iZotope RX8 & Podcast Production (First Impressions)

iZotope RX8 & Podcast Production (First Impressions)

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10 SEPTEMBER 2020

written by Mike

IZOTOPE RX8 & PODCAST PRODUCTION

For people who aren’t familiar with iZotope, they make a highly respectable, top of the shelf tools for producers and audio engineers – everything from mixing, mastering to, of course, audio restoration.

On 1st of September, they released the latest version of their audio restoration tool, RX8 and I got the update as soon as I woke up! Just kidding, I did check it out on their website first.

I use iZotope software for all my work. Some time ago, when I was still collecting plugins I decided that I will focus on just a handful of them and try to master them. I wanted to limit myself consciously. I find freedom in certain restrictions. 

I used iZotope stuff the most, so I stayed with them.

I use Neutron for mixing, Ozone for mastering and of course RX for audio restoration. I started on RX4 back at my previous job at the movie studio, but for podcasting, I bought version 5 and upgraded from there. I also tend to get the upgrades with the Post Production suite rather than buying single plugins.

I use RX every day, I have my module chains, my shortcuts, my workflow. I was looking forward to RX8, wondering what they will come up with.

After they released the video, I watched it first, and even though I didn’t feel like post-production modules got the most significant upgrade and I thought they focused on music production more, I decided to get it.

I bought it as part of Post Production suite 5 upgrade. I could upgrade for 299 dollars from RX7 Advanced to RX8, or from Post Production suite 4 to 5. In Post Production suite, I had most of the tools already except for Nectar 3, so that was an easy choice.

The install was easy with their Product Portal, and I authorised to my iLok.

After the initial launch, I imported my presets and wanted to set up my keyboard shortcuts. 

When I upgraded from RX6 to RX7, preset import didn’t work that well. It didn’t get the modules nor the settings right, and I ended up re-doing everything manually.

What pleasantly surprised me was that import from RX7 to 8 was easy and worked well. I doubled checked the modules and settings, and they were on point.

All the keyboard shortcuts were automatically implemented as well, and I didn’t have to do anything at all.

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I mentioned RX7 full-screen performance in a post about my system upgrade, but long story short my 2015 iMac wasn’t happy with the full screen, so I have the window a bit smaller. I wondered if RX8 performance would change in that regard, but no. It was laggy when I made it full screen.

Fortunately, I am updating my iMac to the latest model, and it should be delivered in a few weeks. Hopefully, on a new and faster system, I will be able to operate in full-screen mode.

I work on module chains with various De-clicks, De-noise and others. However, I don’t think any of these were changed. If they updated the actual algorithm – I don’t know. But the ones I use every day and with module chains look the same.

The first significant and helpful improvement is horizontal scrolling. I use Magic Mouse, so this will be a big help. In the past, I had to operate with keyboard shortcuts and drag the screen from the window’s edge to move around. 

This update will make editing much faster and easier.

The interface looks the same, so no big changes there. 

What about new modules?

First one is Guitar De-Noise. It looks cool and will help guitar players to make their recordings cleaner. I won’t be needing it for the foreseeable future for podcast production though.

One option that may be beneficial is amp/buzz removal. Some dialogue clips that I work with suffer from that, so maybe this tool could help with cleaning them up.

Next one is Spectral Recovery. Now, this is interesting. It takes audio with limited frequencies like a Skype or phone call and tries to rebuild higher frequencies.

This is the tool that made my decision to upgrade, to be honest. At this moment I’m working on two Casefile Presents podcasts that have a tonne of audio clips – phone calls, remote recordings, location recordings. Most of them are of mediocre quality.

I decided to use Spectral Recovery on some of the clips.

 

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The verdict?

The render is relatively slow, similar to the old Dialogue Isolate. Of course, the performance may be better on a new iMac.

Second of all, it doesn’t work 100% perfect yet. 

