Waves is renowned for its high-quality software plug-ins andhardware processors. I use Waves tools almost every day. However, whenI heard that Waves was releasing a plug-in collection for vinylrestoration, extreme noise problems, and forensic work, I hardly gotexcited. I didn't think I needed surgical noise removal — I makesure that my recordings are always noise-free — and I haven'tbeen recruited yet to clean up wiretaps for Uncle Sam.
Within a week, however, two people asked if I could transfer some oftheir old vinyl records to CD. I have to admit it — maybe I havea need for this stuff after all.
The Native Restoration bundle contains four plug-ins: X-Click,X-Crackle, X-Hum, and X-Noise. Not intended solely for vinylrestoration, they are each aimed at solving the specific audio problemsthat their names suggest. You can run them individually or in series;results vary according to the quality of the original sourcematerial.
Each plug-in is extremely powerful, yet Waves did an excellent jobof keeping the interfaces simple. Most of the processes involveproperly setting Threshold and Reduction sliders, and great presets areprovided. You can monitor the resulting audio or hear the actual noisebeing removed. That lets you determine whether you are removing anyaudio material so that you can adjust the settings accordingly. Theplug-ins are real time and single ended, meaning they perform theirprocessing without the need for encoding/decoding stages as in Dolby ordbx.
X-Click is designed to remove loud pops such as vinyl scratches ordigital clips. It removes the clicks and interpolates audio data tofill in the holes. Waves posted an updater to X-Click that is better atremoving clicks than the version that shipped on the original CD.
X-Crackle removes or diminishes the lower-level crackles thatpollute most vinyl recordings. It's usually used after X-Click.
X-Hum employs eight harmonically linked steep, low-cut, notched EQbands to remove rumble and DC offset. It's geared toward noises with asteady pitch, such as 60 Hz hum from bad grounding.
X-Noise, a broadband noise-reduction plug-in, “learns” aportion of the noise and tailors its response to the customizedprofile. It's the one to use for tape hiss, guitar buzzes, and otherresidual background noise, such as air conditioners.
FOLLOW YOUR ABCs
When specifically cleaning up vinyl records, a good rule of thumb isto use the plug-ins in alphabetical order. That means you first get ridof the big loud pops and then move on to the crackles. If there are humor noise problems, run those two plug-ins last. You can run theplug-ins simultaneously in series, but I received much better resultsby concentrating on one process at a time and doing the vinyl cleanupin stages. There are often more noticeable artifacts when you try to domore than two processes, especially because the processing is in realtime.
The Restoration plug-ins are not yet multiprocessor savvy. Even on adual G4/800 MHz with 1.25 GB of RAM, the hit on the processor is prettyhigh, although I could run all four processors in series with noproblem. Still, it's better to approach the plug-ins as surgical toolsthat you use and put away rather than as processors that you strapacross a bunch of tracks and leave in place.
The Waves installer CD includes half a dozen music and dialogphrases with various noise problems. You can play with the files tolearn your way around the processors. There are some serious noises,pops, and hums on these recordings, and I was able to do some amazingnoise reduction on each one. Using test files provided by themanufacturer and cleaning up files in the real world, however, are twodifferent things.
BUDDY, FREDDY, AND DISNEY
One day last December, my father-in-law dropped by with two oldvinyl albums under his arm. The first was an original Coral RecordsBuddy Holly Story, and the other was an old Freddy King recordin the original paper dustcover; they were two of my father-in-law'sfavorites when he was a kid. By coincidence, a few days later, myneighbor asked if I could transfer his Disney sing-along records thathe had listened to as a child so that he could play them for hissix-month-old son. All of the records were old and in pretty bad shape,but I knew they would be a great test for the Waves plug-ins.
The first challenge was creating audio files that didn't skip. A fewspots in the Disney records ended up having crossfades in them becauseI eventually gave up trying to capture some sections. Once I had theaudio files of all four records in the computer (I chose 16-bit, 44.1kHz for the sake of convenience), it was time to start the cleanup.
