By Robin Shore
When it comes to cleaning up damaged and noisy recordings, the tools from CEDAR Audio have long been respected in the audio community. CEDAR, which is sold by Independent Audio in the US, bills itself as “dedicated solely to audio restoration and speech enhancement for film, post, TV and radio broadcast; CD and DVD mastering, libraries and archives; and for audio forensic investigation.”
A few months ago they released CEDAR Studio 7, an update to the company’s earlier software bundles, which brings CEDAR’s renowned hardware into the software realm. This allows in-the-box mixers access to CEDAR‘s top-of-the-line processing without ever leaving the DAW.
While previous versions of CEDAR Studio were available exclusively as Pro Tools plug-ins, CEDAR Studio 7 comes in both AAX and VST flavors, allowing those of us who like to mix off the beaten path to use them with any DAW software we please. We use Cockos Reaper at Silver Sound.
In The Bundle
The bundle consists of seven separate audio plug-ins: DNS One dialogue noise suppressor, Declick, Decrackle, Declip, Debuzz, Auto Dehiss and Adaptive Limiter. All of these components are very nice. The DNS One and “De-” plug-ins all do exactly what their names imply, often with stunning results. Adaptive Limiter is an interesting take on multi-band dynamics. Its response is based on a variable EQ curve that changes in realtime depending on incoming signal, allowing it to limit output levels in a very natural sounding way.
Also included with CEDAR Studio 7 is Retouch, CEDAR’s standalone spectral editor. For those unfamiliar with spectral editing, this is a tool that allows you to isolate and remove problematic sounds like coughs and squeaks by visually drawing over them on a spectrogram. As the name of the software implies, the process is similar to retouching a photo.
This suite of tools is a great one, but they come with a price. The CEDAR Studio 7 offerings might be the most expensive audio plug-ins I’ve come across. Each component is sold individually for $3,543 — with the exception of the DNS One dialogue noise suppressor, which is $4,647. The entire bundle will cost you $13,318.
In spite of the impressive capabilities, the high cost of entry might make many think twice before purchasing, and comparisons to more wallet friendly options are inevitable. But in the case of the DNS One Dialogue Noise Suppressor plug-in, the price may certainly be justified.
Meant for cleaning up loud background noise in location recordings, DNS One shares its processing algorithms and interface with the similarly named DNS hardware units. Seven faders are used to control the plug-in. The left-most fader adjusts the overall amount of noise reduction, while the other six are used for fine-tuning particular frequency bands.
A group of buttons across the top lets you concentrate the plug-in’s activity to a specific part of the audio spectrum. Perhaps my favorite part of DNS One is the “Learn” button, which will analyze incoming audio and automatically adjust the plug-in’s settings on the fly. I am usually distrustful of this sort of thing in other plug-ins, but the folks at CEDAR seem to have gotten it right. While dialing in settings by hand is quick and easy thanks to the well-designed interface, it is rarely even necessary, as the Learn function seems to put things right on the money nearly every time. Not only does this make finding the right settings incredibly easy, it allows the plug-in to be useful in otherwise difficult situations where the character of the background noise changes across time.
The past few years have seen some great de-noise offerings from other companies, but none of them work nearly as well as this one. Like any de-noiser DNS One will start to sound pretty wacky if taken too far, but I found that compared to similar products, it could be pushed much harder without degrading the parts of the audio I wanted to preserve.
The Rest of the Suite
CEDAR’s other plug-ins work very well, but so do some of their more affordable counterparts. Running the same audio through equivalent processes in both bundles, I found that many of the de- editing tools in iZotope RX4 gave similar results to the CEDAR versions, but at a fraction of the price. Likewise, the Adaptive Limiter is neat, but with the glut of fine dynamics plug-ins already available I cannot imagine this one becoming a regular part of my toolkit.
The one area where I think CEDAR does out-do its competitors is in design and ease of use. Other plug-ins are often cluttered with lots of finicky parameters and visual gak. Most of the CEDAR plug-ins are controlled by just a few small knobs, and the plug-in windows are small enough that you can easily have several open at once without them getting in the way of other things on the computer screen. The knobs and sliders in the CEDAR plug-ins seem fine tuned to respond exactly how you want. While similar results can be attained with other products, they are not as always as fast or simple to use as the CEDAR versions.
All told, CEDAR Studio 7 is an amazing product capable of producing some truly miraculous results on damaged audio. If cleaning up noisy dialogue is a regular part of your work and you want the absolute best tool available, the DNS One plug-in is worth a serious look.
For the rest of the components, those that are turned off by CEDAR’s prices should know cheaper alternatives do exist, but those who place a high value on time and simplicity may decide that the full CEDAR Studio 7 bundle is the right choice for them.
Robin Shore is a founding member and co-owner of New York-based audio post house Silver Sound Studios.