Online Music Lessons and Noise Suppression

I found an app and a plugin that I use while teaching online lessons which has increased my quality of life that I wanted to share with everyone. But first, some background.

When the world shifted to online music lessons, there were many tips about how to get the best sound on Zoom. The reason Zoom was singled out because it was the only one that really offered options to adjust the audio (out of Skype, FaceTime, and Meet). These tips centered around using a setting called Original Sound. Turning down/off audio processing, also means the noise suppression will not be as aggressive as well.

All of these video platforms are designed to highlight the voice. So they have algorithms designed to get rid of any background noise like computer fans and HVAC noise. Which I’m sure is helpful in business meetings on lower quality devices, but it also affects the dynamic range available for online music lessons.

Another issue is that iOS devices would automatically control the gain of the microphone. It hears the loud saxophone and it will quickly turn way down what the listener can hear. Zoom is the only platform that you can turn that off with the Original Sound setting. They later came out with a High Fidelity mode, specifically for music teachers. Thanks, Zoom!

Still, my platform of choice since September has been Rock Out Loud Live, which is a customized version of Jitsi with a few extras. I appreciate how it’s tuned more towards audio, limiting video bandwidth so the software doesn’t constantly adjust quality as bandwidth changes. Jitsi uses full duplexing audio, meaning the conversation feels more natural, without the software figuring out who’s talking. Again, noise suppression is turned off, so I would here a lot of room/mic noise, especially from lower quality mics like chromebooks. Not the end of the world, but hearing basically white noise for four hours on headphones isn’t exactly pleasing.

Here’s where I get to my new workflow.

Listening to Music Ed Tech Talk, I became aware of software by Rogue Amoeba called SoundSource. It is a Mac only menu bar utility that gives you total control over the audio in and out of any app. Which includes fx processing, that’s the key. There are several filters that I found helpful in my initial trial of the app.You basically tell SoundSource what you want done to audio from a specific app, and how you want the audio output to your speakers of headphones. Plus they have specific EQs for hundreds of headphones.

The second part is the addition of the NS1 Waves Plugin. This is a professional level noise suppressor plugin. The built in filters worked well, but NS1 is very simple and you can tell it works on a higher level. Thankfully it’s been on sale, but certainly worth every penny.

So SoundSource takes the audio from the Edge browser (where I teach lessons), and applies the NS1 plugin and spoken word EQ. It then outputs and applies a headphone EQ specific to my K92 headphones. Somehow it works like magic, eliminating most of the awful microphone room noise. I often can’t tell if they’re muted until they start speaking.

Your milage may vary. I am using a brand new M1 MacBook Pro, which is silent. I don’t know how much adding live audio processing will tax an older processor, causing fans to spike. Technically the NS1 plugin isn’t supported on the M1, but it translates with Rosetta 2 just fine. There is an occasional hiccup where you can hear it isn’t doing as much, but flipping it on and off fixes that. I do not know of a Windows app that will allow for that level of audio control, but it may exist.

Trials of both SoundSource and the NS1 plugin exist, so it’s worth testing to see if it works well with your setup. I’ve included screenshots of the interface as well.

SoundSource app interface.pdf (4.9 MB)
SoundSource output interface.pdf (5.4 MB)
NS1 interface.pdf (4.8 MB)

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Have any questions or workflows of your own? Let me know!