When it comes to audio plug-ins, video editors have different needs than audio mixers. Sure, you need EQ, compression, and limiting, but the plug-ins you reach for most often revolve around the clean-up and enhancement of dialogue.
There are a number of third-party plug-in solutions, which augment the built-in enhancement features of most editing applications. However, solutions like the full version of iZotope RX can be pricey, especially for upgrades. Accusonus, another alternative, has left the plug-in business. The tools in Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and DaVinci Resolve vary in effectiveness; however, they lack comprehensive user control, often presenting only an amount slider. So there’s room for innovation.
Version 2 was introduced in 2019 and added 64-bit OS support, improved algorithms, and Mid/Side processing functions. Acon Digital’s software supports Windows and macOS and runs natively on Apple Silicon, as well as Intel processors. The plug-ins install AU, AAX, VST, and VST3 versions.
Of the four plug-ins that constitute Restoration Suite 2, DeNoise 2 provides the most versatility. It’s designed to remove background noise, like wind or waves hitting the beach, but there are additional factory presets for voice and music. You can run it adaptively or with a noise profile (noise print). Adaptive processing can tackle broadband or combined noise. The difference is that combined processing takes into account noise with a tonal quality, like hum. Using the combined mode will affect the voice to a greater degree.
The noise profile works in a similar fashion to other tools. Run a piece of the audio that only has background noise for a few seconds and click Learn. Then click the “power” icon to apply that noise profile. According to Acon Digital, “Version 2 introduces the novel dynamic noise profiles that help reducing noise that varies randomly over time, such as wind noise or rustle from lavaliere microphones. Where the earlier versions merely captured a static noise print with time-constant noise levels, the dynamic noise profiles capture statistics from the noise to be reduced. The noise suppression algorithm then estimates the most suitable noise threshold curve for the noisy input signal using the measured statistics.”
Unlike most other noise reduction plug-ins, the DeNoise 2 interface includes controls for reduction, knee, attenuation, and reaction time. The Adaptation Time slider sets how long before the the plug-in responds to changes in the noise floor. A shorter time means that processing kicks in more quickly, but it can affect the desired signal.
A histogram dynamically displays the audio signal versus the processing curve. Click Emphasis and you now have control at multiple frequency ranges. Let’s say you want to remove background wind noise. That’s usually a higher frequency noise. Simply drag down that control point and adjust the curve. You can then raise the other control points if you like. While sounds like wind noise work well in the adaptive mode, I got the best result setting a noise profile and using Emphasis to tweak the control points. Finally, there’s a Mid/Side mode if you are working with stereo source material.
DeClick filters are commonly used to remove clicks, scratches, and pops in recordings. This is typical with any music tracks that come from an older vinyl LP. Another source of clicks can be from digital recordings. This filter can be used to minimize them if minor, but if the audio is completely trashed, you are out of luck. However, DeClick 2 has other uses, such as the reduction of plosives – a voice-over announcer popping “p” consonants. There are separate factory preset groups of 78 RPM, Vinyl, and Voice. The later group includes presets for reducing mouth clicks and for plosives. So DeClick 2 covers more audio artifacts than the name might imply.
This plug-in is designed to restore distorted, clipped recordings, such as an over-driven voice recording. DeClip 2 replaces distorted peaks with an estimate of the proper signal level. The histogram displays the signal with a positive and negative threshold slider.
The first step is to adjust the input gain so the signal is loud enough for the filter to make a proper correction. But, make sure some headroom is left. Pick the worst-sounding section and click Detect for an automatic selection. Then manually tweak the two threshold sliders to fine-tune the sound. Adjust the output gain if needed. This filter did a great job for me in recovering the transients in my test clips, thus repairing otherwise distorted voice recordings.
I didn’t have a real-world dialogue source with hum to test this last plug-in. Instead, I created my own, taking a VO track, mixing in 60Hz hum, and bouncing that out as my test clip. DeHum 2 completely removed the embedded hum without distorting the voice. There’s a preset for 50Hz and 60Hz sources, along with a variable frequency control. You can manually dial in the frequency and sensitivity or click the “target” icon to set the profile automatically. The hum in my test clip turned out to be 59.97 instead of a true 60Hz.
The number of harmonics can be selected, should the offending hum have those. This is displayed on the histogram. There are two modes selected by toggling the Notch Filter button. The Notch Filter mode reduces CPU load, but can impact the voice more. When it’s disabled, DeHum 2 subtracts a hum signal created through a re-synthesis technique in order to minimize signal distortions.
Acon Digital has developed a very useful audio enhancement/repair toolkit for video editors. It’s also handy for anyone producing podcasts – especially those recording interviews via Zoom. These four plug-ins are easy to set and adjust and give you plenty of control. Three include a solo function to monitor the noise being removed. In addition to the factory presets, you can save your own – tailored to your particular audio needs.
