The Israeli startup that won an Emmy

Nir Averbuch / Photo: Yair Chuchem

In Sound Radix, musicality met IDF technological flair to solve a problem that plagued sound studios.

Nir Averbuch is a Rimon School of Music graduate and music producer who has worked, over the years, with many leading Israeli artists: Yehuda Poliker, Shlomo Gronich, Efrat Gosh, Einav Jackson Cohen and more. Frustrated with serious technical problems encountered during album post-production, he turned to friends Yair Chuchem and Dan Raviv, two IDF Unit 8-200 graduates, with the objective of developing technological tools that could quickly and easily accomplish what was taking days to do.

The company they founded, Sound Radix, has developed an editing software plug-in that automatically synchronizes sound recorded simultaneously on multiple microphones. The tool, called Auto-Align Post, is now widely used for recording in the global music, film and television industries. This month, a decade after it was founded, the company received a 2020 Engineering Emmy Award, the most prestigious award in the US television industry, equivalent to the Emmys given to actors and TV shows.

According to The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, "An Engineering Emmy Award is bestowed upon an individual, company or organization for developments in engineering that are either so extensive an improvement on existing methods, or so innovative in nature, that they materially affect the transmission, recording or reception of television." The award will be presented to Sound Radix in an online ceremony at the end of October. The three founders of the company, Averbuch, Chuchem and Raviv, will record their thank-you message in advance of the ceremony.

"Why imitate analog tools?"

Sound Radix was founded by the trio in 2010. It is completely privately-held, with no outside investment. According to CEO Averbuch, the company has been profitable since 2013. The tool developed by Sound Radix helps to automatically correct a fault inherent in the way television recordings have traditionally been done. As actors move about, the physical distance between their microphones creates a time delay and phase shift in the sound recording. In the past, the result was that post-production audio studios would have to decide on one microphone and compromise on lower sound quality for the rest, or invest a great deal of manual labor to correct the time/phase problem. Sound Radix’s Auto-Align Post automatically corrects the delay and phase issues.

Among the other software tools developed by the company for sound production and audio design are a smart equalizer capable of following a vocal or an instrument's pitch and adjusting frequency in real time; a drum beat detection tool that allows for individual control of every beat from every drum, and more.

Speaking to "Globes", Averbuch explained the circumstances leading to the development of the Emmy Award-winning plug-in. "In music studios or in film productions, it’s customary to use at least two microphones to record musical instruments or actors. In most cases, one mic is clipped on the person’s body - a hidden neck mic or lavalier microphone - and a boom mic is positioned overhead.

"When the two are mixed, it creates a phenomenon called the comb-filter effect, which is due to the difference in timing from the moment the sound waves enter each individual microphone. This phenomenon causes various frequency cancellations and a sound you could describe as 'hollow' and 'unnatural'. Because sound and dialogue editors usually work under pressure, they either compromise and use only one channel, or fix things manually, which means long work days for them.

"Our tool knows how to do this at the push of a button. After a short espresso break, you get synchronized dialogue for all actors. This tool has been an industry standard for several years now, and today it’s hard to find an album in the world where it hasn’t been used in post-production."

The company, Averbuch continues, "was founded out of a need for advanced tools and frustration because the vast majority of audio processing plug-in developers are focused on making generic tools or tools that simulate classic, familiar analog devices." But, he adds, "these original devices were created to solve problems that existed then, using the technology that existed at the time.

"We asked, why imitate analog tools to solve these problems? Let's re-examine the problems, start with a clean slate, and look for the best technologies available today as solutions or add-ins for a new means of controlling sound. That’s why we called the company Radix, from the Latin for ‘root’. Basic."

Israel doesn’t develop music-tech

Music is a large market for technology, both in the creative sphere and in distribution, with services like Spotify, Apple and YouTube Music. In Israel, the music-tech market is relatively small but growing, with few but successful representatives like startup JoyTunes, which specializes in music studies, and is based on advanced audio analytics.

"I suppose there aren’t many players in the field in Israel, both because it’s a relatively small market, and also because, for some reason, it’s a conservative market. In my opinion, that contradicts the creativity and innovation that’s essential for every creator," Averbuch says in answer to the question as to why music-tech is under-developed in Israel.

Another reason, he notes, is that "both musicians and sound technicians interface with technologies intuitively and emotionally. That makes it difficult for them to communicate and express their new needs, unlike, for example, a manufacturer offering an analog device that simulates something everyone already knows.

"Another reason may be because other high-tech fields have huge exits and they’re much more tempting. That’s not us. We’re a for-profit company, too, but what motivates us is our love for this field, our curiosity and interest. As long as we can continue to do what we do, we’re satisfied. For example, our work week is four days long and we work flexible hours."

Averbuch notes that the company is currently working on a new ‘freemium’ platform - an online collaborative audio/video looper that allows musicians to jam with one another from their homes in real time. "It's already operational and is currently in beta. It doesn’t take up a lot of bandwidth, and the innovation we bring is that instead of fighting latency, we’ve adapted it to be loop-based so the music is always in perfect sync. In addition, each channel can also handle video, so musicians can express themselves in the visual dimension as well. The project was born from the desire of one of our developers, a musician living in New Orleans, who wanted to play music with friends in California.

"Today’s existing solutions try to overcome the problem of latency, but while they may improve things a bit using very high-level gear (a physical cable connection, specialized hardware, or other) they haven’t really solved the problem. We said, instead of fighting the limitations, let's go with them and build a tool that enables collaborative jamming another way. We’re aiming to make it simple and intuitive so that even non-technical musicians can use this tool easily."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 22, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Nir Averbuch / Photo: Yair Chuchem
Nir Averbuch / Photo: Yair Chuchem
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