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April 04, 2010

Soundtrack Pro Tutorial - Noise Reduction

Written by Jeff Sobel

 

Soundtrack Pro is Final Cut Studio’s definitive tool for audio editing and mixing.  It handles jobs big and small with ease and is tightly integrated with Final Cut Pro.  One of the tasks editors often throw at STP is noise reduction.  Every videographer knows the pain of having a good shot ruined by unwanted background noise.  When the noise is unavoidable or a reshoot impossible, fixing it in post is the only option.  In this situation, Soundtrack Pro comes to the rescue.

The FCP sequence shown below is a short scene with dialogue. Just by looking at the audio clips we can tell that in addition to the dialogue, denoted by the strong peaks in the waveform, there is also significant background noise throughout the scene.

To fix this, we can use Soundtrack Pro’s Noise Reduction process. The first step is to send the audio clip to STP as a Soundtrack Pro Audio File Project by control-clicking the audio clip.

The audio clip opens in STP. We use the Selection tool to select a portion of the audio that contains nothing but noise. We’ll select as much noise as we can, up to a few seconds, while being certain that the selection contains only the noise we want to remove and absolutely none of the sound we wish to keep. 

Choose Process>Noise Reduction>Set Noise Print.
Now that we’ve identified the noise we wish to reduce, STP’s Noise Reduction process can be applied. We select the entire audio clip (double-click the audio or press Command-A), then choose Process>Noise Reduction>Reduce Noise.  This opens the Noise Reduction HUD.

Click the Preview button to loop playback, then raise the Threshold slider until the filter is acting on the noise, but not the dialogue. The most important thing to remember is that the goal is noise reduction, not noise removal. Attempting to completely remove background noise usually causes unacceptable harm to the desired audio. Try to strike the best balance between reducing background noise and retaining the integrity of the audio you wish to keep.

When the ideal settings are found, click Apply. STP performs the Noise Reduction process and updates the waveform display. Looking at the waveform, we can tell that most of the background noise has been removed and the dialogue is just as present as before the processing. Also, the Noise Reduction process appears in the Actions list in the left pane, where it can be edited or deleted if desired.

Now we save the audio file project (Command-S) and switch back to Final Cut Pro. In FCP we see that the audio clip has been replaced with the STP audio file project and has already updated. We’re ready to continue editing the rest of the sequence in FCP now. If further refinements to this audio clip are required we can simply reopen the audio file project in STP, make our changes, resave the project, and the clip in FCP will automatically update. This workflow is part of the tight integration between STP and FCP and illustrates how vital it is for an editor to know how to utilize STP’s advanced audio tools. STP is the key to taking your video projects’ audio to the next level.

Jeff Sobel is the Chief Engineer of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and the author of the Apple Pro Training Series book: Sound Editing in Final Cut Studio.

Next entry: SAE: Mixdown Techniques Online Course

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