Review: Accusonus ERA Bundle

Review: Accusonus ERA Bundle

Just like when Photoshop came out to fix all the ills of poor photography, tools like Adobe Audition, Cedar, iZotope RX and others have appears over the years to solve poor recordings. Since then companies like Avid and Waves and just about every DAW has tried to create the Holy Grail of plugins for solving bad sound. I was contacted by the development team of Accusonus not too long ago to see if Cinema Sound would do a review and demo products of theirs to Cinema Sound members. And so, this is the first of several pieces on their bundle of products available specifically for post production audio repair called the Accusonus ERA Bundle. Let’s see what we discover as we take a look at this product.

The Basics:

I’d actually never heard of Accusonus before, so when they contacted us, I was certainly happy to make their acquaintance. I was a little dubious about reviewing something which is attempting to take on a juggernaut in the audio space: the marketshare held by software repair for post production: iZotope, Adobe, Waves and hardware repair in the form of Cedar. Together, these four companies hold the lion’s share of what big-budget and independent media creatives use…and they work really well. But they work really well only in concert.

Cedar DNS 1000

By themselves, each of these companies has large holes in their game of audio repair. For example: Cedar has been around for a while and their $13,000 flag ship (which you can rent for about $125 a day) cures anything constant noise related – and even deals with transients. The resulting sound is so amazing it sounds nearly like it was ADRed…but if you’ve got a siren, or a dog or anything more than easy reverb in a room, you’re dead. Spectrographic editors in the software realm slay with no remorse sirens, dogs, phones, Yelling ADs, and STRONG noise, but always add that silly chirpiness and ever fall into the noise/signal coefficient I’m always telling you about: “It’s a counterweighted system. You can’t have no noise and no artifacts, just like you can’t have all the noise and all the artifacts. You’re going to have some of one or the other. Your choice is to figure out which one you can most live with.”

The work-around has always been to use hardware and software in tandem. I train people about how to rent a Cedar and do an audio “telecine” of the audio tracks to rip out the general noise and nonsense while giving the audio that “cedar” quality, but then dig into to problem children with spectrographic editors when needed. It’s a great combination. It’s also incredibly slow, expensive, and tedious and actually holds up post production.

Let me say this in the clear: if you had recorded good audio in the first place you wouldn’t need any of these things!!

There. That rant done. Moving forward.

Well, let say one more thing: watch the Record Volume of the Cinema Sound education so you don’t end up in these predicaments again.

Okay. Back to the review.

If we had it all our way, we’d have a simple plugin which we didn’t have to use in a destructive way, which didn’t add any chirpiness, was stupid-easy to use, and gave the sound of the audio a great “ADR-like” quality. Oh. And was affordable. Right? The perfect thing.

What You Get:

With the Accusonus bundle, you get a host of plugin solutions. All but one are “one-knob” plugins which boast the ability to just “turn a knob” and you’ll get a desired result: de-noise, de-reverb, de-essing, volume control, de-clipping and more. Wouldn’t that be nice? As of the printing of this article, you cannot purchase these plugins separately, and you must chose a “normal” version or a “pro” version which adds a “pro” version de-esser and the ERA-D (which will get its own paragraph below). All the plugins work in VST/AU land, and although the instruction manuals only refer to NLEs (like Adobe Premiere Pro), they’re compatible with just about every DAW as well. The difference in price between them being Pro @ $349 (sale price) and Standard @ $119 (sale price). Do two plugins make that much of a difference? Let’s see.

The Myth:

The difference between Standard and Pro ERA packages

The myth about sound repair is that you can’t avoid either the spectrographic chirpiness or the hoarse/gatiness of hardware solutions. In my experience, even with all the “un-chirp” plugins from 11th Dimension, it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of FFT and otherwise mathematics. What you get is a “muted” chirpiness. And since hardware solutions have no way to “know what’s coming” in the audio stream, they can only crunch the numbers they can for the very short latency they are allowed – and the audio gets passed on. This is why I typically use both. But the issue there is a serious time and money burn. The myth is that these things can’t be solved. But it’s a myth as it turns out.

Although these “one-knob” plugins look simple to use, they can be incredibly complex. The plugins in the standard package are generally all one-knobbers and fall prey to the standard myth like everything else. You crank these babies up and you’re gonna chirp away. Although the math they’re using is really quite good and because they are designed to be used as real-time plugins they act far more like a Cedar solution than an RX solution, they still have limitations.

That said, the benefit of being able to drop these plugins onto a bus or track and allow them to run in real-time is a show-stopper. Normally, with such plugins – with the exception of the new Adobe Audition Denoise/Dereverb – such a thing would lug down the computer processor WAY too much. But with the Accusonics one-knobbers, it doesn’t seem to be the case at all. I was able to drop several onto a single track and get great results without any significant lug down. I’ll be making several videos demonstrating the results.

