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Q: Do I lose quality in some way when I consolidate an audio track?

My tracks get pretty messy by the time I'm done editing, then if I want to do something like move the track in time, it's hard. But if I consolidate the track to make it easier to work with, will it still sound the same?

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Firstly, what do we mean by consolidate?

Well suppose you had recorded a vocal, but the singer made a lot of unwanted mouth noises such as lip smacks, and had a habit of gasping noisily rather than breathing normally.

Of course you would edit the track so that it was clean. Edit out all the unwanted noises and leave in all the singing. Don't forget to leave in the natural-sounding breaths otherwise it won't sound real.

By now the vocal track will be split up into maybe twenty or thirty separate segments.

That's OK, but what if you decide to do further editing - start the song with the chorus instead of the verse for instance?

Now you have a whole mess of segments in the vocal track to deal with rather than the original one.

But your DAW may have a 'consolidate' function, where you can highlight several segments that follow each other on a single track, but with gaps in between, and make them into one continuous segment.

This is certainly a convenient feature. But will the consolidated segment sound the same as the original segments did?

Any DAW operation that involves recalculation loses audio quality. The differences are normally far too small to be audible, and almost certainly will not affect the marketability of your product.

You would have to be doing something fairly extreme for these recalculations to be a problem, and consolidation ought to be a simple bit-for-bit copy.

But even so, consolidation has not always been perfect in the past, and bears consideration now.

For instance, when you split up a track into non-adjacent segments, your DAW will create a very short fade at the beginning and end of each segment. If it doesn't, there will be clicks where you have cut through the audio waveform.

In some DAWS from previous years, these fades have not correctly translated into consolidated segments.

So where your edited track played perfectly, the consolidated version would be clicky.

To cut through to the general solution, it is always a good idea to be on the alert for audio problems. If you hear a problem, track down its source and solve it. Then make a mental note of the cause because it's bound to happen again.

If any process doesn't work well for you, either don't use it or find a way to work round it. For example you can bounce rather than consolidate. Then message your DAW's developer with a request for a fix.

Audio pros spend a lot of time listening to what they have just done. Rather than always ploughing straight ahead, time spent in listening and reflection can be good for the technical and artistic qualities of any project.

By David Mellor Friday August 20, 2010
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