For complex challenges, stack more than a single instance of these filters onto a clip. For instance, you might apply DeClick 2 (remove plosives) plus DeNoise 2 (remove background noise) to the same on-camera presenter audio for the cleanest results. Each filter can tackle a range of similar audio artifacts.
When you compare that to competing products, others might require you to buy several plug-ins to tackle the same set of conditions. For instance, you might have to purchase separate filters for plosive removal and mouth clicks, rather than one filter that’s able to perform either task. With only four individual plug-ins contained in the Restoration Suite 2 bundle, you might mistakenly think another bundle with more plug-ins is also more comprehensive. That’s definitely not the case here.
Along with Acon Digital’s Restoration Suite 2, Acoustica, and a separate Mastering Suite, the individual plug-in products also include a handy, free reverb filter (Verberate Basic). You may run the software on as many computers as you personally own and have control of. All of the plug-ins that I tested worked well in the Apple and Adobe DAWs and NLEs that I use. Be sure to check out a trial version first if you have any questions about your particular kit.
This week the audio and editing worlds were buzzing with news that Avid Technology was exploring a potential sale of the company. This stems from a single article at Reuters. I have no additional news on this nor any inside information. Not to mention that any such single news article should always be taken with a grain of salt. But, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. Much of what I’m going to write next about possible future scenarios will be highly speculative.
Avid was the first nonlinear editing system I ever used, so there’s some fondness for the company. In spite of that, these days I mainly edit with Premiere Pro and sometimes with Final Cut Pro. I color correct in Resolve and of all the apps, that’s viewed by many as the up and comer.
Avid Technology is often viewed through the lens of Media Composer or Pro Tools, depending on your position in the industry. Yet, the company is way more than that, with offerings in newsroom software, graphics production, storage, audio hardware, and cloud/remote editing services. We often forget that Avid led the way in developing key technologies that we take for granted today, such as file-based field acquisition (Ikegami EditCam) and software-based color correction (Symphony).
Although Avid is a large company, it’s minuscule when compared with many others. Avid is focused solely on the professional content creation market – broadcast, news, television, feature films, and the recording industry. Despite several attempts, it has never successfully leveraged its technology into a viable consumer product line.
On top of that, Avid has struggled to meet the financial challenges of cheaper alternatives nipping at their heels in the pro space. In the past decade they appear to have reached a stasis point with some growth. This is partly thanks to Apple, when they re-imagined the original version of Final Cut Pro as Final Cut Pro X. That turned off many in the pro market and drove some to Premiere Pro, but also others back to Media Composer. Nevertheless, the Wall Street investment community wants significant growth and that’s hard to achieve for a company like Avid. A shift to a subscription model has been maligned by some, but it’s likely to have helped them. However, missing earning projections – realistic or not – hasn’t.
Ultimately, staking your business model on Hollywood (I use that in a broad sense and not a specific location) probably isn’t a good idea any longer. Film studios and TV producers often work through post companies that supply rental systems on demand per project. They maintain an inventory of decked out Media Composer workstations. Since most of the professional community is risk-averse, many of these rental systems go a while before being updated to newer versions of the software. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, the owners want to maximize their investment in hardware and software. So, even in Avid’s core market, growth isn’t guaranteed.
The movie studios, streamers like Netflix, and TV networks have certain recommended workflows that often dictate Media Composer and/or Pro Tools systems. You would think that offers some stability. However, studios also used to be locked into film and relied on workhorse tools, like KEMs, Steenbecks, and Moviolas. I started video editing in the early days of CMX and, like the film benches, saw it come and go. There’s no guarantee for any of Avid’s products. In fact, in the early software NLE days, Lightworks was preferred over Avid by numerous editors. Yet, it too, is a shadow of its former self.
Some have opined that a company like Blackmagic Design – who has made numerous strategic acquisitions – would buy Avid Technology. I find that highly unlikely. First, Avid is presumably still too healthy to make it palatable for Blackmagic Design. Second, Blackmagic already offers many products that directly compete with Avid’s and within the same market space. The company simply has no need for what Avid Technology has to offer, unless they only wanted to gut the company for its portfolio of intellectual property.
Apple is another name that pops up. I find that idea totally ludicrous. They have a different view of the marketplace than when Final Cut Pro 1.0 was launched nearly a quarter century ago. Having professional film and TV studios use products with the Apple name and logo is of interest for sure, but in reality it’s a minor blip on their radar.
What about a breakup?
