Tag Archives: DAW

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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

Click image to expand

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!

Encoding Audio with Andrew the Audio Scientist

Today, we’re debuting a new blog feature from the ACX Audio Team. Our resident audio scientist will be stopping by occasionally to tackle a different technical aspect of audiobook production. For his inaugural post, Andrew takes a look at the process of encoding your audio and introduces a new resource to aid in your productions.

Decoding Encoding

Andrew_250x320Today I want to talk about one of the nerdiest aspects of audiobook production: your audio files. I’m addressing this now because we’ve recently added a helpful audio encoding guide to ACX, and I want to make sure producers understand the concept and can use it to create audio that will meet our encoding requirements.

As the last step in the audiobook production process, audio encoding tends to get overlooked, and it’s easy to understand why. After spending hours producing an audiobook – from recording, to proofing, editing, and mastering – it can be easy to forget to tick the right check boxes and configure the necessary settings in your encoding software. But overlooking this step could block the file from successfully uploading, or cause the files to be rejected during our Quality Assurance check.

What is encoding? It’s the process of converting your uncompressed audio files into a format more suitable for certain applications. For example, most digital audio workstations (DAW’s) will output files by default, and each of your audiobook’s WAV files may end up being several hundred megabytes in size. This is fine for audio production environments, but it’s not an ideal format for uploading your files to an external location (like ACX), so we require users to encode their audio with the MP3 audio codec. This process compresses the data in your file, reducing size and allowing for faster uploads without severely degrading the sound quality.

The ACX Audio Encoding Guide

We want Audible’s customers to have the best possible listening experience, and we don’t want any ACX title to be held up because it contains files that don’t meet our requirements. This brings us back to our new audio encoding guide, which should help you navigate these tricky waters. The techniques used work on both Windows and Macintosh platforms, and if followed correctly, will encode your audio into standards that meet the ACX Audio Submission Requirements.

I’d like to end my premier blog post with one final note: at the end of the day, all digital audio is data. It’s made up of the same zeroes and ones that comprise an eBook’s manuscript, the ACX website, and everything else in the digital world. The integrity of this data is critical to your audiobook’s success. Keeping this thought in the back of your mind while producing your next audiobook may very well lead to an even better final production.

Kindly,

Andrew, the ACX Audio Scientist.

ACX Studio Gear Series Part 2: DAWs

We’re back with the next entry in our ACX Studio Gear series! We covered microphones and preamps in part 1, and today we’ll get into the recording software that you’ll use in conjunction with that hardware, as well as provide the pros and cons of some of the most popular options.

DAW Things Considered

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and we like the definition and history provided by Sweetwater:

[DAWs] are typically defined as having some ability to record, manipulate, and play back audio recordings or samples. In their early days DAWs were primarily considered editing stations. Material was taken from the primary recording media (usually tape) and dumped into one of these systems for editing, and then returned to the original media for the remainder of the project. Nowadays DAW’s can act as an entire recording studio with all mixing, processing, and mastering on one computer.

What To Buy

There are many DAWs available for purchase, and choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. It’s important to remember that many of these programs are created with music recording in mind, and you likely won’t need all the bells and whistles for your voiceover work.

Andrew Grathwohl, ACX‘s newest Audio Production Coordinator, has some advice on what to keep in mind when choosing a DAW:

The most important aspect of a DAW is that it is easy and efficient to use. It is wise to avoid any software that will eat away at your productivity. It’s also important to pick software with your workflow in mind. Some programs offer a lot of flexibility at the expense of ease of use, and others offer a straight-forward user experience at the expense of customization. If you’re the kind of person that likes to learn all of the shortcut keys to your programs and customize the layout of the various windows, you will likely prefer a different DAW than a person who likes a more intuitive experience.

With that in mind, lets go over the pros and cons of some of the more popular DAWs:

GarageBand by Apple

GarageBand_Logo

The Good

The Bad

  • Free to those who own Mac.
  • The interface is easy to learn and use.
  • Mac only.
  • Doesn’t include any of the tools you’ll need to master your recordings (a requirement for ACX).
  • Unlike some of the other DAWs we cover below, you can’t download any plugins to get around this.
The Verdict: Skip it.

Audacity (Open Source)

audacity_logo_r_450wide_whitebg

The Good

The Bad

  • Free.
  • Available for Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Open source, so any software programmer can modify and improve the program for future versions.
  • Easy to lean and use (here’s a free, comprehensive online tutorial).
  • Doesn’t come with the ability to master your audio, though you can download VST plugins to get around this (see the bottom of this post for recommended plugins).
  • Does not have the ability to measure RMS values or peaks.
  • Saves files in .aup format, so you’ll need an encoder (like LAME) to convert to .mp3 format (another ACX requirement).
The Verdict: Decent basic software that will get the job done. Good for those on a very tight budget who are willing to do a little more work to get results.

