Background noise poses a serious challenge to live-television mixers attempting to maintain intelligible dialogue in a reverberant environment or on a stage with lighting and video displays. One solution that has been winning fans throughout the industry over the last couple of years is the iZotope ANR-B adaptive, real-time, noise-reduction system.
Production mixer/iZotope ANR-B user Tom Holmes
Tom Holmes, a production mixer who works on some of the biggest televised entertainment events, recalls first using the two-channel ANR-B a couple of years ago after being introduced to it by Bob Rendon, VP of audio at production technology provider PRG. "We're always looking for ways of minimizing the ambience from a lively room," explains Holmes. "In this case, it was Carnegie Hall, which is very lively. The event also included a lot of projector, fan and Vari-Lite noise. You could turn the knob and it all went away, but you could still hear people talking very clearly; it was just getting rid of the stuff you didn't want."
Holmes tried the ANR-B across his console's dialogue bus at the next Grammy telecast, during rehearsal so remote truck visitors could check it out. "Every one of them, their mouth would drop open," he reports. "I would like to think that I introduced the Los Angeles TV crowd to them. Immediately after that [production provider] Audiotek bought a few of them. Before you know it, Ed Greene is using them, Denali trucks bought them and Sweetwater's trucks have them. But actually, Bob probably found it before anyone!"
Greene, production mixer for American Idol, uses one ANR-B channel for the host and judges and the other channel for the contestants. "I use them in the linked position," he says. "That means that both sides are being affected in a similar fashion. I use it primarily in 'train' mode...It listens to the ambient noise — it can be brief, a second or two is plenty — you crank it in and, lo and behold, the ambient noise just goes away. But the dialogue is reasonably unaffected."
Greene, who also works such shows as the Academy Awards telecast, experienced some problems on a Broadway show with more than three dozen lavalier mics, says there is a caveat. "If you have the mics next to each other, there are phasing effects," though putting the device in linked mode eliminates any digital artifacts, he insists.
"I almost won't do a show without it," explains Greene, who typically complements the ANR-B with a Dolby Cat43, Cat430 or a CEDAR unit. "It's extraordinary. This is probably the most sophisticated gating device I've ever bumped into."
With no rehearsal time, Geoff Keehn, senior audio engineer at CNBC, uses the device much more dynamically. "We are using it on the fly," he says. "We don't have the benefit of a quiet room and having it look at all the background noise and store that."
There is a unit in every control room at CNBC's New Jersey headquarters, Keehn reports, each set to automatic mode and inserted across a group bus that is routed to the stereo program bus. Operators reroute noisy mic signals through the appropriate group.
When live with multiple remote contributions, there's plenty of time to reroute a noisy feed, explains Keehn, who notes that it takes between eight and 10 seconds for the unit's noise suppression to kick in. "You can drop it in while you wait for the answer to the next question from a different talent."
Even with multiple sources, and four separate background noise environments bused simultaneously, "It's surprising how well it handles it," says Keehn.
And while more processing leads to increased delay, Keehn observes, "I haven't experienced an issue with it causing audible or visual-creating 'lip flap' delay. For the most part, it's pretty seamless. It's a great box."
Steve Harvey is the West Coast editor for PAR's sister publication, Pro Sound News.