As I write this, in early 2024, there is a popular trend among audio plugin developers, both old and new. That trend is “dialogue enhancement” tools.
But what exactly are “dialogue enhancement” tools?
In theory, they “simplify” the audio processing process by only using knobs vs. individual settings for each task. The tradeoff is that the plugin estimates which parameters to use based on how far you turn a knob, which leads to little control should the plugin overdo one of the parameters that aren’t editable.
These tools can be a good starting point for those who don’t wish to learn how to process audio manually for optimal control. This means they’re vigorously marketed towards small DIY content creators or podcasters. In this post, I’ll be comparing iZotope’s new VEA tool vs. Supertone’s Clear. Let’s see, or rather hear, how these tools stack up in unfavourable recording conditions.
What is iZotope VEA?
VEA uses AI technology to determine how to process your audio using three knobs:
Clean: noise reduction simplified into one knob
Shape: EQ based on a handful of EQ profiles
Boost: audio leveler/compressor/limiter into one knob
What is Supertone Clear?
Supertone Clear is another dialogue enhancement tool, also with three knobs. It uses neural network technology where it processes:
Ambience: noise reduction simplified into one knob
Voice: boosts or attenuates the voice recording
iZotope VEA Vs. Supertone Clear
The major difference, on paper, is that VEA’s Shape works as an EQ, whereas Clear doesn’t have EQ functionality. However, Clear has a voice de-reverb tool, whereas VEA doesn’t.
Boost (VEA) vs. Voice (Clear)
Both Boost and Voice work similarly. There are only two notable differences. VEA uses a scale of 0-100, whereas Clear works in dB. This isn’t a huge deal. However, Clear can attenuate the voice if desired.
The top waveform is the raw test recording, and the bottom is processed only with boost.
Again, the top waveform is the raw version, and the bottom is processed only with Voice.
These waveforms aren’t clipping. The screenshot was taken with a zoom-in-on-waveform setting.
Overall, Clear was a bit gentler than Boost. Boost was a tad on the crunchy side. However, after using more than 6dB on Voice, the crunch effect did show up with Clear.
Noise (VEA) vs. Ambience (Clear)
First up is VEA and its noise reduction via the noise knob.
Here is the raw test recording that was used for all of the testing going forward:
Now listen to the recording processed with noise:
The product page for VEA mentions recording under an AC, so I simulated this with a bathroom fan to get a similar volume of background noise. As you can hear, it’s riddled with audio artifacts. The noise is still there, but worse yet, it’s wobbly. I used the Noise knob at the 50 mark.
Now listen to Clear’s Ambience cleaning the same file:
As you can hear, the noise is gone. There’s a bit of tonal audio artifacts going on that degrade the tone of my voice a bit. To get to this result, I turned the Ambience knob to around 50%.
Shape (VEA) vs. De-Reverb (Clear)
For this test, I allowed all three knobs to be utilized. Boost brought out some hiss, which the Noise Knob did clean out. However, the Shape function couldn’t help much with the natural reverb of the room I recorded in.
The voice de-reverb tool from Clear eliminated the room’s natural reverb, but there were a few tonal artifacts. Occasionally, this causes some wonky resonances, but it’s manageable in taming down with a separate EQ pass, as most of the voice integrity has remained intact.
iZotope VEA Vs. Supertone Clear: Test Findings
These tools aren’t perfect. The result of my testing still strengthens the mantra of treating your recording space and recording at healthy levels for the best results, both of which are easy to do and won’t break the bank. That said, I am personally leaning towards Supertone Clear as performing better than VEA for tools having similar functionality.
This note only applies to Pro Tools users and possibly only on Windows (I don’t have a Mac computer to test this glitch). Audiosuite functionality is extremely broken upon the release version for VEA.
There is a clear (no pun intended) difference in pricing. Clear features a de-reverb module. De-reverb tools are not something typically found in stock plugins for DAWs. These tools are a bit more complex to produce, so the price difference can most likely be attributed to having a de-reverb tool built into Clear.
VEA was lighter on CPU usage compared to Clear, but Clear has an eco-mode that lessens the load. I found that the processing wasn’t as good when this mode was active, though it still got the job done.
iZotope VEA Vs. Supertone Clear: Conclusion
You’ve read my two cents on VEA and Clear and hopefully know a bit more about what to expect from each. I’d encourage you to test out these tools via trial periods before making a final purchase decision. I typically test these types of tools under extreme circumstances as a worst-case scenario. This helps me evaluate marketing copy claims made on product pages.
iZotope VEA: 3.6/5
UI Friendliness: 5/5
CPU Resources: 4/5
Supertone Clear: 4.3
UI Friendliness: 5/5
CPU Resources: 3.5/5
Still shopping around for audio software options? Check out our recommendations for the best tools to edit and produce a podcast.