iZotope RX Loudness Control



As more emphasis is being placed on loudness compliance around the world, it’s important for editors and sound mixers to have the right tools to stay legal. iZotope offers its Insight metering to see where your levels are, but a new addition is the RX Loudness Control plug-in. This not only analyzes your mix, but fixes it to be compliant. This plug-in is designed for Avid ProTools and Media Composer, along with the Adobe Creative Cloud applications. It works with mono, stereo, or surround mixes, but is not a real-time plug-in. Instead, it quickly analyzes your final mix and performs a faster-than-real-time processing of the track.

RX Loudness Control includes presets for eight international loudness standards and correction includes three components: fixed gain to hit a specific target, optional short-term loudness compression, and True Peak limiting. By design, the intent is to leave the mix dynamics in place, but where necessary IRC II (Intelligent Release Control) limiting is used. This style of limiting is also found in iZotope’s Ozone 6 mastering suite.

Operation for editors using Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere Pro CC couldn’t be easier. In Media Composer, first create a mixdown clip of your timeline mix and place that on an available track. Mute all other tracks. Apply the RX Loudness Control as an AudioSuite filter to the mixdown clip. Set the loudness standard preset, analyze, and render.

With the Adobe applications, the RX Loudness Control appears as an export preset in the export module of Premiere Pro or through Adobe Media Encoder. Simply export your timeline using the RX Loudness preset. Make adjustments to the settings as needed. If you want the mixed/processed track to automatically be imported back into the same project, make sure to check that box. Now export. The new .wav file will appear in your project, so simply mute all existing audio in your sequence and drop the processed .wav onto an empty audio track.

In the current version, there is no native support for Apple Final Cut Pro X or Logic Pro X. However, if you also own, subscribe to, or have access to Avid or Adobe applications (with the RX Loudness Control plug-in installed), you could use one of those to process your FCP X mix. First export a mix from FCP X as either a self-contained QuickTime movie or an audio file. Bring that into one of the other applications to encode the file using RX Loudness Control. When that’s completed, import the processed audio track back into FCP X. Mute or detach and remove all audio from your project (edited timeline) and connect the newly processed composite mix for your final compliant audio mix.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Audio Tools Update


Most video editors can get by with the audio editing tools that are built into their NLE. But if you want that extra audio finesse, then you really need some dedicated audio applications and plug-ins. 2014 is closing out nicely with new offerings from Sony Creative Software and iZotope.

Sony Creative Software – Sound Forge Expands

df_audiotools_1Sony’s software arm – known for Acid, Vegas and Sound Forge, to name a few – has expanded its Mac audio offerings. Although Sony’s audio applications have traditionally been Windows-based, Sony previously ventured into the Mac ecosystem with its 1.0 version of Sound Forge Pro for the Mac. This year version 2.0 was released, which includes more features, power and support for 64-bit plug-ins. All Sound Forge Mac versions are architected for OS X and not simply a port from Windows.

As before, Sound Forge Pro continues to be a file-based editor and not a multi-track DAW designed for mixing. It supports high-resolution files up to 24-bit/192 kHz. Although file-based, it can handle up to 32-channel files and is capable of recording, as well as editing and mastering. The Pro version includes a number of Sony and iZotope plug-ins designed for mastering (EQ, reverb, multi-band compressor, limiter, imager and exciter), post processing (sample rate and bit depth conversion) and restore/repair (declicker, denoiser and declipper).

A new addition is the inclusion of the iZotope Nectar Elements plug-in. The Nectar series is a channel strip, all-in-one filter that combines a number of the processes that a recording engineer would place in the signal chain when recording vocals. However, it can still be used on music and mixed tracks without issue. Nectar Elements is the “lite” version of the full Nectar filter and is being bundled with a number of the Sony applications, including Vegas Pro. Another included filter is the Zplane élastique Pro time stretch and pitch shift plug-in.

df_audiotools_2The Convrt batch tool – a freestanding utility for mass file conversions – comes with Sound Forge Pro Mac 2. Load your files, set up the script and the rest is automated. If you purchase Sound Forge Pro as part of the Audio Mastering Bundle, you also get SpectraLayers Pro 2, an audio spectrum editing tool. Even without it, Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 now enables data interoperability between it and SpectraLayers Pro 2.

Loudness compliance is of big concern to broadcasters, so Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 now includes CALM Act compliant metering. Unfortunately, the read-out is by numbers and meters without the visual eye candy of an Insight or Radar-style meter; however, it does provide true peak values.

Mid-year, Sony also released Sound Forge for the Mac App Store. It doesn’t have all of the bell-and-whistles as the Pro version and due to the App Store’s sandboxing policies has other minor differences. Convrt and the iZotope plug-ins are not included; however, most of everything else is. Both versions support 64-bit AU and VST plug-ins. Both include real-time previewing. Both have generally the same tech specs. One extra that comes with Sound Forge is Wave Hammer, Sony’s own mastering compressor. It is not included in the Pro version. Lastly, both versions come with a large amount of downloadable sound effects content, which is available to users as a separate download, once they’ve registered the software.

