Audio Restoration: A Powerful Tool In An Evolving Field

Most days of the week, while working on sound design or composing music, I will have a moment when I reflect on how much the world of audio and music production has changed so quickly in the relatively short amount of time I have been in this profession. I remember upgrading from my old Gateway PC to a 2008 Mac Pro tower the summer before my junior year at Western Carolina. The prior year I had become friends with Jonathan Churchill, Co-Founder at Embertone virtual instruments here in Raleigh. When Jon first showed me his compositional works for video games the semester before I felt a switch going off in my head changing my desired course of future employment from band director to composer. My mind was boggled by the fact you could make such great sounding music from one computer! Growing up I always imagined everything had to come from a professional studio with millions of dollars of gear in it. Seeing Jon produce music from a Mac I told myself “I have to get one of those.” Seven years ago I also recall hearing the audio samples he was using and thinking “Wow, that sounds like a real orchestra!” Of course in that short seven years the quality of virtual instruments, analog modeled plug-ins, digital audio workstations, and everything in between has increased exponentially. And it’s only going to do so even more in the years to come.

One of my favorite types of audio software to really come to light the last few years has been software geared towards audio restoration and repair. Now, there have been methods of reducing noise and crackle and various little messes here and there for a long time. Those are certainly all helpful and vital in achieving great audio for any medium of media. Within the last few years software such as iZotope’s RX line have given us ways to dive into audio from a spectral standpoint and remove just about anything you don’t want in your audio recordings.

Anyone who has recorded audio on set for a film of any form will tell you there is quite a process to capturing the purest audio from the shoot. Being outside of a controlled environment there is a good chance that your microphones will pick up anything from car noises, to AC units, to wind, to chatter in the corner, and the list could go on and on. Luckily for us if those sounds creep into our recordings we can remove them and deliver the audio your video deserves!

This tutorial video of iZotope’s RX software is a great demonstration of the difference even the slightest cleaning up of audio can do. Watch as the audio engineer is able to remove the noisy clicks from a wedding photographer’s camera during the vows of the ceremony.

 

But what about the restoration of audio? Some clips may be too loud and distort during the recording process. While it is still in best practice to record at appropriate levels there also could be sounds a client would want to use that they have on hand that need to be repaired.  Those types of recordings or sound effects can be worked with and polished too!

 

Finally, in case you are saying “Dustin, that’s great but have you used anything like this before?”, here is a clip from a project I worked on earlier last year. This comes from a series of recordings done in the New York City metro system. Singer Pavlina Horakova and pianist Drew Spradlin came up with the idea to take a piano to the subway system in New York City and record different movements from operatic works of the past. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you a subway system, let alone the one in NYC, is filled with noise stacked upon noise with a little more noise on top of that. With a lot of determination, and several cups of coffee, I was able to not only clean up this recording of several extraneous sounds but was also able to repair several instances of distortion and clipping to hopefully bring you into the beautiful music these two performed.

 

I hope all of you reading this have found it informative! Feel free to comment and let’s talk about the great things happening in audio and video production.

 

-Dustin

 

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