Especially if you set a higher value of added frequencies, it seems to work great on sibilance – words like she, search, case. But it creates a weird effect where the sibilance is prominent and sounds out of place. So what I’ve been doing is setting the amount to quite low, around 20% and sibilance balance to -50. It still makes some of them stand out, which I then had to erase with Insert Silence manually.

When it works, it adds a little bit of presence to the clips, but it’s not a game-changer. However, I think that the idea behind this technology could be an absolute game-changer in the future versions. If they could rebuild the fundamental frequency so that it sounds natural, that could be amazing.

They’ve also improved Music Rebalance which I don’t use – although it would be beneficial back in the past when I was remixing Silent Waves podcast from just stereo MP3 files.

Loudness module update – again, I don’t use it within RX. I use iZotope Loudness Control standalone plugin.

Wow & Flutter – this looks cool, but I don’t know if it will be helpful for dialogue and podcasting.

A few more that were improved as well were De-Hum and Dialogue Isolate.

I used De-Hum in the past, but I wasn’t impressed with it, even in version 7 of RX. As I was working on draft 2 of one of the episodes, there were some clips recorded in a room with a very audible hum.

I cleaned it before, but it was still there. So, I applied the new RX8 De-hum module, and I was pleasantly surprised. It is definitely an improvement, and I’ve run adaptive mode once and once more with the Learn option, both very quite helpful. 

Now Dialogue Isolate

I love this module, but it was very slow in RX7, it takes ages to render but incredibly helpful in podcasting. 

They updated it in RX8, and again, I tried it on some clips for the upcoming Casefile Presents show. Clips I’ve already cleaned up, with previous Dialogue Isolate. I rerun it to check if it helps, and it does! 

Not only that, but the render is also much faster than previously so this one is actually what got me excited.

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With Casefile I’m spoiled. The show features one narrator who records in his vocal booth on an excellent mic. I’m used to good quality.

However, Casefile Presents shows are a challenge because they feature interviews, location clips, phone calls, archives and just different types of audio with varied audio quality.

Therefore I need more tools than just de-click, and simple de-noise in my arsenal and RX8 offers that.

Ok, so what’s the verdict?

Overall the performance is better, and even running my module chain I felt like it cleans up the dialogues better than in RX7 so that they may have improved stuff under the hood as well.

It’s a solid update, even though it seems like they did focus on music production this time rather than dialogue post-production. Maybe because their modules for dialogue are what’s enough? Just need improvement here and there.

Should you get the upgrade?

I’m excited about iZotope machine learning technology, and I love their stuff. I also do this every day, and I use their tools every day, so for myself, it was a no-brainer if I want to keep on top of it. However, I also know that their software can be pricey, especially the advanced versions.

I would suggest first to download their trial versions and learn it. See if it helps in your workflow.

Then look at the modules, what you use and what’s helpful and choose the version you need. They have three, Elements, Standard and Advanced.

RX8 is not a revolution if you are upgrading from RX7, but it’s a solid progression and makes work more enjoyable for sure. At least for me!

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Puppy Adjustment

Puppy Adjustment

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27 JUNE 2020

written by Mike

puppy adjustment

I’m all about personal freedom. 

It’s not about politics or governments (to a degree), but I’m talking about having control over my day and being the boss of my time. Everyone has 24 hours in a day, and my goal is to command each one freely.

Yes, I’m a creature of habit, I like the routine. However, I also want to set these routines for myself. Hence why, even though I always wanted a dog, I hesitated because I understood what it means. 

Something out of my control.

My wife Paulina also wanted a pup, and over the years we talked and talked about it. We made pros and cons lists, discussed it and had logical arguments. However, I could always come up with a reason why now it wasn’t the best moment, that it would limit us too much.

Then the pandemic and lockdown happened, and we started to talk about it again.

Ok,’ I said ‘If you can find the one you’d like, let’s do it‘.

She did, and a couple of weeks ago we brought home a little pup named Benji.

So what can I say after these few days?

