From Jeff Towne
OK, before you make the crash-and-burn jokes about this program’s name, think of a memorable moment of radio reporting. Not a famous speech, or an audio drama, a radio report from the field, one that was really powerful and moving. What did you come up with? How about the “oh, the humanity” report from the scene of the Hindenburg disaster? It’s an important moment in radio history, and the power and immediacy of that report is what inspired the makers of this recording/editing/mixing software. The company, Nsaka, makes a mobile app that runs in iPhones, which can integrate with the desktop software, both of which are designed to help record, edit and produce stories in an efficient, immediate way.
Inexpensive flash recorders and software that turns a smartphone into an able portable recorder have made collecting sound easier than ever. But what comes next? One of the most common questions from beginning producers is: do I need to learn Pro Tools? That software has become a standard, used widely in radio production, and of course even more widely in music the music world. We here at Transom jumped whole-heartedly on the Pro Tools train back when an introductory version called Pro Tools Free was first released, not just because it was free, but also because it offered a good balance of complexity and simplicity. Pro Tools Free no longer runs on common operating systems, but Pro Tools LE still offers a relatively low-threshold entry into sophisticated editing. As much as we still like Pro Tools, it has a few big downsides. Pro Tools systems all require hardware interfaces that must be attached to the computer at all times, the software only bounces mixes in real-time, and the program has many layers of complexity that are oriented more toward music production than toward the basic requirements of making radio stories.
There is still a place for Pro Tools, or Adobe Audition, and other similarly complex software, but what would be especially useful for making audio news reports and documentaries is a program designed specifically for that purpose. The Danish company called Nsaka has done just that: they’ve created an audio editing and mixing application called Hindenburg, specifically for journalists and audio storytellers. It’s built by radio people for making radio stories, podcasts and other documentary-style productions, rather than multi-track music projects. The developers seem intent on keeping the program simple and stable, easy to learn and use, even by non-technical people.
They have posted several helpful video tutorials on their site: http://nsaka.com/#hj-tutorials
There are three levels of the program: a free version, called Hindenburg Basic offers basic editing; a $66 version, Hindenburg Journalist, offers better organizational tools and output options. There’s a professional version with additional capabilities that is available by special arrangement. Contact Nsaka for prices and details. All three work the same way, with the paid levels simply adding extra features. There are versions for both Windows and Macintosh, and the software is not especially picky about operating systems or having a super-speedy processor. The company recommends at least a 1 ghz CPU and 512 MB RAM on either platform. Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.4.11 or more recent are required.
All the versions of Hindenburg appear very simple at first glance, and that’s part of their appeal. Basic editing and mixing is straightforward: drag audio files into tracks, trim the edges, highlight and delete undesired sections, adjust levels, export the mix, done. There are additional subtleties, but the basics are very intuitive, and can be learned quickly.
If you have an audio interface or USB microphone connected to your computer, Hindenburg finds it automatically, and asks if you’d like to use it for input and/or output. Recording into a track is simple, just click the red circle at the left edge of the track, then click the red circle in the transport bar at the bottom of the screen (or press CNTRL-spacebar). Press the spacebar, or the square in the transport bar, when you’re done recording.
Importing audio is almost as simple: drag and drop audio files from your hard drive into a track in Hindenburg, what they call the Workspace. There’s only one project window, no separate mixer view or editing pane, everything is done in the Workspace. If iTunes or Windows Media player will pay the file, then Hindenburg can almost certainly import it. It’s worth remembering that for best sound quality, one should ideally be starting with un-compressed, high-resolution files, like .wav and .aiff files whenever possible, but if you must use .mp3 or .AAC files, Hindenburg can import them without a problem. It can even handle .mp2 files, as are generated by some recorders, and used by some radio networks as a delivery medium.
Files with different sample rates are automatically converted to the session’s default sample rate of 44.1 or 48 khz. (set in the program preferences.) Higher sample rates are not currently available, which is not really a problem, they are rarely useful for radio or podcast production.
Mono and stereo files can even exist on the same track – just drag any file into any track and it’s ready to go.