There are a lot of audio tools on the market, but I find Sound Forge or Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 to be definite must-haves for the video editor serious about audio. The Sound Forge interface is clean and customizable and the operation is very intuitive. With nearly every spot I cut in FCP X, I’ll bounce the mix out to Sound Forge Pro for a mastering pass. Same if I need to modify a TV mix for a radio spot.

iZotope – Nectar

df_audiotools_4iZotope is one of the top audio plug-in developers and you’ll find their products bundled with a number of applications, including those from Sony and Adobe. One cool plug-in is the Nectar product, which is marketed in three versions: Nectar 2, Nectar Elements and Nectar Production Suite. These are compatible with most audio and video hosts that support AAX (Pro Tools), RTAS/AudioSuite, VST and AU plug-ins.

Nectar 2 is an all-in-one plug-in that combines eleven tools: plate reverb, pitch, FX, delay, de-esser, saturation, compressors, gate, EQ and limiter. It functions a lot like a very sophisticated channel strip in a mixing console, except with a lot more processes. Although designed with vocal recording in mind, it can easily be used for music and/or mastering. The interface presents you with an overview and easy controls for all tools, but then you can open each individual tool for more precise adjustments. It includes over 150 presets. You can switch between tracking and mixing modes for low-latency processing.

Nectar Elements is a reduced-feature version of Nectar 2. The controls tend to be more specific for vocal recording and the needs of home enthusiasts. On the other side is Nectar 2 Production Suite, which bundles the filter with a Pitch Editor and Breath Control plug-in for Nectar 2.

iZotope – RX 4

df_audiotools_5The biggest iZotope news is the release of the RX 4 audio repair and enhancement tool – the latest in iZotope’s RX series. RX 4 comes in a standard and advanced version and both include the RX 4 standalone application, as well as a set of RX 4 plug-ins that are compatible with a wide range of hosts. Built-in tools include declip, declick, hum removal, denoise, spectral repair, deconstruct (advanced), dereverb (advanced), leveler (advanced), EQ match (advanced), ambience match (advanced), time & pitch (advanced), loudness (advanced), gain, EQ, channel operations, resample and dither. Most, but not all of these, are also installed as RX 4 real-time plug-ins. Third-party plug-ins can also be accessed and used in the standalone RX 4 application. The breadth of what RX 4 offers makes it the biggest gun in the arsenal of most dialogue editors and sound designers, who are tasked with cleaning up challenging location recordings.

df_audiotools_3A powerful, new feature is RX Connect, which is a special “conduit” plug-in. It sets up a roundtrip between your host audio application and the RX 4 standalone application. For example, if you edit in Pro Tools, Audition or Sound Forge, highlight a range or a set of audio clips and select the RX Connect plug-in. (Where and how you select it will differ with each application). This opens an RX 4 window where you choose to send the selection to the RX 4 application. There you can process the clip as needed and send it back to the host application. In this way, you can use the individual effects as real-time plug-ins inside your audio host, or use the advanced processing power of the standalone application via the RX Connect roundtrip.

df_audiotools_6In addition to loudness processing, RX 4 Advanced also includes the Insight metering suite. This is iZotope’s extensive set of audio analysis and metering tools. It can be used for troubleshooting or to assure broadcast loudness compliance. Two other Advanced tools – EQ Match and Ambiance Match are ideal for the dialogue editor. EQ Match is exactly what the name implies. Here you send both a reference clip and a clip to be processed to the RX 4 application. The second clip is then analyzed and “matched” to the sonic qualities of the first. A common video editing practice is to cut out unwanted audio in your dialogue tracks, such as director’s cues, background noises, etc. This leaves gaps of silence in your track that need to be filled with ambient sound. In Ambiance Match, RX 4 samples areas of background sound between the spoken dialogue and creates a sound print from the quiet areas. RX 4 uses this to fill in gaps “automagically” between clips.

Finally, the standalone RX 4 application comes with built-in batch processing. There, you can set up a series of processing steps and the output location, naming and file formats. Add a set of files, apply the batch steps and process the files. iZotope’s RX 4 repair suite is a unique tool that is hard to beat when struggling with difficult audio that you want to make pristine. It’s a product that keeps getting better and, with the addition of the new RX Connect plug-in, provides better interoperability than ever before.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork

©2014 Oliver Peters

Apple Logic Pro X


Most nonlinear editing software includes tools for editing and mixing audio. Nevertheless, if you really need to focus on audio, you need a dedicated DAW (digital audio workstation) application. There are quite a few challengers to the dominance of Pro Tools, including Reaper, Nuendo and Audition, but the strongest of these is Apple’s Logic Pro X. It holds a unique position as a tool that covers many divergent needs, including audio production and post, studio music recording and mixing, live performance and music notation.