More intriguing is what would happen if the company were split into several entities. After all, the Avid Technology of today has been built out of a series of acquisitions, plus internal development. As I see it, Pro Tools has the best chance of surviving as a standalone company selling audio hardware and software. The Pro Tools application started under the Digidesign brand before that company was bought by Avid. The current audio consoles and control surfaces morphed from Avid’s acquisition of Euphonix.
Audio has a chance of survival as a separate company, simply because Pro Tools has a much stronger presence in the consumer and indie musician community. These products are a staple of most recording studios and there are many aspiring musicians. Search YouTube and you’ll find a lot more influencers using Pro Tools than are using Media Composer. However, it could also be acquired by a larger audio-centric conglomerate, such as Audiotonix, which owns Solid Sate Logic, Harrison, and others. Then there’s the wild card of some music industry luminary buying the Pro Tools unit for its software and consoles in order to ensure their continued development. That’s not totally far-fetched, considering that Peter Gabriel owned SSL for 12 years for exactly that reason.
The next unit to go could be the news, graphics, and storage products. Although Avid storage works well within the Avid ecosystem, storage – even high-end storage – is a commodity product. As a group, this might play well within another broadcast company, such as Grass Valley. If this were to happen, that would be the ultimate irony. Grass Valley is owned by Black Dragon Capitol, which is run by Louis Hernandez, Jr., who was a former Avid CEO. Nevertheless, Grass Valley is already a composite of several other top-tier broadcast equipment companies, including the Grass Valley Group, Snell & Wilcox, and Quantel.
Where does that leave Media Composer?
I don’t mean to imply in all of this that the products, especially Media Composer, have no value. One of Avid’s biggest strengths is collaborative workflows. The closest of the competitors is Adobe with Productions for Premiere Pro. I’ve worked in workgroups using both and Avid still has the edge. If you are working on a large film or reality TV series with a team of picture, assistant, VFX, and music editors, then it’s hard to beat an Avid ecosystem. Unfortunately, that’s a niche.
It’s possible that the Media Composer software unit could go along with an acquisition like I just described. Not so much as Media Composer, but rather as the Newscutter version. This would allow such a company to offer a turnkey news editing solution tied directly to the storage. In spite of being viewed as the marquee product within the brand, Media Composer is the least attractive of all of Avid’s products from an investment and acquisition standpoint. It is the flagship product, but large companies who purchase tons of Avid storage often get Media Composer licenses at loss leader prices.
This brings to mind a different scenario. Since editing on Media Composer seems essential to many in the Hollywood community, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that a group of Hollywood companies or directors could band together to purchase the assets and personnel necessary to develop, maintain, and sell the Media Composer application. This would not be unlike the Kodak deal pushed by Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, J. J. Abrams, and others. They brokered an arrangement between film studios and Kodak to keep the company alive and ensure the continued availability of film stock.
Let me stress that it’s all very early and what I’ve discussed is purely hypothetical. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Avid has struggles ahead. If I were a betting man, then the likeliest scenario of all of these is that Avid finds a new investment group and continues along the same path with slight growth and ongoing ups and downs.
Regardless of what happens, if you operate Avid software or hardware, it’s going to continue to work in spite of potential changes. If you are a film or audio engineering student with serious plans to enter into the traditional film and/or recording studio worlds, then for the time being it will be worthwhile to know your way around Media Composer and/or Pro Tools. In the extremely unlikely event that Avid Technology went over the cliff tomorrow, its products would still be in use for some years to come.
So let’s just sit back and see how the story develops. This could be much ado about nothing and like Mark Twain’s comment on reading his own obituary in the newspaper, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
A perennial topic among YouTube audio production channels is whether analog is better than digital and whether or not it even makes a difference. While I’m a video editor and not a mixer, the music projects that I have been involved with have all been recorded analog. Of course, in the past 20 years audio has been increasingly recorded and mixed purely in the digital realm. Although, sometimes analog pieces of gear were used for character and color.
I found this particular video (linked) of Nelson’s intriguing, because it tackled the analog/digital debate head-on. It’s from an older session of his in which he recorded and mixed the song “Traveling Light” by artist S. Joel Norman. As he explains in the video, most of the instrument tracks were “multed” – i.e. the mic signals were split and simultaneously recorded to 2″ analog multitrack tape, as well as directly into Pro Tools. Once the tape tracks were also ingested into Pro Tools, they could compare and pick whichever sounded the best. According to his commentary, the instrument tracks that were recorded to tape were preferred over those recorded directly to Pro Tools for this song. This is in keeping with the soul/gospel/RnB vibe of the song.
