Hardware And Software Reviews
Less Noise, And Even Less Cash:
More For Less
Read G. Burgan
Diamond Cut Production's DC-ART boasts it can remove the noise from your phonograph records and do it with a program costing only $99*. But can a program costing less than a word processing upgrade cut the mustard?
This is not my first experience with DC-ART. Two years ago I tested the program, and came away feeling it wasn’t ready yet. So when I popped the CD-ROM into my computer, I wondered what I’d find.
Wow! What a difference a day makes -- or 720 or so days.
DC-ART has come of age, providing really effective and useful digital audio restoration tools at bargain basement prices. Just think -- Five years ago a Mac based digital audio restoration workstation could cost you up to $100,000. Now Diamond Cut Productions’ DC-ART can do nearly as much for less than the cost of a night on the town.
First on my list of “likes”, all of DC-ART’s filters can be previewed in real time as you adjust their parameters. This is not only a plus, but should be the standard for all digital audio restoration software. Being able to actually hear the effect of a filter as you adjust its onscreen controls saves a lot of time.
In addition, DC-ART’s entire onscreen interface is easy to use and very intuitive. If you’ve done much digital audio work, it shouldn’t take long to figure out how to use its features -- even if you don’t bother with the manual. But you will want to use the manual -- more about that later.
Like nearly all digital audio restoration software, DC-ART’s primary tools are an Impulse Noise filter to remove pops and clicks and a Continuous Noise filter to remove broad band noise like record surface noise. The impulse noise filter is nicely designed, and provides threshold, size and tracking adjustments plus a special algorithm that optimizes the filter for vinyl or non vinyl record sources (78’s, Edison cylinders, etc.). I found the filter easy to adjust and as effective as any other impulse filter that I have used.
As an added feature, while removing pops and clicks, the filter provides an onscreen readout of how many clicks per second and how many total clicks are being removed. This not only gives you a concrete feeling for how effective the filter is, it also tells you if the filter is set too aggressively and removing program content. I give DC-ART’s impulse filter an A+.
Likewise, the continuous noise filter is nicely designed and easy to use. As with most continuous noise filters, you highlight a portion of your WAV file that is noise only, and click the “Sample Noise” button. This provides an onscreen graph of the noise along with a blue line above it that represents the filter that DC-ART will apply to remove the noise. The attack, release times and the degree of attenuation of the filter can be adjusted up or down. If you desire to tailor the noise filter even more, you can manually adjust the shape of the filter line on the onscreen graph.
Does the continuous noise filter effectively remove noise? Yes. I found it to be quite effective in removing record surface noise, hum, and similar kinds of “constant” noise. You can adjust the attenuation as high as 100 percent, but in doing so, you will almost certainly introduce artifacts and begin to “eat” away at the program material. But this is a common problem with continuous noise filtering software. DC-ART’s continuous noise filter is very easy to use and apply and I give it a B+.
In addition to the impulse and continuous noise filters, DC-ART has a lot of other useful tools. Some, like notch, graphic and paragraphic filters are fairly self explanatory. I found each of these extremely easy to use and very effective in their application. One of the really helpful features in the paragraphic equalizer presets is a whole set of equalization settings for both 78 rpm and vinyl recordings.
Do you know what the proper equalization settings are for each of the many brand of 78 rpm recordings that were produced over the decades? Well, you don’t need to. Just pick the right preset and it will automatically be applied to your WAV file. And you say your new stereo amp doesn’t have a phono preamp? No problem, just apply the RIAA equalization preset and all will be right.
Or, if your phono preamp has only RIAA equalization, you can still use it to record 78 rpm records. Apply the Reverse RIAA preset to remove the effects of the RIAA preamp equalization and apply the appropriate 78 rpm equalization preset. Now that is really useful!
As long as we’re talking about really useful stuff, let’s take a look at DC-ART’s “change speed” tool. Do you have a record player that plays 78’s? Almost none of the turntables made during the last ten or more years before vinyl’s demise have the 78 rpm speed.
Not to worry. If your turntable can play a 45 rpm record, you can still play a 78 rpm record. Just play it at 45 rpm, recording it using DC-ART. Then pick the “Fractional Speed Mastering: 45 to 78 rpm” preset under the “change speed” tool, and your file will be automatically converted to 78 rpm. You don’t have 45 rpm? Still no problem. Record the record at 33 rpm and then choose the “Fractional Speed Mastering: 33 to 45 rpm”, and follow that with the 45 to 78 setting. Again, this is a good, practical, solid software tool that really works and serves a useful purpose!
But that’s not all. Do you have a recording that varies in speed from beginning to end. The “change speed” tool provides you with the means for adjusting the speed over the entire recording. It can start at one speed and end at another AND you can even vary the screen line to correct uneven speed changes.
There’s still more tools, but let me pick out just one more that I like: the “Virtual Valve Amplifier”. The debate rages on as to whether tubes are “warmer’ and better sounding than their solid state counterparts. Without taking a stand on that debate, let me recommend DC-ART’s “Virtual Valve Amplifier.”
This is a digital tool that’s designed to re-create the particular characteristics of a tube amplifier. It gives you nice range of choices from triodes (12AX7, 12AT7, and 12AU7), to a pentode (6EJ7) to a two stage class a amplifier and a two stage class AB amplifier. It includes a drive and operating point control and a detail and mix control (dry and wet).
In addition, it includes a Harmonic Exciter that allows you to actually add harmonics to the program material to brighten the sound. So whether you are looking for the warm, fuzzy sound of a tube amp, or the overdriven distortion of a guitar amp or just want to brighten an otherwise dull recording, the “virtual valve amplifier” is a unique digital tool.
There are still more tools and features, but you can check out their web site for information on those. Aside from the software itself, the 292 page users manual alone is almost worth the price of the software package. It contains oodles of information on digital restoration -- Information on the right kind of stylus to use, recording equalization curves, half speed recording, working with vertical and lateral pressings, etc.
This package was produced by engineers who needed tools for their own digital restoration work so it is designed to work in the real world. It was created by Diamond Cut Productions and is currently marketed by Tracer Technologies, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Unit 101, York, PA 17404. Info@Tracertek.com. www.enhancedaudio.com. Be sure that you are getting DC-ART 32, at least version 3.0.
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* DC-ART has a retail price of $199, but it can be purchased for as little as $99.50 in conjunction with other products including the Neato Labeler.
Read Burgan is a free lance writer and a former public radio station manager who can be reached at (906) 296-0652 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.