For decades, the fastest way to find sound effects was to look them up in a book. These Sound Ideas Sound Effects Catalogs indexed every CD and sound effect from the Canadian stock media publisher. Sound editors had to flip through pages to find what they needed. Thank goodness that’s no longer the case.
Sound browsing apps were designed to fix this problem. Now a major category of pro sound software, these metadata apps help manage sound libraries, use informative metadata to find and audition clips, and transfer sound files to other apps.
Soundminer followed shortly after an initial wave of sound browsing apps. A lot has changed since its first release. The most recent major version was v4.5Pro, back in 2014. That introduced new features such as multi-channel waveform, LegPicker channel selection, inline waveform, a record function, a scrubber and time domain playback tool, and many improvements and fixes.
Let’s see what has changed with version V5Pro.
Why Version 5?
In June 2018, Apple Computer announced that the macOS High Sierra operating system would be the last to support 32-bit applications “without compromise”, and that macOS Mojave (macOS 10.14) would be the last to support it at all. With the upcoming release of macOS Catalina, developers were faced with the fact that older apps would not work at all after September 2019.
Soundminer was among them. The app hadn’t seen a major refresh in 5 years. In a way, though, a major release was inevitable due the expiring 32-bit codebase. So, V5Pro (macOS, $899) features re-written code to sidestep this autumn 2019 cut-off date. Of course, there are dozens of other features. The most notable is a new in-app sampler called Radium, the first of its kind for metadata apps.
Today’s post will be a first look at new features in V5Pro, share some thoughts on the software itself, and whether the upgrade is the right for you.
So, what’s new in version 5? Here are selected features available as of build v390.
One of a sound browsing app’s core tasks is to take the sounds you find and transfer them into other software. After all, a creator’s work is done in other apps: Logic, Reaper, Pro Tools, and so on. Over time, though, some clever users began to twist and tweak the sounds they found. They used VST plug-ins, plus earlier Soundminer features of pitching, variable speed and time control, and other tools, and then deliver them – processed to taste – into their projects.
Soundminer obviously noticed the popularity of this creative workflow. Version 5 has made this easier and more creative with the Radium sampler. Typical samplers import a sound, modify envelopes, apply plug-ins, and save a new creation to disk. Radium does this entirely within Soundminer itself. Complete with MIDI control and banks or “layers” for 5 sounds, audio can be warped with filters, modulation, envelopes, and plug-ins. Attack, decay, sustain, hold, and release are all customizable, as well as EQ, looping, volume mapping, attenuation, pitch, and much more. Unlike conventional samplers, Radium allows creating and saving the new sound completely within Soundminer itself – no third-party app integration is required. By being able to dig deep into the most minute aspects of a sample, Radium offers immense potential for sound design.
Developer Justin Drury introduces Radium in this YouTube video:
Audio Units Support
Soundminer now supports Audio Units plug-ins, joining v4.5Pro’s established VST plug-in support.
As mentioned, Soundminer has been re-written in 64-bit. What does this mean to you?
Drury explained to me that during the conversion to 64-bit, large sections of the code were re-written and speed was optimized at the same time:
moving to OS 10.9 as a minimum target means that new programming language conveniences can be used which definitely do make things go faster! Removal of old formats like SD2 also means all audio access can be multi-threaded, which speeds things up a ton!
In plain language? The software is now faster. Generally, windows and searches seem snappier. Waveform zooming is quicker when zoomed in and scrolling, especially for long files. One huge improvement is scanning speed when adding new sound files. When scanning 1066 files into an empty database, a MacBook Pro 15-inch Mid 2015 (2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 (quad core), 16 GB of memory) V5Pro vastly outpaced V4.5Pro.
|Version||Check Duplicates Off||Check Duplicates On|
Metadata embedding speed remained mostly the same. I am assuming this is because writing to disk doesn’t isn’t a benefit offered by 64-bit code.
