The best way to deal with a troublesome noise is to avoid recording it in the first place. In a controlled environment, like a recording studio or a film set, you’re blessed with a quiet space, clean power and revealing monitors, so that isn’t too difficult to do.
But these days, for better and for worse, more audio is being recorded in compromised environments than ever before, and at every level in the industry. Music is increasingly tracked in home studios where refrigerators hum, amps buzz and cars zip by outside windows; a growing amount of video is shot remotely on makeshift sets where booms and lavs won’t go, camera preamps hiss, and ambient noise can begin to overwhelm.
All this conspires to make audio cleanup a recurring task for engineers who rarely had to deal with these jobs in the past. Fortunately, the tools have been keeping up with the increased demand. On today’s market, you’ll find a few of the most powerful sonic-scrubbers ever devised, with prices that range from $100, right on up to near $10,000.
Some of them, like Sony’s Spectral Layers, will even let you “Unbake The Cake,” by removing not just broadband noise and ambience, but individual sounds and instruments from within a single track. We put a few of the most popular of these plugins through their paces to find out how they stack up.