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Cleaning A Voice Track With Audacity

One of the best ways to improve your home videos whether they are of family events, outings, or even videos you are making for online consumption is in the area of audio.

There is an old saying that the most important part of video is audio and in this case you can make your videos more watchable by making them more… listenable! (OK! I know that’s not really a word!)

Quite often when you are looking at other peoples videos you may have noticed that although the video itself seemed quite OK, there was something that seemed to be annoying about it or some way that it was failing to hold your attention.

More often than not it is actually the audio quality that is having that effect.

On this page I have laid out a simple procedure anyone can follow to quickly and efficiently clean up a narration or voiceover track.

The techniques apply to any voice recording you have done regardless of the source but before that always remember when you are recording a voice to set your device at the highest possible quality.

Some devices don’t offer this but many do, so take the time to go into the settings of whatever you are using to make sure you are getting the best audio quality you can.

Once you have your recording we are going to use a free audio editing software program to polish the sound file you have, so we need to get that file isolated and into a format suitable for editing.

If you have recorded a voice track on your computer this is simple because you will already have a single audio file and most likely it will be in the .wav format that we need.

If you have used some other kind of system and do not have a .wav file then you can get a free audio converter here that will do the job, or just Google for one.

The point is that we need to get the file into the .wav format to get the best results.

Because we are going to edit the file and are also going to be adding that file back to a video project it is very important to stick to the .wav format.

If you are dealing with a voice track from one of your existing videos simply load the video into your video editing software then go to the output – sharing – distribute part of the program and choose to output the file as a .wav audio file.

One you have the sound file you will need another free software program called Audacity which you can download for free here: Download Audacity.

Just choose the version suitable for your system and install.

Now that we have Audacity installed, open the program and load your audio file by selecting “File” then “Open” and navigating to where you put the audio file.


Audacity will give you the option of either directly editing the original file (faster) or making a copy of the file and editing the copy (safer).

My choice in this is to manually make a copy before I even start and place it in a separate folder.

That way I always have the original to go back to if I mess up and I am not getting Audacity to do anything extra that could lead to problems.

One more point to note before we get into the procedure is that Audacity is an incredible sound editing platform.

Although this simple guide will get your voice tracks up to speed it in no way taps into the vast capabilities of the program.

It would be worth anyone’s time to delve further into learning how to effectively use Audacity for all parts of your video soundtracks.

Cleaning Up Your Voice Track

Once you have chosen the method of editing, the file will load into the program and be displayed as a waveform representing the sounds within the file.

Noise Removal

Before we start we need to find a small section of the voice track that has no vocals recorded on it.

We will use this section of the track to give Audacity a sample of the noise we want to remove.

In the example track I have used the mouse to select a portion of the file but very often there will be a silent “lead in” at the front of the audio file you could also use.

Now select Effect then Noise Reduction and a dialogue box will open.

In older versions of Audacity this was named Noise Removal as shown in the image below but it is basically the same function.

Click on Get Noise Profile and Audacity will capture and analyze the small sample you selected in the previous step.

The dialogue box will disappear and you will be back at the waveform view of your file.

Click anywhere on the waveform then either hit ctrl + A or use Edit / Select All to make sure the entire file is selected.

Now go back and select Effect, Noise Reduction again and the same dialogue box will open only this time, check the bottom of the box to see that (1.) Remove Noise is checked then hit OK.

Although there are lots of ways to adjust and fine tune this module remember, we are going for a quick and dirty fix here!

It will immediately run and you will notice that the areas where there were no vocals before have now become much thinner indicating the reduction in noise.

Equalization

Now that an acceptable level of noise has been removed you will most likely find that the overall sound of the file has changed slightly.

It probably has a “thinner” or more shallow sound to it.

This is because the noise removal also removes some other aspects of the file so we need to compensate for that with equalization.

First of all make sure the entire audio clip is selected by using ctrl + A or by using the Select All function under the Edit tab.

Go to Effect then select Equalization.

A new dialogue box will open shown below.

Make sure that Draw Curves is selected and then from the drop down box select EMI 78 as the profile you want to apply.

Bear in mind that some current copies of Audacity for some reason don’t have this equalization preset.

Perfectly acceptable alternatives that I have used are: Acoustic, Decca FFRR 78 and a few of the others.

You can use the preview button to listen to the change it will make so have a play with a few of them until you find one you like.

You can of course manually adjust the Eq by yourself but that kind of defeats the purpose of a “quick and dirt” fix!

Finally select OK once you have the setting you want and Audacity will apply the changes.

What you may now notice is that the small areas where you previously removed noise have now kind of fattened up a little because of the Eq changes.

Take a listen to the final product and if it is ok then… OK!

