Background noise can be frustrating when you’re trying to mix a song. It can pop up when you heavily compress a track, interfering with the main sound. Or it can be so present from the start that you wonder if the track is even usable.
If you’re using Ableton Live, there are a few ways to remove background noise. This article will look into four ways to remove unwanted noise from a track (and one bonus way).
How Can I Remove Background Noise in Ableton?
Removing background noise using Ableton’s stock plugins can be done with EQ Eight, Gate, Drum Buss, and Multiband Dynamics. Each of these plugins can give you different outcomes using different processes. Therefore, using a mixture of them can lead to the best results.
Despite not having a dedicated noise removal plugin (like the iZotope RX 10) or program (like Audacity), you can remove some noise using the abovementioned effects. We’ll look into each one so you can try them all and discover which works best for your workflow.
EQ Eight is a great parametric equalizer in Ableton Live (Standard and Suite). You can use it to boost and cut parts of your track to make it fit into a mix and reduce unwanted background noise.
Using EQ Eight for removing noise isn’t as thorough as dedicated de-noisers, but it can drastically limit specific frequencies influencing your track. For example, it can help you pinpoint high-pitched whine from guitar amps and low-end rumble from air conditioners.
Let’s start with removing unwanted low-end. If your track has background noise in the lower frequencies, you will notice a steady wave on the left side of the spectrum. Looping a section of the track that doesn’t have any instrumentation so that you can clearly hear the background noise is a good way to understand the issue.
From here, you can reduce the impact of these frequencies using the following:
- High-pass filter (HPF)
- Low shelf
However, you have to judge how these reductions will affect your track. In the case of a bass track, removing the low-end rumble will also remove the low-end of the bass, one of the most important parts of this instrument.
You can go through a similar process when it comes to the higher end of the spectrum. However, it’s more likely that you’ll come across specific frequencies that are affecting your track rather than a general group.
Microphones, pedals, amps, and instruments can have a high-end hum that can be noticeable as noise. You might hear this hum clearly or notice it on a visual representation of the spectrum. You can then pinpoint these frequencies with high-Q bells and cut them out.
Whether you have problems in the lows, mids, or highs, EQ Eight can help you reduce their influence on your tracks. But, again, you need to make sure that the cuts don’t drastically change the sound you’re going for.
The Gate plugin is a fantastic choice for eliminating background noise without detailed edits. It can remove any buzz or room sound when your instrument isn’t playing. It has basic controls to help you achieve this.
The most important knobs are:
The threshold allows you to choose the level at which the gate “opens” and the signal can pass through. As you lower the level, more sound can come through. Setting the return level gives you further control over the signal. It is relative to the threshold and allows lower gain amounts to pass through.
The floor is the level that the signal that doesn’t pass through the gate will drop in decibels. This lets you determine if you want to remove the noise that doesn’t get through the gate or leave it at a quieter level.
Finally, the release knob lets you choose how long the signal can remain active above the threshold level. For example, if you want the noise removed as soon as the signal drops below the threshold, set it to a low time. If you prefer the noise to fade out, set the release time to a higher level.
Using this plugin doesn’t let you remove background noise consistently throughout the track. Instead, it will only remove sounds below the threshold, which can be faster than cutting them out individually.
Drum Buss is a plugin that includes a few effects that work particularly well on a drum buss. However, it will still work well on other instruments. It’s a compressor and saturator with a secret noise-removing trick.
If you have a track with excessive room noise, the Transient knob will be really helpful. Turning it down (negative values) will de-emphasize the mid-high frequencies where much of the room noise is concentrated.
This plugin can make roomy drum loops sound drier and punchier. If you use Ableton more for podcasts than music and one of your recordings was done in a large room, this trick will transform your track into a much clearer one.
Ableton’s multiband compressor is called Multiband Dynamics and is a versatile plugin. And what’s most exciting about it is that it already comes with a preset for removing background noise.
You can find this plugin by following these steps:
- Go to the Audio Effects category.
- Find Multiband Dynamics.
- Click the arrow beside the name to reveal the presets.
- Select Reduce Ambience.
You’ll notice that the plugin compresses the mids and lows together and separates the highs. The highs component has a lower threshold and fast attack and release times. The rest of the frequencies have a much longer release time.
These parameters automatically remove some room noise and can be fine-tuned for the best results.
Are there Free Plugins for Noise Removal that Are Compatible with Ableton?
There are many plugins that can be used to remove or reduce noise from your audio tracks. Many of these are compatible with Ableton Live, so you can choose whichever suits you the best.
Some free examples include Bitsonic Sound Recovery and Bertom Audio Denoiser 2, which are available in VST format and are compatible with Ableton.
Bonus Tip: Use Audacity Through Ableton
There’s another way to remove noise from a track without stock plugins, third-party software, or replacing Ableton for another DAW. Audacity is a free software and has a fantastic noise-removal function that you can use with Ableton as the host.
First, you’ll need to install Audacity and select it as your sample editor in Ableton’s Preferences window. So:
- Go to Options, then Preferences.
- Open the File/Folder section.
- Find Sample Editor and click on Browse.
- Select Audacity.
Once you’ve done that, you can open the waveform of the track you want to remove noise from. In the Sample tab, you’ll find controls to warp the audio, change the gain, pitch, etc., and a button that says Edit. When you click here, Audacity should open automatically with the sample in place.
The following steps will be in Audacity:
- Highlight a section that only has noise, not the audio from the instrument.
- Go to Effect, Noise Removal and Repair, then select Noise Reduction.
- Click Get Noise Profile. This will create the profile of that specific section so it can be used on the rest of the audio.
- Select the entire track.
- Go back to Effect, Noise Removal and Repair, Noise Reduction.
- Press OK. The noise should now be drastically reduced in Audacity.
Once you’ve edited the audio in Audacity, you’ll have to export it so that it can replace the original file in Ableton.
- In Audacity, click on File and then Export.
- Select Export Audio.
- Click Save. The folder the file is stored in should be chosen automatically, and the file name should be the same, so by saving it, you replace the original.
After saving the new file, it should automatically replace the audio in Ableton.
Despite not being directly in Ableton, using Audacity as a sample editor is a great and free way to remove noise from your tracks that you will use within the host. Audacity can be a powerful tool and is really easy to use. Linking it to Ableton can heighten the capabilities of your production skills.
In this article, we looked into four ways to remove noise using Ableton’s stock plugins. These were:
- EQ Eight
- Drum Buss
- Multiband Dynamics
These plugins are all included with Ableton Live Standard and Suite (Ableton Live Lite has limited features but does include Gate). So, no matter which version you’re using, you have at least one way of reducing background noise without spending lots of time editing or by using third-party software.
If you want to use an external plugin, Ableton is compatible with plenty of VSTs for noise reduction, some of which are free. And there’s also the choice of linking your DAW to Audacity as a sample editor, which gives you an amazing noise reduction function for free.
Regardless of your preferred process, don’t forget that you can mix and match them all for the best results.
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Irish-Portuguese writer and musician. Experience in producing, recording, and mixing, as well as writing reviews and how-tos on plugins, gear, and software.