The explosion of interest in filtering out sounds of the vuvuzela has spawned some interesting discussions. Most amusing to me is the notion of some sort of anti-vuvuzela bias. The simple matter of the fact is, recorded (and broadcast) sound are not the same as the sound you hear when you’re physically in a location. If you’re at a sporting event, you hear all kinds of noise. Your expectations are differently calibrated, and you have 360 degrees of (real world) sound spatialization. Watching TV is different. You want background sound, yes, but not to the point that it drowns out commentary. In effect, you want the broadcaster to create an artificially well-balanced soundscape. What’s really striking about the World Cup is that the planet’s largest broadcasting companies all seem to have been caught unprepared for the vuvuzela cacophony.

Which brings us to Waves. So, yes, I took some cheap shots at Waves’ pricing on their plug-ins in yesterday’s massive round-up, and yes, I did actually … hear about it.

First, I want to be clear that in the avalanche of responses to the vuvuzela, there are a number of different techniques – not all notch filtering, though, as my headline hinted, the fact that “notch filtering” is a phrase coming up in mainstream media, blogs, and sports coverage is itself newsworthy.

Waves’ approach involves their noise suppressor. What I said about pricing may have been unclear in regards to the presets: the custom-developed preset chain, made by Waves for broadcasters (and apparently in collaboration with one, specific broadcaster Waves has not named), is entirely free. The cost to which I referred is the noise suppressor itself (US$2900) and the parametric EQ ($300).

And no apologies here for pointing out the gap: compared to most audio software, $2900 is indeed a lot to pay for a plug-in. One of the strange things about audio is that there are sort of parallel dimensions of value/cost equations and markets. In this case, I’m sure the broadcasting market is absolutely willing to pay $2900 for audio software – looking at the cost of, say, a World Cup license, the cost of the equipment used for that broadcast, the human hours that go into plug-in development, and the limited number of potential broadcast customers, Waves’ pricing is actually pocket change. But that further illustrates the disparity: it’s pocket change to the BBC or ESPN, whereas an individual, home audio producer might well use tools that are entirely free as an alternative.

Waves isn’t even, as [someone] pointed out to me, the pricey end of that spectrum – not by a longshot. France’s Canal+ hired an entirely private commission to do what, for Waves customers, at least, was free. [article in French] The result: a non-TDM custom effect solution from a local developer with what was likely a very, very high price tag.

But you can also judge this for yourself: if you’re curious to try out the Waves solution, both WNS and Q10 provide a 7-day demo. It’s definitely the posh steakhouse of plug-ins, to the “street vendor sausage cart” alternatives I mentioned. Pricing is economics, not a quantification of value – such is the nature of the beast. But you can determine how much that market-driven pricing translates to the software. What Waves gives you is certainly a friendly interface, some sophisticated tools tailored to the task, and what’s likely, out of the box, to come closest to producing broadcast-quality sound. Naturally, I also think that delivering that broadcast-quality sound ought to be the job of the broadcasters, not someone at home with a TV set. The question of which tools are relevant for music production, rather than covering the World Cup with an entire network TV crew, can be saved for another day.

While we’re clarifying, I think the most interesting of the long list of solutions I mentioned, apart from Waves’ solution, is the plug-in from the Centre for Digital Music (C4DM) at Queen Mary, University of London. Dan Stowell notes that, while some of the other techniques mentioned do indeed involve notch filtering, what’s at work here is “a bit cleverer, kind of tuned median-filter.”

The C4DM plug is truly free software, under an MIT-style, open source license. It’s actually a pleasure to browse through the code – bless you, digital signal processing, as mathematically, tasks like this look pretty readable in C and C-style code. No, such things aren’t comparable to, say, a Waves plug-in. At the same time, at their heart, they are fundamentally the same animal. We’ve seen this basic technique (digital signal processing) packaged in wildly different forms. We have academic research centers, which one might argue should engage in open code if they’re publicly funded. We have free code that comes from people who aren’t in academia. We also have businesses that naturally spawn around catering to a very different customer, for whom value is easy to justify given the potential revenue from the product (a sports broadcast), and who likewise have higher expectations of user interface, real-world performance, and support.

