Insights and Discoveries

Audio Forensics vs. Audio Restoration

By David Smith

You have an audio recording that may be used as evidence in an upcoming court case. Looking for a way to make it easier to hear, you do an on-line search and come upon a list of “Audio Restoration companies.” The ads state that these sites can lower or eliminate noise and restore recordings to their original quality. Even better, it seems they can do it for a lot less than some fancy “Audio Forensic Examiner.” So why not save a few bucks, bypass the Audio Forensic Examiner, and send it off to the restoration folks?


Like Comparing a Dry Cleaning Shop to a Forensic Fiber Expert: This is not written to disparage the excellent work offered by Audio Restoration companies. Many of them take cherished homemade or out of print commercial recordings and successfully restore them to modern audio standards. Audio restoration companies say they’ll get rid of the noise…and they do. They usually fulfill their promise of restoring your recording to the great sound it once had. Hey… less noise, like new sound… what could be wrong with that?


In the process of eliminating or reducing noise, the Audio Restoration companies are most likely destroying vital evidence. For example, when called upon to authenticate a recording, Audio Forensic Examiners use their knowledge and equipment to listen to the background noise and to notice changes in ambience and for voices buried in that noise that need to be made intelligible. Obviously, when the background is altered, so is the audio landscape.

In Audio Forensics, the original recording may not sound great. In fact, it may sound terrible! The source may be a surveillance recording made with a microphone concealed under clothing with the fabric rubbing against it and adding additional background noise. It may be a court-ordered wiretap of a call with a low-quality connection resulting in one, or both, of the callers being almost completely unintelligible. The Audio Forensic Examiner is not dealing with the product of a professional music studio. Even the lowest-quality home recording made by an untrained family member may be of higher quality than the evidence that the Audio Forensic Examiner listens to on a daily basis.


Bottom Line: 

If you have old, out-of-print recordings that you need restored for your personal use or home recordings that you want converted to a digital format, call an Audio Restoration company. But if you or someone you represent or care about requires the services that only a professional audio examiner can provide, call an Audio Forensic Examiner.

We work with prosecutors, defense attorneys, government agencies, insurance companies, corporations, and private individuals on a wide range of criminal and civil cases and sensitive personal matters.

Audio Restoration companies strive to make the best sounding audio transfers possible. Audio Forensic Examiners focus on the audio as evidence. Increasing the intelligibility of voices, authenticating a recording, determining who is speaking and what was said is paramount. We have to put the TRUTH first. High Fidelity? That’s a distant second.

©2012 David Smith

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