I’d agree that WL7 looks like WL8 and both are pretty 90s PCish and, well, ugly graphically. The iconography is dated, and the color choices can never be perfect for anyone other than the artist who laid out the palette. And I’d disagree that soundBlade looks worse (though I’d agree it’s equally confusing, it is visually a much cleaner design due to it’s historic reliance on 3rd party macros etc to extend it’s functionality), and sharper functional focus - it’s made to deliver rendered files and DDPs, period. Other tasks are a hack in soundBlade, while Wavelab is actually a passable multitrack DAW, excellent file editor, and solid batch processor all in one. Functionally, Wavelab remains pretty unique in that regard.
Since it appears we’re in a similar place wrt aesthetics of the app, let’s concede the icons are dated and the palette limited – it is what it is in those areas. What made me upgrade an app I used for my side-gig (teaching) to a fairly regular main axe in my rig are functional improvements in my daily workflow, combined with my experiences customizing WL7’s interface. That second part came down to this: as a new mac user with WL7, getting past the uglies was pretty easy and something I accepted when I bought the license, but workflow, learning curve and access to features like you mention was not quite as simple. In a nutshell, I devoted the better part of a day to learning how to tweak/customize the interface, key commands and functionality. I discovered the discombobulated explosion of windows was something under user control - by docking various bits and pieces, building dedicated workspaces and layouts, and hiding (or at least moving to less-visible places) all the junk I don’t use or rarely need got me 90% of the way home. The upside was that for a few days I understood the workflow as well as the signal flow, and could easily adjust things until I got it all right. The down side is that once it was set up, I forgot how I did most of that customization, so I’ve had to re-learn it for WL8. When I installed the app in the first place, for whatever reason many of my layouts created problems, so I blew them all up and started over; This involved lots of manual digging, as my aging brain no longer retained the details of my previous adventure.
As it happens that’s not as bad as it sounds. For one thing, it revealed some powerful features that led me to upgrade. For instance the gain-staging and ranging tools in the effects tab of WL8 is a huge benefit for me… I do a lot of restoration work, and signal levels can be very very low (intentionally to scale defects, unintentionally due to error); in those cases the 6 dB range of the old clip gain was very inadequate, adding time to my day as I adjusted levels in the file window. This is where the disconnected environments shine: when editing files, I don’t want to see EDLs/Montage views, I want it painfully obvious that I’m working destructively. A radically different window makes that point in spades. But I digress - the new Montage master effects stage changed the routing and rules concerning “master”, so having to re-read the manual was a net benefit, and that’s my point. Moreover the fact that there was a manual to read in the first place eased the trauma considerably.
The metering has improved dramatically, as have the batch utilities and metadata handling. I already have terrific meters and instruments (SpectraFoo, Insight, Span), but I’m finding WL8’s meters are more resource-efficient in use… I still have a couple Foo meters I can’t live without, but I’ve come to trust the Loudness meters in WL8 over others… It expands my business in a couple unexpected ways. First, it enables me to market my services in the sound-for-pic market, helping advertisers comply with new loudness laws in the US and existing ones in Europe. Also the True Peak feature is critical and quite accurate; for Mastered for iTunes projects I can work securely in WL8, knowing my bounces won’t crap out in Apple’s afclip before running the files through their tools, and transcoding. That saves me time, and my customers money, which grows business. Similarly Replay Gain metadata support suggests a new line of business/service for new customers. Effectively WL8 allows us to edit ALL aspects of audio files, streams and bounces. As with the GUI customization, the scriptability of the tools and features has a steep learning curve to use but represent a very powerful workflow. The new added master stage is certainly nice too - it gets beyond some of my gripes with the lack of a summing stage ahead of the main outputs. I don’t use the new speaker configuration tools, but that’s because I can do all that in the hardware of my ULN8 with much less DSP. What I gain from this new section is better integration of outboard stuff in the signal path; It makes it easier to use multi-track Montages. And of course Montages-within-montages is kind of cool and handy too.
While I’ve already mentioned the Effects tab, the unified plug-in view is also pretty handy. It’s a step back from the “explosion of windows” experience of WL7, and on bigger monitors I can set it to open over the Effects tab, where it blocks nothing I need at that particular moment, leaving my meters and timeline unobstructed.
I’m NOT a fan of WL’s look and feel in ANY version. For my tastes it’s never looked very good. But it’s always been powerful and holistic, versus competitors, and today it does many things well that require separate apps in other systems (in the case of the file editor it’s mo’ better than any I’ve used). The file editor is as powerful as any other. The Montage is as powerful as anyone elses EDL (more precise and dependable than all but dedicated mastering daws). The batch tool works as well as many dedicated batchers. I don’t like very many of the plugs, and having to manage VSTs on a mac is not really pleasant - I can’t use Mastered for iTunes tools in WL8 at all, not to mention many other AU-only plugs I rely on. That’s a shame. I’m glad to see Izotope MBit Dither, but I’d prefer the ability to use Izotope’s SRC for non-realtime rendering, as opposed to the Crystal Resampler (which remains a unique miracle for editing/playback).
Everything is a tradeoff, and the time spent with the manual to customize WL7, then re-reading and doing it all again for WL8 (sorry PG, but the initial installation really munged things, so I had to wipe and clean-install, ignoring previous settings) was richly rewarded almost immediately. With WL7 that was much harder and more painful… the online help and weak tutorials made it tough for us newbie mac guys. In WL8 the manual helped ease that pain and get to the reward faster.