Sony Ghosts Unwanted Noises
     

The Sony SpectraLayers Pro 2 displays a 3D spectral graph of audio using its Shape Tool.

Often I am asked to review products that incorporate noise reduction features in some form or another. However, I rarely get to dig into an audio forensics program that handles noise reduction in an entirely different manner. Enter SpectraLayers Pro 2.

This program, available from Sony Creative Software, takes a unique approach to removing unwanted audio from your pieces. In essence, it allows you to take a two-track mix and break it apart into several layers.

We have all mixed down multitrack files into a single stereo file. We have created a mix. However, what if we could take that stereo mix down and unmix the file? Perhaps you didn’t want the guitar. Maybe the piano was too loud. The hiss from the amp makes the recording sound dirty. SpectraLayers Pro 2 allows you to export these individual pieces of audio to separate layers and, as they put it, “fix it in the mix.”

THE CLONE ZONE

One of many intriguing features of SpectraLayers Pro 2 is the ability to clone audio.

What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say you have a recording of a speech. Between sentences, a huge crash was recorded. You want to silence the crash but don’t want to delete the whole section because it will alter the pacing of the speech. However, when you silence the crash it leaves a hole in the audio. All background room noise is silenced along with the crash. How do you eliminate just the crash but leave the background room noise? SpectraLayers Pro 2 allows you to clone background room noise from a different portion of the file so you can fill the hole where the crash once occupied. Now anyone who listens to the recording will never know that an edit occurred.

Do you recall watching your favorite spy movie and the FBI audio forensics guy is able to amplify a certain piece of background audio without altering the rest of the audio file? SpectraLayers Pro 2 gives us this same ability.

By using the amplify tool, you are able to highlight the specific frequencies of a certain sound and enhance only that sound while leaving other background and foreground noise unaltered. This feature helps if you are trying to identify a noise in a recording but are having trouble hearing it. It can also be useful if you are trying to correct a mix down you created but no longer have the multitrack.

I have a few musical pieces in my collection of golden oldies that are mixed poorly. I only wish a multitrack existed so I could remix them. Perhaps the trumpet is too loud or the piano is too soft. How can this be adjusted?

SpectraLayers Pro 2 addresses this problem by identifying and the filtering out the unwanted instrument. By using the Extract Harmonics tool, I can identify the frequencies of the trumpet and paste them to a new layer. Then, by reversing the phase of that layer, you can phase out the trumpet but leave the rest of the mix alone. What if I only wanted to lower the trumpet and not phase it out entirely? Since I extracted the trumpet to a new layer, I can control how much trumpet I really want in the mix. I found speech to be a little more difficult, but this tool was definitely fun to play with.

TOO MUCH NOISE

If SpectraLayers Pro 2 can handle removing a trumpet from a recording, how about surface noise or a crowd in the background?

Product Capsule

Sony Creative Software
SpectraLayers 2 Audio Restoration Software

Thumbs Up
+ Versatile
+ Able to remove or enhance noise successfully

Thumbs Down
– Not ergonomically friendly
– Confusing to use
– Too many steps to accomplish one task
– Needs more shortcuts

Price: $399.95, upgrade $199.95

For information, contact Sony at www.sonycreativesoftware.com

The software removes unwanted noise in much of the same way it removed our trumpet. Once the unwanted surface noise is sampled, you paste it to a new layer. You then reverse the phase of that layer and play it simultaneously with the original recording. You have now phase-cancelled only the noise while leaving the rest of the recording alone. However, there can still be artifacts if you take out too much surface or background noise. This process has to be done gingerly but you can get some pretty decent results.

SpectraLayers Pro 2 is a powerful audio forensics program. There are endless possibilities, from removing unwanted audio or frequencies to enhancing specific sounds of a recording.

While the concept of the program and its capabilities are amazing, I found it terribly confusing to use. There are so many little buttons and settings to play with all over the screen, it is hard to keep straight which ones to use when noise reducing, harmonics filtering or amplifying audio. I found the ergonomic layout to be poor and certain shortcuts that we would come to expect didn’t exist. There are several steps when using each tool, and I found it difficult to remember all of them. For example, it takes five steps to extract noise from a recording when, in other programs, it only takes two steps.

While you may become proficient in SpectraLayers Pro 2 after using it for some time, it pays to watch the tutorials on how to use the program; see www.sonycreativesoftware.com/training.

I would like to see Sony create a more ergonomic, user-friendly program. I was also disappointed that audio artifacts were audible after noise reducing the audio. After the several steps it takes to remove surface noise, I was expecting amazing results for my hard work. Instead, I got mediocre results that are similar to those I would expect in other programs. Perhaps adjusting the parameters even more than I did would give me better results, but it can become quite confusing as to what these parameters really do. At times I didn’t fully understand what I was adjusting.

I do have to acknowledge that Sony is really on to something here. They’ve got a great concept and a powerful too but need to consult their users on how to make it an easier program to decipher.

In my opinion, once they do that, SpectraLayers Pro 2 can be a huge asset to any radio station or recording studio.

Dave Plotkin is director of production and creative services for a large metropolitan radio station. He likes old records.


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