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Sonic Foundry Acid™ Pro 3.0 Review and Comparison
with Acid Music, DJ & Techno by Beat Mode Labs

Acid Pro 3.0 gets a Beat Mode rating of 9 out of 10

Sonic Foundry ACID is a legendary PC music looping & composition application that is perhaps more responsible for Mac to PC defections than any other music software. If not Mac to PC defection, than certainly PC envy from many Mac computer musicians, as Acid has never been available for the Mac. People have tried PC Emulators and such with mixed results, but to this day Sonic Foundry only markets software for the PC.

I first discovered Sonic Foundry Acid about 3 years ago when I "supplemented" my 2 Macs with a PC originally intended for "business use" (web design etc.). I must admit, getting a PC was more than a business decision, as I had long been envious at the variety of music programs (and others) available for the Windows platform. Among the first music applications that I tried on the PC was Sonic Foundry Acid. I was immediately hooked. I remember those early days where I had this "chip on my shoulder" rationalizing Acid as a toy and thinking that music produced with Acid would all sound the same. After all it was too easy for even non-musicians to create good sounding songs with Acid. I could not have been more wrong about Acid songs all sounding the same.

Yes, it is true that if you use only the Acid provided libraries of loops and samples, or only buy the most "popular" add on Acid loop libraries, you could end up creating a song that may sound similar to others, as Acid is a very popular program. That means a lot of folks have the same Acid loops & samples and are cranking out tunes with them. But then again, look at the huge industry that has grown of providing fresh new libraries of loops for Acid, both from Sonic Foundry and Third Party Developers. It has become big business and there are so many great Acid loops & samples out there. The sheer amount of loops available right there diminishes the likelihood of the "sound alike syndrome" to some extent, as it provides a larger base of sounds for us Acid loopers out there. PLUS, when you begin to incorporate your own "HOME ROLLED CUSTOM samples", and loops from other non Acid sources (sampling cds and such), the world opens up and along with it INFINITE POSSIBILITIES for unique compositions produced with Acid. Also of note, Sonic Foundry is very generous in giving away free loops with both the get media feature within the program (offers monthly updated loop packs for registered users!), and the free samples on the loop library description pages.

Acid Pro 3.0 Main Interface

So, my initial concerns about the "toy factor" and Acid songs sounding similar shattered long ago as I began to experiment with the vast amount of loops available, as well as adding my own. I soon realized it is possible for a tool that makes composing EASY to be utilized to make unique original music. So, it didn't take long and I realized the power of Acid is not just about the loops and samples, but rather the flexibility of the features that Acid provides a composer. It enhances the creative possibilities and often even makes the impossible possible. Acid is a tool that offers extreme flexibility in composing, especially when used with loops, one shot samples and then further complimented by other various tools like sequencers (Cubase, Logic etc.) and audio editors (Sound Forge etc.), not to mention loop tools like Fruity Loops.

Listen to "Ballbreaker" and "I Love You I Hate You"
songs composed with the aid of Acid and Reaktor.

Granted, there are people out there churning out cool tunes with nothing other than Acid and the stock loops, but the real fun comes when you use Acid as a tool along with other music creation software. More on that later.

So what exactly is Acid Pro 3.0??? Acid Pro 3.0 ($399.96 packaged or $349.97 downloadable from Sonic Foundry store) is the top of the line loop based music creation tool in Sonic Foundry's line up which also consists of Acid Music 3.0 ($59.97), Acid DJ ($29.97), Acid Techno ($29.97) and Acid Xpress (the free version available online).

Now you're likely saying - "wow - why would I spend $399. when I can get Acid Music for only $59.???". We thought that too, and will attempt to explain the differences in the programs and the benefits of Acid Pro versus Acid Music along with detailing the features similar to all versions.

First off, the Acid line of looping software allows you to "paint music" using loops and samples. It's as simple as that. It's very intuitive and simple to audition loops in your library with Acid's "browser" and then paint them into the multi track timeline adjusting volume, panning, pitch and more. With Acid you can easily create original royalty free music with a simplicity that should be a model for all music software. It allows the beginner to easily construct "original" songs, yet allows the more advanced user to create complex musical compositions with unlimited possibilities. Your only limitation is the amount of loops in your library and/or the capabilities of your other music creation software to contribute loops and samples to use with Acid. Acid Pro can be used standalone or in conjunction with other midi and audio applications.

The magic of Acid is it's unique ability to automatically detect and alter the tempo of various loops and match them to fit the tempo of your current project. This is all done behind the scenes and allows you to use loops of varying tempos and tunings and instantly place them in your compositions. So long as your material is "loopable" ("Loops" are audio files that are trimmed to repeat seamlessly over and over again.), Acid will automatically do all the work and adjust tempo and loop seamlessly according to the area you "painted" for each track on the timeline. Ideally loops used will be "acidized" which means they have the original tempo and key/pitch info embedded in the file. All Acid libraries have samples that are "acidized", however most standard Wav files work just fine (there are exceptions). You can also record audio tracks and add midi as well, but more on that later.