Reaper by Cockos

reaper

The Good

The Bad

  • Low price ($60-$225, depending on which license you qualify for).
  • Free, “no risk” evaluation period.
  • Known for having a robust user community to support newbies and those who run into trouble.
  • Comprehensive program with many options that can be overwhelming for beginners.
  • Lack of dedicated audio editing window.
  • Some design choices have been omitted, requiring users to try out the interface customization process whether they want to or not.
The Verdict: Reaper is a good, powerful, well priced option for audiobook recording. Their forums can be a great help for those new to self recording, editing and post production.

Audition by AdobeAudition

The Good

The Bad

  • Fully capable DAW available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
  • The newest version is now a 64-bit application, which can mean faster processing.
  • Much lower upfront cost ($19.99/month for the software and the Creative Cloud membership)
  • Ability to pay for the software only when needed
  • Includes 20GB of cloud based storage.
  • You do not own a copy of Audition; $19.99/month only buys you a license to use the software for that month.
  • Your monthly payments will eventually eclipse the one time fee you would pay for other software on this list.
  • You have to depend on Adobe’s pricing policy; with other software you can choose not to upgrade if the cost is too high – you can work with your older version for many years. Creative Cloud requires you to pay for the subscription no matter how high the price rises.
The Verdict: The software itself will surely meet your audiobook production needs. The way you feel about Adobe Creative Cloud will determine if this DAW is right for you.

SoundForge by Sony

Soundforge

The Good

The Bad

  • Has all of the tools needed to master your audio, as well as perhaps the best noise reduction tool of any DAW on this list.
  • Allows for batch processing of files, which will save you time and effort when mastering.
  • Allows you to set custom keyboard commands.
  • User friendly and easy to learn (includes numerous “show me how” tutorials).
  • Mac version doesn’t include some of the most useful feature of the PC version (batch processing, customizable commands).
  • Uses a large amount of system resources.
  • At $400, it’s one of the most expensive DAWs on this list.
The Verdict: This software is user friendly and powerful, as long as you’re not on a Mac. Many of Audible Studios’ in-house editors use this to edit and master audiobooks. A good choice, if you can afford it.

WaveLab by Steinberg

5ac718c632

The Good

The Bad

  • Available for Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Among the most stable DAWs available.
  • Versatile license (can be installed on any number of different computers with only one license).
  • Capable of batch processing.
  • High learning curve.
  • Fairly complicated to use and not recommended for newbies.
  • Uses a large amount of system resources, so a powerful computer is required.
  • Tends to work best when paired with other high end audio hardware.
  • Expensive – new licenses cost $500.
The Verdict: A very powerful piece of software that, due to the price and learning curve, is best suited for seasoned pros.

ProTools by Avid

ProTools EX

The Good

The Bad

  • A powerful DAW that will work with Windows and Mac OS X.
  • Capable of meeting all of your audiobook recording, editing and post production needs.
  • Comes bundled with an Mbox, which will act as your preamp and audio interface.
  • Includes nearly all of the plugins needed to master your recordings.
  • ProTools Express doesn’t come with all the plugins you’ll need, specifically a brick wall limiter and noise reduction (though the full, more expensive version does).
  • One of the more expensive options on this list, though it does include the Mbox.
  • The availability of many different versions of ProTools may confuse users when making a purchase.
The Verdict: The linked Mbox and ProTools Express is, at $499, a good deal for someone setting up a studio who is in need of both a DAW and a preamp/interface.

Bonus Plugin Recommendations

Should you decide to go with one of the DAWs listed above as not coming bundled with some of the plugins needed to master your audiobooks, we’ve got  links to free plugins you can download, courtesy of Audible Studios Post Production Associate Darren Vermaas:

Acoustica Kjaerhus Classics Bundle – Includes a great EQ and Compressor for the low cost of nothing.  PC only.  (Note that the limiter included with this bundle is not good for your audiobook needs, as it doesn’t have output ceiling control.)

Audio Damage Rough Rider CompressorHas everything you need in a compressor, and it’s free! Mac and PC versions available.

4Front Technologies W1 LimiterCapable brick wall limiter for Mac and PC (Note – not compatible with ProTools/AAX)

Now that we’ve provided a roundup of some of the most popular options, you can make an informed decision as to which best fits your budget and needs. Keep your eyes peeled for part 3 in our series, which will cover home studio setup, coming soon!

What’s your DAW of choice? Why?