Sunday 27 May 2018

ACID Pro 8 Review

ACID was the first loop-based audio arranging program I ever used. That was around twenty years ago. Oh, how time flies! Anyway, a lot has happened since then. For one thing, ACID which was developed by Sony has now been acquired by MAGIX software. For another thing, ACID now faces competition from a larger number of audio arranging programs ranging from the free such as LMMS   to the popular but fairly expensive Ableton Live  –  not forgetting another MAGIX program that offers a range of  similar features: MAGIX Music Maker (see my review).

So is the venerable ACID now starting to look a bit long in the tooth? Or has this latest update given it a new lease of life?

ACID Pro 8 – the interface has been given a spruce up. But is that enough?
Let me explain what ACID does. It falls into a category of software known as a Digital Audio Workstation or ‘DAW’. Essentially, it lets you compose and arrange music on multitrack timelines by adding clips one beneath the other. These clips may take the form of pre-recorded ‘loops’ – fragments of music that can be seamlessly joined together to create a score. Even non-musicians can do that. You just pick instruments such as guitars, organs or drums and…

…um, well, actually that was the first problem I encountered. According to the ACID web site, the software comes with 9GB of new ACIDized loops. The only problem was that I couldn’t find them. The help system told me to click a ‘Get Media from the Web’ button. But when I did that I just got advertising for other MAGIX products. It was forced to Google for assistance. Finally I discovered that I had to download loops via the Help menu. Having downloaded these (it takes hours on a slow connection like mine) you then have to run no less than seven installation programs, each of which prompts you to click through several dialogs to accept installation settings and licence terms. The loop collection installers even demand that you select between a Standard and Custom installation in spite of the fact that no custom installation is actually available (I tried it – it wasn’t there). I mean, what! Frankly, people, this is all a bit of a palaver and the loops should have been installed simply and automatically.

The Installer seems to go on forever…
Once they’d been installed I naively expected them to be available from a docked window in the ACID environment. No such luck. I eventually discovered that they had been conveniently installed into the directory C:\Users\Public\Documents\MAGIX\Common\Loop Collections and I had to use the built-in disk browser to navigate to them. By now I was starting to wonder if anyone had bothered to test the installer. Surely someone would have noticed that it is not likely to inspire a feeling of joy, contentment and goodwill in the end user!

In principle, the ACID Media Manager should provide a simple way of finding loops from within the environment. The Media Manager has its own docked window. When I opened this window, a message appeared stating: “The Media Manager is not installed”. I contacted MAGIX to ask where it was. I was told:
Media Manager is deprecated and not fully supported.  Media Manager installs separately from Acid.  If customers want to use it they can install it here.
Deprecated, not fully supported? And yet has its own docked window? In installed it anyway but it still didn’t show up in the workspace. Well, it was worth a try…

OK, so once the loops has been downloaded I was ready to go. The good news is that ACID makes it really easy to create music just by dragging and dropping loops, extending or cutting them, changing their pitch and adding effects such as amp distortions, echoes and delays.

The simplest way to create a composition is to ‘pick and paint’ – that is, you pick a few loops, drop them onto tracks and then extend the sounds by dragging them with the mouse to ‘paint’ them onto specific portions of the track. You can divide your music into named sections – intro, verse, chorus and so on. And if you need to change the key or the tempo, you can do that for the entire project or for individual clips. You can also change rhythms by applying ‘grooves’ (pre-defined sets of rhythmic properties) to a track. And you can add your own recorded audio from a connected instrument or microphone if you plan to add vocals.

This is the first major update to ACID in about ten years. There are some obvious changes, such as the redesigned user interface and some less obvious changes such as the change to a 64-bit architecture. There are also two ways to acquire the software. You can either buy it outright for £119 or you can rent it (or ‘subscribe’ if you prefer) for £5.99 per month.  Personally I hate subscriptions to software. However, MAGIX says that subscribers have the added advantage of getting “all the updates, new features, new instruments and effects as soon as they are released” and also benefits from “exclusive instruments like Vita Pop Brass and Orchestral Ensemble and effects like Analogue Modelling Suite to help you stay ahead of the game.” Frankly, it seems a bit unfair to penalise those people who’ve stumped up the full £119 purchase price by omitting these features.

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So, twenty years after using the first version of ACID, how do I think it’s stood the test of time? In brief, I like the way it works. It makes it easy to create good-sounding multi-instrument music tracks just by drawing on a timeline using a mouse and a set of pre-recorded loops. Twenty years ago that seemed cutting edge. Now, not so much. But even so, ACID does a pretty good job, at a pretty good price and, once you find and download them, the loops are also pretty good.

But there’s nothing remarkable. No killer features. And while the software itself is quite nice, the installer is as friendly as a cornered rat. Moreover, the fact that the Media Manager has its own window in the user interface even though it is not supported by the software does not inspire confidence.

So, I have to conclude that ACID is a nice program that’s been given a much needed update after being neglected for a very long time. But it is still not all it should be. The software needs more love, care and attention to detail if it is to compete against more modern rivals.