFor
audio editor and "mini-DAW"
Just a side note: Sorry if there are some grammatical mistakes, I'm quite fluent in English but it is not my native language (I am from Switzerland).
I am an old musician from the analogue days. Since I gradually switched to the digital world about 20 years ago, one of my priorities has always been to use programs and plugins that are as intuitive and simple as possible on the one hand, yet still without lacking nor quality nor essential features to work on a high level on the other hand. I don't like programs or plugins with lots of gadgets or additional features that only distract from what's essential and where you need a long time to get familiar with.
I play guitars and bass, and record, mix and master Rock, Pop, Country, Folk. For the recording process, I still mainly work just like in the analogue days, i.e. recording tracks all through with real musicians (except sometimes for the drums when live-drums are not available) - still the best procedure to make a production sound "alive" by the way.
Within the years, I have found the DAWs, plugins and musical programs that fit my needs. One thing was missing, though: a good audio-editor, especially for delicate restoration and editing purposes. Everybody who records acoustic instruments (especially string instruments) or vocals knows the problem of having a great track but with some annoying noise(s) in it, such as clicks, crackles, pops, bangs etc. I had tried out various restoration plugins to solve this inevitable problem, nothing really convinced me.
Another important aspect for me was - since I always have been teaching, too - to find a simple DAW with which beginners could learn the basics and principles of (digital) audio production, without getting confused by hundreds of additional features, yet still on a high quality level to create great results.
That is why I decided to write this review and entitled it "an insider tip for professionals and beginners", based on my personal experience as a musician, producer and teacher, as other idealists do and have done for other products on the net and really helped me to better understand the digital music world doing so. I am convinced of the product - and I can assure you by the way that I have no shares or privileges with Acon Digital whatsoever... .
"Acoustica v.7" audio-editor
Acon Digital is the maker of "Acoustica" and of excellent plugins and restoration tools, too. Only a few weeks ago I was given the hint about "Restoration Suite" (a plugin that includes DeClick, DeClip, DeNoise, DeHum) and especially about the audio-editor "Acoustica v.7" that fully integrates "Restoration Suite" in the Premium Edition, along with additional restoration tools, such as spectral cleaning, and so many other plugins and tools for all editing-, tracking-, mixing- and mastering-tasks. A fully featured audio-editor, simple and intuitive to use, but even a "mini-DAW" (cf. further below, chapter "mini-DAW"):
restoration and spectral cleaning: from my experience the best restoration tools I have ever used and which you could only dream of in the analogue days... . Spectral Cleaning is only available in the Premium Edition and is ideal for delicate tasks by applying repair tools across time and/or frequency, which allows to clean up a noise at a certain frequency without affecting the frequencies of the same band where there is no noise. Here, Acoustica really shines.
editing: from basic to most subtle tasks, everything you need is available, e.g. the fantastic time stretch- and transposition tools, no artifacts when used within a reasonable range.
mastering: all you would expect from a professional mastering editor:
recording in editor: one track at a time in the Standard Edition, and Premium Edition also supports simultaneous multichannel audio recording, editing and rendering in up to 8 channels, such as 5.1 and 7.1 surround.
simple recording and mixing in Multitrack-Session: unlimited tracks, time stretch clips, automate volume, pan and send levels (Multitrack-Session tracks have less features available than the full editor).
possibility to open several tabs in one project (you can compare different masters or mixes, or to reference tracks)
installing both 32Bit-version and 64Bit-version in parallel: this way you can work with 32Bit VST plugins when needed. There is no built in VST-bridge as in the DAW "Reaper" e.g. (but I would generally recommend to use 32Bit plugins only in a 32Bit-program anyway). Installation goes very easily and smoothly.
Some people (like me before I bought Acoustica) might get confused about the terms "multichannel" and "multitrack session". So let me shortly explain: You have 3 different possibilities when you open a new project:
- New Recording = opens the full editor, as described above, with all possibilities available. Here, you can record, edit and render a mono or stereo track, or (only in the Premium Edition) up to 8 channels (= multichannel). Ideal for people who work in Surround 5.1 or 7.1.
- New Multitrack Session = opens a new tab for recording and mixing as many tracks as you like, as described above.
- New CD Project
Remark about older VST 32Bit-plugins that Acoustica might have problems to recognize - it can even crash, as it did in my case.
Here is a tip from Terry West (Terry West Productions, who by the way also makes excellent plugins only few people know about, and ridiculously cheap, yet only in VST 32Bit, cf. also further below chapter "Acon Digital"). This tip might also work for other 32Bit plugins Acoustica cannot recognize:
"By default Windows does not allow saving to your VST Plugins folder. This prevents our VSTs from extracting the embedded dll's to disk. You can fix this by changing the folder's Permissions:
- Use Windows Explorer to browse to your VST Plugins folder.