Sticking to the aforementioned rule of thumb, I started by usingX-Click to go after the big pops. I was able to remove about 75 percentof the pops at first, and after updating to the newer version ofX-Click at the Waves Web site, I got rid of most of the offensiveclicks, as well (see Fig. 1). The Freddy King record had theworst pops, and I had to remove a few by hand in an audio editor. Butthe number of pops removed by X-Click in a few hours would have takenweeks by hand. There are virtually no audible artifacts with X-Click,and the interpolated data sounds perfectly natural while alsomaintaining the integrity of the program length.
X-Crackle was effective for getting rid of most of the remaininglittle pops on all of the records, although it takes a softer hand atthe controls to avoid dulling the high end (see Fig. 2). That'swhere I really learned that vinyl restoration — and serious audiocleanup, in general — is a balancing act between noise and theartifacts of noise removal. It is impractical to expect to remove everysingle offensive artifact without adversely affecting the originalaudio. However, used with taste and common sense, each Restorationplug-in is a little magic box.
I didn't really need to use X-Hum on those four records, but I didhave a few audio tracks that were suffering from a little ground hum.X-Hum has a few presets that are tailored for 50 Hz and 60 Hz hum, andthat did the trick on a colleague's preamp that was humming when herecorded some overdubs for me (see Fig. 3).
TURN THE BEAT AROUND
Going back to my records, I did notice a little turntable rumble.X-Hum is quite sophisticated, allowing you to customize a highpassfilter and its set of eight filters, which can be linked or unlinked togain. Again, I found a preset that did the trick.
If it's possible to isolate a tiny portion (at least 100 ms) ofresidual noise, then X-Noise will pay big dividends. X-Noise removedmost of the general noise that remained on the records at this point(see Fig. 4). This is the trickiest and, if abused, potentiallymost damaging plug-in in the bundle, but it can really work wonders onnoisy audio. Simply toggling the Learn button while listening only to ashort portion of the noise without any program material (usually foundat the beginning or end of the material) creates a noise profile thatcan be saved. Then it's just a matter of properly setting the thresholdand reduction amounts, keeping in mind that too much processing willcause weird phasing or aliasing sounds.
I can't say that the results of the vinyl restoration are perfect orthat they rival the original masters — the records were in prettybad shape. But I can say that the difference in the overall listeningexperience between the original audio files and the processedrecordings was like night and day.
For serious audio professionals in the world of sound design,TV-production audio, film, and field recording, the Native Restorationbundle is a no-brainer. It's also great for small labels ordistributors wanting to clean up their vinyl catalogs for CDdistribution. It is a little pricey for the average consumer who justwants to clean up his or her vinyl collection before transferring toCD, but that's not the product's main purpose.
For professionals who need serious audio-cleanup tools, the NativeRestoration plug-ins are inexpensive compared with equivalent hardwaresolutions. The fact that the processors run native under DirectX, MAS,RTAS, and VST hosts makes them flexible with a wide range ofapplications.
All of the vinyl records I worked with were transformed by eachWaves processor. I haven't given my father-in-law and neighbor their CDcopies yet, but I have half a mind to also give them CDs of theoriginal audio files before cleanup so that they can appreciate howpowerful the Native Restoration bundle really is.
Producer, composer, and keyboardist RobShrock has recorded, performed, or both with Burt Bacharach, GarthBrooks, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, George Duke, GloriaEstefan, and a host of others.
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.5QUALITY OF SOUNDS4.5VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Removes a wide range of noise sources. Works in realtime. Easy to operate.
CONS: Requires a fast computer. Not multiprocessor savvy.Audible artifacts at extreme settings.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: PPC 603/180; 64 MB RAM; OS 8.5; RTAS, AudioSuite, VST,or MAS host
PC: Pentium II/266; 32 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/NT/2000; RTAS,AudioSuite, VST, or DirectX host