Audio Editing Made Simple
Sometimes what’s missing is as important as what’s included, like noise in an audio signal or anchovies on an otherwise great pizza. Adobe’s new audio concoction, Soundbooth, is no different. What’s missing? Complexity.
Before our first test drive, we imagined we’d find a stripped-down version of Audition, Adobe’s full-featured audio editing program. But, after a closer look, we found that Soundbooth was truly a new tool tailored for the large number of video producers who are not audiofiles. Since Soundbooth, unlike Audition, is a completely new application, Adobe was able to design the layout to look like other products in the Production Suite line. The dynamically resizing gray windows, movable tabs and icons should be familiar to you, if you’ve used any of the latest Adobe products.
Since Soundbooth was made to give video producers all the basics, that’s what we focused on during our tests, which we divided into three broad categories: recording and basic editing, noise/sound reduction and audio enhancement.
Recording and Editing
Basic editing includes the everyday tasks of recording, adjusting levels, cutting and pasting sections of clips and fading in and out. Clicking the red record button brings up a simple dialog that prompts you to choose your input settings along with file naming and saving location. Unlike in other applications, once you record a clip, it is automatically saved to disk. If you’ve ever fallen victim to making modifications to a freshly-recorded clip only to forget you haven’t saved it, this is potentially a lifesaver. Another handy function is the auto-incrementing feature that lets you select from numbers or date and time stamps to append each clip. You can easily record a series of uniquely named clips by just clicking the Record and Stop buttons. And if you are recording a long-winded narrator who is making mistakes, you can add markers while recording to help you note good from bad sections.
We especially liked the Soundbooth icons for volume and fades, right beside transport functions. There is even a ridiculously simple Louder icon to the right of the volume control that provides an overall 3dB gain, while applying a hard limiting to prevent distortion. We found that, by first adjusting the volume so that peaks of our waveform approached 0dB, then clicking on the Louder button, we had an optimized audio clip very quickly.
Making simple edits was truly that: simple. Just highlight a selection and cut and paste. Done. Fading was also a matter of highlighting the section covered by the fade and clicking on appropriate icons.
Noise and Sound Reduction
For noise/sound reduction, we recorded four of the most common audio irritants known to man: a cough, a click, an air conditioner and a noisy fluorescent ballast. We recorded these sounds directly to Mini DV tape, using a Sennheiser EW100 wireless system on a JVC GYHD-110u camcorder in the standard-definition mode to capture the higher-quality PCM audio.
We imported our test file by double-clicking on an empty area in the Files window, and Soundbooth automatically displayed both the video and audio in the Edit Audio to Video workspace.
We tackled our off-camera cough first. Using the spectral, or frequency-space, view to identify the offending hack, we used Photoshop-like visual selection tools to isolate what at first appeared to be the cough. By clicking on the Play Selected Frequencies Only checkbox, we could hear we didn’t grab it all. After a little more tweaking to our selection, Soundbooth automatically gave us two options: a small volume window just above the selection or, within the Tasks area, an Auto Heal button. We tried both, and found that the Auto Heal produced a slightly more convincing removal of the cough. Since our dialog and cough both had similar frequencies, the cough was not completely removed. Next we tried to remove a click made by two small blocks of hardwood snapping together. Following the same procedure as for the cough, we were able to do a better job of isolating the sound and removing its relative presence in the audio. For the air conditioner, we used Soundbooth’s Clean Up Audio task and captured a Noise Print of just the sound of the AC. Before applying the effect, Soundbooth gave us a dialogue with sliders for Reduction and Reduce By. It didn’t take us long to find the right combination, and that nearly eliminated all of AC noise without sacrificing vocal tonality. We used the same technique to successfully remove the fluorescent hum.
Soundbooth’s Effects Rack gives you room for stacking as many as five effects at a time that will modify your clip in practically unlimited combinations. We focused on simply making our average-sounding narration sound as good as it could. This included finding the right amount of compression, equalization and hint of reverb. After exploring the many available presets, we found Mastering Mix 1 gave us just the right amount of everything with very little adjustment. We did find some of the presets that promise great effect and simplicity just a little too simple. The Vocal Enhancer is one such effect, giving us option only for Off, Male, Female or Music. The vast array of presets, however, do provide even a knowledgeable audio engineer with highly-functional tools to refine or repair nearly any audio clip.
Soundbooth’s AutoCompose Score feature lets you quickly and easily add custom music to your production. Browse any of the 11 music categories to find the right tone for your project, double-click to import into Soundbooth, select a reference clip if you want to adjust the duration to match pre-existing audio or video and then start finessing the mix of the score itself. Soundbooth gives you a Basic or Keyframing dialog, and both methods give you control over instruments and melody lines. If you are starting to produce more Flash projects, you can also add cue points for Flash animation.
Adobe clearly has a specific audience in mind with its introduction of Soundbooth: an independent video producer who doesn’t have the time, skills, software or the cash to pay someone else to do the audio post. If any of these traits sound familiar to you, Soundbooth is well worth checking out.
Format: HDD/ SD memory card
Processor: Multicore Intel Processor (Mac), Intel Pentium 4 (1.4GHz processor for DV, 3.4GHz processor for HDV), Intel Centrino, Intel Xeon (dual Xeon 2.8GHz processors for HD), Intel Core Duo or compatible processor (SSE2-enabled processor required for AMD systems)
OS: Mac OS X 10.4.9 (Mac), Microsoft Windows XP Home or Professional with Service Pack 2; Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, Ultimate (certified support for 32-bit editions only)
Display: 1280×900 monitor resolution with 32-bit video card and 16MB or more of VRAM
Memory: 512MB of RAM (1GB RAM for DV; 2GB for HDV or HD)
Other: Microsoft DirectX or ASIO-compatible sound card, DVD drive required for installation, 10GB of available hard-disk space, QuickTime 7.0 required to use QuickTime features, Internet or phone line for activation
- Powerful set of audio tools designed for the videographer-editor.
- Controls of effects may be too basic for some users.
Soundbooth is a simple, powerful tool made for video producers who don’t want to become audio experts.
Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer and lecturer.
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