- Right-click the folder - 'Properties'
- Choose 'Security' tab.
- Click 'EDIT' (You may need to click a UAC prompt).
- Select username "Users".
- Tick options Allow 'Write' and 'Modify'.
- To finish Select 'OK' to close the two dialog boxes."
After applying this procedure, all plugins from Terry West worked like a charm in Acoustica.
Standard or Premium Edition?
I recommend buying the Premium Edition, it's definitely worth the higher price and it includes the following main features the Standard Edition does not:
- Fully featured audio restoration plugins (DeClick, DeClip, DeNoise, DeHum, Vitalize)
- Spectral Editing (to my eyes only this feature alone is worth the price of the editor)
- "Equalize" plugin (has all you would expect from an EQ and even more, really awesome)
- "Verberate" plugin (all you need for reverberation, also really awesome quality and GUI)
- Multiband Dynamics
- Multichannel recording, editing and saving in up to 8 channels (e.g. 5.1 or 7.1 surround)
If you don't need these features, the Standard Edition of Acoustica will be good enough, sure. After all, it is still a top audio-editor (see comparison sheet on acondigital.com - Products - Acoustica - Features).
My personal experience
After having used Acoustica Premium Edition for a few weeks now, I can say that it fulfills my expectations. All features and GUI are very well thought through and everything you would expect from a professional audio-editor is at hand, yet even more. In no time I was able to use it with minimal time spent and having to refer to the manual only punctually.
The quality is first class throughout, and I really mean it (except for the "Harmonizer" which is not an intelligent harmonizer as the name might suggest but nevertheless a possibility to add up to 4 pitch-shifted voices - but it is not an essential tool here anyway). And of course, if you want to be pedantic, you can always find some minor features that would need some improvement (Acon Digital is regularly offering updates by the way). But let's stick to what's essential.
The way I use Acoustica
It's true, you can track, edit, mix and master fully within a DAW, a dedicated audio-editor is not absolutely needed. But it definitely offers advantages, especially in the case of Acoustica. My procedure now is the following:
I record a delicate track (track by track) into Acoustica where I have all the excellent editing- and restoration-tools at hand, clean and edit it before exporting it to a DAW for mixing. Eventually, I export the final stereo-master-mix (or stems) out of the DAW into Acoustica again where I do all the mastering (and still some editing if needed). This procedure has proven to be very useful and efficient, especially cleaning and editing tracks/clips with outstanding tools before entering a DAW.
"mini-DAW" for beginners
Of course Acoustica is aimed at experienced users, but I think it is also a great program for beginners, as I mentioned in the beginning, one aspect that should not be neglected.
In the Multitrack Session Tab you can record, edit and mix different tracks (or stems), use audio-effects (inserts and sends/returns), use effects on the master bus, time stretch clips, automate volume, pan and send-levels; in the end master and render your mix into all common formats.
How to use effects in Acoustica:
In the Editor:
- on the Master Processing Chain (has a mono-switch in addition) as inserts
In the Multitrack Session:
- on every track as inserts
- on the Master Pane (also has a mono-switch) - Aux: send effects to here from every channel
- on the the Master Processing Chain that is always available (for master effects)
So Acoustica makes the perfect program to get you familiar with the basics and principles of digital audio production. You won't get lost here. All you basically need for a simple mix is available, all the essential features, functions and tools for recording, editing, mixing and mastering, on a top quality level. That's why I like the term "mini-DAW" (that I took from an excellent review on Acon Digital Acoustica 7 Review - Bedroom Producers Blog).
Only in this review - not even on the homepage - I have found this aspect mentioned.
As somebody who has taught - and still does - younger and older people in audio production, I know the difficulties they have when first being confronted with a mixing desk or a DAW with endless features, plugins, etc. Most of them are completely lost or even intimidated.
I then give them some analogies: When you e.g. start learning mathematics and you enter an advanced class and see a complicated differential equation on the blackboard, you think you can never do that and want to give up. But when you keep learning and understand the principles of mathematics, and you achieve the advanced class level, you will find it even easy. Or when you enter a big studio with an immense mixing-desk and tons of outboard equipment (I had a friend who owned such a studio and I used to impress girls with it in my younger days...) as a beginner, you think this is from another world and you will never understand it. But when you start working with a small mixer that has the essential features and you understand the principles of how audio signals flow, you will understand the big desks, too. The same goes for DAWs. Things are always only getting more complex, but the principles remain.
And the internal plugins and tools of Acoustica are so good that you don't really need external ones - except for saturation-, channel strip- and delay-plugins (which I recommend to you, you can get them as freeware or buy them from so many companies). Also, you cannot create sub-groups in Acoustica, but you can live without them for simple mixes as long as you gain experience. And of course, there is no MIDI, this is only about audio.