The revamp to Logic Pro X and its integration with Final Cut Pro X, makes this an ideal time to see how well it works as a companion tool for video editors. Logic Pro X is without a doubt, a wonderful music production tool, but my focus is video editing. I’m going to skip the music side of Logic in this review, in order to focus on its strengths and weaknesses for my needs – film/video editorial.

Tech specs and installation

df_lpx_instrumentsLogic Pro X supports a wide range of control surfaces and I/O devices. Audio resolution is up to 24-bit/192kHz. The mixer supports up to 255 audio channel strips, 255 software instrument channel strips, 255 aux channel strips, 64 busses and 99 MIDI tracks. Logic comes with 67 effects plug-ins, including Pedalboard (with 35 stompboxes), and 18 software instruments. The sound library includes 1548 patches, 3647 Apple Loops, 848 sampler instruments, 30 drum kits and over 2,000 presets for instruments, patches and plug-ins. Needless to say, it’s a whopper!

Logic Pro X may be purchased and downloaded from Apple’s Mac App Store. It also works with a separate companion program, called MainStage that will appeal to musicians who play live. Both are independent applications and you can purchase and install one or the other or both. MainStage taps into Logic’s resources, effects and contents, but it’s not essential for post users.

The download sizes for Logic Pro X and MainStage are under 900MB and under 700MB, respectively. There’s also the free Logic Remote application for the iPad (iOS 7 or later), to control Logic Pro X, MainStage and GarageBand on the Mac. Logic’s plug-in controls and libraries may be accessed from Logic Remote. It’s ideal when you want to control a recording from a quiet room separated from the gear.

Once you install Logic Pro X, you gain access to optional content that may be downloaded and installed from within the application. How much of this you’ll want, depends on how much musical content you need. This includes stereo and surround plug-ins, samples and loops and compatibility content to work with older versions of Logic and GarageBand. All totaled, this extra content is up to 38GB of media. The largest batches are comprised of the Drum Kit samples and the Legacy and Compatibility group, which includes the JamPack loop libraries. If all you want is the basics, like plug-ins and some loops, you’ll only need to download a few extra gigabytes of content to get started. You can download the rest later at any time.

Templates, settings and preferences

df_lpx_templatesWhen you first launch Logic Pro X, you can start with a blank slate or use several different project templates. It is important to understand the distinctions among these, because different templates will use different settings. For example, it took me a while to figure out how to enable scrubbing, because a particular function needed to be enabled in the project settings’ MIDI tab, even though none of my tracks were MIDI tracks. Project settings are tied only to a project and they differ from the application preferences, which apply global changes.

In preferences you can enable Advanced Tools, for project alternatives, media browsers, expanded mixing and automation capabilities. The use of Advanced Tools is a way to make both beginning and advanced users comfortable with Logic Pro X. When Advanced Tools are not shown, the interface is a bit closer to GarageBand, with a number of controls and panels hidden or disabled. Once Advanced Tools are shown in Logic’s Preferences, you gain additional options required by experienced users.

Since a project can be based on time or musical values (beats, measures, key signatures), it’s important to set your project up correctly from the beginning. The opening template page lets you make overall changes to that project – like disabling the musical grid or setting samples rates and frame rates – but, even after you start, some values can still be altered. Once you become familiar with the project variations, it’s easy to create your own custom templates.

Tracks can be standard audio, MIDI, software instrument or drum kits. The difference between a standard track and an instrument track is that the instrument track is a patch configured with a number of in-line plug-ins. Each patch contains one or even multiple channel strips (such as the drummer track) in its configuration. If you add a software instrument track, it will default to piano with a set of plug-ins. Highlight the track and open the Library pane to change the type of sound or the type of instrument – for instance, from a piano to a guitar with a British lead sound. This changes the configuration of the patch. Likewise, a standard audio track, without any plug-ins added at the start, can also be changed in the Library pane to a different option, like a vocal track configured as a fuzz vocal. Each of these patches is simply a set of plug-ins with presets. All can be changed, removed or added to, depending on the sound you are looking for.


df_lpx_smartcontrolsLogic Pro X’s clean interface is optimized for a single screen, but also takes advantage of dual-screen layouts. Like FCP X, Logic uses a design of various panels that can be opened or closed, depending on your focus. Track adjustments, like volume or panning, can be made in the separate mixer window or in the main window. Effects adjustments can be made by opening each plug-in’s controls or by using the Smart Controls panel in the main window. The latter presents a streamlined set of macro controls that manipulate select parameters belonging to the multiple plug-ins used on the track. By default, each track also has a built-in EQ that becomes active once you make the first adjustment.