Here is the speed for burning 4.14 gigabytes of 50 3-minute ambience files:
|Version||First Embed||Update Embed|
New Search Methods
Soundminer has added new ways to search and sort sound files. A new left-panel Filter Search allows “drilling-down” into search results you’ve already found. Three drop down menus allow selecting from a limited number of metadata fields, say, Category, Microphone, and Artist. Once they are selected, a turn-down arrow allows instant filtering for any item in the list:
Here’s a gif that shows it in action:
Version 5 also adds search pills. Search terms or criteria are added in blue bubbles above search results. Removing one of them instantly adjust search results to reflect the remaining terms.
There is now a tag to database feature. Imagine you’re browsing through fighter jet clips. You want to keep track of your favourites. Previously, a popular way to collect your choices was to drag them to a “spotting playlist”. Now, a simple key press will invoke the “tag to database” window. This is a good way to save favourite files to a distinct list, while optionally updating selected metadata fields along the way.
Has your sound team added a dozen sounds to a Finder folder while you were grabbing a coffee? In version 5 databases can watch folders and add freshly added files.
Each database can be specified to watch a single Finder folder. Soundminer scans it periodically. Whenever you choose, clicking a button in the upper right of the search results will add the fresh files directly into the Soundminer database – no hunting for new clips or dragging and dropping required.
- Soundminer has expanded the number of metadata fields, including GPS latitude and longitude, iXML fields, and more.
- GPS data can be applied to metadata from an attached photo’s EXIF location data (and also hidden for privacy reasons).
- The user interface is updated with a smoother colour palette.
- Both databases and field default order can be specified in preferences: no more dragging fields around with every database you create.
- Have your sound library on Amazon S3? Soundminer can now stream playback directly from the cloud.
A few things have changed with version 5. Most importantly, SD2 files are no longer supported. A file format from quite some time ago, most apps have ditched the Sound Designer 2 format. You’ll need to convert these files into a V5-friendly format to use them.
One quick way to add metadata was to edit directly in a field by hovering the mouse pointer over the text and pressing e. This has a new magnified display.
Earlier versions of Soundminer could detect silence in a file, display the gaps in the window’s waveform, and jump across sections of dead air. A new pop-up window allows these properties to be adjusted.
A minor tweak: the amount of records is now shown at the bottom left of the search results.
A new menu item has been added: Execute Workflows. Previously tucked away in its own window, this menu allows Soundminer’s multi-step macros to be activated with a single click.
Soundminer now prefers to authorize with CodeMeter. HASP and iLok are still supported, though.
The plug-in processing rack now deals with channel assignment more smoothly. A drop-down menu allows selecting a custom output assignment.
The instructional manual is now online. The development team tell me this is still in progress, however a lot has been added over the past two weeks.
The preferences panels have all adopted significant changes. Here is a gallery of each preference tab:
I’ve been using V5 for a few weeks now. I use about 5 metadata apps to work on field recordings for my clients as well as for my own recordings. Here are my thoughts on the changes in V5, both where the software succeeds, and where I feel it could benefit in the future.
Right now users can upgrade to V5Pro from V4.5 for only $150. Considering that the full price for V5Pro is $899, the reasonable upgrade pricing is welcome. While it’s mandatory to surrender a V4.5 license while upgrading to V5, Soundminer graciously includes a specially built version of V4.5 to ease the transition.
The new 64-bit code has a definite effect you can feel. As mentioned, scans are dramatically faster. Generally though, everything feels more responsive and quicker.
While not a sound designer myself, I can appreciate that the Radium sampler is a significant addition for the fx wizards in the crowd. There are plenty of people raving about this, you can read more about this in the Soundminer Facebook group.
I was thrilled to see that Soundminer has added metadata GPS fields. More field recordists are travelling widely while they record and using location info to catalog their recordings. I’ve heard many requests to include GPS data in field recorders. Soundminer’s GPS fields will please those nature and international recordists. The iXML fields are also a fantastic addition.
Watched folders is nice to have and will help make workflows smoother. Most plug-in manufacturers support multiple plug-formats, and Soundminer already supports VST anyway, however, Audio Units support is good to have.
