Dolby has been quietly testing a new mobile app for recording and cleaning up audio under the codename “234,” as first spotted by TechCrunch. The app, which was available through a website sign-up form, lets you record audio (a la Voice Notes), cancels background noise, and then apply presets, with names like “Amped,” “Thump,” and “Bright,” to theoretically make your recordings sound more professional.
The sign-up site, which has since been deactivated, advertised the app by saying: “How can music recorded on a phone sound so good? Dolby 234 automatically cleans up the sound, gives it tone and space, and finds the ideal loudness. It’s like having your own producer in your phone.” Those are big claims. Luckily, I snagged a copy of the app before the Dolby 234 site was deactivated and have been playing around with it to test it out.
The app itself is incredibly easy to use. Simply tap the record button and the app will measure room tone for a few seconds before starting the recording session. Once you stop recording, you can quickly polish the audio through adding a preset and tinkering with a few tools. Tool options include eliminating the room tone (unwanted background noise), adjusting the amount of bass and treble, adding “boost” (loudness), and trimming.
The app only comes with one preset but an “essentials” pack unlocks six more. These extra presets are available through a seven-day free trial and each is described with a few keywords. For example, “Lyric” is “full, smooth, and balanced,” while “Thump” is “deep, full, and powerful.” Unfortunately, you can’t see what’s under the hood for each preset. It only lets you adjust “intensity,” which is how much of the audio signal is sent through and affected. Once you’ve finished adjusting the recorded audio, you can rename it, and choose to share it to Dolby or to SoundCloud.
I’m usually very skeptical of one-button solutions for fixing audio, so I was eager to see if Dolby’s app could follow through on its claims. I recorded my voice with a window slightly open to create a more tonal background. The presets gave me varying success. “Standard” made me sound muddy, while “bright” put too much emphasis on plosives (popping sounds made from saying words with hard consonants, like “popping!”). There was one I liked — “deep” made my voice sound more full and widened.
The app looks glossy, but it’s obviously a work in progress. None of the presets worked enough magic to make my voice sound like it was recorded with a professional microphone. The mic level metering didn’t work either, failing to trigger when I recorded at high volumes. This is definitely not, as Dolby says, “like having your own producer in your phone.” At least not for now.
I’m also a confused on the audience for this. Why would Dolby make a consumer app for recording audio with an iPhone mic that uploads to SoundCloud, where the maximum sound resolution is 256kbps AAC? It also doesn’t have tremendous functionality. You can’t multitrack with it or adjust parameters within presets. The app feels very at odds with Dolby’s reputation as an expert in high-end audio quality. Slapping a compressor and de-esser on a recording can only do so much if you recorded with a mediocre mic in a noisy room. I certainly wouldn’t record a guitar this way and expect anything great, as the app shows in the introduction slides above.
But, who knows — maybe this is just the beginning and a more robust version of Dolby “234” is coming down the line. Regardless, the idea of an easy to use app that can polish up audio recorded on the go is appealing. Plus, it’s cool to see companies try to package professional tools for everyday creatives.