Well, I was right. My days are fragmented; it’s challenging to stick to my daily routine as the little guy requires constant attention when he is awake. Nights are interrupted for crate and house training, and we have to manage to do work and run a business on top of it all.

He is a smart puppy and no doubt he will be an intelligent dog, but I’m not going to lie, I had my doubts about the whole situation. I worked hard to get my schedule in order, so a sudden change to that didn’t make me as happy.

However, a couple of days ago, there was a moment.

In the evening hours, I went outside with him and looked over as he was slowly exploring the garden. He sat on the ground, listening to nearby sounds of birds chirping, neighbours and distant traffic.

So I sat next to him without a phone, without a Kindle or any other distractions and I looked at clouds turning red, how the leaves are moving in the wind. I focused on my breath and observed the surroundings as we sat there for around 45 minutes.

Meditation and mindfulness helped me a lot in the past. Even though I usually put a guided meditation before sleep and try to find moments of peace throughout a day, I can’t remember last time when I consciously sat down to meditate on my own.

That moment reminded me how important it is to simplify, to pause, to be still.

It’s a difficult task as I like to work, I enjoy being busy and like most people, have a lot to do!

So yes, thank you Benji puppy for reminding me that maybe what I do is not that important, not that serious and how much I enjoy being still. 

I look forward to sitting with you in the years to come.

I reckon we’ll be fine.

 

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Updating My Podcasting System

Updating My Podcasting System

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13 MAY 2020

written by Mike

UPDATING MY

PODCASTING SYSTEM

 

New system updates, new plugins, new software.  Updating your workstation always seems like a good idea, but how is it really?

Today I will be writing a more technical post, detailing my recent adventures with system updates.

My main workstation is a late 2015 27inch iMac, which I purchased in 2016.

I initially bought it with 8GB of original RAM and upgraded to 20GB straight away with 2 x 8GB RAM modules from Crucial. One module of original 4GB RAM and 2 x 8GB RAM from Crucial.

I maxed out the RAM to 32GB a few months ago.

A quick digression – I couldn’t initially max out the RAM because the original memory comes in 2 x 4GB modules and I didn’t have enough cash for four 8GB Crucial modules.

Why didn’t I leave two 4GB modules of original memory which would give me 24GB of RAM?

Well, it seems that the iMac does not like mixing RAM modules from different manufacturers when all the slots are taken. So I had to work with 20GB for a bit which was 1 x 4GB or RAM from Apple plus 2 x 8GB RAM from Crucial.

 

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A year ago or so I bought another 2x8GB RAM from Crucial, got rid of Apple original memory and I now have 4 x 8GB of Crucial RAM, 32GB in total, which is a maximum for my iMac.

For years I’ve worked on the original OS which was El Capitan. I’ve also worked on Pro Tools 12.4 which was the latest version that I could have with my perpetual license (which I purchased with Pro Tools 9 years ago). 

A couple of months ago a few things happened.

I decided to buy a new Macbook Pro as the new 16inch model came out.

I had an old MacBook Pro 15inch early 2011 which I upgraded with RAM and SSD hard drive, but it was now too old to do anything except simple work. Besides that, the graphics chip on the motherboard failed and I had to disable it. The laptop served me well, but it was time to say goodbye and I needed a proper machine to do remote work.

I pulled a plug and got a new Macbook Pro 16inch, which came with the Catalina OS which is fully 64bit OS.

Before the Macbook Pro was delivered I also decided to purchase a subscription to Pro Tools with the latest 2020 version which I knew worked with Catalina OS.

The laptop was delivered and as I was installing the software I realised that RX6 from iZotope which I use every day wasn’t compatible with Catalina OS. 

There was a workaround on their website that I used, but the situation prompted me to start thinking about upgrading to the RX7 version. I wanted to do it for a while but RX6 worked fine and the price for upgrade was around 500 dollars which was a bit too much for not a significant change in my workflow.