But such is the broad spectrum (ahem) of sound software today. Take something as simple as filtering out a drone at a particular frequency, and you see a broad set of potential uses, an audience literally as large as the entire planet’s sports fans, tools on every conceivable platform and operating system, and markets that range from interested academic researchers and programmers to broadcasters with deep pockets.

All over a cheap plastic horn.

It’s a reminder of all kinds of disparities. There’s the economics of sound software, scaling from hobbyist to academia to business, from code that people give away to highly-priced custom services that make Waves plug-ins look like $2 iPhone apps. But more important than that, while specialization in sound software remains the domain of a tiny niche of society, but the ultimate market – human ears – is in the billions. Perhaps while we hide out in our blogs and trade magazines, we forget that.

Oh, vuvuzela. Look at the fuss you’ve caused. The kazoo never caused this much of an issue. Photo (CC-BY) Mark Kobayashi-Hillary.
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  • I still want to get one to sample, so I can play it like an instrument. 🙂

  • groovelastig

    German (public) Worldcup 2010 broadcasters ARD and ZDF offer a 2×2 Audio-Track: when receiving their program digitally, you can select either the stadium-drone plus commentary, or the commentary (studio mic) only.

    This leaves audio geeks with some interesting options: a) you might be able to mix both tracks to get exactly the right amount of vuvuzela (don't ask me about phasing now) or b) probably even subtract the commentary track to get vuvuzela only. it should be possible (although you'd need some tricknology to receive both stereo channels at once – possibly 2 receivers?)

  • Waves is notorious with their pricing. They have some really great plugins, but their market is not the broadcasters you are talking about. That would mean they sell just over a handfull of plugins.

    The biggest market is the company's that work for the broadcasters. They have really small budgets, and are forced to use the plugins hence their client works with them, or demand/expect they are used. This might sound strange but there are many cases where a client will tell what plugins to use. (for consistency etc)

    You can lease the plugins, use a demo for a certain period via a I-lock account etc.

    But still, Waves is really way more expensive compared to let's say Wave Arts and Izotope who have equally impressive noise reduction plugins.

    It's also been mentioned that Waves has been sending employees to studio's posing as potential clients, asking the studio to start up different projects in their DAW (to see if they use licensed WAVES).

    In the end WAVES has every right to do so. But just like Avid they walk a fine line of being an industry standard and being a industry bully, imho at least.

  • Gavin@FAW

    "At the same time, at their heart, they are fundamentally the same animal."

    This is very true, I think one of the great myths of the audio software industry is that some companies have some form of voodoo magic going on under the hood. I'd say the big differentiator is that the professional companies would have a pair of golden ears who help tune the algorithms so that they sound their best, but the basic tool set that any DSP engineer has to solve a specific problem will be the same.

    On a side note, I studied at C4DM and while they are not as well know outside academia as say IRCAM, they are highly respected and well known in the industry. If there are any computer science graduates looking to up skill with a view to working with the audio software at a professional level then I'd highly recommend studying there.

  • i really like the 8-bit vuvuzela that 4mat made. he released a SID as well so if you're one of those guys with a C64 sitting around you can play it as well

  • Pingback: Vuvuzela… filtrar « John KeeL Audio's Blog()

  • My biggest beef with Waves goes beyond the initial pricing, which I think is too high. But what really gets me is that you don't really own Waves stuff, you lease it. You can only get support or upgrades if you subscribe to their 'Waves Up To Date Program' (WUP) which has a yearly fee depending on what packages you have. So if there are no upgrades one year you have spent money for absolutely nothing. I'm happy to pay for upgrades. Having to pay to get any support whatsoever is lame. But they won't simply sell you an upgrade, and that is a shitty business practice. So I have a dongle with some very nice waves software that I can't use because it's all for PPC. I know I could pay for one year's service to get the upgrades but I don't want to give my money to a company that I feel gouge their customers.