Sony SpectraLayers Pro Review

Sony SpectraLayers Pro ReviewI’ve long been waiting for Sony to release a creative application for OS X, and Sony SpectraLayers Pro is the answer. This isn’t your grandfather’s audio editing program, but it will do some remarkable things to help you clean up and master your audio, regardless of what’s going on in the background.

Sony SpectraLayers Pro turns your audio files into a spectral pattern which you can edit to your heart’s content. SpectraLayers promises to allow you to shape audio to your heart’s content, carve out unwanted sounds and enhance the audio you want to keep. Does it really work? Sony sent us a copy of SpectraLayers Pro to find out for ourselves.

Audio Analysis and Extraction

Have you ever seen a cop drama on television and wondered how the tech crew back at the station are able to pick apart audio and extract just the information that the detectives need to hear in order to solve the mystery?

If you’re like me, you’ve shaken your head in disbelief, declaring this type of audio analysis to be some magic of television (a lot like those blurry photos that suddenly become very clear with a click of the mouse). To my surprise, a little fiddling with SpectraLayers Pro revealed that this type of audio analysis and extraction is not only possible, it’s actually quite simple.

The multidimensional spectral pattern looks something like an aurora borealis. The trick to finding a specific tone or sound to extract is listening for the moment it appears in the track and finding the matching line or dot pattern. You can then select it (with or without harmonics) and extract it to a new layer. You can cut everything but that pattern out of the audio or you can reverse the phase of just the extracted layer to clean up the primary track and remove an unwanted element.

A Useful Look at Audio

The spectral pattern you’re looking at puts time at the X axis and frequency at the Y axis. The difference between one audio source and another is the frequency at which it can be heard. Humans can only hear within a specific frequency range, and speakers have their own frequency limitations. SpectraLayers Pro allows you to see what you may not be able to hear.

For example, if phone rings in the background, you could normally see it in a waveform as a slight boost in volume on the track. You would have to spend some time filtering out specific frequencies in order to reduce or remove that annoying ringing phone in order to hear the speakers voice (which has a different frequency). With SpectraLayers Pro, you can see the phone’s tones as a line in the spectral pattern, use the extraction tools to filter it out, and grab any harmonics from that phone’s ringing in a single step. Once you initiate phase cancelation by reversing the phase on the extracted layer, you won’t be able to hear the phone in the audio track. It’s really quite easy.

What It Does

SpectraLayers Pro enables you to shape sound and add/remove frequencies and noise in a very visual and straightforward way. You can change how a track sounds, add/remove elements, and perform sound sculpting using integrated drawing tools.

This program is useful for cleaning up damaged audio. Old recordings, historical speeches, and other audio that might need some cleaning up are exactly what SpectraLayers Pro excels at.

Extracting single noises is fairly easy as long as the sound has a distinct frequency range apart from the speaker.

What It Doesn’t Do

This program will not replace your primary audio recording and/or editing platform. Simply put, it’s intended to enable you to shape and/or extract frequencies in order to make things clearer. If you incorporate it as part of your larger workflow with an audio editing program like Sound Forge, you’ll likely find it invaluable to your greater workflow.

It’s much easier to pick out loud sounds that maintain a steady frequency than something a bit more complex such a road noise or a group of people talking. With some patience and a little understanding of audio, you can achieve dramatic results with it. Sirens, microwave beeps, phones ringing, and other common background noises can be removed in a matter of minutes, however.

I found it difficult to separate sounds that carried along a similar frequency to the speaker. For example, a clip I tested with included someone speaking while driving a car. The road noise was visible, though it lived in the same space as the speaker’s voice, which itself was all over the map. It would take a lot of time to split these two elements apart, though it could be done.

Music is another issue. You would think an instrument such as a guitar or someone’s vocals would be easy to pick out of an audio file, but it’s really not that easy. Instruments are made to produce sound on a variety of frequencies, and even with the harmonics selector, I found extracting vocals to be challenging on rock songs with multiple instruments.

Who is SpectraLayers Pro Good For?

Sony SpectraLayers Pro would be an ideal editing tool for video editors dealing with talking head video that have one element or another that they’d rather not have as part of the track. A news reporter on the scene of a story with a siren blaring behind them would be a prime example of an application where SpectraLayers Pro would certainly be worth the investment.

I’d also recommend this application to anyone that deals in audio/video restorations. Time can cause a number of degrading elements in analog audio and this is the type of program that would be perfect for those applications.

SpectraLayers Pro is available for both Windows and OS X, making it the first program within Sony’s Creative software line to be available across multiple platforms. I tested it on OS X and found it to be both stable and easy to work with.

I would say this program falls in the professional category, especially with a $375 USD price tag. Like any useful tool, it’s better to have it in your tool box than not to have it at all. For what it does, it really works.

Image: Sony