Deep Dive: The Essential Sound Panel in Adobe Audition
A year ago, Adobe Premiere Pro released a feature called the Lumetri Color Panel which concentrated the incredible color correction tools in the rather complicated Adobe SpeedGrade application into a very approachable set of tools accessible to almost anyone. Expert-level color manipulation and calibration workflows had previously been a foreign language to many editors, but the intuitive tools and friendly labels of the Lumetri panel helped all of us become more familiar and embracing of consistent, dynamic color in our productions.
In chatting with customers, those of us on the Audition team kept hearing a similar call to simplify audio production. Editors working on tight deadlines with shrinking budgets didn't always have the luxury of sending a project off to an audio professional for mixing, and often when they tried to do it themselves, they got lost or did not know how to achieve the results they wished for. With that in mind, we created the Essential Sound Panel which is available in the latest release of Adobe Audition.
The Essential Sound Panel (or ESP as one of our pre-release users cleverly named it in awe upon first trying it out) guides editors through standard mixing tasks for Dialogue, Music, Sound Effects, and Ambient or Environmental audio content. DME (Dialogue, Music, Effects) is a common audio mixing and deliverable methodology ensuring each element of a production's sound is mixed and has appropriate effects for its role in the project. In the ESP, selecting one or more clips and assigning a Mix Type - the role those clips play in the production - exposes several effects appropriate for that type. Each group of effects and controls are placed in the natural order an audio expert would follow such as first ensuring all content was at a standard, consistent level. For dialogue recordings, the next step might be to clean up background noise or electrical hums before adding compression and EQ. For music, the next step might be to stretch or leverage Adobe Audition Remix to recompose a music clip to match the duration of your video project. Let's dive in and take a closer look at what each Mix Type offers and how to customize the panel for your own organization or project.
Dialogue clips may consist of recordings captured during a performance, ADR recorded in a studio or off-set at a later time, or voiceover and narration. While each might play a different role in your production, the techniques applied to bring out clarity and improve definition are very similar. The initial goal is to get all content at the same starting point in terms of loudness, get rid of any anomalies, bring out the best elements of the captured recordings, then add that bit of creative spark that helps it exist within the visual environment. Finally, there may be some slight adjustments to particular elements to emphasize them above the others.
The first step is to Unify Loudness, and Audition accomplishes this by adhering to the ITU Loudness standards. Loudness is different from volume in that it's a measure of average volume consistency over time, with very specific definitions to ensure one piece of content will play at the same levels as a piece created by another organization, and is the centerpiece of recent regulation around the world for broadcast material. When you select a clip and assign it a mix type, Audition automatically analyzes it and calculates its original loudness value. Selecting the Auto-Match button applies a non-destructive clip gain adjustment so that all Dialogue clips will sound the same loudness. While you can enable Auto-Match with one or dozens of clips selected, each clip will be analyzed and adjusted separately to ensure consistency.
Next, you may need to do some light restoration such as removing noise, microphone rumble, or emoving the harsh "s" sounds (aka sibilance) that may have been picked up during the recording rocess. Select the Repair Sound group header to expose these parameters. You can simply grab a slider and move it to enable each effect and adjust the amount applied. If you've already enabled an ffect and wish to hear your clips with it off or on, click on the checkbox next to each effect name.
While the Essential Sound panel abstracts these complex effects and tools as simple sliders, they are actually mapped to Audition's powerful, native effects, controlling several parameters at once to ensure great results without getting lost among the plethora of parameters many of our effects offer. If you open the Effects Rack and select Clip Effects at the top, you can see exactly which effects the ESP is adding or removing as you toggle the checkboxes on and off. And if you'd like to see precisely what the ESP is doing, you can open the effect UI and watch it adjust as you change the slider.
Once you've cleaned up the sound, it's time to make it pop! This is typically achieved through the use of Compression and Equalization. Equalization, or EQ, is the emphasis or reduction of certain frequencies that can help audio content fit well with other material or make it more pleasant to our ears. Compression is the subtle adjustment of loudness, often limited to certain frequency ranges and with specific rates of modification, that can make a recording feel more professional and easier to listen to. The ESP relies upon Audition's quite incredible Dynamics Processing effect which allows for compression (reducing the dynamic range of a recording) and expansion (increasing the dynamic range - essentially making the difference between the loudest and quietest bits of a recording even further apart.) With each clip you enable Dynamics in the ESP, Audition analyzes the clip to determine the optimal RMS threshold values and assigns these to specific values on the adjustment envelope. Still with me? All that really means is we take the guesswork out of finding the right settings for each individual clip and concentrate what is possibly our most complicated effect down to a simple slider.
Adjusting the EQ enhances the frequency curve of your clips which can make subtle improvements, emphasizing the bits and pieces that the human ear has evolved to hear best, or to make dialogue sound as if it exists in different environments. Select from our simple and fun EQ presets and adjust the slider to affect how much your sound is modified.
Which leads naturally into adding a little creative Reverb to your recordings and give them the feeling that they are actually happening in the room, church, alley, or other environment that may be in your video. Audition again offers several presets for different locations, which you can adjust to match the mood and setting of your project.
