Don’t Fear the REAPER

Mike Taddeo of the ACX Audio QA team joins us today to discuss REAPER, a digital audio workstation (DAW) that many audiobook producers find to be a solid, cost-effective solution for audiobook recording, editing, and post-production.

As technology continues to democratize home recording, audiobook producers are presented with more options for processing audio than ever before. While some advanced production platforms cater more to music than narration, other simple editors leave much to be desired when it comes to  post-production. How can you decide which DAW is right for you?

Whether you’re new to narration or looking to up your game, we find Cocko’s REAPER to be a fine balance of the two. Featuring a customizable interface, REAPER allows you to set up a session view to best fit your workflow and find all the tools needed to produce a high-quality audiobook. For more information on using these tools & effects, be sure to check out our recent episode of Q&A with QA titled, Mastering with Effects Processing.

Customizing Your View

The first step in maximizing your efficiency is to set up your session to meet your needs. REAPER’s default settings include a timeline set to bars/beats, and a metronome and grid lines to sync music to a tempo—tools you won’t need for audiobook production—so you can simplify your workspace by hiding these and other unnecessary features from view.

hide grid

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If you are only dealing with a single audio source, you may also want to hide the mixer view so you have more space to zoom in on the wave form when editing your files.

hide mixer

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Commonly Used Tools

REAPER comes stocked with several tools that can help you meet specific ACX Audio Submission Requirements.

Playrate

Increasing the playback rate is a great way to quickly review a recorded script for accuracy to ensure the manuscript matches the recorded audio. This is called audiobook QC, and you’ll perform this step after you edit your raw audio files. In the ‘Rate’ menu, be sure to select: “Preserve pitch in audio items when changing master playrate,” which will prevent your voice from increasing in pitch and sounding like a chipmunk during playback!

playrate

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Nudge

ACX requires each file to have between 0.5 and 1 second of room tone at the beginning, and between 1 and 5 seconds at the end. This spacing clearly signals to the listener that a chapter has ended and gives them a moment to catch their breath when a chapter ends on a dramatic note.

REAPER’s ‘nudge’ tool makes it easy to double-check that your files meet the spacing requirement by  lining up all of your files at the same starting or ending point so you can easily see if there is too much space on either end.

nudge

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While your files are lined up, you can also check for any extraneous noises at the beginning and end of each file. You can also add clean room tone and short fade-ins and fade-outs to all of your files at once.

Normalize

The term “normalize” can mean different things depending on which DAW you’re using, the normalize function automatically increases the level of your audio until it is peaking at 0dB, causing it to digitally distort “in the red” and fail QA review. You can use the SWS extension action item (Xenakios/SWS: Normalize selected takes to dB value…) to input the peak level you’d like your files normalized to—we recommend -3dB (peak) to keep the peak level at the maximum level permitted by ACX.

normalize

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RMS/Peak Analysis

ACX requires audio files to measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS, with a maximum peak level of -3dB, which can sometimes be difficult for the naked eye (and ear) to discern. The SWS Extension includes a reliable Peak and RMS analyzing tool (SWS: Analyze and display item peak and RMS) that can provide a quick reading of your files to ensure your levels meet ACX requirements.

analyze RMS

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Exporting MP3’s

When you’re ready to export your finished audio out of REAPER, there are two options: “render” and “batch file/item converter.” Either function is capable of quickly converting your WAV files to MP3, and each allows you to save an encoder profile. The Render function is typically used to export an audio item as it appears on the timeline. This will be a good choice if you are exporting your files out of REAPER one at a time. The Batch file/item converter allows you to add individual items from your timeline, or select files from a folder on your computer to encode all at once with the same encoding profile. We recommend saving your settings to encode to 192kbps or higher 44.1kHz MP3, Constant Bit Rate (CBR) in keeping with ACX’s requirements.

Plug-ins and FX

When using REAPER as your DAW, we recommend downloading the free compatible plug-in suite SWS Extension as well, which includes all the effects plug-ins you’ll need to produce a top-quality audiobook. . Find yourself using the same effects often? You can save these as favorites, organize your own folders, and save plug-in chains and custom presets to streamline your workflow.

save template

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One of our favorite plug-ins in this extension is ReaEQ, which gives a visual representation of how the audio source is displayed across the frequency spectrum, making it a great tool for learning the art of equalizing. Spend time with the different filter types, cutting and boosting different frequency bands to hear how each affects the quality of your voice.

ReaEQ

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We also love ReaComp, an easy-to-use compression tool that keeps the dynamic range of your recording in check and adds fullness to your production.

Templates

Once you’ve set your project session to fit your personal workflow, you can save your custom settings in a project template so you won’t have to set up your DAW each time you begin a new project, saving you time and ensuring  consistency throughout your productions.

favorites

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Try Before You Buy

Interested in finding out if REAPER is the right DAW for you? You can download a full version of REAPER to use for free for up to 60 days. After the evaluation period, users are required to purchase an individual use license for $60.

Already using REAPER to produce for ACX? Leave a comment to let us know how you customize your setup for audiobook production!

4 responses to “Don’t Fear the REAPER

  1. Michael Taddeo,

    – very good idea.
    – great description.
    – thanks.

  2. I have 7 or 8 DAWs installed on my computer. And although REAPER doesn’t do completely everything I would want it to (REAPER’s Spectral Repair is somewhat clunky to use compared to someting like Adobe Audition’s), it is my DAW of choice. And I have gone waaaaaay further in customizing it (with my own REAPER Theme, Tool Bar Buttons, Custom Actions and such) than was mentioned above. Customizing it to your personal workflow is actually quite fun.

  3. Great article!

    As a sound engineer of forty years, I cannot emphasise strongly enough that you must use non-destructive recording for audiobooks. Software like Audacity and Audition (in non-multitrack mode), is far more suited to mastering than recording and editing.

    I use Cubase, which is similar to Reaper, Studio One, and ProTools.

    Aside from not losing the previous take (it simply gets layered underneath) and direct to disc recording, it also leaves lots of options for editing.

    When I clean up my recording (and I use Punch and Roll), I will frequently use the breath from the old take and not the one from the dropped in line.

    And sometimes, I am re-recording a sentence or a phrase simply because I messed just one word, but the rest of the take was wonderful. Again, it is so quick and easy to record the new line, then just use the word or even the syllable from the new take, quickly adjusting the edit point for perfection.

    I created a video demonstrating editing on Cubase 9.5 a while back which might be of interest to anyone thinking of upgrading to any of the DAWs like Cubase, Reaper and so on:

    And if you are interested in Manual Punch and Roll, that is punch and roll without programming in and out points, then here is a demo.

  4. Thanks for all the info – I use Reaper but am still finding my way around its labyrinthine features. Your article mentioned in the ‘Nudge’ section that it was possible to add room tone to files on a batch basis but I’ve been unable to find this feature – I’ve asked Cockos but they seem to think it’s not viable – is there a clever workaround that you use? Many thanks Richard

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