Acid is so intuitive and easy to use almost anyone can instantly churn out good tunes with the provided library of samples and loops. All versions allow for Multi Track composition with auto matching of pitch and tempo, application of effects (Acid Pro with Direct X Plugins) and then a final mix down to a stereo master.

Composing a song in Acid usually begins with auditioning of loops in the BROWSER and then adding the ones you like to the multi-track timeline. Then you "paint" the loops across the timeline as desired and hit PLAY. Voile, your tracks are all in time. Then you shift them around to build a song and trim and add more until your composition is to your liking. Acid is particularly well suited to create music beds and soundtracks for video and commercials, as you can easily change the tempo and song length to perfectly fit your project.

Both Acid Pro and Acid Music 3.0 now have the Beatmapper Remixing Tool feature. Previously only found on the Pro version, this feature allows you to add tempo information to song-length files so you create your own remixes and combine music loops with songs. It's simple. Just import a song, add some beats and give it a powerful new edge. You can even change the tempo of your song without affecting the pitch.

Click to open LARGER VERSION in a new window!
Acid Pro 3.0 Beatmapper & Chopper

So what are the differences in the various versions of Acid you ask???

Here's the important stuff.

Acid Pro has a maximum bit depth of 24 bit vs 16 bit for Acid Music. If you are working with a 24 or 32 bit digital audio midi application like Cubase VST, then this will be very important to you. Acid Pro also has a maximum sample rate of 192 khz versus 48 for the other versions.

Acid Pro supports DirectX plugins whereas Acid Music just has a few built in effects. We wish this also included VST effects, but that is where the other programs come in to enhance your Acid compositions, I reckon. It is also possible to use a "vst wrapper" to gain access to VST plugins, however we have not tested and verified this possibility yet.

Acid Pro includes the Chopper Editing Tool. The Chopper enables you to easily navigate through a file, select and create sub-sections of that file, and quickly place those subsections as new events on the ACID timeline. It works on any type of ACID track, but is especially useful for creating remixes with Beatmapped tracks. There are many ways to make use of the Chopper, including adding those really cool drum roll buildups so popular in Techno and Dance music. Plus you can extract single hits like cymbals from your loops.

Other features unique to Acid Pro are: Effect envelopes, MIDI record/external playback, Generate MIDI Time Code (MIDI Sync), Generate MIDI Clock, Adjustable stretching properties, Save each track as single file, Export loops, Assignable effects/audio busses, Multiple sound card I/O, includes Sound Forge® XP 5.0, includes 1,001 sound effects clips, includes Vegas® Audio LE.

See the ACID FAMILY COMPARISON CHART for all versions.

Of particular note is Acid Pro's ability to EXPORT each track as a SINGLE FILE in one easy step. This enables you to take all the files at the project tempo and drop them in your audio editor or sequencer (at 24 or 32 bit resolution) for further polishing, adding VST effects etc. While you can accomplish this by exporting the tracks one by one in Acid Music, Acid Pro makes this a one step process saving you lots of time and effort, plus the files are at 24 bits if you desire. You are then able to use VST PLUG INS and EQ and if desired adding automation to the mix if your application is capable.

ACID PRO 3.0 Video Scoring

So is the extra $290. -$340. worth it for Acid Pro versus Acid Music??? That's a tough one. If it were 100 or 200 bucks, we'd enthusiastically say yes - it is worth it. But $290. - $340. more than Acid Music is steep. But then again if you are a professional and it is important to have the highest possible quality it would be worth having the capability to utilize 24 bit audio, as well as export all tracks in one batch. The CHOPPER is also cool and nice to have as well. Plus the other benefits listed above are important. Which version is a personal decision you have to make based on your budget and needs. We're glad we have Acid Pro and highly recommend it if you can afford it. At the very least, your bag of tricks must include Acid Music. At $59. Acid is an incredible value and loads of fun.

Sonic Foundry Acid Pro 3.0 In Use.

Acid Pro 3.0 is as easy as pie to install. (Why is pie easy???). You'll be up and running in no time and the learning curve is minimal.

We particularly like to use Acid Pro in conjunction with Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 5.0, which complement each other beautifully. In particular Sound Forge has tools to make looping in Acid a fun time. Sound Forge allows you to easily find loop points, double or halve your selections and more. Sound Forge will also "acidize" your personal loops and allow you chop them in finely tuned pieces with all the cool Sound Forge effects and extensive sound shaping options. (Sound Forge review coming soon).

