The FezGuys
A Partial Review of Sonic Foundry's Vegas Pro
[ No. 40 - February 2000 ]

The largest corporate merger in history (as of this writing), between a media content company and an Internet service provider proves Internet audio is here to stay. Though the FezGuys despise huge corporate mergers (fewer and fewer people decide what information and services are made available), there's a potential upside to the marriage between America Online and Time Warner. It may smooth the way to faster, earlier adoption of broadband technologies, thereby increasing the usablility and immersiveness of the Internet experience. But don't throw away your modem just yet! Widespread broadband access is still three to five years away. Musicians and listeners getting music up on, or down off, the Internet still requires an ear toward the limitations of low bandwidth. That brings us to the subject of this month's column: Sonic Foundry's Vegas Pro, the self-described "Multitrack Media Editing System."

Though Vegas Pro does a whole lot of stuff, including rudimentary multitrack recording (with 24-bit/96 kHz sampling), simple video editing and MIDI Time Code sync, we're going to focus on the tools for exporting files to Internet content delivery technologies. In addition to other standard formats (such as WAV), Vegas Pro exports to Real Audio, MP3 and Microsoft Windows Media (MSWM).

The FezGuys wriggle through the crawlspace into the secret FezLab, dragging the shrinkwrapped, faux-steel-and-rivet cardboard box of software behind us. These big display boxes containing a small manual and a couple of CDs are enlarging your local landfill. Ah, packaging... remember to recycle! Maybe what you really pay for is the groovy design on the outside of the box.

We power up a Windows machine (PII, 400mHz, a Soundblaster PCI 512 card) and crack the box, inserting the CD into a drive. Naturally we throw the manual to the side in order to simulate a typical user experience. Besides, we're the FezGuys and we slept with the box under our pillows last night. That should give us a handle on it!

All of Sonic Foundry's products (and there are many) are written specifically for the Windows environment. Spokespersons for the company emphatically state that there will be no Mac releases. Ever.


Our first try is a failure. Oddly, the installer froze. Second try worked fine. We're off to a flying start! A dialog box pops up and asks if we'd like to load 490MB of demonstration songs. We pass. Installation is pretty basic, the app adopts the common Windows software model of "show tips at startup." The FezGuys like this organic method of discovering more about a product, but it's helpful that it can easily be turned off. Also typical with Windows-based software, installation did not offer a choice of where to place the app, it was casually tossed into "Programs." We moved it manually into our preferred "Multimedia" sub-menu.


Of course, since we've hidden the manual and forgotten where we've hidden it, the first thing we're doing is wandering around within a new and unfamiliar environment, trying doors and peeking down hallways. In the Help area we're reminded to "check for updates" from the Sonic Foundry site. The FezGuys know the first rule of working with audio in a digital environment is to close every other application. But, also typically, we ignore the rules and since there apparently is an update available on the site, we are busily downloading while attempting to familiarize ourselves with the software.

Registration is a good idea but, in this case, confusing. Unfortunately, quitting and restarting after installation was required to complete the process. And it feels restrictive: Sonic Foundry wants to know a little too much about you and they appear a little too paranoid about piracy. We can't imagine why, only three (or was it four?) other friends installed this program first (just kidding!). Actually, the process uses your email address, along with the creation of a unique computer ID, ostensibly to prevent transferring the app between machines. Online registration sends us to a website, the website takes our info (including serial number), the site emails us a key contained within an enclosed file, we transfer the key from a machine that gets the email to the machine running Vegas, finally manually entering the key into the software. But wait! Another separate and distinct key is required for the MP3 encoder plugin...will it ever end?

The FezGuys find the installation and registration process to be an entirely tedious and non-intuitive experience. Vegas Pro happily confirmed its activation code but the MP3 portion provided no indication of whether or not its code took. We'll have to fire it up to see if it's accepted. Why does the MP3 encoder need a separate registration process? This business is time-consuming and, in our opinion, overly complex.

General Use

The FezGuys are pleased as punch with the user interface for docking and undocking popup windows. By default, Vegas Pro stores an "explorer" window that makes it easy to find, drag and drop media files into projects. After pulling up, say, an EQ window, we can drag it and dock it in the same space as the explorer. Tabs on the bottom of the dock area list both the explorer and the EQ. Very efficient and simple. Other popup windows can similarly be dragged and docked, and you can split up the dock area, displaying more than one item side-by-side.

