GENIUS! #12: Christopher Hicks and the ‘De-Everything’ range18 February 2015
CEDAR Audio’s Series 2 products – the DC-1 Declicker, CR-1 Decrackler, AZ-1 Azimuth Corrector and DH-2 Dehisser – rescued historic audio archives while improving audio fidelity for a new format. CEDAR’s Dr Christopher Hicks (right) is pictured in 2005 with engineering director Dave Bettes with their Oscars for technical achievement.
PSN: How did you end up at CEDAR Audio and working on the original ‘De-Everything’ products?
CH: CEDAR in its original form grew out of research carried out in the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge, opening officially in February 1988. I was a student in the right place at the right time. I heard about what was going on and was interested in it, so I arranged for my final year project to be with the professor who did the original research. He was sufficiently pleased with my work that he introduced me to CEDAR.
So how did the De-Everything products end up on the market?
They were originally a solution to a problem at the British Library’s National Sound Archive. The Archive has a huge collection of historic recording media, some of which had been stored badly, others of which had just deteriorated naturally through being played, so they approached the university to see if anything could be done to remove the effects of this degradation. Having done that, we rapidly realised that people have a lot of other audio problems, and that’s where the idea of ‘De-Everything’ came from.
Was there a particular point at which you realised this was something quite special?
That came very early; one of the prototype systems was featured on a 1988 BBC television programme called Tomorrow’s World, and suddenly we had people clamouring at the door asking, “When can I have one?” We also attended many tradeshows in the early ’90s, and being able to demonstrate a digital signal processing system that could remove the scratches, crackle or hiss from a recording in real-time while visitors were on the exhibition stand listening to it… that really made people’s jaws drop.
What happened next?
All of this was happening at the time that the record companies wanted to extract value from their back catalogue by re-releasing it on CD, so our real-time restoration products were also in the right place at the right time. But we soon started finding other uses that suggested interesting and significant developments for CEDAR as a company, taking us into new areas such as post-production, audio forensics and security. Today, you can divide CEDAR’s activities into three areas, and the company works very closely with national (and other large) archives as well as the film and TV industries, plus law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and other security forces worldwide.
What are your thoughts on having contributed something so important to the audio industry?
It’s great to have been there right at the start of audio restoration. Everyone takes it for granted nowadays that you can remove noise from an old recording, but being involved first-hand with the original PhD research that grew into those first products was really exciting and is of course something to be very proud of – personally as well as part of the company.
Hail to the boffins! Genius! is all about celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. Mailed out with the February print edition of PSNEurope, the 36-page supplement is also available to read in handy digital-edition form. Read it online, or download as a PDF, at www.psneurope.com/introducing-genius.