What I also noticed was that Pro Tools was running much much smoother on the Macbook Pro. Better than on my iMac in fact, especially during playback.

I knew it was partially to the new hardware but I also knew that the new ProTools and iZotope plugins will work best with Catalina and a fully 64bit system, so it was time to update the software on my iMac.

Another digression – days before the update, iZotope ran a promotion and the upgrade to Post Production Suite 4 was offered for 199 dollars. That included RX7 Advanced, Insight 2 and Stratus reverbs. It was a bargain and given the fact I didn’t want to do the workaround with RX6 and Catalina (just like on the Macbook Pro) – I got the update.

 

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I was ready with the latest Pro Tools and plugins and downloaded Catalina OS on my iMac. It was the evening and the install took around 2 hours. After it finished, everything looked alright so I switched my iMac off and went to bed.

Fresh and early I got to my studio, switched on the iMac as I needed to do some admin tasks and install a few things before I got to work.

The computer started and the initial startup progress bar appeared. It was slow so I thought, ok, it’s the first time so it takes time. But it was bar stuck at 80% in and that’s it. No movement, nothing.

Initial panic ensued. 

I’ve done the hard reboot several times but nothing helped and the boot wasn’t progressing.

What to do, what to do?!

I tried safe mode login – it didn’t work. 

I tried launching the disk repair mode – it didn’t work.

I tried resetting PRAM upon start – nothing helped.

Hopeless.

I thought I was going to punch the screen.

But! I searched how to reset SMC which is a system management controller setting and for iMac it meant unplugging the power cable for 30 seconds and plugging it back.

Lo and behold! 

The disk utility screen launched after connecting to the network!

From there I’ve run the disk repair and initiated the boot from the hard drive rather than from the Catalina OS boot image and the system started.

What I think happened is, I had programs on launch that were 32bit and Catalina could not verify them during the boot (they were verified once I logged into the system) therefore I had to boot from the main hard drive instead.

I hope it makes sense, I’m not an IT professional though!

Mission one completed.

Step two.

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I’ve installed the remaining programs, run the new ProTools 2020 as well as replaced my Eventide reverb with Stratus which came with Post Production Suite 4.

Just as predicted, the software runs much smoother than on El Capitan, it’s like breathing a fresh life into the machine.

I’ve then launched RX7 Spectrogram, and it all looked good.  I’ve imported my presets and had to adjust some of them as the import from RX6 didn’t work perfectly.

I started doing a bit of work and realised that the performance is lagging. The playback and doing on the fly repairs with my keyboard shortcuts were slower than with RX6 on El Capitan OS!

Well, that’s not what I expected at all. 

I played with the performance settings but nothing helped. I’ve emailed iZotope support with the problem.

They’ve emailed back saying that I should reinstall and see if the issue persists, then reset the display to default as it is the most optimised option.

I’ve listened and it didn’t help.

I thought ok, I have a Chrome browser in the background which is CPU heavy. I switched it off – it helped a little but not as much as I hoped.

I have a 27inch screen and working in RX6 I had the Spectrogram on full screen and it worked fine. 

That’s how I was testing RX7 in Catalina OS.

However, when I made the RX7 display smaller, the performance jumped and the shortcut response was much faster! 

So that’s the solution – for some reason RX7 is not optimised on Catalina to have a full screen display on my 27inch screen.

Is my iMac too old? 

Maybe, but RX6 on older OS worked fine. I did email iZotope with my solution and findings but for now, I work in a slightly smaller display window with Chrome browser off and Pro Tools minimised.

It’s not ideal but it’s fine for now. 

I may upgrade my iMac when the new one comes out this year and will update you how that is working for me! 

If you are thinking about upgrading your system, it may sound as easy as just installing new plugins but I find that it’s always a bit of an adventure to get everything in order.