ERA Noise Remover Plugin

These plugins have a surprising similarity to Audition plugins of the same use. For example: you have the frequency selection buttons identical to the AA version of Denoise in the Noise Remover plugin as well as strong similarities with DeReverb and Reverb Remover. That said, there is only so many ways you can make a one-knob plugin work with the current state of technology. So some leeway has to be given. After all, Audition’s plugins don’t actually have “a knob.”

ERA’s Reverb Remover

Here’s a breakdown of what we discovered in terms of comparison with the same plugins in Audition:

PluginBetter in AABetter in ERANotes
Denoise/Noise
Remover
XERA has a less Chirpy result
Dereverb/
Reverb Remover
XAA does a better job of getting rid of
chamber noise
DeEsser/
De-Esser
XThere’s more controls in AA and thus a
better result
Plosive RemoverN/AX
De-ClipperN/AX
Volume Leveler/
Voice Leveler
XERA’s de-breath and multi-band
compressor are a winner.

The chart above gives a general breakdown of how the plugins fared against each other with poorly recorded audio. ERA’s Noise Remover is a better all-around performer on hedging bets against the chirpy noise vs. noise coefficient.

However, Dereverb in AA is superior to Reverb Remover in not only handling noise but also getting rid of short and long decay reverb. There are artifacts for certain, but in the world of saving reverby-audio, I’d trust AA’s plugin.

ERA Voice Leveler

The DeEsser plugin in AA is superior not because of its clarity (ERAs is clearer), but because of its functionality. The ERA DeEsser lacks appropriate ability to select the exact width of affected frequency and also lacks the super-helpful spectrum graph which shows you exactly where the sibilances are. That said, the AA DeEsser is markedly NOT a one-knob plugin and it requires more than novice skill to get a pro result.

Although you can spectrally and destructively fix plosives in AA in the spectral view, it currently has no Plosive correction or De-Clipper. At the writing of this article we were not able to get the ERA De-Clipper to function in AA.

Lastly, the ERA Voice Leveler plugin is remarkable. Crazy-easy to use, and combined with a psuedo-multiband compresser and de-breath feature, combined with De-Noise or Noise Remover, it’s a killer winner. Especially if you’re doing podcasting.

ERA De-Esser

Accusonus Crazy Voodoo:

The One-Knobbers are good. But, to be honest, I don’t believe they’re worth spending $100+ dollars on them if you’re already an avid (excuse the pun) Adobe Audition user. If you were going to spend money to solve a bigger issue, you’d be better served to pull a Cedar rental out of the budget and fix it there.

The BIG value, however, comes from the Phoenix-Godzilla-Luke Skywalker plugin in the Pro package called ERA-D. The “D” might as well stand for “Dumbfounded.” Here’s why.

ERA’s ERA-D Plugin

The ERA-D is a mashup of the Remove Noise and Remove Reverb plugins – with a twist. The plugin has advanced controls including the ability to apply settings to 5 individual frequency bands – not at all unlike the Cedar. Not only can you change the affect, and the sensitivity, but you can also change how each band applies its affect based on confidence in the ability of the plugin to distinguish noise from proper signal. This alone gives the plugin a massive leg up in capability. It also has the ability to re-patch the noise and reverb algorithms so that they are in series or in parallel and mix between them. There’s also iZotope RX-level controls that allow for hiding the inevitable artifacts of denoising/dereverbing into musical noises or otherwise as well as duration controls for noise events.

But the killer option of this plugin is a built-in de-chirp option called “artifact control“. Although it only has on-off controls, it probably is more effective at removing the unwanted inevitable artifacts of audio repair than any anti-artifact plugin I’ve seen. Combine this with what is a deceptively complicated and highly professional denoise/dereverb plugin with multiband capabilities which is happy to run in real-time, and you’ve got a massive secret weapon in the hunt for clean audio from bad audio source.

I will say that, again, the weakest part of ERA-D is the Reverb Remover side of things, and for whatever reason it seem to be missing the ability to really ratchet down-and-out reverb. But even if you didn’t use that functionality, the Noise Remover applied in this plugin is staggeringly great.

The Result:

The mid-level price to get in on the industry standard spectrographic plugin suite, from iZotope RX is around $400 all the way up to the full-monty at around $1,100. And if you need to get in there and redraw spectrograms, honestly, you’re not going to find a better all-around weapon to deal with the war of bogies in your audio tracks. But for $350 you can get everything you’ll need with the Pro ERA Bundle – except the ability clean up the serious bogeys. And in combination with the robust features already in place in Adobe Audition, you’ve got a recipe for curing nearly anything you’re going to run into. And if you DO run into it, you need to send your recordist to watch the entire Cinema Sound Education.

The Pro ERA Bundle receives a 115 CS Rating

As I said before, the Standard ERA bundle is fine, but if you’re already using AA, it’s probably not a good value. So I’m not going to rate it here. The CS rating we’re giving is for the Pro package which includes ERA-D and a pro version of the De-Esser (Audition’s is still better in my opinion). The Pro ERA Bundle receives a 115 CS Rating.

Click here to get your copy of the ERA Bundle.

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