Review: Acon Digital Acoustica 7.2
Oslo-based maker Acon Digital has updated its specialised audio-editing suite with enticing features that might just tempt you away from your precious all-in-one DAW.
Price £130 (Premium Edition), £40 (Standard Edition)
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While it’s true that most audio tasks can be completed within the comfortable confines of your chosen DAW, if you’re looking to streamline your workflow, you shouldn’t count out dedicated audio-editing apps. If you’re planning on tagging a raft of audio, mastering an album, or restoring noisy or damaged files, it pays to cut back on clutter and speed up repetitive tasks.
Acon Digital’s Acoustica 7, initially released in 2017, can help you do just that. Now the Norwegians have updated the already flexible suite in the aim of coaxing you away from your beloved Logic. Will it work?
Stand by me
Acoustica comes in standard and premium versions, both of which include a standalone editing app with built-in effects and Remix, a new stem-separation tool. The Premium Edition, which we’re reviewing here, also features the self-explanatory Extract Dialogue tool and precise spectral editing, as well as a host of Acon Digital effects that also come as their own plug-ins, which include the Restoration Suite (DeClick 2, DeClip 2, DeHum 2, and DeNoise 2), the Mastering Suite (Dynamics, Multiband Dynamics, Limit, Equalize 2, and Dither) and Verberate 2. These plug-ins alone add up to more than £260 – double the price of Acoustica 7’s Premium Edition – so this seems like superb value.
You can start a new project by dragging an audio file into the software or by creating a new Recording, Multitrack Session or CD Project from within it. Alongside its central waveform/spectrogram visualiser, Acoustica’s standard layout features individual media-file-browser, processing-chain and spectrum-analyser panels, as well as loudness, correlation and level meters. These separate windows can be conveniently hidden and resized so you can fine-tune the layout for particular tasks.
When it comes to spectral editing, Acoustica allows you to select and process specific frequency regions. Freehand and magic wand-style brushes help you select individual buttons and holding Alt while hitting the Up arrow on your keyboard highlights the relevant harmonics.
There’s also a fancy retouching tool that removes noise based on a freely selectable reference from the surrounding audio (and operates a bit like PhotoShop’s Clone Stamp tool). When you zoom in on spectrograms, it can be hard to make out the details, but the latest version of Acoustica helps out here by way of new temporal-resolution enhancement technology. You’ll probably use the spectrogram and waveform views the most but, if you’re looking for additional sonic information, see the software’s wavelet, spectrum, and spectral history graphs.
Bit of a stretch
Acoustica is equipped with all the tools and processes you’d expect from a top-tier audio-editing suite, and can aid you with normalisation, cross-fades, silence removal, track-splitting and much more. It also offers transposition, harmonisation and time-stretching services, which can be applied as real-time effects in the processing chain or selected from the effects menu before being previewed and applied as a destructive edit.
During our time with Acoustica 7’s Premium Edition, we test a clean vocal, an old funk sample, a whole track and single synth hit, and compare its performance with that of Ableton’s Warp and Logic’s Flex. Although Acoustica’s results are passable, we detect more artefacts from it than we do Warp and Flex.
Time to split
One of Acoustica’s major new additions is the Remix tool, which allows you to split a complete mix into up to five stems and rebalance them in real time. You can also import tracks into a multi-track session and Acoustica will split them for you, laying out each part so it’s ready to be slathered with processing and effects. To gain access to this function, you have to download the Spleeter AI models for stem separation from within Acoustica, which requires an additional 670MB of space. The Remix tool is surprisingly good at isolating vocals, drums and bass parts but is less impressive with some other instruments.
As with any separation tool, the results of Acoustica’s vary depending on the clarity of your original material and the amount you’re trying to manipulate it. Still, this is up there with the best separation tools we’ve tried, and yields some stellar results. We were able to cleanly isolate the vocal from an old soul sample to the point where any lasting remnants of the track would be minimised completely if it were added to a new mix. This could prove especially useful for creating remixes or instrumentals, or for mastering engineers who want more control over specific elements in a stereo file.
The Extract Dialogue tool, which uses AI to separate dialogue from background noise, is another significant Acoustica 7.2 update. Much like the other effects from the Restoration Suite, we find this easy to use and the results are fantastic.
There’s little doubt that the new and improved Acoustica provides some marvellously intuitive tools but it might feel more of a complete package if it also included Acon Digital’s DeVerberate and DeFilter plug-ins, even if that meant an increased cost.
Acoustica is a deep and feature-rich program that boasts too many elements to list in a single review. Its ability to save processing chains and use them to batch-process audio, and its the Cleaning Wizard tool that simplifies audio clean-ups, merit a special mention, though, as does its capacity to work with multi-surround channels, load third-party plug-ins, and its Pro Tools audio transfer plug-in.
There’s also the suite of 14 extra effects that have their own plug-in versions. These include highly capable and flexible dynamics and EQs, plus convolution, chorus, echo, modulation, and exciter effects. Perhaps the most formidable is Verberate 2, a high-quality algorithmic reverb that simulates real spaces with astounding veracity. These effects may not sport the greatest GUIs in the business but they form powerful suite nonetheless.
Whether you opt for the Standard or Premium Edition, Acoustica represents fabulous value and offers significant flexibility. It’s not without its flaws – parts of the layout are clumsy, with several processes appearing in more than one place under different menus – however, as an alternative to more expensive sound-restoration options, this is a prodigious package. The brilliant Remix tool alone is enough to warrant your attention.
Do I really need this?
iZotope’s more expensive RX 7 plug-in is a more powerful and preferable choice for refined audio editing and restoration. However, Acoustica is no slouch, and the amount you get for your money is spectacular, putting it in strong contention for the RX 7’s best-value alternative.
If you work with samples, recorded dialogue or have to batch-edit lots of files, this could prove a particularly useful tool, capable of things your DAW isn’t. You might not even touch all of its extra EQs, dynamics and other effects but they’re a competent bunch nonetheless. Both versions of Acoustica 7.2 are competitively priced but the Remix tool is worth the Standard Edition’s £40 alone.
- Standalone audio editor with spectral editing
- Premium Edition includes 14 VST, VST3, AAX & AU plug-ins
- Audio restoration and mastering effects
- New Remix stem-separation tool
- New Extract Dialogue tool
- Improved time resolution in spectral editor
- Multi-track editing and surround support
- Analysis and loudness meters
Acoustica’s obvious alternative has established itself as the premium tool for cleaning and manipulating audio. Its standard edition isn’t replete with bells and whistles but includes some tools that Acoustica doesn’t, including the AI Repair Assistant.
As one of the cheaper Sound Forge options, it lacks a spectrogram view and editor but packs in plenty of presets, program wizards and one-click fixes to make up for that. Its included RX Elements and Ozone Elements are decent audio-restoration and mastering tools.