Doing my own remix
Since I like to mix some of these tunes (a hobby and to learn), I downloaded the tracks, dropped them into Logic Pro, and compared. As I first listened to the soloed tracks, the digital versions sounded better to me – louder and more open. My intent originally was to mix in Logic using mainly the built-in plug-ins. Unfortunately as I started to build the mix, I had trouble getting the right sound, especially with drums. Drums are often one of the hardest parts of the mix to get right. It’s usually the largest number of mics with the most leakage. Getting a drum kit to sound right and not like someone is pounding on cardboard boxes can take a mix engineer a lot of time.
I decided to change my approach and wherever possible, switch over to the tracks recorded to tape. Instantly the mix started to fall into line. This is a classic case of what sounds great in solo might not sound as good in combination with the rest of the mix. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This is why veteran mixers always caution beginners not to fixate too much on making each individual track sound perfect on its own.
Along with the decision to change my approach, I also abandoned the idea of doing the whole mix with Logic’s native plug-ins. Don’t get me wrong. The tools included with Logic Pro are quite good. Their compressor and vintage EQ options are designed to emulate certain models of sought-after, classic analog gear. They just don’t use the licensed branding. I did still use them, but more sparsely.
Tracks -> Stacks -> Submix -> Output
My standard track layout for these mixes is to combine each instrument group into a summing track stack (a bus) – drums, guitar, bass, keys, vocals, etc. I usually route all of these instrument stems (buses) to a submix bus, which in turn is sent to the output. This allows me to mix levels and add plug-ins/processing at three stages – the track, the track stack, and the final submix bus. I don’t add any processing to the output bus. Only metering plug-ins are applied there.
For this project, I decided to use a modified approach. All instrument stems were routed to a separate instruments bus (minus any vocals). Then the combination of instruments, vocals, and choir were routed to the submix bus. The advantage of this type of film/TV mixing style is that I could adjust all instruments as a group on a single channel and balance them as a unit against the vocals and choir.
In the past I used to rely on hardware faders, but I don’t own a control surface. I also used to write live automation passes with the mouse, but I’ve gone away from doing that, too. Instead, I surgically add and adjust keyframes throughout the individuals tracks, as well as the stems. Usually I will balance out the mix this way before ever adding plug-ins. Those are there to sweeten – not to do the heavy lifting.
Mixing with plug-ins and channel strips
My main effects tool for this mix was the Waves Scheps Omni Channel plug-in, which I applied to each track stack (instrument group). Andrew Scheps is a renowned mixer who has partnered with Waves to develop the Omni Channel. The advantage to a channel strip is that you have multiple effects tools (filters, compression, EQ, etc) at your fingertips all within a single interface. It mimics a channel strip on an analog console. No need to open multiple plug-in windows.
I also have both SSL and Focusrite channel strip plug-ins, but I prefer the Scheps version. Instead of simply designing just another SSL or Neve copy, Scheps was able to pick and choose the character of different products to create a channel strip that he would like to use himself. It sounds great, has a ton of presets, and unlike the name-brand emulations, the modules within the plug-in can be expanded and re-arranged. When applying it to instrument stacks, I can really develop the character that I want to hear.
No mix is ever finished after the first pass. When I compared my mix to the official mix that’s available on Spotify, I noticed some distinct differences. The artist’s version had some additional overdubbed instrumentation (strings and some embellishments) that I didn’t have in the download. They also chose to delay the start of the choir after the breakdown mid-song. These are all subjective choices based on taste. Of course, the release mix has also been professionally mastered, which can make a big difference.
What bothered me in my mix was the lack of a really present bottom end. This is often the difference in amateur versus pro mixes. A top-level mixer like Marc Daniel Nelson is certainly going to be way better at it than I am. In addition, he might be mixing in a hybrid fashion using Pro Tools along with key pieces of analog gear that really improve the sound and help to sculpt the sonic qualities of a song.
In an effort to increase and improve the bottom end, I decided to swap the kick drum tracks recorded to tape for the digital versions. I also dropped the bass amp track in favor of only using the bass DI track. The second thing was to use Logic’s vintage graphic EQ to boost the kick drum and bass low frequencies. This particular plug-in emulates an API console EQ and is a good choice for the low end.
In the modern era, live drum sounds are often replaced by drum samples. The samples are triggered by the live drums, so you still get the right feel and timing, but a better drum sound. Often a mixer will combine a bit of both. I don’t know whether or not that was done in the actual mix. I’m certainly not implying that it was. Nevertheless, this is a fairly common modern practice to get really killer drum kit mixes.
