PopMark Media’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Bringing the Past Back to Life through Audio Restoration

May 7, 2012 8:20 PM, By Lisa Horan

According to Graves, “In many of these recordings, there’s extreme clipping that has to be dealt with. I work with a lot of dash cam videos taken from police cruisers. Sometimes the recording devices are set improperly or the microphone is in a poor location. The result is heavily distorted voices. Additionally, there are often extraneous noises that have been captured, like tractor trailers passing by, and that muddies up the overall quality.” Graves admits that, in many cases, if the microphone wasn't close enough to capture the targeted audio, there are limitations on the effectiveness of audio restoration techniques to correct that.

Combining Technology with Human Ears
Of course, uncovering hidden clues in forensic recordings or family histories isn’t as easy as dusting for fingerprints. “The first step I take is to figure out what [tape] format we’re working with, and then I run the tapes through converters for importing,” says Adam, who uses Apple Logic or Bias Peak Pro. Once the tapes have been digitized, he goes back, removes any blank audio at the beginning, adjusts levels appropriately, and then deals with restoration.

“The thing about audio restoration is, there’s no exact formula," Adam says. "You’ve got to listen for the things that jump out at you first, which are commonly issues like hum, tape hiss, room rumble, distortion, clipping and what is known as sticky tape syndrome, a problem that often occurs with reel-to-reel tapes from the ’70s through the early ’90s that have sat on the shelf for too long and now make a squealing sound when played.”

To deal with these and other issues, Adam’s Mac-based studio includes modified converters and one of his favorite tools: Isotope RX Advanced and an ANR-B external box, which essentially performs noise reduction as it’s digitizing and is usually a good option for projects with tighter budgets.

Graves’ arsenal includes tape decks, de-click and de-crackle software, Steinberg WaveLab, lots of top-grade needles, and a Prism Sound ADA-8XR multichannel AD/DA converter, which is among the best in the world. (Consider this: The ADA-8XR was used to restore The Beatles' catalog, and is also used by George Lucas and the Library of Congress.) “It may cost more than a car, but I’ve tried just about every tool out there, and nothing gets the noise out without harming the original sound as well as this product,” Graves says.

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