 

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RETHINKING YOUR POSITION

RETHINKING YOUR POSITION

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13 APRIL 2020

written by Mike

Rethinking

your position

It would be quite obvious to say that we are now in the middle of an extraordinary episode. The global pandemic caught everyone by surprise, and also it was a catalyst for an overdue market correction.

It is easy to be smart after the events and discuss what we should and would have done; however, nobody could predict the turn of the events. Not only we are facing unprecedented safety measures set by the governments, but also, the business stopped.

We are stuck at home, not earning, not spending. Many people will lose their jobs, and many companies will fail.

At this moment, I’m one of the lucky ones, as I’ve set up my life to be able to work from home years ago. It was after I read the book called Antifragile by Nicholas Nassim Taleb that prompted me to rethink my position in the world.

The one-story that stuck out to me (and I will probably butcher it) was about the global market crash of 2008 and two brothers. One brother was a taxi driver and the other a banker with a highly paid position.

Because taxi drivers must be able to adjust and due to constant change after the 2008 economic collapse, the taxi driver was able to navigate during difficult times.

The other brother lost his job and was unprepared for what happened next.

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My takeaway was to be always prepared but also to challenge myself during good times, get out of my comfort zone, change and pivot so when something unexpected happens, I will be ready.

Well, nothing could prepare me for what is happening now, and it will take a bit longer to see the effects the events had on everyone, but the lessons from Taleb’s book helped.

Which also brings me to a second point which is, now I think is an excellent time to rethink and ponder our position in this world. Is the chase worth it when the unexpected can and often will throw the plans into the bin?

Is there a way to simplify things?

To make events like this more manageable?

Something else did trigger that thought and rethinking my position again.

Just before the pandemic happened and countries around the world shut their borders, for the first time in my life, I travelled to Australia. 

Australia is almost the furthest you can go from the UK, and after a very long flight, it dawned on me how far from home I am and how incredibly lucky I am to be able to travel half the world in such a short time (and relative comfort).

The trip was a success, we were able to do a lot of work, and the flight back went without a hitch. Only just as a couple of weeks later the borders were shut tight.

It was only after when I sat at home and pondered about the whole trip, that two things stayed on my mind and prompted me to rethink my position again.

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One was how detached, during that time, I was from my everyday problems and small issues.

Family stuff, anxieties, stress were gone thousands of miles behind me, and for the first time in my life, I felt free and egoistically happy.

I could see myself staying in this far away country, separating my life from the past and everyone else and just having it for myself. 

The vastness of Australia offered the feeling that I’ve never had experienced in my life.

Was it only because I knew I would be coming back? 

Would that feeling go away after a month, two, six?

Who knows, but it left a mark.

The second thought was about the work. For the past few years, I’ve been lucky to be able to work from home, which has its pros and cons. I have friends and family nearby, but my work is a lonely endeavour. It is just me in front of the computer screen.

The project in Australia involved renting a studio with staff and working with a lot of different people.

I haven’t done something like that in a very long time, and the experience reminded me why we are social creatures and why the best ideas often happen in a group where there is diverse thinking involved.

Every day was a long day, but we were energised and exhilarated at the end of each session.

The project made me rethink my position again. I love my everyday work; however, I think I need to include more people or at least a couple of projects like this during the year.

To keep myself, not only on my toes but also engaged and inspired by others.

Rethinking the position in life, at work, in the world is something that I often do, however thinking itself doesn’t change anything. It is the actions that cause a change in life. Unfortunately, the most recent events will force this on a lot of people, but it is a reminder that we shouldn’t get too comfortable with our ways of life and that it can all change in a matter of seconds.

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My Plans for 2020 (and beyond)

My Plans for 2020 (and beyond)

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17 FEBRUARY 2019

written by Mike

my plans for 2020

 

Long time, no see.

I haven’t been uploading anything for a while. It would be easy to blame it on work, business or life, however looking back I have to admit that it just wasn’t my priority.

Not only that. I was also contemplating why I even keep the website, and what should I do with all of it.

