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Sony Acid Music Studio 9 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £45
inc VAT

Still fast and fun, but the working methods feel dated and new features suffer from poor attention to detail

Music production is an inherently complex business. You might be able to take a great photo just by following your instincts, but music is besieged with rules and conventions across the composition, recording and mixing processes.

This poses some tough challenges for consumer music-production software developers. How do you design software that helps casual users get good results quickly, but still gives them enough free rein to experiment and express themselves? Most manage one or the other. The eJay series adopts a paint-by-numbers approach, while Cubase Elements provides its users with a blank canvas and leaves them to get on with it.

Sony Acid Music straddles the divide better than most. It’s delightfully easy to throw a track together simply by selecting a few sample loops and painting them onto the screen. There are 3,000 loops included, and they’re automatically stretched and tuned to match the project’s tempo and key. However, it also allows for some intricate editing, chopping samples into small fragments and rearranging and retuning them to add a bit of personal expression.

If you want to add a vocal or acoustic instrument, just plug in a microphone, set the level and hit record. Even after recording, it’s still possible to experiment with different tempos and keys, with the samples and live performances following any changes.

Sony Acid Music Studio 9 MIDI controls
Sony Acid Music Studio 9’s MIDI editing facilities still lag behind rivals’ implementation

This sample montage approach was groundbreaking when Acid first appeared in the late 1990s, but modern music production software must also have a good selection of virtual instruments. Sadly, Acid’s handling of virtual instruments is relatively crude, with just a small selection of bundled sounds and clumsy MIDI editing facilities.

Acid Music 9 also supports 24-bit recording, which should provide extra headroom so that audio doesn’t accumulate rounding errors each time it’s processed. This was something previously reserved for the pricier Acid Pro.

Sadly, users may struggle to capitalise on this improvement, if they ever realise it’s there. While 24-bit, 192kHz support is listed in the online help, there’s no mention of how to change these settings, or why you’d want to do so. We eventually found them hidden behind a tab in the Project Properties dialog box, not among the Audio Device settings, where we’d expect to find them. The software was set to 16-bit by default; for most people, that’s where it’s likely to stay.

Acid Music’s sound quality is also hampered by a crude time-stretching and pitch-shifting algorithm that’s used whenever a sample is stretched or tuned to fit the project. As a result, gurgling artefacts appear when loops are stretched or retuned by anything more than a small amount. The software also includes a much higher quality algorithm but it’s only available for longer audio recordings rather than short samples. The software can be forced to treat a sample as if it were a live performance, but it’s a clumsy workaround.

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