For seven long years in the 1970s I agonized with the appallingly poor quality of the National Public Radio signal that came to our studios over a Class C telco line. My frustration increased further every time I listened to our neighboring NPR affiliate only 100 miles away receiving the same programming over a Class A line.
Then, literally in a moment, that was changed forever. In 1978 we fired up our brand-new satellite receiver and suddenly our listeners were transported from tin-can audio quality to experiencing Susan Stamberg seemingly sitting in their own living room or car. It was a heady time.
Meeting new quality criteria
But after the euphoria died away, we began to see that the 50-to-15,000 Hz network quality was a double-edged sword. Now fewer and fewer of the features we submitted to NPR were accepted.
Product CapsuleThumbs Up
Minimal learning curve
Easy to use
Fast digital restoration
In Sound Forge, it requires SF 6.0; won’t work under earlier versions using the older Direct-X management system.
For more information contact Waves in Tennessee at (865) 546-6115 or visit www.waves.com
The reason? Our studio facility was not able to produce a sound quality that met the new network criteria. Features that sounded all right on a land-based distribution system sounded downright awful on the new satellite system.
Worse than that, the disparity in technical quality between our own locally produced news and public affairs programs and those of the network became painfully apparent.
The muffled sound of teletype machines, noisy air conditioners, clanking steam pipes, the sounds of cars in an adjacent outside parking lot and other building sounds combined to create an ambiance that seemingly shouted, “This isn’t as good as the rest of your programming!”
In the decades that have followed, the demand for quality sound has only increased. Just being the loudest station will no longer guarantee a listening audience.
Every commercial, public service announcement, news actuality and sports broadcast we produce in radio needs to have the highest technical quality. And yet forces beyond our control often conspire to undercut our commitment to quality. They include buzzing fluorescent light fixtures, noisy air compressors, traffic sounds, ungrounded outlets and many others.
Digital software help
How can we make audio made in the real world sound as if it were produced in the best Hollywood studio? In the past dozen years or so, digital restoration software has provided tools that can remove the unwanted sounds that plague most of us.
Until now, however, virtually all digital restoration software has suffered from two problems: a long learning curve and lengthy processing times.
Waves Ltd. has addressed these problems by introducing a digital restoration package called Native Restoration that is easy to learn and can process a WAV file quickly.
Native Restoration is available as a plug-in for either MAC (RTAS, AudioSuite, VST, MAS) or PC (RTAS, AudioSuite, VST, DirectX under Windows 95, 98 or NT). The package contains four plug-ins: X-Click, for removing impulsive noise like pops and clicks; X-Crackle, for removing smaller pops and clicks and some record surface noise; X-Hum, which has eight harmonically linked notch filters that can attenuate ground loop hum by up to -60 dB and a high-pass filter; and X-Noise, for removing broadband noise such as record surface noise and air conditioning sound.
I tested Native Restoration on two PCs equipped with Intel P-III processors (650 and 850 MHz) and the Windows 98 SR II operating system. I used Sound Forge 4.5 as my native host program.
For the purposes of testing, I used a variety of analog sources including long-play records, 78-rpm records, 16-inch electrical transcriptions and reel-to-reel tape. Unlike other restoration software that I use, Waves Native Restoration required almost no learning curve.
I was able to begin the restoration process after only a few minutes of experimentation. Waves has minimized the number of on-screen controls, and the function of each is intuitive.
For example, X-Noise has controls that are similar to dynamic processors. You set the attack and release times and then adjust the threshold and the degree to which you want the noise reduction to take effect.
Because the plug-ins can be monitored in real time, it takes little time or effort to establish the best-sounding settings for a particular sound file. In the case of X-Noise, you also create a sound profile by sampling a small amount of the offending noise that you want to remove.
Native Restoration is incredibly fast, and that’s no accident. It was designed to minimize the amount of processor overhead required. As a result, I found that I could remove the pops and clicks from a 20-minute stereo 44.1 kHz WAV file in 1:35, and remove the surface noise using X-Noise in 2:11 for a total restoration time of 3:46.
That compares with a total time of 49:23 to do the same amount of work using the restoration package that I normally use.
How does the final sound compare? I found that the WAV files restored by the Waves package were comparable in quality to the package that I have been using daily over the past several years.
Let’s face it: Time is money. In this case, Waves Native Restoration software was able to do in a little more than 3 minutes what it took my usual software more than 49 minutes.
This means that I should be able to do nearly 12 digital restoration projects in the time that it normally takes me to do one. I say nearly 12 projects, because there is time required to adjust the restoration settings for each particular project.
I did have a problem with batch file mode. The current version saves the settings for the Noise Profile in a proprietary submenu because some programs don’t allow for saving a Noise Profile as a preset; it is a lot larger than tracking knob settings. Because of this, every time you open the module, you have to load an old noise profile from the sub menu. Other DirectX plug-ins generally save their settings in a way that automatically loads the last used noise profile when you open it.
While this is more of a nuisance than anything, this convention causes a more serious problem. I have created a series of “standard” noise profiles that I can apply to sound files with similar noise patterns. This allows me to batch process multiple sound files.
I will often transfer several hours worth of material to be digitally restored during the day, and then have the software batch process all the files over night using the appropriate noise profile.
Because of the way that Waves saves its noise profile settings, it is not possible to run X-Noise using Sound Forge’s batch compiler.
Waves, too, was concerned about this problem, and has just introduced version 3.5. After testing the beta version for several days, I was pleased to find that the X-Noise now works with both the Batch Converter and the Audio Plug-In Chain in Sound Forge.
The disadvantage is that it requires an upgrade to Sound Forge 6.0. This is because version 3.5 is designed to work under the new Direct-X management system incorporated in SF 6.0. Version 3.5 will not work at all under SF 4.5.
Waves’ Native Restoration is a high-quality digital restoration package that can provide excellent quality digital restoration in a fraction of the time required by most other restoration software and is easy to learn and apply. I give it an “A plus” and recommend as it a quick and easy way to clean up virtually any audio source at your radio station or production studio.