To cut the story short, after a few months of thinking, I’ve decided to change a few things. Before I get into the details, I wanted to talk about what prompted me into further action.

After attending podcasting meetups and workshops here in the UK, I’ve noticed that not only the space is vibrant and exciting, but also there is a massive opportunity for growth and development.

Because in my work, we usually deal with the US market, it seemed that podcasting is a matured industry. With big companies, spending and marketing campaigns.

However, when I looked at the UK and Australia, I noticed that the medium is not where the US partners are, and it is still finding its voice on the global stage.

Having the privilege of my experience in the space, I thought, how can I help and be a part of the evolution?

With that in mind, I developed a plan for this year. It will move me into the direction of growing this website as well as available resources in the podcasting space.

Here are the areas that I will be working on going forward.

 

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WORK

The work on Casefile will still be a priority and the main thing that I do daily. We have a strong team of highly skilled and capable people and are planning on creating more of what we do best – high quality, in-depth true-crime podcast.
Besides that, we also have several projects under Casefile Presents umbrella. All of them being produced by talented and passionate people, from many different backgrounds. With the Casefile Presents projects, I will be taking more of a ‘head of production’ role with the final feedback and say on the content. However, in a couple of the projects, I will be taking an active part in audio producing and possibly music composing.
It looks like it’s going to be a busy and exciting year.

WEBSITE

The website is being redesigned with a new look. More sleek, modern and kind of a Blade Runner vibe. There won’t be many changes in terms of the content here, just a facelift.

BLOG

I don’t have massive plans for the blog. The idea is to (maybe) release a new article per month.
I am keeping with the style that I developed in the past – audio, podcasting and work topics. However, it depends how much time I will have left after the new venture that will be taking a chunk of my day.


YOUTUBE

I thought about starting a Youtube channel for a long time. I’ve even released some video tutorials in the past on Youtube (they are gone now), but it never felt like a good time to start.
Few things aligned lately. Moving to a new house, I finally was able to secure small dedicated working space for myself, where I could see the videos being filmed there.
Two, I finally felt that I was ready to talk about podcasting ideas and problems as I think that my experience taught me a few things over the last four years.
Three, my brother wanted to move from his primary skill, photography, into video making. As we live together, this presented an ideal situation for him to learn the ropes and for me to get the production for a ‘family’ rate.
And four, I thought that if I don’t start now, I will never do it. It seemed that there wasn’t a similar channel about what I want to do and I knew that once the Casefile 2020 schedule kicks off in February, I won’t have time to do the Youtube. So during our break from work, I prepped everything and laid the foundations for the channel, which will make the work streamlined throughout the year.

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BOOK

For a long time, I was bothered about the fact that my book wasn’t properly edited and proofread. I’m not a native English speaker, and I knew my writing wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Therefore I decided to send the manuscript to a proper editing house.
I’ve also added a few updates as the book was written in 2017 and a few things have changed since then.
The book will be updated with a new cover on the Amazon store.

COURSES

The first thing I wanted to do is to take the course off the Udemy platform and move it to my website. I will be doing that in the coming weeks. It will offer me more control and better conditions for future courses.
I’ve written another two courses – both about podcasting. I’m planning on recording and releasing them here this year.
I also have vague plans for another two (on podcasting again) however I will see how I get on with other tasks.

EVENTS

There are quite a few podcasting and true crime events planned in the UK this year. I will try to attend these and in some cases, have a small exhibitor’s table too.
Networking is something that I want to work on and getting out of the house will be in no doubt helpful!

These are my plans when it comes to the professional side of life. There are some changes, but it is more about doubling down on podcasting and my work.
Ultimately we will see how it all develops in the coming years, with the acquisitions, consolidations, rules and maturity of the medium. I am excited for any new challenges that it brings.

That’s it for now!
The first Youtube videos are out now, and there are many more planned. It’s an exciting experiment for me, and we’ll see how it progresses over the year.

Thanks for reading. Speak soon!
Mike

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