The wealth of Logic plug-ins will be familiar to most Soundtrack Pro and Final Cut Pro X users. If you want more, then compatible, third-party Audio Units plug-ins also work, including those from iZotope, Focusrite and Waves. Even the numerous musical plug-ins, such as a guitar pedal, can be added to standard audio tracks, including vocals. I’ve focused a lot on mixing tools, but, of course, Logic Pro X includes all of the file-based editing tools with sample-level accuracy that no professional DAW could be without.

df_lpx_trackstackA big new feature for most will be Track Stacks. To create a Track Stack, select a set of individual tracks and create a Stack from these. This can be a Folder Stack – where the component tracks are simply treated as a group. The other option is a Summing Stack, where the individual tracks are routed through a bus. It’s a lot like a Compound Clip in FCP X or a traditional submix bus in other audio mixing software. Let’s say you have a composite voice-over built out of several clips and spread across several tracks. Select and combine these into one Summing Track Stack and now the entire voice-over can be treated as a single track. The sub-tracks within it can be hidden by twirling the reveal triangle on the Track Stack. If you need to tweak one of the clips within the Stack, simply twirl it open and make the adjustments to that clip.

Logic Pro X also offers a composting feature that’s designed for recording sessions called Quick Swipe Comping. This function lets you quickly cut up the best sections of various takes. These can then be highlighted within a group, somewhat like FCP X’s Audition function. The composite of these recorded tracks is contained within a Folder Stack and can be manipulated as a group, without ever losing access to the alternate takes.

Another useful tool is Flex Time and Flex Pitch, which are great for video production, where broadcast length is critical. Turn on Flex Time and use the Flex Tool to expand or contract part or all of a clip to fit the necessary length. Finally, there’s Groove Track, which will let you realign the timing of tracks to a selected Groove Master track. Thanks to Flex Time, this feature works with both MIDI and audio tracks.

Working with NLEs

df_lpx_nle-to-lpxLogic Pro X supports a number of interchange formats, including AAF, Final Cut Pro XML, OMF and FCPXML. These come with some caveats. FCPXML (from FCP X) came across fine, even after the changes to the FCPXML format made in the 10.1.2 update. Compound Clips were automatically broken apart into individual tracks inside the Logic project. I was also able to bring in audio from FCP X as an AAF file by using the X2Pro Audio Convert utility. Unfortunately an AAF from Avid Media Composer didn’t work, because Logic Pro X cannot read audio files that are formatted as .MXF.

For Avid users, OMF is fine, but you have to use the following workaround in Media Composer: change the project format to NTSC; enable OMF media in the Media Creations menu; export an OMF with embedded AIFF-C sound files. In Logic Pro X, use the “Import Other” menu option. Finally, with Premiere Pro CC, the older (Final Cut Pro 7) XML format works fine. Translation completeness will vary with these different solutions. Generally fade handles or crossfades were completely lost, even with FCP X. Levels set within the NLE may or may not transfer. I got the best translation from Premiere Pro CC2014 using XML, where automation levels and crossfades were interpreted correctly.

Editors sending a project from an NLE into Logic Pro X should understand how to properly prep the audio files. Channels that are muted or disabled in the NLE will still be imported, but muted. This includes any unwanted audio from an FCP X project that’s part of a Connected Clip (B-roll). If you don’t want it, detach and remove it from the sequence. Camera clips using two microphones are often interpreted as stereo audio by some NLEs. These should be edited to the timeline as dual mono and not stereo. DAWs process interleaved stereo pairs differently than most NLEs. Once inside Logic, selecting either input 1 or 2 of a stereo track, will sound different than if this same audio comes in as two separate mono tracks and one or the other is used.

The weakest part of this interchange is video support. With FCPXML, Logic Pro X would attempt to use video from the project as a picture reference for the mix. Unfortunately the clip was completely wrong. If you want a proper picture reference, export a self-contained clip and open that as a movie file in Logic Pro X. The application will sync it to the start of the track and provides good offset control for accurate sync. Movie files may be viewed in a separate viewer window, as a movie track or as a small thumbnail.

Going in the other direction, you can export a full mix, as well as all or just selected tracks. Levels and plug-in effects will be baked in. Likewise you can also export an FCPXML or AAF. In the roundtrip back into FCP X, you have the option to include video and combine the tracks into a Compound Clip.


Logic Pro X is a refined audio tool, but it’s still missing some items offered by competitors and even by past Apple software. Ironically there’s still an “open in Soundtrack Pro” feature, even though that application has been discontinued. It still works quite well. Logic lacks a spectral analysis view. There’s no ability to use noise prints and ambient prints for noise reduction and filling in gaps. In an era when all audio post going to broadcast has to be CALM Act-compliant, there are no built-in loudness controls and metering features specific to this need. You can do each of these with third-party plug-ins, but it would be nice to have that be part of the native toolkit.

