Bias SoundSoap 2.0
Back in the analog days of home recording, using noise reduction meant switching on Dolby B and hoping for the best. Today, you can do a lot more, thanks to software applications such as Bias SoundSoap 2.0 ($99), which precisely isolates and eliminates digital-audio-file noise problems such as clicks, pops, electrical hum, rumble, and background hiss. SoundSoap 2.0 isn't foolproof, and mastering it takes a little practice, but if you want to clean up digital recordings made from vinyl or cassettes, improve rough-sounding MP3 files, or enhance the audibility of dialogue in camcorder footage, SoundSoap 2.0 is a great choice.
SoundSoap 2.0 arrived in a standard but informatively illustrated software box containing a PC/Mac software CD-ROM and a single card with the serial number printed on it. Installation on a 2.3GHz Pentium 4 PC went off without a hitch, and throughout testing, SoundSoap 2.0 worked flawlessly with the system's consumer-grade SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS Pro PC sound card.
We tested SoundSoap 2.0 as a standalone application, but it can alternatively be used as a plug-in with compatible host programs, including Apple GarageBand, Adobe Premiere, MOTU Digital Performer, Steinberg Cubase, Digidesign Pro Tools, and. In fact, SoundSoap 2.0 can run from within any recording, editing, or mastering application that supports DirectX, VST, Audio Units, RTAS or AudioSuite plug-ins. In comparison, the original SoundSoap offered only DirectX and VST compatibility.
The first step to using SoundSoap 2.0 is to select an audio or audio/video file that you want to fix. When used as a plug-in, Bias says SoundSoap 2.0 is compatible with any file format that the host application can play. In standalone mode, SoundSoap is compatible with all the file formats you'd probably expect, including AVI, WMV, WAV, MP3, MP4, WMA, SDII, and AIFF, except for MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. DivX fiends will be disappointed by SoundSoap 2.0's incompatibility with that format.
The SoundSoap 2.0 interface, which contains more than a dozen controls including knobs, sliders, and buttons, is uncluttered and generally well designed. But unless you read the user guide, you may not understand a few of the controls such as the 60Hz Remove Hum button, which specifically removes electrical hum. Other controls include a Remove Click & Crackle slider, which is designed to fix pops associated with recordings made from vinyl; a Preserve Voice button, which bypasses vocal-frequency processing to preserve a natural sound; a Remove Rumble button, which removes low-frequency rumble; and an Enhance slider, which attempts to restore the tonal quality of recordings made from degraded media. The standalone version of SoundSoap 2.0 also includes transports (play, pause, and so on) and user-selectable in and out points to allow processing specific sections of files. You can apply different processing settings to separate sections of any file, then select Save As to save the changes as a whole. The standalone version saves audio files to hard disc in WAV, AIFF, or WMA formats--we're a bit disappointed that MP3 isn't available as an option, but if you use SoundSoap 2.0 as a plug-in within a program that has MP3 encoding, this won't be an issue. You can also save SoundSoap 2.0 presets, which could come in handy if you're processing separate tracks recorded from the same LP, for instance.
Impatient types can jump right in by clicking SoundSoap 2.0's Learn Noise button and firing up file playback. The Learn Noise function analyzes a few seconds of the file's audio, then automatically sets the Noise Tuner and Noise Reduction controls to zone in on and remove hiss and background noise. The feature works especially well with audio files that have a silent passage for SoundSoap 2.0 to analyze. In some cases, you can get the best results making manual adjustments to the Noise Tuner and Noise Reduction controls after having used the Learn Noise function to get in ballpark range.