The Soundation Studio digital audio workstation (DAW) web app impressed us right off the bat with its stability and flexibility.
While creating your own teenage symphonies to god (or whatever else you have in mind), the app lets you pull samples either from your own recordings or an extensive library of pre-recorded clips. You can then position samples on a track, cut them up, copy and repeat them, and mix their volume levels against the level of other tracks of music.
Soundation Studio also includes more advanced options, such as automating volume and left/right panning for each track, and applying a selection of effects like reverb and phaser. Changes like these can be done on the fly (i.e. as your song plays), which underlines the stability of the system.
All of the usual DAW features are to be found here, and we found them intuitive to use. When samples you pick are of different tempos for example, Soundation automatically asks you if you’d like to time stretch or pitch bend them so they fit comfortably together.
The audio quality is surprisingly good, using the uncompressed WAV format across the board, even in the final output file you can download when you’re finished. However, this insistence on sound quality might be a bit much, because Soundation actually only supports WAV files, requiring that anything you have as MP3 or in another compressed format will need to be converted before you can upload it.
When you’re done, you can mix down your work as a WAV on your local machine, or Soundation can provide an online version for distribution through social media channels.
But how much does all of this cost? Everything mentioned above can be accessed for free in a single session. Soundation pays the bills by charging for various expanded options, like space on its “cloud” to save and store your samples and session information, and access to their premium content (i.e. sample libraries).
Packages start from $19 per year, while the Sound Shop pictured above lets you buy sample collections piecemeal.
Soundation is certainly a powerful application overall, but before you put your Pro Tools rig up on eBay, there is one drawback to be aware of: Despite Soundation’s clever online sequencing options, it (like its online recording competitors) can’t replicate the entire recording process at home.
The root of the trouble is latency — the time lag that comes from trying to process all that audio data and get it back out to your ears. From my rough calculations, Soundation’s latency was at least 10 times as severe than with a typical home recording system. What that means for you is that here, as with other online DAWs, there is no way to record new tracks in real time as Soundation plays other elements of your song in the background. The recording process is therefore to some extent blind, and better suited to the arranging of pre-recorded tracks (whether your own tracks or Soundation’s samples).
If you are working with already-recorded samples this is not an issue, and besides, the cost of home recording system with lower latency for multitrack recording can still add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars (our tip: try Audacity first, if that’s what you’re after). This pervasive latency issue aside, we found the Soundation subscription plans to offer some pretty powerful tools for a modest outlay.