Dealing with recording reality
When you start playing with raw tracks, it’s inevitable that you’re going to listen to each in the solo mode. You quickly see that even the best recordings will have some wrinkles. For example, I don’t like when a singer or a voice-over artist takes huge breaths between phrases. At first, I tried to mitigate these with De-Breath plug-ins – first Accusonus and later iZotope RX. Both introduced some annoying artifacts that I could hear in the mix. So I decided on the old-school approach, simply adding keyframes and ducking the vocal track at each breath. In doing so – and paying very close attention to the vocal, I also realized that some sort of gate must have been used during the recording. You could hear a track drop to silence as a last word faded between phrases. Riding levels helped to smooth these out, too.
Working with the bass track, I also noticed some “fizz” in the 3khz range. This appeared to be coming from the bass pick-ups. Noise reduction/restoration plug-in hurt the quality too much, so I used Logic’s parametric EQ to notch out this frequency.
Circling back to the original analog versus digital debate, it simply comes down to preference and the genre of the music. If you grew up on the classic rock, country, or RnB/soul music of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, then you’ll probably prefer the sound of analog. After all, those recordings were usually made in the best studios, by mixers at the top of their game, and using the finest analog gear of the day. Can you reproduce those exact sounds on your own computer with bog standard plug-ins? Maybe, but unlikely. On the other hand, if your musical tastes go off in a different direction – electronica, hip hop, etc – then maybe digital will sound better to you. There is no right or wrong answer, since taste is personal.
The trick is starting with a great recording that gets you nearly there and then enhance it. To do that, learn the tools you already have. Every DAW comes with a great set of built-in plug-ins. There are also many free and/or inexpensive third-party plug-ins on the market. The upside is that you can apply multiple instances of a fancy name-brand emulation on each and every track of your mix, which would never be possible with the real hardware due to cost. The downside is that you have so many options out there, that a lot of users simply amass a collection of plug-ins that they have no idea how to use. This induces option-paralysis.
If you own a ton of plug-ins, it’s a good idea to ween yourself off of them. Focus on a select group and learn them well. Understand how they work and when to use them. As I’ve mentioned, I like Omni Channel, as well as the Logic plug-ins. If you are looking for a family of products, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the tools from iZotope, Sonible, and/or FabFilter. Music mixing is about taste and emotion. Be sure to preview your mixes for some trusted friends to get their feedback. After working for hours on a mix, you might be too close to it. Then refine as needed. In the end, if you are doing this for fun, then you have only yourself to please. Enjoy!
This week Apple dropped a big one on its users. By the end of May, there will be new, mobile versions of Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad. These apps feature interfaces optimized for touch and the Pencil. Both will also include some advanced features not yet found in the desktop versions. Presumably updates of those will also come in short order to maintain compatibility.
The other two Apple professional video applications – Motion and Compressor – have been left out of the loop. At least for now. System requirements for Final Cut Pro are somewhat different than for Logic Pro. FCP will require a newer iPad Pro or iPad Air. Logic Pro will run on any iPad with an A12 Bionic chip or later. Both require iPadOS 16.4 or later.
The timing of this announcement is curious, since it precedes WWDC 2023. The speculation is that it was designed to beat Google to the punch one day before the Google I/O 2023 event, where details of the Pixel Tablet have been revealed. It’s an iPad competitor, although not equal to the iPad Pro models. However, by making this early iPad-related announcement, Apple gains the attention of the tech press and might pull some attention away from Google. Hmm…
What does the competition look like?
I reviewed LumaTouch’s LumaFusion when it was launched five years ago. At a casual glance, I would say that Apple picked up design inspiration from LumaTouch. Of course, it could be argued that LumaTouch mimicked FCP in the first place. There’s also Adobe Rush and Blackmagic Design’s port of DaVinci Resolve to the iPad. Rush uses the same UI for mobile and desktop versions, but it’s completely different than Premiere Pro. Unlike the others, Resolve’s iPad application is largely the same as Resolve on the desktop.
Toss in iMovie and GarageBand and you now have at least five NLEs and two DAWs running on the iPad. (Search the App Store and you’ll find more, but most are ones you’ve never heard of and are not marketed for high-end use.) I have no doubt that Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro will be the most fluid performers among these various options. The obvious question is what type of user are these really designed for?
Split the professional user market into two camps. In one camp, you have traditional editors who cut commercials, corporate videos, television shows, and films. In the other, you have content creators who produce much of the media seen on social platforms. Social media editors range from individual influencers to mini-marketing firms. They produce unboxing and review videos for a fee (or ad revenue) and populate multiple YouTube (and other) channels under various channel names. The needs of these two types of pros – traditional and social – can diverge wildly, but there is also some overlap. For instance, many of the larger social media content creators have made investments into traditional high-end gear – lighting, cameras, post infrastructure, etc.