One can also import files by right-clicking in the workspace, or pressing a shortcut key (Command-T on Mac, Control-T on Windows) but dragging and dropping is the easiest. If you’d like to keep things more organized, files can first be dragged, or imported, into the clipboard on the right side of the workspace. That clipboard can have multiple categories, for keeping different types of clips together. Categories can be added or deleted by using the File>>Properties menu. The Favorites clipboard is available in all sessions, so it’s a good place to store standard intros or outros, audio logos, or other clips that are used repeatedly.
Once the soundfile is in the workspace, it can be auditioned by highlighting it, clicking on it so it turns orange, and pressing the spacebar. Placing the cursor and making selections takes a little getting used to if one is accustomed to other programs, but it becomes natural soon enough. One must be sure to click and/or drag above or below the actual waveform graphic. Clicking and dragging on the middle of a sound clip moves it in time, clicking and dragging above or below it selects portions of the soundfile. Selections can also be made by pressing the i and o keys, indicating selection in and out points.
One can audition a highlighted portion of the soundfile by pressing shift-spacebar or shift-P. Or one can rehearse deleting that highlighted audio, skipping-over the selected part, by pressing CNTRL-Shift-Spacebar or CNTRL-Shift-P.
Placing the cursor over the right or left edges, then clicking and dragging those edges, trims the audio. This is a non-destructive edit, the edges can be dragged in or out again later.
Placing the cursor over the top edge of the soundfile, then clicking and dragging that top line, raises or lowers the audio volume. This too is a non-destructive edit, that adjustment can be changed later. Hindenburg Journalist and Journalist Pro incorporate a clever auto-level function, which analyses and automatically adjusts all imported audio to have the same average levels, which can simplify the mixing process. That automatic leveling can be undone immediately after importing a file, or adjusted later by dragging the top edges of the files. It currently uses a single standard for levels: EBU R128, but more options will be added in the future.
The edges of soundfiles can be adjusted by creating fade-ins and fade-outs: simply click on, and drag, the corners of a selected soundfile. Fades can even overlap adjacent soundfiles. Fades can also be applied from the edge of the clip to the cursor position by pressing a keyboard shortcut (Command-F on Mac, Control-F on Windows.) That fade can even cross edits.
Volume envelopes can be drawn to create ducks or other volume manipulations by highlighting a portion of the soundfile, and then dragging the top edge of that highlighted area up or down. Crossfades between the two levels are created automatically. This method of volume control is not quite as flexible as the breakpoint automation offered by other audio software, but it’s quicker, and perfectly adequate in most situations. Fades that overlap on the same track occasionally behave erratically, but that can always be addressed by moving clips to separate tracks.
All the expected cut-and-paste operations can be done, although some of the conventions are different from other editing programs. Instead of having editing modes, like Pro Tools, Hindenburg uses specific key commands to indicate the behavior of the audio clips in the workspace. Highlighting a section of audio and clicking Delete will clear that audio, leaving a hole, without moving any adjacent audio, much like a “slip” edit in Pro Tools. Cutting (Command-X Mac, Control-X Windows) a highlighted area will remove that audio and slide audio toward the left to close the gap, like a “shuffle” edit in Pro Tools.
Cut, or copied, audio can be pasted by pressing command-V, which will not move any existing audio, like “slip” mode. Inserting that audio (Command-I Mac, Control-I Windows) will paste the audio, and shuffle existing files in that track later in the timeline, to the right.
Clips can be made to sync to specific times by placing the cursor at a selected time, then dragging the file to the cursor; the segment start or end edge will snap to the cursor position as it is dragged. The cursor can be placed at a precise time by clicking on the time display in the bottom right of the project window, and typing in the desired values. Pressing a key combination (Command-G on Mac, Control G on Windows) will highlight the time display, for easy entering of numbers. It’s not quite as elegant as the Pro Tools spot function, but it gets the job done.
Markers can be added at the cursor location by pressing Command-Enter (Control Enter). Audio segments snap to markers as they are dragged, but then can be dragged past if desired. Markers can be named and managed in the markers bin at the right side of the screen.
With those basic functions, one can build sophisticated, layered productions. Record or import audio into the tracks. Rename the segments, if desired, by selecting the segment, then pressing Enter. Trim and edit the selections by dragging the handles along the edges, or highlighting and deleting sections.
