Sonic Desktop Movie Maestro test and review

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Sonic Desktop Movie Maestro

Is Sonic Desktop's latest offering right on cue for the musically-challenged home video editor?

Sonic Desktop's SmartSound technology uses clever software paired with specially created library music to simplify the job of creating music tracks for video footage. Many readers will already have hands-on experience of the SmartSound approach since the company's QuickTracks plug-in is bundled with a number of editing programs, notably Pinnacle Studio, and Mac and Windows versions of Adobe Premiere.

The company also sells a flagship program for music-track creation, SonicFire Pro, winner of a CV Editor's Choice award. But, although SonicFire Pro is good, it isn't cheap - its £279 price-tag is over the top for home video editors wanting just to add a bit of musical polish to family videos. However, Sonic Desktop's latest offering, Movie Maestro, reviewed here, is considerably more affordable, costing just £40. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of SonicFire Pro, but does offer the same, wizard-driven, automated musical cue generation. And, it can play back video footage, giving instant previews of how the music gels with the video and its original soundtrack.

Getting started

With the Windows version sent in for review, installation took just a few minutes. The CD contains the program and a selection of 26 musical tracks in a range of styles, all recorded at 22kHz stereo. During installation, the user is asked whether the program should copy the music files to the hard drive - something which will speed up use of the program. Each file is under 20MByte in size, which is small in comparison to video files, and the total is under 350MByte. A simple Library option also allows tracks to be copied to hard disk at a later time. Stupidly, the user has no control over where any library files are stored - they are automatically placed within the program's own directory.

While there is reasonable variety in the supplied tracks, users may soon want to expand their musical choices. But, unlike SonicFire Pro, which can rip CDs and import a variety of audio files, Movie Maestro only works with Sonic Desktop's SmartSound audio files. Not surprisingly, though, the company sells an extensive collection of sample CDs, covering styles from orchestral through to hip-hop.

Movie Maestro can work with these collections, but most 22kHz sets cost £59 and all 48kHz sets are £99 - which may be too rich for some users. Fortunately, the 22kHz range includes six recently launched CDs costing £28 each and aimed at Movie Maestro users and others on tight budgets (see the Library options textbox for more details). In contrast with the more expensive collections, though, these are only licensed for use in non-commercial video projects.

For the musically challenged home video editor, Movie Maestro is a no-brainer. It does its job well and is likely to be within the budget of many home video enthusiasts - though that budget may not necessarily include a selection of additional SmartSound CDs. Creating scores with Movie Maestro is far less hassle than trying to edit music to fit and, despite the fact that the supplied samples use library music, the results always sound very polished. Musicians may hate the idea, but won't be able to deny that adding suitable musical underscores to family wedding or holiday videos doesn't get any easier than this.

John Walden



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Sonic Desktop Movie Maestro
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