Once you are familiar with the essential features of recording, editing, mixing and mastering audio, you can sooner or later buy a major DAW, which as described has many more functions and possibilities for tracking and mixing (audio and MIDI), but works on the same principles at its core. You will be able to much better make a choice of which DAW to buy, for there are so many.
Just one thing here: ALL major DAWs are very good and capable of delivering excellent results in our days, as is Acoustica as an editor and a "mini-DAW", it only depends on the person who uses it. That is why I am not giving any suggestions here. The differences lie in the way DAWs approach the different tasks, in the additional features or functions, there can also be differences concerning the quality of the included plugins and tools, and of course in the price. And eventually I should not forget to mention that some DAWs come with additional samples/loops, virtual instruments or software to get you going, but you also pay for that.
E.g. some DAWs are more sample/loop oriented (and not following a timeline) vs. more "classical", horizontal ones (following a timeline). But still, you can really do everything with any major DAW. An example: "Ableton Live" is often said to be for electronic and sample-oriented music only, because you can use it in a vertical way (not following a timeline); but you can also fully use it in a horizontal, more "classical" way (as I and others do), it is also very good for that. Vice-versa you can fully create and produce electronic music based on samples in any more "classical" DAW. You have the choice... .
And don't believe this blatancies or bla-bla claiming that "one DAW sounds better than another one". Yes, there is a DAW such as "Harrison Mixbus" (by the way excellent if you like an analogue style of working and a virtual analogue mixing console), that has already saturation built in so it sounds more "analogue". But you can get the same effect by adding external saturation plugins or channel strips to any DAW.
A little story: Once I was faced to a guy with big mouth and enormous confidence who wanted to impress but in fact knew little, pretending that there was only one good DAW and he would hear the difference to others... . What could I say? I just asked him if he would listen to 5 exactly same mixes I had done with 5 different DAWs and if he could recognize his among them. Well, you can guess the outcome, he was of course totally wrong in his judgment. But what did a wise person once write? "Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story"... .
Remember: the principles always remain the same: an audio signal comes in from somewhere and eventually goes out - after some detours and additions - on a master bus. Find out for yourself, do some research, by testing, asking around, checking the internet (lots of boasters and dilettantes there; also lots of superficial, mediocre and very subjective stuff; but also many good, capable and helpful people, which you will soon be able to distinguish). You have plenty of time to do so while you are working and progressing with Acoustica.
And when you become experienced in audio production to work in a DAW (one is enough, I only use more than one because I have different clients and students), you will still appreciate keeping and having Acoustica besides (cf. chapter above "The way I use Acoustica").
I generally prefer small companies where the developer(s) can be reached directly, and which don't have marketing budgets but offer top quality instead (just to make it clear: I'm not saying that big players don't have top quality, of course they have, too). The problem is you often won't find them on "best-lists" etc., you need a hint. Acon Digital is such a company (from Norway). I had heard about it before but only found out lately about their outstanding products.
According to my experience, the developer (Stian) is the one who handles the support, too, in a very efficient and friendly way. Just an example: About three weeks ago, I asked him whether if it was possible to implement a mono-switch in Acoustica in order to check mono-compatibility (a feature even some big DAWs don't have). He reacted immediately and positively, saying he would add it in the next update, and now the update is already downloadable (v. 7.0.51). He implemented the mono-switch even twice: in the master processing chain (where the effects of the master-bus are) and in the multi-track session master pane. And in the same update - among other improvements -, Stian also implemented the possibility to reorder tracks in multitrack sessions by drag and drop (upwards).
The attitude of the company is very customer-friendly generally. It counts on honesty. (Remember: cracking or cheating = stealing, especially from such sympathetic companies with very fair prices and service who trust you). No online-activation, no dongle, just a S/N or validation-file, that's it (like other great small companies such as e.g. Terry West (but only VST in 32Bit), Reaper, Toneboosters, Klanghelm, Stillwell, Valhalla, and surely others I don't know or not well enough - sorry if I don't mention them).
Along with Acoustica Premium Edition, I also bought "Equalize" and "Verberate" as separate, external plugins to be used in any DAW. These two plugins are fully integrated in Acoustica Premium Edition, but they are so good that I wanted to use them in my DAWs, too. I got 50% crossgrade-bonus on them, so the whole package (Acoustica Premium Edition + Equalize plugin + Verberate plugin) cost me US$ 300.--. That's definitely worth it.
Try before you buy - you can download trial versions from the homepage. And you should also download the FREE and also outstanding plugin "Multiply" (Chorus) to get an idea of the quality and GUI of Acon Digital products.
I hope this review was helpful. If you have questions, you can contact me on mdl747(at)gmail(dot)com. I cannot promise to answer immediately, but I will do my best.
Marcel L. (Dennis = my son)