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Video Review: Sony Creative Software SpectraLayers Pro

Sony SpectraLayers is a dynamic new audio editing tool for Mac and Windows users that might be best described as "Photoshop for Audio," featuring the ability to isolate and edit individual layers of a mixed track using frequency analysis. In this video review, David McKnight explains how it works and what it offers post-production pros with complex audio issues to resolve.

Sony Creative Software recently announced a new product called SpectraLayers. What the heck does that mean, anyway? A more descriptive name might "Photoshop for Audio." Or maybe, "The Fake Forensic Audio Manipulation You See on CSI Is More Real Than You Think."

SpectraLayers is a different kind of audio tool. I thought it interesting that this is being distributed by SCS under a partnership with a company called Divide Frame. SpectraLayers has been used in sound design for several major motion pictures and popular video game soundtracks. It can now find a home in your arsenal of tools as well. SpectraLayers is available for both Mac and PC.

Real-World CSI Forensics for Audio?

I mentioned the TV show CSI at the top of this page. It always bugs me when those shows take liberties with media content such as security camera footage and audio recordings. "Zoom in on the perp" and the bad guy pops up in full resolution after a 400% zoom. In our world, that just doesn't happen with your typical security camera.

Audio recordings are the same way."Isolate the male voice on that phone call!" You can't really do that, except on TV, right? Well, with the tools in SpectraLayers and some time spent on the details, you can achieve results that you might have thought impossible before.

What's the Frequency, Spectra?

Essentially, SpectraLayers works on audio frequencies. On the main screen, you won't see a typical waveform like you might in your NLE, DAW, or other audio editor. Those waveforms show volume or amplitude over time. In the SpectraLayers main timeline, you see frequencies over time. What we're going to attempt to do in the video review/tutorial below is remove the siren without adversely affecting the rest of the file. We'll be working with a basic WAV file that's already mixed down—nothing fancy. In a sense we're going to unmix it and attempt to remove one of the sounds.

In the video that follows, I show how to isolate specific frequencies and their related harmonics, and how, by using phase inversion, you can dial out very specific layers that were originally part of the mixed file.

Now, before you go trying to re-mix a Katy Perry tune, understand that it's not this simple and fool-proof for every audio track. Where SpectraLayers is more likely to be used is to provide very surgical, precise control over audio cleanup. For example,if you've got recorded dialog that contains an airplane flying overhead, you can get very precise with the frequencies of the airplane or other recorded noise. In other Noise Reduction tools you typically will take a small sample of pure noise from the file and the program will use phase inversion, equalization, and other techniques to reduce the noise. With SpectraLayers you select the exact, specific frequencies and harmonics to remove even if they exist only in combination with audio that you want to keep.

SpectraLayers is a fantastic fun tool to work with. I hope you have enjoyed this overview, and we will see you next time at Streaming Media Producer.

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