I’ve been getting a bit grumpy with Final Cut Pro over the last few months.
For instance, I have several consistent problems with it crashing. These problems might relate to my constantly re-used library and call for a fresh start, but I haven’t really got time for that kind of faffery at the moment. Regardless, I can now predict when it’s going to crash.
Fancy exporting your latest video immediately after the rendering has finished? No chance. Want to copy and paste some audio settings from your template project? You’d better get that Force Quit box ready.
I love and hate Final Cut Pro in equal measure. But just like the mate who constantly shows himself up on nights out, Apple’s video editing suite has an uncanny knack of putting its arm around you and offering entirely selfless support, completely out of the blue.
That happened to me this week following the 10.6.2 update.
What is voice isolation in Final Cut Pro?
Final Cut Pro 10.6.2 is a pretty significant update. If you’re a Mac Studio user, it promises to deliver full optimisation for the M1 Max and M1 Ultra chips.
Great news! But that’s not why I’m so excited about it. I’m not even that bothered about the new ability to sniff out re-used clips, or any of the promised bug fixes. No, the big one for me is voice isolation. It’s a game-changer.
Apple tells us that the new voice isolation feature uses machine learning to “improve the clarity of speech by adjusting the level of background noise” (you’ll need Monterey 12.3 or later to make it work). The result, in theory, should be a far clearer voice track when the source was recorded in a noisy environment.
This isn’t an Apple invention. Tools such as iZotope RX have been offering similar functionality for years. The difference with voice isolation is that it’s built directly into Final Cut Pro, and it does the processing on the fly, while you’re editing.
The results are quite simply stunning.
Let me show you. This is a video that hasn’t been processed with voice isolation. Compare it to this video, which has, and you’ll see what I mean (I’d grab a pair of headphones to experience the full effect). The latter is free from background noise, and the voice track is far cleaner. I still have some tweaking to do, but we’re onto a very good thing here – trust me.
Why is it so important?
The new voice isolation feature in Final Cut Pro has fixed two issues for me. Room reverberation and background noise.
The former is a tricky problem to fix outside of software processing. Oddly enough, I’d recently concluded that it wasn’t worth putting too much effort or expense into deadening the room. Doing so would mean going beyond the acoustic curtains I use, and attaching countless acoustic panels to the walls and ceiling. It’s a faff, it’s expensive, and it would require more trial and error than I have time for at the moment.
The background noise has been far more troublesome. When I scoped out my studio space last year, I asked the rental agent about road noise.
“Ah, it’s really quiet around here,” he said. “You’ll probably get a few passing cars during rush hour, but that’s about it. Trust me, you’ll have no problem.”
As it turns out, my studio appears to be situated next to a Formula One speed trap, and I’m fairly convinced that Max Verstappen is being given free rein to drive up and down it every single day (in either his F1 car or a clapped-out Transit full of loose spanners).
The net result of this is a fairly torrid a-roll filming process that has seriously affected my confidence in front of the camera. You don’t see this (hopefully) because the magic happens in the edit, but trust me – filming yourself talking to the camera with that racket in the background isn’t much fun.
Fixing this would be expensive and time-consuming, which is why I’d decided to suck it up and take the beating from that road. That is, until now, because voice isolation in Final Cut Pro completely removes the road noise from my finished videos, and as a result, I no longer think about it while filming.
The joy of simple features
I absolutely love features like voice isolation. They are typically the simplest, most innocuous of checkboxes or sliders, but their impact on my workflow, process, or end product is often incalculable.
I can think of so many instances where software developers have hit the nail squarely on the head with specific features. For instance, I rely on the following features every single day to make my life far easier:
- pasting a URL onto highlighted text in Ulysses to automatically create a markdown hyperlink;
- using predictive input in Fantastical to add new calendar entries immediately;
- hitting a pre-made focus session in Brain.fm when it’s time to write; and
- pasting in-line articles into Medium stories and leaving it to Medium to do the formatting.
Don’t get me wrong – the smarts behind voice isolation in Final Cut Pro are far beyond my comprehension; there are some incredibly clever people working on this stuff. But the genius behind features like this is the simplicity with which it is implemented, and the no-nonsense, get-it-done results.
The voice isolation check box in Final Cut Pro has saved me a significant amount of investment and stress. Thank you, Apple.
How to use Final Cut Pro voice isolation
Apple has baked voice isolation directly into the standard audio controls within Final Cut Pro 10.6.2. To use it, simply highlight the piece of audio you want to process (either in the timeline or library), and head over to the audio inspector on the right-hand side of the screen.
In there, you’ll find a new check box for Voice Isolation, beneath Equalization. Give it a tick, and the effect will be applied to the selected audio. You’ll also gain access to the Amount slider, which is set to 50% by default.
The more you push that slider, the more intense the voice isolation becomes. In my experience, it starts to sound rather artificial beyond 60%. My guess is that Apple is applying some form of audio gate, which immediately suppresses background noise during gaps in the audio. But thanks to machine learning, voice isolation is also capable of suppressing that unwanted noise during the vocal performance. That’s where the real magic lies, and it’s why you need to be rather gentle with the slider.
I need to continue refining my approach with voice isolation, but I’ve found that 40% is about the sweet spot for my vocal audio track. It’s also worth noting that voice isolation appears to dull the top end a little once applied, therefore I’ve found myself adding a touch of EQ to brighten it, but that’s no big deal.
You may also find that voice isolation introduces some odd playback behaviour during editing with random dips in volume levels. It’s not particularly off-putting and doesn’t make the final cut, but there is an argument for applying the effect as part of your final polish.
Give it a go. I think you’ll be mightily impressed.