Meanwhile, Apple has been looking at a different type of pro who is working the social media side of the market. After all, the needs of social media content creators are different than those of a feature film editor. Many up and coming video enthusiasts have their sights set on being the next big YouTuber rather than the next Walter Murch. The application that works well for this new type of pro and aspiring pro is more broadly applicable to a wider set of potential buyers. Furthermore, this demographic skews younger – meaning that they are less likely to rely solely on traditional desktop computers and laptops (“What’s a computer?”). They are also more open to not owning gear and software – i.e. open to subscription models.
Current US ownership of tablets is around 66%. Gen Z (those born in the late 1990s or early 2000s) is around one-fifth of the US population. From most studies, these younger users tend to use multiple devices, prefer mobile devices, and are less patient with technology issues, like slow or less-than-fluid operations.
Designing for the needs of the “new” professional
It’s into this market that Apple is now releasing Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad. The iPad itself has always been a product that’s hard to pin down. Is it a creation device or a consumption device or both? For me, the iPad Pro models still don’t make me want to use them over a standard laptop or desktop unit. Maybe I’m too old, but I also don’t produce content on location. I’m also not a fan of the less accurate touch environment. I prefer the resources available from a traditional computing device. However, there are many users of all ages who travel and produce media along the way. For them even a small laptop is more than they’d like to carry. This is another group for whom the iPad Pro is ideal.
Whatever the ideal market may be, Apple still has the need to convince buyers that an iPad Pro is a comparable creative tool to any of its other computers. From this angle, shouldn’t a product labelled Pro also have software labelled Pro if it comes from the same company? Whether it really is or not.
I have not tested either of these two applications. However, this iJustine “first look” video is a good place to start if you are curious. Based on the early videos that I’ve seen, I believe the claim that these versions will only differ slightly from their desktop siblings is hyperbole at best. These are a 1.0 version of a reimagined application.
One feature that has received positive response on forums is the Scene Removal Mask for FCP on the iPad. The demo shows a person on a solid white background. This is an easy replacement. The feature is much like Keyper by Sheffield Softworks (available through FxFactory). I have tested that and the use cases are minimal. Once you use a real-world background rather than a white cyc, it’s hard to perfectly refine the edge of a moving person. Keyper – and presumably the Scene Removal Mask as well – is fine when you want to place text behind a person or add some visual effect to the background, but not the person. In such situations, the edge refinement issue is less obvious. Maybe Apple’s in-house approach yields better results, but I’m skeptical.
On the other hand, there are two features that look intriguing to me. The first is Live Drawing, which takes advantage of the Pencil. Draw lines on the screen to highlight something and FCP will then “animate” those lines by stacking a series of connected title clips. The other is an elegant form of music retiming. Adobe Premiere Pro and Audition have had a similar feature for years. The FCP version “automagically” lengthens or shortens a music track to fit your video as you slide the end of the clip. It seems to work more elastically than Adobe’s feature. It’s not clear yet what the actual control variables are nor what audio artifacts occur when you do this.
Things to consider before you leap
There are several things to consider, such as getting media in and out of an iPad and whether or not you can work with an external drive. According to iJustine, media is ingested and stored within the FCP library file on the iPad itself. If you intend to do serious work, you’ll probably want a 2TB model. Right now a fully loaded 2TB iPad Pro with Pencil, Smart Keyboard Folio, and AppleCare (2 years) is about $2,900, plus taxes and cellular service plan.
Then there’s your Apple iCloud plan. This is optional and not required for FCP or Logic to work on the iPad. However, how many iPhone and iPad users actually bother to manage their cloud back-up settings? Mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad are designed to back-up to iCloud. So, if you do intend to back-up a device with a lot of media on a 2TB internal drive, then you will likely also have to increase your Apple iCloud+ premium account. Apple has historically been stingy with storage, limiting free space to 5GB. While iCloud+ plans aren’t onerous, a 2TB plan in the US is $9.99/month. iCloud is also more of a consumer solution and doesn’t compare well to Dropbox or Google Drive in professional scenarios.
I imagine that Apple sees the ideal workflow this way. Start by shooting with an iPhone, the iPad itself, or a DSLR. Media is then brought into the iPad via AirDrop or an SD card. You do a preliminary edit in FCP on the iPad. Or even finalize it there. If you need to refine it further, transfer the FCP library file to your Mac or MacBook Pro computer and complete the project.
In this first iteration, you cannot move a project/library from the desktop version of FCP back to the iPad. There are also no third-party Motion templates or plug-ins available for the iPad, although that’s listed as “coming soon” by Apple. Watch Larsen’s video for Logic Pro. He also makes a good point about third-party audio plug-in development for the iPad.
The subscription pricing model
This brings me to the biggest change. Both Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad are only available through subscriptions ($4.99/month or $49 annually for each) with a one-month free trial. It’s the first time Apple has used subscription pricing for any of its key applications. This indirectly brings into question how pricing will be handled going forward for any of the desktop applications and even macOS, iOS, or iPadOS. WWDC is coming up, so hopefully many of these questions will be answered.