If the Eq has raised the noise level to a noticeable degree then re-do the noise removal step once more for final clean and you should be done.

View Comments (15)

  • hello i have an audio file from 1957 ..... voice is dull and heavy what to do ?

  • This was super useful, thank you. It made all the difference to some a meeting recording with an annoying fan in the background, which made it hard to hear "through".
    Cheers,
    Keith
    Victoria, BC

  • Hi everyone,
    Q: Does this voice software have any Android versions ? Because I am desperately looking to INCREASE a voice on a recording.

    THANKU, any help would be appreciated.

  • Hello Lance.....Can i clear the noise from a rap song that i have recorded.....I mean that the voice is not clear.....Can i clear it???

    • Sorry to say that it is very unlikely you can do that.

      Noise removal only really works if there is a constant noise in the background and even then it still changes everything else in the recording.

      You can try the technique outlined on this page and play with the settings but I really doubt you will get much of an improvement.

      You could also go over to the Audacity Forum here: https://forum.audacityteam.org/ and ask the question there to see if anyone has some ideas.

  • hi, I'm trying to amplify a recording, it was recording when I was sleeping alone in my house and I swear that there is a voice of a man, can understand what he says, really don't know how to do it, please tell me I'm not going crazy!!!

    • You are not going crazy!... feel better?

      If you mean can you isolate and increase the volume of something that was recorded the answer is pretty much no.

      Digital recordings don't record things separately as you hear them. They just record sound waves.

      The thing that isolates different parts is actually your brain and software has no brains!

      Sorry.

  • Guys i need help i want to remove the main speakers voice so i only have applause and crowd reaction only.i will really appreciate some help.
    thank you in advance

    • Hi Ben,
      What you are asking seems on the surface to be quite simple right?

      That's because you, (a human) can hear the voice as being separate from the other sound in the audio file.

      It is your brain that is processing all the sound and making sense of it.

      Software doesn't come with a brain unfortunately so all you can do is try to erase the specific audio frequencies that the voice part is creating.

      Unfortunately other parts of the file are also using those same frequencies so you really can't just isolate the voice and remove it.

      There are some things you can do to attempt this but it is beyond what this tutorial is aiming at.

      My advice would be to go to the Audacity forum and post your question there.

      Those guys will likely have at least some established strategies to try to get this done.

  • This is an awesome tutorial specially for n00bs like me who have always wanted to edit audio files but never got into the nitty gritty. Very satisfying thanks Lance Carr @dvdrepairtips.

    Not to criticise but there were a few curve balls in the post due to the fact that the interface and commands of audacity have been updated since this post was written or last updated.

    The first one is that as of today (Jan 2017) the option of "noise removal" is not there in the effects menu. Do not worry though. Use the "Noise reduction" option and follow the steps - you will be fine.

    These are my two cents and I hope these comments help future user and I might have contributed to the longevity of the post. The tutorial is pretty easy to follow therefore it deserves all the help it needs!

  • Hi Lora,
    Ok so that sounds pretty interesting!

    If it is from 1942 then it was well before the time of the 45 or the 33 long plang discs so 78rpm sound about right.

    This is not really anything I know too much about but here some things you need to bear in mind.

    The original recording method would have been "direct to disc." That means you speak into a microphone connected to a machine that was actually cutting (engraving) the tracks on to the disc in real time.

    At that time because this was awesomely new fangled technology very often there were places you could go to record stuff and they gave you the disc.

    This is probably what you have.

    The poor quality of the recording comes down to two things.

    First the actual recording technique which wasn't designed to give amazing sound quality in the first place.

    Everyone was just amazed to hear their voices recorded and played back on the spot!

    The second will be degradation of the disc itself. The disc is possibly a shellac record and over time will have degraded physically and probably built up some dirt as well.

    **wARNING** do Not ATTEMPT TO CLEAN IT IN ANY WAY UNTIL YOU HAVE WORKED OUT WHAT IT IS MADE OF!

    To get the recording on to a computer is pretty straightforward and a Google search will show you lots of resources on that.

    As far as using Audacity goes I would strongly suggest going to their forum and posting there as it may take a bit of expertise to deal with it.

    First of all go to this site and ask someone what it is exactly that you have and go from there:
    78rpm Community

  • Hello Lance, I am new to working with audio and I need help with a special family project. I found an old record that is the size of a 45 but plays at a speed of around 78 of my parents and my older sister. The record is very scratchy sounding and hard to understand what they say. What format do I need to get it to in order to use audacity to hopefully remove the scratches from it so we can understand better what they are saying? Your help would be appreciated.

    P.S. The record was made in 1942! Apparently some kind of do it yourself thing they had back then. I want it for our family.

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