In spite of a few deficiencies, Logic Pro X is a wonderful mixer for stereo and surround projects and a great tool for composers. Video editors who use it can also benefit from Logic’s musical side. Simple scores are easy to create even if you aren’t a musician, thanks to the extensive media and loop libraries. Maybe you just need a temporary underscore to play under a voice-over so the client can get the feel of the piece. Or maybe you have strong composition skills and want to build the final music for your piece. Either situation can be filled by Logic Pro X. The term “Swiss army knife” gets bandied about for many applications, but it is warranted for your audio needs here. A few third-party plug-ins might be required to augment the package for some needs, but at the price – and given the wealth of additional content – Logic Pro X is a tremendous value for any video editor who wants to make sure their mixes stand out above the rest.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Sitting in the Mix Revisited


Video editors are being called on to do more and mixing audio is one of those tasks. While advanced audio editing and mixing is still best done in a DAW and by a professional who uses those tools everyday, it’s long been the case that most local TV commercials and a lot of corporate videos are mixed by the editor within the NLE. Time for a second look at the subject.

df_nlemix2_3Although most modern NLEs have very strong audio tools, I find that Adobe Premiere Pro CC is one of the better NLEs when it comes to basic audio mixing. There is a wide range of built-in plug-ins and it accepts most third party VST and AU (Mac) filters. Audio can be mixed at both the clip and the track level using faders, rubber-banding in the timeline or by writing automation mix passes with the track mixer. The following are some simple tips for getting good mixes for TV using Premiere Pro CC.

df_nlemix2_7Repair – If you have problem audio tracks, don’t forget that you can send your audio clip to Audition. When you select a clip to edit in Audition, a copy of the file is extracted and sent to Audition. This extracted copy replaces the original clip on the Premiere timeline so the original stays untouched. Audition is good for surgery, such as removing background noise. There are both waveform and spectral views where it’s possible to isolate and “heal” noise elements visible in the spectral view. I recently used this to reduce the noise from a lawn mower heard in the background of an on-location interview.

df_nlemix2_4Third-party filters – In addition the built-in tools, Premiere Pro supports any compliant audio filters on your system. By scanning the system, Premiere Pro (as well as Audition) can access plug-ins that you might have installed as part of other applications. Several good filter sets are available from Focusrite, Waves and iZotope. When it comes to audio mixing for simple projects, I’m a fan of the Vocal Rider and One Knob plug-ins from Waves. Vocal Rider is best with voice-overs by automatically “riding” the level between a minimum and maximum setting. It works a bit like a human operator in evening out volume variations and is not as blunt a tool as a compressor. The One Knob filters are a series of comprehensive filters for EQ or reverb controlled by a single adjustment knob. For example, you can use the “brighter” filter to adjust a multi-band, parametric-style EQ that increases the trebleness of the sound.

df_nlemix2_5Mixing formula – This is my standard formula for mixing TV spots in Premiere Pro. My intention is to end up with voices that sit well against a music track without the music volume being too low. A handy Premiere tool is the vocal enhancer. It’s a simple filter with an adjustment dial that balances the setting for male or female voices as well as for music. Dial in the setting by ear to the point that the voice “cuts” through the mix without sounding overly processed.  For music, I’ll typically apply an EQ filter to the track and bring down the broader mid-range by -2dB. Across the master bus (or a submix bus for each stem) I’ll apply a dynamic compressor/limiter. This is just used to “soft clip” the bus volume at -10dB. Overall, I’ll adjust clip and track volumes to run under this range, so as not to be harshly compressed or clipped.

df_nlemix2_6CALM – Most audio delivered for US broadcast has to be compliant to the loudness specs of the CALM Act. There are similar European standards. Adobe aids us in this, by including the TC Electronics Radar metering plug-in. If you use this, place it on the master bus and make sure audio is routed first through a submix bus. I’ll place a compressor/limiter on the submix bus. This way, all volume adjustments and limiting happen upstream of the meter. By adjusting your mix with the Radar meter running, it’s possible to end up with a compliant mix that still sounds quite natural.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Film editing stages – Sound

df_filmsoundeditLike picture editing, the completion of sound for a film also goes through a series of component parts. These normally start after “picture lock” and are performed by a team of sound editors and mixers. On small, indie films, a single sound designer/editor/mixer might cover all of these roles. On larger films, specific tasks are covered by different individuals. Depending on whether it’s one individual or a team, sound post can take anywhere from four weeks to several months to complete.

Location mixing – During original production, the recording of live sound is handled by the location mixer. This is considered mixing, because originally, multiple mics were mixed “on-the-fly” to a single mono or stereo recording device. In modern films with digital location recordings, the mixer tends to record what is really only a mixed reference track for the editors, while simultaneously recording separate tracks of each isolated microphone to be used in the actual post production mix.

