As I was reviewing Metro 4, Cakewalk announced that the latest update (we looked at 4.0.1) adds notation capabilities. Timeline apart, notation was the only omission that previously separated Metro 4 from the likes of VST, Logic Audio, Vision DSP and Digital Performer as a professional music/digital audio sequencer, so now that this is available as well, the program scores very highly in the value-for-money stakes as it over £100 cheaper. Indeed for multimedia post-production, Metro 4 far outstrips these industry standards in terms of QuickTime compatibility and as such makes a very useful addition to even the most professional setup.
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Metro is a name that may be familiar to Macintosh users. It was originally a MIDI-only sequencer published by OSC, designers of what became the Korg 1212I/O Digital Audio Card and whose main software was a multi-track digital audio editor called Deck II (recently acquired by BIAS, the company behind Peak). When OSC was bought by Macromedia, the 1212I/O design went to Korg and it looked like Metro might have been consigned to the wastebasket of history. However, Twelve Tone, better know for its Windows audio software, is now publishing a greatly expanded version of the program under the name Cakewalk Metro. Metro 4 now boasts 64 stereo audio tracks of its own (dependant on CPU power). Rather uniquely, it’s actually able to simultaneously play back files recorded at different sample rates. In Cubase VST or Logic, you have to pick a single sample playback rate (usually 44.1 or 48K) and if any of the files you want to use differ from this then they have to be sample-rate converted offline (a time-consuming process, to say the least) before they can be used. This makes Metro perfect for multimedia projects where you might be using sound effects samples and sound bites recorded at lower sample rates than the musical components. Combined with the ability to synchronize to video in a QuickTime window within the program, makes Metro 4 a very powerful multimedia post-production tool. I found it very simple to import the audio component of a QuickTime movie taken from a DV camera, add my own MIDI/audio tracks, some third-party sound effects and atmospheres, then mix it all together and export the result back onto the QuickTime footage. This is thanks to a single item in the synchronization menu, QuickTime Sync, something I have been looking for in vain in VST and Logic for sometime now. This alone earns Metro 4 a regular place in my production set-up. The Cakewalk, Arboretum and SFX Lite effects supplied as standard are a good starting point for those without access to other plug-ins, but the real bonus with Metro 4 is the ability to use all VST and Adobe Premiere compatible plug-ins. Third-party VST plug-ins are now beginning to rival TDM in range and quality as a professional resource and without the expense of additional hardware. On installation, Metro 4 looks to see if OMS is on your Mac and automatically configures to that if present. The only downside of this is that it doesn’t seem to be possible to switch between OMS and standard Serial Port configuration. Whatever gets installed, you’re stuck with. Digital audio PCI card support is expanding; Audiomedia III and Korg 1212I/O have been usable for some time, but the latest addition is the Sonorus StudI/O card (see Macworld, October 1998). I even managed to get a 1212I/O and a StudI/O being accessed simultaneously for a short while using direct switching in the Instruments Window, but this proved to be unstable (admittedly this wasn’t suggested as a possibility anywhere in Metro’s manual). My only real reservation about Metro 4 is the continued lack of a realtime timeline moving in the main Tracks window (although it does happen in all the edit windows). Instead you get a little dot jumping from the centre of each bar to the next on the currently selected track. This really lets the program down as from a distance it is very difficult to see, especially if your screen is set to a very high resolution. I suppose you open one or more Graphic Editor windows for a visible cue for events.