I’m not sure the mechanisms and regulatory guidelines for the two Apple App Stores are the same. Subscription pricing for mobile apps was introduced a while back. If you are a Filmic Pro user, the most recent version is only offered though subscription. If you purchased Filmic Pro before this change, you can still use the legacy version on your device(s) without change. But if you want to update, then you shift to a subscription for the new version (free download with in-app purchases).
Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro users have become quite comfortable with the idea of buying the app once and getting free updates, including content in the case of Logic Pro users. Potentially Apple could shift to paid updates or in-app purchases instead of subscription. However, based on their experiences with the legacy version of Final Cut, this introduces complex tax implications in how a corporation realizes revenue. Ultimately such a move could impede the timely development of new features.
My understanding of the current App Store rules is that a developer (presumably including Apple itself) can only charge for an update if the changes are so significant that the application can be released as a new product. Pixelmator did this in the change from Pixelmator to Pixelmator Pro. In May, Pixelmator released Photomator as a new desktop application. It is a hybrid between Apple Photos and Pixelmator Pro designed specifically for photo editing, a la Adobe’s Lightroom. This is priced in a similar manner to the updated Filmic Pro. Download the application from the App Store for free, but then pay a subscription or a one-time charge via the in-app purchase mechanism.
Hypothetically, if a new whizz-bang version of Final Cut Pro were released – let’s say Final Cut Pro XI – then maybe Apple could legitimately charge you another $300 (or whatever). But this would be a completely separate application and not an update to your existing installed software. At the moment, what I’m discussing is nothing more than pure speculation and we’ll need to wait to see what happens.
Will a shift to subscription – at least for mobile apps – stick for Apple and is it even a good move? As with any professional subscriptions, if you are making money from your work – as opposed to the hobbyist or student user – then application subscriptions are a cost of doing business. That’s typically how most Adobe customers have reconciled this. However, if you are only a casual user, why spend the money, especially when there are other options? Part of the reason Apple creates software is to showcase the potential of their hardware and generate hardware sales. For a mobile app, you may well spend $10 – $50 (once) to become an occasional user. By going subscription, I contend that Apple risks losing this tier.
As I said earlier, I’m viewing this through the lens of an older person. Apple is seeking a demographic that seems to be willing to rack up a large amount of cumulative monthly expenses, from Netflix and Apple TV+ to HelloFresh and software. This isn’t all bad and some of it can even be a trade-off in cost versus time savings. Also, this market segment’s view of owning perpetual software licenses is different than mine. Or as iJustine pointed out, cut out a couple of Starbucks trips a month and you’ve paid for the subscription.
I’ll close my thoughts with the issue of innovation. Will any of these changes – mobile versions, subscriptions, etc – spurn new and significant features in their professional desktop applications? I don’t know. All I can say is that for traditional professional editors, Apple is running a distant third behind Blackmagic Design and Adobe. Even Avid is picking up innovation awards for items that Final Cut Pro editors would love to see in their favorite tool. However, as I’ve been pointing out, Apple’s target user is different and Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are positioned accordingly.
I do think this move is an interesting development that might expand the user base for the desktop applications as well. But, it’s not for users like me – traditional professional editors. I need access to more than just Final Cut Pro. I need my mobile editing applications to match my desktop applications. For me, that’s a powerful laptop and not an iPad. Ultimately the market will decide the path forward for both Apple and its customers.
UPDATE – May 24, 2023 – Yesterday Apple officially released Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad. Alongside these, Apple also released companion/compatibility upgrades for the desktop versions of Final Cut Pro, Motion, Compressor, Logic Pro, iMovie, and an accompanying pro video formats pack.
On a side note – if you are running these apps with macOS Ventura, then things have changed with Audio Units and some third-party audio plug-ins will no longer work in Logic Pro and/or Final Cut Pro. Unfortunately it’s different ones in each application. The reason is that AU validation will fail and, therefore, the offenders will be disabled. Of course, they work just fine in the Adobe apps or Resolve. Most of the time you can fix the issue by updating the plug-in to a newer version. On my system, this affected certain plug-ins from iZotope, Acon Digital, and Sonible. Updates will also be required for certain video plug-ins.
In the beginning there was analog and it was good. Then audio engineers developed digital and it was better. Wait, not so fast! The more we heard pure digital production, the more we started to miss the character – and yes, flaws – of analog. After all, grit, saturation, and distortion are synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll. And so, since the dawn of the digital era, many audio software developers have designed products to bring back some of that missing analog sound.