ADR – automatic dialogue replacement or “looping”. ADR is the recording of replacement dialogue in sync with the picture. The actors do this while watching their performance on screen. Sometimes this is done during production and sometimes during post. ADR will be used when location audio has technical flaws. Sometimes ADR is also used to record additional dialogue – for instance, when an actor has his or her back turned. ADR can also be used to record “sanitized” dialogue to remove profanity.

Walla or “group loop” – Additional audio is recorded for groups of people. This is usually for background sounds, like guests in a restaurant. The term “walla” comes from the fact that actors were (and often still are) instructed to say “walla, walla, walla” instead of real dialogue. The point is to create a sound effect of a crowd murmuring, without any recognizable dialogue line being heard. You don’t want anything distinctive to stand out above the murmur, other than the lead actors’ dialogue lines.

Dialogue editing – When the film editor (i.e. the picture editor) hands over the locked cut to the sound editors, it generally will include all properly edited dialogue for the scenes. However, this is not prepared for mixing. The dialogue editor will take this cut and break out all individual mic tracks. They will make sure all director’s cues are removed and they will often add room tone and ambience to smooth out the recording. In addition, specific actor mics will be grouped to common tracks so that it is easier to mix and apply specific processing, as needed, for any given character.

Sound effects editing/sound design – Sound effects for a film come from a variety of sources, including live recordings, sound effects libraries and sound synthesizers. Putting this all together is the role of the sound effects editor(s). Because many have elevated the art, by creating very specific senses of place, the term “sound designer” has come into vogue. For example, the villain’s lair might always feature certain sounds that are identifiable with that character – e.g. dripping water, rats squeaking, a distant clock chiming, etc. These become thematic, just like a character’s musical theme. The sound effects editors are the ones that record, find and place such sound effects.

Foley – Foley is the art of live sound effects recording. This is often done by a two-person team consisting of a recordist and a Foley walker, who is the artist physically performing these sounds. It literally IS a performance, because the walker does this in sync to the picture. Examples of Foley include footsteps, clothes rustling, punches in a fight scene and so on. It is usually faster and more appropriate-sounding to record live sound effects than to use library cues from a CD.

In addition to standard sound effects, additional Foley is recorded for international mixes. When an actor deliveries a dialogue line over a sound recorded as part of a scene – a door closing or a cup being set on a table – that sound will naturally be removed when English dialogue is replaced by foreign dialogue in international versions of the film. Therefore, additional sound effects are recorded to fill in these gaps. Having a proper international mix (often called “fully filled”) is usually a deliverable requirement by any distributor.

Music – In an ideal film scenario, a composer creates all the music for a film. He or she is working in parallel with the sound and dialogue editors. Music is usually divided between source cues (e.g. the background songs playing from a jukebox at a bar) and musical score.

Recorded songs may also be used as score elements during montages. Sometimes different musicians, other than the composer, will create songs for source cues or for use in the score. Alternatively, the producers may license affordable recordings from unsigned artists. Rarely is recognizable popular music used, unless the production has a huge budget. It is important that the producers, composer and sound editors communicate with each other, to define whether items like songs are to be treated as a musical element or as a background sound effect.

The best situation is when an experienced film composer delivers all completed music that is timed and synced to picture. The composer may deliver the score in submixed, musical stems (rhythm instruments separated from lead instruments, for instance) for greater control in the mix. However, sometimes it isn’t possible for the composer to provide a finished, ready-to-mix score. In that case, a music editor may get involved, in order to edit and position music to picture as if it were the score.

Laugh tracks – This is usually a part of sitcom TV production and not feature films. When laugh tracks are added, the laughs are usually placed by sound effects editors who specialize in adding laughs. The appropriate laugh tracks are kept separate so they can be added or removed in the final mix and/or as part of any deliverables.

Re-recording mix – Since location recording is called location mixing, the final, post production mix is called a re-recording mix. This is the point at which divergent sound elements – dialogue, ADR, sound effects, Foley and music – all meet and are mixed in sync to the final picture. On a large film, these various elements can easily take up 150 or more tracks and require two or three mixers to man the console. With the introduction of automated systems and the ability to completely mix “in the box”, using a DAW like Pro Tools, smaller films may be mixed by one or two mixers. Typically the lead mixer handles the dialogue tracks and the second and third mixers control sound effects and music. Mixing most feature films takes one to two weeks, plus the time to output various deliverable versions (stereo, surround, international, etc.).

The deliverable requirements for most TV shows and features are to create a so-called composite mix (in several variations), along with separate stems for dialogue, sound effects and music. A stem is a submix of just a group of component items, such as a stereo stem for only dialogue.The combination of the stems should equal the mix. By having stems available, the distributors can easily create foreign versions and trailers.

