by Jeremiah Hall (doddleNEWS)
SpectraLayers Pro is a spectral audio editor published by Sony Creative Software. Let’s take a look at how videographers and filmmakers can make use of this tool. If you haven’t read part one of this review, you can find it here.
There are four classes of editing tools in SpectraLayers Pro: Info, Extract, Modify and Draw.
Extract: Area allows you to transfer an area from the global mix to your new layer. You can choose the frequency range you want, the time range you want to move (in seconds), and the hardness of the extraction. Hardness is how much of the frequency is removed, and is measured in percentage.
Extract: Frequency lets you move a tone from the global mix to your selected layer. Tolerence stops the tracking when power is lower than the dB you set. Time limit lets you set the maximum time tracked before and after your cursor position. Spread is how many sampled are the frequency are transferred.
The Extract: Harmonics tool lets you choose a frequency and the other associated overtones and harmonics that go with it.
Extract: Noise lets you define noise in the audio file and select it for removal.
Amplify let’s you amplify a part of the file. You can choose your frequency range, time range, hardness, and strength – the amplification multiplier. An interesting one in this list is for pen tablet users. You can use the pen pressure of your tablet to multiply the strength value.
Modify: Clone lets you clone an area to / from your current layer. Pick let’s you decide your source location. You can also choose the frequency range, time range, hardness, choose the source layer, transpose frequencies, and use pen tablet pressure to adjust the strength value.
Modify: Erase let’s you erase parts of a selected area. You can choose your frequency range, time range, hardness, strength, or use pen pressure from a tablet.
Draw: Frequency let’s you literally draw a frequency into the file.
Draw: Noise let’s you add noise into the file.
In addition to the editing tools, there are a few things to look at in the Toolbar. You can record audio into SpectraLayers Pro from a device connected to your computer, via the Record button.
There is a 3D view tool to help you “see” your sound frequencies. Your playback buttons are up there. Two important ones are your Zoom and Pan tools. The Zoom tool allows you a basic zoom in / zoom out, but you can also change it to only zoom in on frequency or zoom in on time. Same with the Pan tool. You can just pan left/right up[/down, or choose to only Pan the frequency or just Pan in time – very handy when you’ve zoomed in and want to keep either frequency or time static.
An interesting twist to Spectralayers Pro is the boxes it can run on. While Vegas Pro is Windows only, SpectraLayers will work on both Windows machines and Macs.
Something else of interest is it’s ability to work with Digital Audio Workstations, also known as DAWS, as well as some other samplers. There is quite a list. Sony ACID Pro, Ableton Live, Cakewalk SONAR, E-MU Emulator X3, FL Studio, KONTAKT, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, REAKTOR, REAPER, Samplitude/Sequoia, Steinberg HALion, and Tracktion. It also works with video editing apps. That list includes Sony Vegas Pro, Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro. There are instructions for each on how to open SpectraLayers Pro as an external editor.
I tried it with Sony Vegas Pro. I set up Vegas Pro following the instructions and sent a file to SpectraLayers Pro. I did a quick extraction, mixed it, and asked the app to send it back. There it was, the new audio clip sitting in with the other clips. I dumped it into the timeline and played it back. No problems.
You can also opt to work with a layer in an external Wave editor, such as Sony Sound Forge Pro. I followed the instructions and found my layer waiting for me in Sound Forge Pro. I played with it, then saved it and exited out of Sound Forge. I went back to SpectraLayers Pro and found a dialogue box asking me if I wanted to import it back. I clicked yes and there it was, edited and ready to go.
A few tech notes. SpectraLayers Pro has a maximum sample rate of 96Khz. and offers float 32-bit processing. It is capable of using VST plugins.
SpectraLayers Pro reads AAC, AIFF, Apple Core Audio, Apple Lossless, FLAC, MP3, RAW/PCM, Real Media, Sun, AVI, MXF, MP1, MP2, MP4, MKV, Quicktime, VOB, WMV, Ogg Vorgis, Wave, and WMA. It writes to AAC at 256 kbps, AIFF at 24-bit PCM, Apple Core Audio, Apple Lossless, FLAC, MP3 at 320 kbps, 24 and 32-bit Wave, RAW/PCM at 32-bit, Ogg Vorbis at 320 kbps, or WMA.
One complaint I had was the documentation. Several times in the documentation I found explanations of tools that were not there, such as a Modify: Channels tool and an Extract: Multichannel tool that are not in SpectraLayers Pro. I took a look at Sony’s website, but didn’t see anything about those tools. So I took a look at Divide Frame’s website. Divide Frame’s site told me there are two versions of SpectraLayers – Pro and Enterprise, though I can’t seem to find Enterprise for sale yet. Divide Frame’s online store directs those interested in buying SpectraLayers to the Sony Creative Software website.
I’ve barely scratched the surface with what this software is capable of, and who could use it. Audio engineers and sound designers can use this. Audio restorers will find this a very handy tool. I called a friend of mine who does audio and described it to him. He said he could definitely see a use for it for mastering engineers. My first thought when I started using it was for cleaning up surveillance audio for law enforcement. Musicians can also find interesting uses for this software, adjusting individual frequencies of instrument sounds.
And then there’s the indy filmmaker and the videographer. For these groups there will be a bit of a learning curve with SpectraLayers Pro, especially for those who have never done any spectral audio editing. But I think it will be a learning curve worth taking. One of the things about recording audio digitally – once it’s recorded, it’s there. A take can go from perfect to ruined because of a jet, a passing siren, a sneeze. SpectraLayers Pro can unmix an audio file, and let you augment or erase individual sounds as you wish, perhaps saving your shot without a costly ADR session.
This is not a magic wand for audio. I would still tell filmmakers and videographers to use the best equipment and practices they can for recording audio. I made three different recordings. The first was outdoors with my usual audio gear, an Audio-Technica boom mic into a Tascam digital recorder. The second was indoors with the built-in mic of my DSLR. The third was outdoors with the built-in mic of my DSLR. Of the three recordings. Each one I counted to ten, and dropped a script to the ground. The easiset one to work with was the good mic / digital audio recorder combo. The second easiest was the outdoor DSLR shot. The hardest turned out to be the indoor DSLR shot – I hadn’t turned off the air conditioning. I removed me saying ‘four” from each one, without killing the room tone. While making adjustments to those clips, I came to appreciate SpectraLayers Pro. It’s a new way, for the non-audio engineer, to think about sound and how to edit sound. I look forward to learning with it. I also look forward to new releases. SpectraLayers Pro’s current release is a 1.0.25.
Sony is selling Spectralayers Pro for $374.95 for download, while a boxed version costs $399.95. Go to Sony Creative Software’s site and download a free trial. Check it out at Sony Creative Software’s website.