Restoration

Restoring "It's A Wonderful Life" by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians

Every now and then, I'll get a stick up my butt and decide I'm going to do something, just to say I did something that day. This was one such occasion. Awhile ago, I found this old recording of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians performing "It's A Wonderful Life". I was thinking of using it for a sample in a hip hop track, but ultimately decided against it. So, it just kinda sat on my PC collecting digital dust.

Gonna be honest, I have no idea when this was recorded, or what equipment was used, but the initial version just was super crackly and noisy. I don't think the original vinyl was very well taken care of. That, or they didn't bother to clean the record before transferring it to digital. Whatever the case may be, it needed a face lift. You can hear the original version below.

Obviously, the first thing to fix was the crackling. While there's a lot of software out there that can remove clicks and crackles from audio, when you have this many, you'll need to bring in the big guns. iZotope came to the rescue with this project, more then once, actually. The click removal tool that comes with RX 6 is fantastic, and did a great job removing all those pops and clicks without degrading the quality even more. There was some left over "silence" at the beginning and end of the recording. I've amplified the waveform to give you a visual idea of how much clicking there was here. What you're seeing in the after photo is the noise left after, which was next to go.

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (click removal_before).png

Before Click Removal

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (click removal_after).png

After Click Removal

The next thing to go was the noise. This was a bit difficult to do. At first, I tried using heavy amounts of noise removal all at once, just to see what would happen. The vocal part of the recordings became very dull though, and the semblance seemed to fade in and out. So, I ended up running it through the iZotope noise removal tool, but several times, and with very light removal each time, retraining the software after each pass. The hardest part here was figuring out if the tool its self was removing too much of the high end, or if there wasn't any high end to begin with (specifically anything above ~5ishkHz). Ultimately, I believe it was a little bit of both.

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (noise removal_before).png

Before Noise Removal

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (noise removal_after).png

After Noise Removal

Now, I never recommend doing anything related to audio just by looking at it's waveform. Audio isn't looked at, it's heard. The reason I'm showing you these before and after screenshots is because it's just so shocking to be able to visually see how this song gets clearer and clearer with each change. Hearing it get better and better was even more amazing, I assure you. The song was crystal clear, and may even have been close to what it sounded like right from the microphone(s) before years of wear and tear wore it down. But we can do better.

At this point, the song sounded clear, but it also sounded like it was recorded in the 1940's. The complete lack of any ultra highs, the upper mids being so dominating, and our loss of a lot of what little high-highs we had from noise removal, meant we needed to do some EQ, and some drastic EQ too. I ended up using a high pass filter to remove everything below 100Hz. The bass didn't seem to dip any lower then that, and there wasn't anything else down there but noise. I also took out 12 kHz+, as this was also predominantly just residual noise not picked up from our noise removal. Finally, I did a tiny bit of boosting in the low end (about 2-3 dB at 300 Hz), a bigger cut in the mids and upper mids (about 4.5-5 dB around 750 Hz) and a huge boost to everything from 2 kHz up to the 12 kHz where the low pass filter was (around 12+ dB, yes, I know, damn). At this point, I've put up so many before and afters of waveforms up, I figure what the hell not?

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (EQ_before).png

Before EQ

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (EQ_after).png

After EQ

"Cool, it got quieter," you might say, "But I can't tell the difference by looking at these pictures." I agree, you can't tell really anything changed other then the volume. But I needed something to break up this wall of text.

To finish everything off, I normalized the audio so it's sample peak was at -0.30 dBFS. I thought about throwing the mixdown into studio one and running it through limiter or two to bring the loudness level up the somewhere close to modern standards, but wouldn't you know it, the integrated loudness value was exactly at -14.0 LUFS, which is right where I aim for many of my mixdowns (that aren't going off to be mastered that is). At this point the track was done. I gave it one final listen, just to see if I missed anything, but everything checked out fine.

The only two things I wish I could do something about is the change in the tone in the vocals and the crazy amount of distortion from the horns hitting the compressor so hard. There's so much noise and hiss in the original recording that it's hard to tell if the singer is just moving around the microphone and changing how it picks him up, or if it's something the noise removal tools are doing. Also, if anyone knows of some software that can un-distort audio, let me know.

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (Initial State).png

Before Restoration

Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians - It's A Wonderful Life (Restored).png

After Restoration