Music beds or ambience can be placed on other tracks, moved in time, with volume ducks, either of the entire track or of selected sections, accomplished by simply pulling the top line of the waveform display up or down. The overall level or right-left pan of an entire track can be adjusted with sliders on the left edge of each track. The final output level is shown on a large meter along the bottom of the workspace. For more precise control of the overall levels, a Master Track can be added by clicking the triangle icon next to the record, mute, solo and effects buttons, at the left side of the track display. That master track will show final levels, and allow effects, such as EQ or Compression, to be added to the entire mix. One can also add additional tracks to the session by clicking that triangle button.
When all the sound clips have been properly positioned and their levels are adjusted for the proper mix, outputting the final mix is simple: go to the File menu at the top of the screen, press the Export button on the top edge of the screen, then select stereo or mono, and the audio file type (.wav, .mp3, .aac and Apple Lossless) and press Save. The entire file will export at many times faster than real time.
One can export sections of the project, not only the entire mix: simply highlight all desired segments and use a modified export key combination (Command-Shift-E on Mac, Control-Shift-E on Windows.)
If you want to archive your project, or move it to another computer and work on further, the Save-As command will make a copy of the session file, as well as all included soundfiles. It makes a small project file, projectname.nhsx, and a folder called projectname files that contains all the soundfiles in the session.
As is the case with almost all software, real efficiency can be achieved by using keyboard shortcuts, and there are many pre-programmed key combinations that will increase the speed and ease of use of Hindenburg. A full list, along with many other helpful instructions, is in the user guide, available as a pdf download.
Although one of Hindenburg’s main appeals is its simple, straightforward structure, there are some more involved tweaks that can be made if desired. Clicking the small button with sliders on it, to the right of the Mute and Solo buttons, opens a window where four effects can be inserted on each track.
Hindenburg provides two: a simple but effective 3-band Equalizer, which can boost or cut specific frequencies. Turning the knobs or dragging the graphical line provides boost or cut. Dragging the lump in the line can change the center frequency.
The Compressor is also elegantly simple – there’s just one knob for amount of compression. Make-up gain is automatically applied, so the more compression that is applied, the louder the average level will be. It’s a surprisingly good-sounding effect, for having so few adjustable parameters, but use it gently. In most cases, only turn it up until the meter shows 3-4 dB of compression at the most. Additional effects can be used if you have AU or VST plug-ins installed on your computer, so if you’ve invested in third-party plug-ins, like Waves packages, you can use them here.
Hindenburg also makes an app for recording and editing on an iPhone, called Hindenburg Field Recorder (formerly Hindenburg Mobile). While that app is designed to function as a stand-alone editor of single-track audio, it can also exchange audio with the desktop version. With both the iPhone and the desktop computer on the same WIFI network, audio, along with editing info, can be transferred from the phone to the desktop computer for more elaborate editing. Conversely, sound files can be sent to the phone, so that previously edited audio is available for adding to that collected in the field.
By concentrating on the processes that reporters and producers need for audio documentary production, and ignoring, looping, grids, MIDI, and other music-based tools, Hindenburg provides a clean, simple interface for creating radio shows, podcasts, and other such projects. There may be times when programs like Pro Tools or Adobe Audition might still be a better choice, if for instance, extremely detailed editing is desired, or the mix requires multiple busses, or plug-ins need to be automated. But for most kinds of audio storytelling, where a basic montage of elements is desired, Hindenburg provides an easy-to-use, and easy-to-learn environment.
The software has improved dramatically during its Beta phase, and we expect that additional tweaks and upgrades will continue.
Even as it stands right now, Hindenburg provides a very capable, yet simple, approach to audio editing and mixing. No hardware interface is required (although a good one can improve the quality of recorded tracks, and of monitoring.) Outputting the final mix is accomplished much more quickly than with the dreaded Pro Tools real-time bounce. Hindenburg is much less picky about which versions of computer operating systems it’s compatible with too.
While we at Transom are not quite ready to abandon Pro Tools for all our audio productions, Hindenburg is more than sufficient for many of them, and provides a less-expensive, less-daunting entry point for reporters and producers who wish to concentrate more on telling the story, and less on the technique of digital editing.
Nsaka web site: http://nsaka.com/