Audio Repair – Why It Is Important and How You Get the Best Out Of It
Have you ever ditched a take because there was a problem with the audio? Noisy guitar amps? Headphone mix bleed? Barking dogs? Until a couple of years ago, re-recording would be your solution of choice.
Audio repair used to be something reserved for forensic audio (a seriously cool topic) or film sound professionals.
But things have shifted. Packages like iZotope RX or Accusonus ERA are becoming standard tools even in music production.
Why bother with audio repair? I just re-record…
No doubt about it: a clean take is the most desirable recording to work with. But consider this: More and more artists record in their home studios. As a consequence, more often than not you as a producer or engineer will have to work with less than ideal raw material. The arrival of COVID19 has intensified this even more.
Being able to fix audio problems is like pulling an ace out of your sleeve during a poker match. Some clients might even think you’re practicing voodoo with their audio…
Are you ready to add an essential production skill to your portfolio? Let’s go for a ride!
What audio repair tasks will I encounter?
Unwanted noises can be grouped into three categories, each needing a specific set of tools to remove. They are:
- Background noise: Hiss from a mic pre or guitar amp hum are two great examples. This type of noise is constant and, therefore, the easiest to tackle.
- Repetitive transient noises: Vocal smack sounds, crackles, or pops fall into this category. These sounds are a bit more difficult to remove, but since they still have a certain regularity, there are automated solutions out there to help you to get rid of them.
- Random noises: Your artist’s chair creaked during the recording? There’s a dog barking in the middle of the second chorus? These noises are the most difficult to remove and will require manual editing.
The tools of the trade
Now that you know which types of enemies you will have to tackle on your path to audio repair mastery, let’s check out the tools you need to take down each one of them!
Constant background noise removal plug-ins
These are really easy to use. Just give them a few milliseconds of noise to analyze and choose the amount of reduction. More sophisticated tools can estimate the background noise signature for you – handy if you don’t have a piece of noise-only recording available.
Transient noise removal plug-ins
These plug-ins work with algorithms made to detect certain types of noises like clicks, mouth pops, plosives, or fret squeaks. Usually, they give you a small set of parameters to tweak the algorithm to your needs. A bit of experimentation might be necessary, but once you get the hang of it, the results will be very satisfying.
Tackling random noises
While the first two categories of noise can be removed with automated algorithms, tackling random noises requires you to really get your hands dirty. For this work, you’ll need a spectral editor (also known as Photoshop for audio) like iZotope’s RX or Steinberg’s Spectral Layers.
You’ll need to identify the noise signature of the offending sound in a spectrogram. It’s a bit like reading the code of the Matrix – after some time, you just think ‘bird… dog… thud…’.
Tips for choosing the right audio repair package
To sum up, I’ll compare two popular audio repair packages and give you the ups and downs of each one. This should give you a good idea of what to look for when you’re researching the bundle that’s perfect for you.
Full disclosure: The links in this section are affiliate links, so I get a couple of quids if you decide to buy something after clicking them.
- Contains Noise Remover, Reverb Remover, De-Esser, De-Clipper, Plosive Remover, and Audio CleanUp Assistant.
- Advantage: Highly intuitive and well-priced.
- Disadvantage: No manual editing possible.
- Contains a great variety of automated and manual audio repair tools (Spectral Repair, DeNoise, DeReverb, DePlosive, Music Rebalance, DeClip, and many more).
- Advantage: Highly flexible toolkit with manual spectral editing.
- Disadvantage: More time needed to learn the different functions, higher price.
If you only need to remove the odd noise from a vocal or guitar track, the ERA bundle will serve you well. However, my advice is to get proficient in the use of RX. Apart from being the more complete option, it’s considered a standard in post-production. And film producers are always looking for good dialogue editors…