We particularly enjoy creating our own original loops with other programs and utilizing them in Acid. This opens up a whole world of possibilities and allows for some truly unique and original compositions in Acid. We use programs like Reaktor, Rebirth, Tassman, Battery, Pro 52, Reason and Waldorf PPG among others to create 24 bit loops in Cubase VST, Fruity Loops and more. Then we often drop the exported samples in Sound Forge and trim the loops, maximize the volume with normalisation/compression, chemically alter and often chop up into pieces for use in Acid. This is a lot of fun and yields some incredibly original tunes.

Then in Acid Pro we'll build a basic composition, letting Acid do the chore of matching tempos and then export it back in Cubase where additional instruments are added, as well as VST effects and a final mixdown.

Acid is particularly adept at allowing the immediate auditioning of loops that was previously impossible. You can easily mix and match your loops in the timeline and browser until you find something that works well together. It's a blast just to open up Acid and browse through loops and see how things work together. You can layer different drum loops together to form new loops. Use the Chopper to add hits, rolls and isolate shorter fragments. You can do everything from just working on sections all the way to creating entire compositions.

Be sure to check out the GET MEDIA FROM THE WEB option in Acid Pro's file menu. Each month they feature free new loops for registered users, which is also a great way to sample the available Acid Loop Libraries. We've found some really cool stuff!

As much as we love Acid, we do have a few niggles. We can't believe Sonic Foundry has resisted adding VST effects. This is a shame and almost forces you to export your projects and finish them in a sequencer like Cubase VST or similar.

It'd also be great to be able to use VST or even DXi instruments along with midi within Acid. This is a feature that has made the newcomer Sonar so popular (unreviewed as of yet). Perhaps with a new competitor like Sonar taking some of Acid's strong points and integrating them into a sequencing environment, will force Sonic Foundry to reconsider adding these overlooked features.

Also, as much as we like Beatmapper & Chopper, it'd be really nice to have further slice and dice functionality ala a REX type application like Recycle built into the program. Fruity Loops integrates this feature nicely with their Beat Creator feature. It'd be great to be able to open a loop within Acid and randomize and shuffle the fragments around plus apply processing to the whole file or individual slices. No program is more deserving of this than Acid.

Also, what about ASIO support??? We were able to get Acid to work with our MOTU 24i, but only using the "classic" WAVE DRIVER, which in all fairness does seem to work fine. We haven't had latency issues but suspect it could be a problem in some instances (perhaps with DirectX effects or MIDI).

Another feature we'd like to suggest is an integrated pitch correction tool with options to create pitch changes and chord changes on samples with the click of a button. A good example of this is the Kepler module in Arturia Storm. You select a new chord and it automatically changes the pitch of the sample. Even better would be the ability to program chord changes.

Also we'd love if Acid had the capability to record knob movements and automation the way Cubase and Storm does. For example changing panning, volume, punching samples in and out, tempo changes etc.

All in all it is very easy to say that Sonic Foundry Acid Music and Acid Pro are among the most significant developments to date in music creation applications. Acid is among our favorite music making programs and is an indispensable tool in our box of toys. It is the cream of the crop and has pretty much remained unchallenged. There have been attempts to do something similar on the Mac with Phrazer, however we have heard mixed reviews on that program. Until recently, Acid has been the only loop based composition program to offer seamless transparent automatic tempo and pitch correction on the PC, although several new players have incorporated similar capabilities, most notably Cakewalk Sonar and Arturia Storm. While we haven't had the opportunity to test Sonar, we have played with Arturia Storm, and although it has some cool features regarding auto tempo and pitch detection, it is a very different program and hard to make a comparison. It has Acid-like features, but in no way matches the multi-tracking capability and loop composing capabilities of Acid.

If we only had 5 programs to take to our desert island, Acid Pro would surely be one of them. Beat Mode enthusiastically gives Acid Pro 3.0 a Beat Mode 9 out of 10 rating. If you haven't yet experienced Acid, we say it is a must for any musician or composer. At the very least try out the FREE Acid Xpress and you will be hooked!

Acid Pro 3.0 gets a Beat Mode rating of 9 out of 10

NEW! Acid Pro 4.0 Just Released - includes VSTi support.

Acid links & resources:

NEW! Acid Pro 4.0 Video Tour

Acid Pro 3.0 Specifications at the Sonic Foundry site

AcidPlanet - weekly packs of free Acid Loops

Acid tips from Keyboard Mag

PixelPlanet Review of Acid

ViscaOnline Review of Acid Pro 3

Audio Looping and Sequencing with Acid - review

Acidfanatic Acid Loops

Keyboard Reports - Acid Audio File Samples

More links!

Check out our free Atmospheric Samples - recorded using Reaktor!

Check out our review of Native Instruments Reaktor 3

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