©2013 Oliver Peters

iZotope RX 2 Advanced

df_izotope_1_smiZotope is known as a company that makes software and hardware, including high-quality plug-ins for mastering, noise reduction and audio restoration. A number of applications come bundled with some of their tools, most notably Sony Sound Forge Pro, Adobe Audition CC and Premiere Pro CC. As with most plug-in developers, iZotope offers a nice family of effects that can be installed and run on a variety of audio and video host applications. In addition, iZotope also offers its own host application called RX 2. It runs as a standalone single track (mono or stereo) audio application that leverages the power of the iZotope DSP and forms a dedicated repair and mastering suite. RX 2 is ideal for any music, audio production or video post production challenge. It can read most standard audio files, but cannot directly work on an audio track embedded within a video file, like a QuickTime movie.

iZotope RX 2 comes in a standard and advanced version. Both include such modules as Denoiser, Spectral Repair, Declip, Declick, Decrackle, Hum Removal, EQ and Channel Operations. RX 2 Advanced also adds adaptive noise reduction, third-party plug-in support, a Deconstruct module, dithering, 64-bit sample rate conversion, iZotope’s Radius time and pitch control, as well as azimuth alignment for the restoration of poor recordings from audiotape. Of course, RX 2 is also useful as a standard file-based audio editor, with delete, insert and replace functions.

Both versions are engineered around sophisticated spectral analysis. The RX 2 display superimposes the spectral graph with the audio waveform and gives you a balance slider control to adjust their relative visibilities. If you’ve used any Adobe audio software that included spectral-based repair tools, like SoundBooth or Audition, then you already know how this works in RX 2. Frequencies can be isolated using the spectral display or unwanted noises can be “lassoed” and then corrected or removed.  RX 2 also includes an unlimited level of undos and retains a current state history. When you return to the program it picks up where you left off. It also holds four temporary history locations or “snapshots”, that are ideal for comparing the audio with or without certain processing applied.

df_izotope_2_smThe iZotope RX 2 interface is designed for efficient operation with all available modules running down the right side of the window, as well as being accessible from the top menu. Click a module button and the specific iZotope plug-in window opens for that task. There you can make adjustments to the parameters or save and recall presets. Unlike a DAW application, the modules/plug-ins must be previewed from the plug-in window and then applied to process your audio file. You cannot add multiple modules and have them all run in real-time without processing the audio to a buffer first. That’s where the four temporary history buttons come in handy, as you can quickly toggle between several versions of applied effects on the same audio file for comparison. RX 2 includes a batch processor that can run in the background. If you have a group of modules to be applied to a series of audio files, simply set up a preset of those settings and apply them to the batch of files.

When you install the RX 2 package, the iZotope modules are also available as plug-ins within other compatible applications. For example, on my Mac Pro, these plug-ins show up and work within Final Cut Pro X. Now with RX 2 Advanced, it works the other way, too. Any AU, VST, RTAS or Direct-X plug-in installed on your computer can be accessed from the RX 2 Advanced interface. In my case, that includes some Waves, Focusrite and Final Cut Audio Units effects filters. If I want to use the Waves Vocalrider plug-in to smooth out the dynamics of a voice-over recording, I simply access it as a plug-in, select a preset or make manual adjustments, preview and process – just like with the native iZotope plug-ins.

RX 2 Advanced also adds an adaptive noise mode to the Denoiser module. This is ideal for noisy on-location production, where the conditions change during the course of the recording. For instance, an air conditioner going on and off within a single recorded track. Another unique feature in RX 2 Advanced is a new Deconstruct module. This tool lets you break down a recording into parts for further analysis and/or correction. For example, you can separate noise from desired tonal elements and adjust the balance between them.

iZotope’s RX 2 and RX 2 Advanced are one-stop applications for cleaning up bad audio. Some of these tools overlap with what you may already own, but if you need to do a lot of this type of work, then RX 2 will be more efficient and adds more capabilities. In September 2013, iZotope will release the updates for RX3 and RX3 Advanced. iZotope’s algorithms are some of the best on the market, so sonic quality is never compromised. Whether it’s poorly recorded audio or restoring archival material, RX 2 or RX 3 offer a toolkit that’s perfect for the task.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine

©2013 Oliver Peters

Sound Forge Pro for the Mac


Sony Creative Software has been the home for an innovative set of audio and video editing and mixing tools originally developed by Sonic Foundry. These include Vegas Pro, ACID and Sound Forge, which have traditionally been tightly integrated with the Windows operating system. On the other side of the fence, Mac OS has enjoyed a wide range of creative tools, especially for audio production and post. Until recently BIAS Peak had been go-to, two-track audio editor and mastering tool for Mac-based audio engineers; but, the company has apparently withdrawn from the market, leaving an opening for some new blood to step in. Enter Sony’s Sound Forge Pro for the Mac.

