Noise Reduction for the Complete Idiot
·G3 or G4 Apple Macintosh desktop, PowerBook, or iBook
(>400 Mhz processor recommended).
·Macintosh OS 10.2 minimum.
·Plug-In mode requires compatible OS X VST host application
(contact BIAS for compatibility
My line of work involves doing lots
of workplace interviews, with little control over ambient noises
such as ventilation systems, machinery, traffic, fluorescent
light ballasts, and anything else that makes noise in business
and industrial environments. The resulting video clips are typically
viewed by large audiences using PA systems for sound reinforcement
which seems to only amplify all the wrong parts of the audio
spectrum. My quest for a fast way to deal with noise led me to
SoundSoap is a product from BIAS,
Inc. (maker of Peak and Deck, versions of which are variously
packaged with Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro) which claims
to make removing noise one-click simple. For $99 it was a no-brainer
to order a copy and try it out. My evaluation in a nutshell:
SoundSoap works as advertised and belongs in your editing arsenal!
A Real World Example
As part of a training DVD I am producing I conducted a series
of phone interviews, recording them with a phone-line intercept
recorder from Radio Shack. This resulted in sound files with
a rich variety of audio problems and a really low signal-to-noise
ratio to boot. A perfect job for SoundSoap!
Below are the original file (normalized but otherwise unprocessed),
the SoundSoaped file, and a file containing the noise that was
removed. I have no idea how long it would have taken me to produce
the same results with a parametric equalizer, expander, and other
esoteric techniques. I suspect someone who knew what they were
doing could achieve the same results, but this took me less
than 2 minutes to complete using SoundSoap! I believe the
results are outstanding.
SoundSoap operates in two modes: as a stand-alone application
or as a VST Plug-in for applications like Peak and its varients
(Peak LE, Peak DV, etc.). Unfortunately SoundSoap will not operate
as a plug-in within Final Cut Pro (3 or 4). Both the VST plug-in
and stand-alone application modes have essentially the same interface,
produce the same results, and can operate on a wide variety of
files including your Quicktime capture files.
When you're ready to sweeten your audio
for a project, you can simplify your workflow by adjusting Final
Cut Pro's preferences to designate Peak or the SoundSoap application
as the external editor for both audio and video files,
then control-clicking each clip you want to edit and selecting
"open in editor." This gives you a simple round-trip
functionality that comes close to having SoundSoap behave as
a Final Cut Pro plug-in.
I prefer using SoundSoap's VST Plug-in
mode as it gives me access to the other tools in Peak if I need
them. The interface is dead simple:
It took me a bit to understand how VST
Plug-ins work. Here's the process:
- Select the SoundSoap plug-in from the
Insert VST Plug-ins menu
- Adjust the controls to get the effect
you want (more on this in a moment)
- Select "Bounce" from the VST
- When prompted, choose to disable VST
Plug-ins after processing (otherwise you will be re-processing
the soaped audio)
- Save the file.
When SoundSoap loads you will instantly hear a reduction in the
background noise. Often the initial setting is close to optimal.
But the SoundSoap interface makes it easy to hone in on the sounds
you are trying to eliminate and preserve the sounds you want
The first step in fine tuning SoundSoap is to help it understand
the kind of audio you are processing. I always select "Preserve
Voice" as my files are primarily dialog. If you can hear
hum (such as a fluorescent ballast) or rumble (really low frequency
stuff, sometimes present in large buildings) select the appropriate
options. Tip: wear good headphones and turn the volume up to
hear the problems.
Next you will teach SoundSoap the exact ambient noise you want
removed. Locate an approximately 2 second section of ambient
noise only and press the "learn noise" button
as the file is playing across it. Sound Soap will amplify the
noise as it auto-magically learns it. Do not "learn noise"
across voices or any audio you want to keep. If you don't have
a long enough section of ambient noise just copy and paste quiet
sections of your file to create one (do this on a duplicate of
your clip - not the original).
You will immediately hear the result. Listen closely for distortion,
ringing, or unnatural artifacts in the processed sound. If you
don't like what you hear, try learning the noise again from a
different section. Once you think you are about there, select
"noise only" and listen to what will be removed from
the audio. Use the big dials to fine tune, alternating between
listening to the processed audio and the noise only.
When you have the settings you want, be sure to "bounce"
the plug-in and disable it, then save (or better yet save-as)
If you want to process multiple clips from the same shoot, you
can save your settings and instantly re-load them for each clip
using the small 'S' and 'L' buttons. This has the added benefit
of keeping your audio consistent across multiple clips.
There are also advanced options such as using envelopes to control
SoundSoap (similar to keyframing effects in FCP). The manual
is comprehensive and clearly written.
SoundSoap does not really let you peek behind the curtain to
see how it achieves its results, but the results speak for themselves.
Bad audio devalues even the best video, and SoundSoap can fix
most common problems with a minimum of time and fuss. SoundSoap
is not only an inexpensive solution, but it is fast and easy
enough to use that I process virtually all of my audio through
it, resulting in a more polished and professional end product.
If you have upgraded to FCP 4, you can
try SoundSoap for yourself! A 14-day trial version of SoundSoap
is packaged with the Peak Express application on the FCP install
Perry is owner and chief
custodian of Business
Video Express a media production firm focused on achieving
business results through powerful training and communication