For the power users in the crowd, the ability to execute workflows from a menu item means they can be triggered by keystrokes. Previously, using workflows meant opening the special window and clicking a few buttons. Now shortcuts can be assigned using macOS keyboard preferences, or special apps like QuicKeys or Keyboard Maestro.
Soundminer is an unquestionably powerful tool. It is used and loved by thousands of fans. Like anything, there’s always room to grow. What should you know before you run V5 for the first time?
Well, since V5 has been re-written, the database structure has completely changed. That means all databases will need to be recreated, and all their respective sounds added again, with columns selected and arranged as preferred. The Soundminer team has noted there is a conversion tool in the works, but for now, users will need to rebuild their work from scratch.
The same goes for preferences: nothing is carried over from V4.5. This means things like MultiTags, workflows, and so on will be absent when you launch V5 for the first time. However, if you’re up to it, you can copy the preferences manually in a Finder window.
For instance, transfer workflows from
/Library/Application Support/Soundminer/Workflows/workflows.sqlite to
Contact Soundminer support to learn how you can transfer other preferences.
Soundminer’s power comes at a cost: it is complicated. Note that this isn’t a caveat that Soundminer alone is challenged by. Almost every metadata app is intricate due to the multitude of tasks they accomplish. All of these apps share a common issue: it’s hard to pack all the tools they have in a screen’s real estate while still showing lots of search results and a detailed waveform. In this way, Soundminer’s menus, pop-up windows, and buttons could benefit from unification. Due to the app’s intricacy, the user interface (UI) can be difficult for newbies to grapple, and the user experience (UX) can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. V5Pro’s UI changes to the left and right panels are an encouraging step in the right direction, as are new question mark info icons that link to explanations in the online manual.
Is this possible to simplify things for such a complicated app? For software that does so many things to such a wide variety of professionals, it may be an unrealistic expectation. However, unified window designs and typefaces are first on my personal wish list. A responsive mode for more modest displays would be helpful.
It’s not an easy task, I’d imagine. Even so, Soundminer has made headway with standard interface options to customize colours, column display, and so on. V5 has added keystrokes for shortcuts beside menu items. The new online manual – while a work in progress – is promising. It’s easier to access and read.
I also look forward to a version of Soundminer that helps sound library creators publish and protect their work, or new tools to help write metadata in a new organic, fluid way. I can’t criticize Soundminer in particular for that, though; every app would benefit from features for library creators or sound librarians, even if the market for that may be niche at the moment.
There are a few small quibbles such as the lack of default sorting for databases and so on, however, they’re not significant enough to really detract from the power and feature set that Soundminer V5 offers.
Will V5Pro Help You?
Is V5 a good choice for you?
When considering such an elaborate app and the different sound pros that use it, the answer varies.
Sound editors will like the new searching features, as well as the “tag to database” option. Those working with teams in facilities will appreciate watched folders to help keep things organized. S3 streaming will help designers on the road.
The sound librarians in the crowd have a few helpful tweaks, such as the Execute Workflow menu, iXML fields, and new metadata fields.
Really, though, this is a release for sound designers. The Radium sampler is a powerful way to invoke inspired creations, with support for Audio Units sweetening the deal.
Should You Buy V5Pro?
If you’re an existing V4.5Pro user, $150 upgrading to V5 is a no-brainer. It keeps the app alive for future macOS releases, adds a new coat of paint, improves speeds, and adds a variety of helpful features.
Haven’t used Soundminer before? New users may be intimidated by the initial price. After all, getting started with Soundminer V5Pro is $899. Unless you are certain you can use the advanced features of the app, more economical versions such as HD Basic and HDPlus may be better options (learn about differences here). Just as with field recording gear, it’s sometimes best to begin with simpler offerings until complex feature sets can be appreciated.
Sound designers in particular will be thrilled with the Radium sampler. It offers endless design customization with the added benefit of living directly inside the Soundminer app itself. It will be a significant improvement to any design workflow.
- Read the Soundminer v5 launch announcement.
- Watch videos on the Soundminer YouTube channel.
- Which Soundminer app do you need? Look at their product comparison chart.