Sound Forge has been the tool of choice for Windows-based audio production and now Sony has made a strong entry into the Mac creative universe. Sound Forge Pro Mac 1.0 is a comprehensive tool for audio analysis, recording, editing, processing and mastering. Although it is thought of as a two-track editor, it can deal with multi-channel files with as many as 32 embedded channels, sample rates up to 192kHz and bit depths up to 64-bit float. Since most users are going to be limited by their I/O hardware, they will likely work with 24-bit, 48kHz stereo files. To be clear, it’s designed to edit and master single files and is not a multi-track digital audio workstation application for mixing.

Sound Forge can be used as a recording application if you have an input device on your system, such as the Avid/Digidesign Mbox2 Mini that I use. Sound Forge sports a clean user interface that will appeal to the professional. It might look a tad Spartan to some, since it bucks the current trend of dark, dimensional interfaces. In other words, it’s devoid of unnecessary “chrome”. The operation is very easy to learn, thanks to a tabbed window layout, easy-to-understand controls and menus and a good user guide.

Sound Forge Pro Mac comes with a set of Sony plug-ins, as well as the iZotope mastering suite filters. In addition, Sound Forge will support many third party VST and Mac Audio Units plug-ins. I have a set of Focusrite Scarlett filters, the Waves OneKnob series and Waves Vocalrider plug-ins installed on my Mac Pro, which all show up and work properly within Sound Forge. The iZotope set is superb, so for pristine audio quality, Sound Forge is as good as it gets. I applied a Declicker noise reduction filter to an old recording from a vinyl LP. This filter did one of the best jobs I’ve heard to remove and/or reduce the record pops and clicks without adding negative artifacts to the file.

Audio filters can be applied as a processing step – meaning the filter is set and previewed and then applied to alter the file. Sound Forge also includes a real-time plug-in chain. Stack up a series of filters in the chain window and tweak the adjustments. The order can be changed and saved as a preset for later use. Simply listen to the file in real-time with the filter chain applied. If you like the result, apply these settings in a “save as” function and the file will be rendered in a faster-than-real-time “bounce”. Some filters, like Timestretch can only be applied as an effects process and won’t function as part of a real-time plug-in chain.

As an editing tool, Sound Forge lets the editor get down to the sample level. You can redraw waveforms with a pen tool in addition to the usual keyframed changes to parameters like the volume envelope. Unlike other audio editors, where volume and pan are part of the basic track window, Sound Forge gives you several ways to adjust volume. One way is to add a specific volume filter where you apply any audio keyframe adjustments. Another way is to create an event (a section of timeline) and drag the volume level up or down.

The audio editing tools are quite simplified. Selected a range you want to remove, hit the delete key and you’ve made the edit. There’s even an edit preview function so you can hear what the edit will sound like before committing. To add space, insert silence. This methodology is a bit foreign to video editors used to the way NLEs handle audio tracks. Once you make an edit in Sound Forge this way, there’s no segment in the track or cut marks on the clip indicating where the edit had been made. If you split the track into events, however, then track segment appear more familiar and you have the ability to trim, edit, slip clip segments and add crossfades at overlaps.

You can also mark up the file into regions, which may be separately exported. In the example I cited earlier of the old vinyl LP, I recorded each complete side as a single audio file. After audio clean-up in Sound Forge, the file would be broken into regions for each song on that LP side. These would finally be exported as separate regions to result in a new digital file for each individual song.

There are some missing elements in this 1.0 version. For example, Sound Forge doesn’t recognize most video files. I was able to open the audio track from an MP4 file, but not a QuickTime movie. There is no JKL transport control and no scrubbing. You can loop playback, but you cannot shuttle through the track with the mouse and hear either an analog or digital-style scrubbing sound. It’s real-time playback or nothing. The application is a good file conversion utility. If you need to generate high-quality MP3 files for clients, Sound Forge is definitely useful. Unfortunately there’s no batch conversion function. Another curious omission for an audio-centric tool is the lack of CD track layout and burning tools. I realize that we work in a file-based world, but when Adobe dropped the same tools from Audition, they ended up having to add them back in Creative Suite 6. Obviously users still feel that there’s a need for this.

Audio engineers and mixers can see the obvious benefit to another great audio tool for the Mac – especially with the demise of BIAS Peak and the end-of-life of Apple’s Soundtrack Pro. For video editors, it might be a bit more questionable. I find Sound Forge Pro to be a solid tool when you need to focus on audio-only tasks, like dialogue clean-up, noise reduction and voice-over recordings. Clients often request radio versions of the TV commercials I edit. Here again, working in a tool that’s optimized for the task is the right way to go. The lack of video support is a wrinkle, but it’s easy enough to export a WAV or AIF file from most NLEs. Then open that file in Sound Forge and work your magic.

Sony’s Sound Forge Pro Mac 1.0 is a solid first step to bring this application to Mac users. I haven’t had any hiccups with it, in spite of the fact that it’s a 1.0 product. If Sony expands on some of the missing items, this will become the go-to professional audio tool for Mac users, just as it has been for Windows.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2013 Oliver Peters