The FezGuys
The Cutting Edge
[ Review - March 1999 ]


Manufacturer: Cutting Edge, 2101 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH, 44114.
Tel: 1 (216) 241-3343. Fax: 1 (216) 241-4103.
Email: <>. Web: <>.

Application: Optimizes audio for Web-based encoding.

Summary: Performs as advertised. The unit is in a class by itself.

Strengths: Extremely high quality construction and design, XLR and AES/EBU connectors, very versatile.

Weaknesses: May be deemed too costly for most webcasters.

Dimensions and Weight: 32 lbs.; 19x5.25x16.25 inches.

Price: $3,800.00

Recognizing the increasing application of the Internet as a platform for streaming audio, Cutting Edge has released the first stand-alone processor box specifically designed to optimize audio before it gets hammered flat in the encoding process. The Cutting Edge comes to us from the broadcast world. Its elder brother, the, is a high-end audio processor well known in the business of radio. Anyone doing live Internet webcasting or creating downloadable or streaming audio files for their web site can benefit from this four space, rack-mount unit with its instantly recognizable alien- influenced, post-modern melted design faceplate. Everyone agrees that audio streamed over phone lines needs all the help it can get. The Omnia provides a large arsenal of assistance in this application.

The user interface is simple and straightforward, incorporating only two physical controls: a push-activated jog wheel and one other recessed push button. Any of the many presets can be modified by the user and saved to memory and/or a Cutting Edge-approved PCMCIA card. For Internet radio programming the Daypart feature allows difference presets to be used when formats vary significantly. There is an interface for remote operation (currently only Windows-based but slated to be compatible with MSIE and Netscape browsers within the year). The promise of communication and manipulation of the unit through either RS-232, modem, 10BaseT or Internet connections make the Omnia a go- anywhere tool. There are two PCA card slots in the back of the unit; one for processing and one for communication. Analog and digital outputs can be used simultaneously. Cards can be swapped to rearrange the entire system architecture. The I/O level LED meter window on the front panel can be switched between input and output monitoring. There's even a headphone jack, kindly placed on the front of the unit.

Features include: a "Thunder Bass EQ", with up to 12dB of time-aligned bass boost; a "Warmth EQ" with up to 6dB (in 1dB increments) of upper midrange boost and cuts in the 800Hz - 2kHz range for bringing out vocals; "Phase Linear Dynamically Flat Time-Aligned Crossover", which keeps the entire audio spectrum of the signal "exactly synchronized" across the whole feature set; a "Wideband AGC", basically a "leveler section" for control of the input signal; a "Multiband Dynamic Peak Limiter", a three band spread (Low, Mid, High) for "sophisticated" limiting; a "Non-Aliasing Distortion Controlled Final Limiter" to prevent that irritating "digital feel" to your mix by eliminating aliasings and a "Prediction Analysis Clipper" which reduces overshoots in sample rate conversions (the AES/EBU digital interface can accept any sampling rate between 32kHz and 50 kHz).

This kind of audio jargon runs pretty thick for a non-techie but fear not! Operation is simple. We were able to plug it in and have it up and running in just a few minutes during preparations for a webcast of The Other Ones in San Francisco (see article in this issue). It's clear that the box supports the "plug and play" mentality of high-pressure live situations but also rewards a more painstaking study of it's powerful and flexible features.

So how well does the perform? Very well. The unit works exactly as promised, polishing and molding the audio signal. Audio encoded and streamed with processing is definitely clearer then the unprocessed variety. Aliasing was eliminated and bass frequencies became appropriately present. Typically, streaming audio encoders have poor control over input levels and can easily experience a lot of clipping. Audio optimized with the can be slammed wantonly against the encoder. Transients are no longer a problem because they have been "right-sized" out of the signal. Obviously, that's not the only use of this rather elegant piece of hardware.

Webcasters, usually used to miniplugs and tinny, tiny audio playback systems might be happy to know the is a true audiophile device. From its XLR L/R in/out connectors to the AES/EBU digital interface it's clear the is sculpted lovingly by people who are just this side of fanatical about clean audio. The box is not cheap but if you want to be sure that all your listeners (even those with a 28k modem) can understand and enjoy clean and sonically legible streaming the the only game in town.

Side-By-Side Omnia Tests

Check out the test results here. We took short excerpts of two piece of music (Yes' "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Uranus" from Holst's the Planets) and did some encoding straight from CD and then processed them through the Omnia. Both are limited samples for educational purposes so as to show respect to the rights-holders (and ASCAP/BMI).

One important item to note is that the Omnia really can excell when put in live situations where your original is not from a mastered CD.

Yes - Heart Of The Sunrise (30 sec)
Notes: Most noticable is a reduced amount of aliasing, some additional bass frequencies response, and a little bit of reduction of dynamic range.

Unprocessed RealAudio: 16k or 40k
Omnia-processed RealAudio: 16k or 40k
Holst - Uranus (45 sec)
Notes: The most noticable difference here is that the processed one has a squashed dynamic range, meaning you can actually hear the quiet parts much better. When on a wonderful stereo system from CD, this can remove some of the emotion from a musical piece, but when you're in RealAudio, it's well-worth sacrificing a little emotional value for aural legibility.

Unprocessed RealAudio: 16k or 40k
Omnia-processed RealAudio: 16k or 40k

The FezGuys welcome your comments. FezMom told us to say that.



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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