We had fun playing with the pitch shift feature. It's weird how musicians never tire of hearing their music too fast, too slow or just plain altered. And ok, ok... though we'd intended to blast into Vegas Pro without the manual we're stymied almost immediately. Drat! We aren't as hot as we think. We unearth the manual. What is it about men and manuals?

"mewlaw" (1:38)

This is the next in an ongoing FezGuys series showing how quickly and easily you can create and author audio for the 'net. This presentation was created in 1 hour and is intentionally not professional quality. It does, however, features the worldwide debut of Smoochy Smooch.

We begin by taking a simple (1 minute, 38 seconds) stereo MP3 music track and dragging it into Vegas Pro. It's a very easy process to turn an MP3 file into a track of editable audio. After years of being unable to edit MP3 files, this is nice. Next we record, edit and mix two distinct vocal tracks on top of the music. EQ and compression are monitored in real time. We use the "normalize" feature constantly. When we're satisfied with our plaintive little lament we add a very basic 332x216 pixel video (primarily still photos) track and then save to MP3, Real G2 and MSWM. The results can be experienced in the sidebar in this column.


When saving, the Vegas Pro MP3 encoder offers the option of saving a portion of the piece or "rendering the entire project". This makes it easy to select a small portion of your project for testing different bitrate and codec options. We choose our encoding parameters (128k stereo, 44.1kHz) and also fill out ID3 data for the resulting mixed and compressed file. In addition to having our choice of bitrates (from 24k to 320k), there is a convenient "Convert to mono" checkbox. Now we are ready to encode. We press save and - what a surprise! - this MP3 encoder is not registered! We take another ten minutes and go through the entire process again.

After getting the registration sorted out we encode happily. Encoding time is monitored by a little line at the bottom of the explorer window. At 128k the Vegas Pro MP3 encoder works a little faster than real time, finishing the file in 83 seconds. The results of this audio-only file are acceptable. The encoder is reasonably fast and the process is relatively simple. Our only suggestion is to provide a more obvious notice of saving status - a pop-up window documenting elapesed time would be helpful.

Real Player G2

The Vegas Pro version of the RealPlayer encoder includes options to override standard parameters, just like Real's stand-alone encoder. This is good. Users can modify the encoder and change settings as they would with RealProducer. This version of the Real encoder is pretty quick, finishing in 49 seconds. The end result sounds and looks as you'd expect from a video/stereo audio file streaming over a 56k modem. Not great, but legible.

Interestingly, when doing "Save As -> Real G2 -> Custom", closing the dialog box causes the entire app to shut down. This happened repeatedly so we assume it's Sonic Foundry's special "emergency exit" feature.

Microsoft Windows Media (MSWM)

In "custom" the MSWM encoder allowed us to select "multiple bitrate video" but, alas, it does not support multiple bitrate audio. This is not the fault of Vegas Pro, it's a limitation of the Windows Media format. Encoding the file took longer than real time, weighing in at 134 seconds. MSWM audio sounds pretty good over 56k, about the same as MP3. Like the Real track, the MSWM version also includes a visually legible video track.


Vegas Pro feels like a demo version of Adobe's Premiere video editing software folded in with Macromedia's SoundEdit16 audio app. The FezGuys couldn't help but notice a slightly "dumbed-down" feel. It's not a total loss, the app does contain some nice newer technologies. One example of this next generation class of audio software is included in the process of exporting to supported streaming media formats. "Command markers" can be used to allow hyperlinks to be associated with certain portions of your file. Being able to import and edit newer audio formats (such as MP3) is wonderful. It's a feature that should be adopted by all multitrack audio software.

Sonic Foundry's Vegas Pro is for those who don't care to deal with formats or sample rates of their raw media. Vegas Pro handles various types of input and output formats and can also handle mix-and-matching sample and bit rates. While it's not the home run of Internet authoring, it's a good step forward and will serve a basic group of users well. If you aren't already loaded down with apps, take a trip over to <> and download the trial version (full version retails for $699).

The FezGuys: making things rounder and redder.



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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