If you find a combination ofsettings that you'll want to go back to often in a project, or maybe just want to try a few pre-built configurations to start exploring, each Mix Type offers a selection of ESP Presets at the top. You can select and apply any of these to your selected clips quite easily, so John's recording can always sound like John while Bernadette's clips always sound like Bernadette. There are
some I'd specifically like to call out as they are very handy for easily changing subtle characteristics in recordings so they better match the apparent distance to the actor on-screen. This can be especially handy when recording ADR, where each take is up close and consistent, but the video footage has a mix of close-ups, distant, and medium shots. Make Close Up, Make Distant, and Make Medium Shot applies a subtle Reverb and EQ curve so that a single recording can quickly give the impression of any of those distances from the camera.
When assigning the Music mix type to a clip in your timeline, you'll have fewer options than a Dialogue clip. Most music comes premixed, so the most common task is making sure it fits the length of your project. The Essential Sound Panel offers two modes to help achieve this goal.
When opening the Duration group, you'll see an option for which method to use to adjust the duration. Stretch applies a real-time stretch or compress of your song, which will modify the tempo. By default, we perform a real-time stretch so that playback can be heard immediately. If you stretch more than a few percent, you may wish to enable Rendered Stretch which will take a bit of time to perform, but will usually sound significantly better. You can toggle this by opening the Properties panel, opening the Stretch group, and selecting Rendered. The other method relies upon Audition Remix technology, which was released in the Fall of 2015 and has been incredibly popular. Remix analyzes a song, any song file, and creates a web of potential edit and crossover points, then shuffles the segments of your song to create a new composition that closely matches your target duration. While the full effect in the Properties panel offers a half-dozen additional parameters to fine-tune the mix, the Essential Sound Panel allows you to select whether you want Remix to favor shorter segments - and therefore more transitions - when recomposing your music track. (Of course, you can always open the Properties panel and make additional adjustments to the Remix effect!)
Sound Effects (SFX)
Sound effects, and the next mix type, Ambience, are closely related and are often grouped together when mix engineers provide final audio for a film or broadcast production. When we were planning the Essential Sound panel, however, we decided to break them apart as we "see" them quite differently. We felt that SFX were generally shorter bits that correspond to some action or event on-screen, while Ambience has more to do with the overall environment and location and may be more subtle than other sounds.
When clips are assigned as a SFX mix type, options are exposed to add reverb - with environmentally-applicable presets, as opposed to the presets available in the Dialogue display - and sounds can easily be panned around the stereo field, to correspond with their position on-screen. For instance, if a door is opened on the left side of the video frame, I can add Door Opening Sound 01.wav to my timeline at the right position, assign the SFX mix type, and adjust the Pan slider to the left to quickly place the sound so that it comes from the left speaker. (There is also a SFX Preset, From the Left, which makes this even easier!)
Often referred to as Room Tone or Environmental sounds, these are recordings which give a sense of presence in a scene, but don't necessarily correspond to events or objects on-screen. Think of a scene set in an outdoor Parisian cafe, where we might hear the murmur of other conversations, the sound of delicate coffee cups clinking, and perhaps the far-off grumble of the occasional Vespa scooter in the background. In an office environment, we may hear the air conditioner or the subtle buzz of terrible overhead fluorescent lamps. In addition to the common Loudness and Reverb parameters you've seen with the other mix types, the Ambience group offers the ability to adjust the Stereo Width of your clips. This allows you to expand or decrease the "depth" or immersion of those background recordings, and make them feel as if they are actually occurring all around the listener, or are very focused, even claustrophobic. In the examples above, the "cafe customer" ambience would probably be very wide and happening all around us, while the unnatural hum of those lamps may be focused and drilling directly into the viewers brain to emphasize the horrible environment. (Are you picking up my general loathing of these lights? Good.) For additional control, you can open the Stereo Expander effect that is inserted into the Effects Rack and adjust where that sound might be coming from.
What else can you do with the Essential Sound panel?
You might have noticed that several times, I showed a native Audition audio effect plugin being modified by the ESP sliders. It's true! The ESP relies upon the award-winning DSP and patented algorithms in each of our audio effects. If an editor builds a preliminary audio mix, but the project is handed off to a professional audio engineer, that engineer can simply close the Essential Sound panel and adjust the native effects as if they had built the project themselves! But what's really enticing for that audio professional, the one who insists that no video editor should ever touch the audio because only THEY know the right settings to achieve the sound that they want, is they can completely customize almost every one of these parameters with their own personal settings and presets! Behold Template View!
Adjusting the Template allows an audio expert to set the configurations or presets for almost every effect and parameter available in the ESP. These can be used to create project or organization specific presets and defaults, and easily shared with every member of a team, further ensuring consistent results between editors. A year ago, there was a bit of buzz as the top audio engineer with National Public Radio (NPR) shared some details about their signature sound. While it always helps to start off with microphones that cost several thousand dollars apiece, they augment those great recordings and skilled presenters with very strict EQ and compression profiles. A journalists job is to tell stories and share the news, not to be an audio engineer. With a bit of work setting up these presets once, they can be distributed quite easily to every desktop with Audition installed, and customized for specific projects - even specific actors or talent - with the results sounding consistent no matter who is assigned the task of editing and mixing. I'll cover the Template editing and distribution in a later post, but please leave a comment if this is something you'd like to learn more about before then.
How do I get started?
Download the latest version of Adobe Audition. The Essential Sound panel is available in the Window menu item, and is docked by default in several workspaces including the new Essential Video Mixing workspace. Open an existing session, send a sequence from Premiere Pro via DynamicLink, or start recording a brand new one. Select a clip and assign it a mix type in the Essential Sound panel, then get started mixing!