The character or color of analog is generally a function of saturation, which originally came about because of the physical medium of audio tape and electronics used to record and mix songs. Tubes, transformers, and tape introduced internal compression and frequency roll-offs, but most importantly, harmonic overtones. You could push the signal hard and get a certain amount of “warmth.” Push it past the limit and you’d get distortion, but not harsh clipping in the same way as digital signals.
Plug-in developers have sought to emulate the characteristics of analog through various types of emulation. Generally these take the form of a simple saturation or overdrive plug-in. The bulk of these feature very simple controls with a range from subtle warmth to complete distortion. Unfortunately, you don’t have many options to tailor the effect with most of them.
Enter FabFilter Saturn 2
If you really want the ultimate in saturation control, then one of the best tools on the market is FabFilter Saturn 2 from FabFilter Software Instruments. I’ve reviewed their Pro-L2 limiter and it’s since become my go-to limiter for any music mix that I do. It’s often a good idea to stick within a family of products when you find a top-notch developer. There’s a reason that FabFilter plug-ins are the preferred choice by many mixers.
First of all, if you want a plug-in that mimics the appearance and operational controls of some vintage piece of gear, then this isn’t it. All of the FabFilter products feature a similar, modern design aesthetic with easy-to-use controls. At first glance, FabFilter Saturn 2 appears deceptively simple. But, once you dive into the presets, options, and various controls, you’ll find that it can work as a simple saturation plug-in all the way up to a multi-band audio processing device.
The main set of controls are accessed from the bottom control bar. The style selector button covers a range of emulations, including vacuum tube, audio tape, guitar amps, saturation, transformers, and special effects (smudge, breakdown, foldback, rectify, and destroy). Each of these categories includes numerous options within. As you can see from these groups, the options cover not only a wide range of musical production possibilities, but also broadens into sound design. The central drive dial controls the strength of the saturation. Controls to the left and right let you further adjust the sound. At the top right, you can also select from a wide range of presets.
Click into the top area of the interactive display to change the plug-in into a multi-band processor. Each band has its own set of controls. You can also adjust the crossover position and slope between the bands. Each band can make use of different styles of emulation, along with different control adjustments.
In the default mode, Saturn 2 looks pretty simple. But you can open the area below the control bar to further modulate any of the effects. There are numerous ways to modulate these and the interface uses a handy color scheme and visualization to give you a better idea of what’s being done.
There are also drag points. For example, click on the circle above an envelope setting and drag it to one of the controls on the control bar. In FabFilter’s description this now connects a modulation source to a modulation target. These are now linked and the action of one impacts the other.
Saturn 2 installs on both Windows and macOS (Intel and Apple Silicon) systems in AU, VST/VST3, and AAX formats. Therefore, these plug-ins will work with most video editing and audio mixing applications. There is no right or wrong way to use Saturn 2. For example, you could apply it with a default setting to a vocal track, pick a warm tube selection, and dial in a bit of drive for character. Since it has four tone sliders, you can also use it for a bit of equalization.
Or add Saturn 2 to a guitar track and use one of the guitar amp emulations. If you’ve ever used Apple Logic Pro, then the options will be similar. The choices are listed by generic names, since actual brands haven’t been licensed. However, the selections are designed to sound similar to recognizable amp manufacturers, such as Fender, Vox, Marshall, and others.
You can certainly use Saturn 2 on an instrument stem or the final mix bus and dial in a more aggressive setting. This is where the presets help you to learn how the controls function. Apply the plug-in to the mix bus and you can radically add character to the complete mix. Of course, there’s no reason you couldn’t apply multiple instances of Saturn 2 at various stages to get the analog color you are looking for.
Aside from analog character for music, Saturn 2 can also be used for some pretty extreme effects. Need to pitch down a voice-over to sound like a monster? No sweat – Saturn 2 can do this. Special effects settings work for vocal processing, sci-fi sounds, and musical processing, like ping-pong and tremolo filtering.
I’m personally running this on mixes on a 2020 iMac in Logic Pro. Like FabFilter’s other filters, it performs well. Even when I have Saturn 2 applied to numerous tracks, there’s really no drag on the application. The filter has two high quality settings – good and superb. Even with all instances set to superb, my iMac had no issues. While you can definitely go crazy with the possibilities, a little goes a long way. When using Saturn 2, it’s best to start out with a subtle setting and dial in the various adjustments by ear.
There are plenty of other saturation filters on the market, but I have yet to find one with such a wide range of filtering options. This is especially helpful when your audio production needs cover more than just music mixes. It’s hard to tell from demos and blog posts whether a plug-in fits your needs, so be sure to check out FabFilter’s 30-day trial for this or any of their other outstanding plug-ins.
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