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20 September 2013

IZOTOPE RX 3 Review | £249 / €299 / $349 &
RX 3 ADVANCED Review | £899 / €1,049 / $1,199

Noise is anathema to modern recordings. When once you could get away with a little background hiss in a demo, or a characterful clunk or amp buzz on an album track, digital tech renders rattle, clatter, belch and hum most unwelcome. At least, such is the sophistication of the audience's ears after years of digital audio.

Any audio chain is prone to the intrusion of noise, especially in live recording, but even in the controlled environment of a studio, aberrant sounds abound. A hissing amp, a click in the mains, an asthmatic wheeze near an open mic, the roar of flatus from a chorister suffering IBS... It all adds up when multitracking.

Of course, when there's noise in a take, you'd typically retake, but that's not always possible. Live recordings, expensive session musicians, highly strung divas and more are problematic. As is dropping in SFX sourced from location recordings, working with old movie or TV soundtrack snippets, or even attempting to polish up your own back-catalogue masters.

While audio-editing software is a must in the modern studio, tough cleaning jobs demand something else, such as iZotope RX, which has been relied upon by many pro recordists since its launch in 2008. Where an audio editor will enable you to chop out noisy sections of a recording and notch such unwelcome frequencies as mains hum and ringing drum, an audio cleaner offers a more surgical approach.

For example, when background noise is a problem, the cleaner will take a 'noise print' during what is supposed to be silence, then remove the values of that print from the whole take. With RX 3, if you carve a hole in a piece of audio to remove an unwanted artefact, it resynthesizes material from remaining data to fill the gap seamlessly - called spectral repair.

In RX 3 Advanced, Dereverb goes a step further by attempting to remove ambience from the material, enhancing clarity and giving you the opportunity to apply a more appropriate reverb via plug-in or hardware outboard, binding disparate takes together with the same quality of ambience. Bear in mind, however, that although a cleaner, RX 3 is not merely an audio equivalent of Easy-Off BAM.

There's plenty of creative sound-mangling possibilities to be had, including pitch adjustment and temporal tweaks in RX 3 Advanced, as well as EQ and gain adjustment in both packages. The iZotope RX 3 product pages host pots of info on what's what, what's new and what the differences are between the basic and Advanced versions. There's even a downloadable demo if you feel compelled to check the veracity of iZotope's claims.

What we need to know is how difficult, or easy, it is to drive the software and just how ably it can remove cat-calls and the sound of beer glasses and furniture smashing on stage in live recordings. But first, here we go with a video overview...

One new feature worth pouncing on is RX 3 Advanced's Dialogue Denoiser. While designed for keeping real-time dialogue free of the background nasties you might find on, say, a film set, thus saving time and money on post-shoot dialogue replacement, it earns its keep in a project studio.

Unless your recording environment is thoroughly soundproofed, has minty-clean mains and is free-standing on giant springs, you'll not have perfect isolation. Passing vehicles, neighbourhood dogs barking and impromptu food riots all serve to upset vocal performances. See how Dialogue Denoiser places wordy passages in their own bubble...

There are certain types of noise that, while a pain in plain voice or clean instrument recordings, are integral to character. How would a flute sound without a little 'pffft'; a snare with reduced rattle; dubstep synth bass without face-melting flatulence? Crap. That is how.

Deconstruct separates tone and noise so you can work on each independently, which opens up avenues for wild creativity. You could, for example, mess with the breath of a vocal line separated from the notes it's croaking. Let's have more video to see and hear Deconstruct do its doings...

If familiar with iZotope's masterly mastering suite Ozone 5, you may have come across the metering might of Insight. Not only does Insight give you a detailed picture of what audio is doing in mono, stereo or surround, it also helps ensure that the programme material conforms to international broadcast loudness standards - a must if you hope to hear your material on radio or TV. By itself, Insight is $499, but it's bundled with RX 3 Advanced.

Those with a day-job that includes criminology, or who just like to snoop on others' conversations, will enjoy the forensic tools, including task-logging in Advanced. The inclusion of Insight justifies the, for some, eye-watering spend on Advanced. And Advanced hosts stereo imbalance correction and phase repair, along with Dereverb mentioned earlier and shown right here (reverb removal tools don't come cheap and they're pretty impressive when demonstrated)...

RX has been a staple in The Fell Surgery since it first appeared five years ago, perking up podcasts and video tutorial voice-overs, de-gargling old movie dialogue, taming takes recorded with highly sensitive condenser mics, rescuing old, old recordings made back in cassette-based Portastudio days... De-clipping, de-crackling, de-storting and enhancing all the way.

For Fell deeds, it's as essential a studio tool as a swivel chair, and is just as easy to use when sober. If tempted to dive in, check out the convenient feature-comparison chart on iZotope's website when deciding between vanilla and full-phat. Also, remember that upgrade deals are available from vanilla RX 3 to Advanced, as well as from RX 1 and 2 for existing users.

RX was a winner from the off and this latest version improves speed of use, thanks in part to newly implemented multicore performance and multi-file workflow, while maintaining ease of use. It may represent a serious spend for your studio, but there's great reward to be reaped in making your recordings stand out from the clag-addled rest. And in the modern music scene, where it's hard to even give your material away, professional-sounding production pays.
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