A Deep Dive Into the Hidden Audio Tools of FCP X

A Deep Dive Into the Hidden Audio Tools of FCP X

SUMMARY:

For the majority of post-workflows out there, the chances of you finishing your audio in your NLE are rare. In most high-end, professional situations, audio is sent out to Pro Tools or some other DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) upon picture-lock.

But what if you didn’t have to? What if your NLE gave you all the audio capabilities required to deliver a professional audio mix?

Today we’re going to dive into FCP X’s audio capabilities and also point out some of its lesser known audio features to see if we have enough to avoid round-tripping out to Pro Tools, Logic or some other DAW. Don’t let the simplicity of FCP X’s interface fool you. As you will soon find out, the number of audio features under the hood are vast.

Ingest and Prep

Let’s first look at some of the tools and features you’ll use when first importing audio media.

Audio Roles

When you import Audio into Final Cut you can assign it a specific Role (dialogue, music, SFX etc). You also have the power to create custom roles and sub-roles within FCP X to organize your project even further.

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To create custom roles and sub-roles head over to the Timeline Index (CMD+SHIFT+2) and click on the Roles tab.

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At the bottom you will find Edit Roles. Click on this to bring up the Role Editor. Here you can create new roles, sub-roles and rename existing roles.

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Audio Lanes

Assigning each audio clip a Role becomes incredibly helpful the more complicated your edit gets. Normally you would spend some time neatening up your Timeline before you dove into audio editing; but in the case of FCP X all this neatening and organization is done with the click of a keystroke.

When you’re ready to focus in on audio editing simply head back to your Timeline Index to your Roles tab and click on Show Audio Lanes. This takes all your disparate audio clips and organizes them according to their Roles into separate Audio Lanes. You can even solo one Lane at a time to focus in on one particular Role (let’s say you wanted to focus just on dialogue or only on music).

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BEFORE Show Audio Lanes
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AFTER Show Audio Lanes

 

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Show Audio Lanes with Focus on Dialogue Role

Finder Tags and iXML Metadata

You can also import any iXML track name info along with your audio files if your sound recordist labeled their channels properly upon recording. In addition, any tags you add to media at the finder level—along with folder names—be turned into their own keyword collection upon import if you utilize the proper import settings.

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This is incredibly helpful as it allows you to organize your media even more precisely as it comes into FCP X. One of the many obvious benefits of this is when you have your video and audio organized on your hard drive and labeled with the proper day, reel, scene etc., all your media will essentially come into FCP X already organized in their appropriate keyword collections (folders) where you can easily find the secondary audio to be synced with its corresponding video. This is especially important because as we’ll learn later, you need to select your clips in the browser to sync them—not in the timeline. Coupled with FCP X’s trackless timeline and audio Components, this makes it difficult to lose sync by accident while editing and allows you to easily view, edit, mix and master your audio in myriad ways. Screen Shot 2018 03 07 at 5.00.13 PM

Automatically Fix Audio Problems

Another great feature in FCP X is its ability to Analyze and Fix basic audio problems automatically. I would never recommend this for a fine audio edit, but if you are looking to do a quick temp mix, the Loudness, Noise Removal, and Hum Removal trio do a surprisingly good job. You can do this upon import or after the fact by right clicking a clip(s) and selecting ‘Analyze and fix audio problems’.

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You can also click on the little magic wand icon in the Inspector next to where it says “not analyzed”. The wheels will spin and it will recommend the optimal settings for anything it feels the need for.

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If one of the parameters (loudness, NR or Hum) do not engage, it means the audio does not need that adjustment (No Problems Detected) and if they do engage it means they did (Fixed).

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Audio Components

Audio Components are FCP X’s way of wrapping all the separate audio tracks/streams for a clip into a single expandable/collapsible container in your timeline. This is incredibly helpful when you are dealing with multi-track audio from set.

Let’s say you have 2 tracks of a stereo mixdown, 2 boom mics, 2 lavs and 4 additional ISO’s (Isolated Tracks/Channels of Recorded Audio). Having 10 tracks of audio in your timeline while editing for picture can be quite annoying and can lead to accidentally shifting things out of sync.

When you edit a clip into your timeline—regardless of how many audio tracks the clip contains—FCP X shows you a single waveform mixdown of all the audio tracks in that clip. You could think of it as a quasi-compound clip of audio only.

To reveal and edit the clip’s individual audio tracks, right-click that clip in the timeline and choose Expand Audio Component (CTRL-OPT-S) and the audio expands in the timeline to show you all your separate ISO tracks. You can then delete silent tracks, edit others, and apply effects on an individual basis. Once you’re done, right-click, Collapse Audio Component to get a nice, neat timeline again.

You also have access to these separate tracks in the Audio Inspector, but you’re limited to what you can do with them there. Essentially, in the Inspector, you can either disable/enable tracks or change their channel configuration (Dual Mono, Stereo, Left, Right etc.)

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Expanding vs. Detaching Audio

FCP X can be a little confusing sometimes because in addition to the Expand Audio Component function, there is also just Expand Audio and Show Audio Lanesboth function similarly, but are subtly different.

Expand Audio

This is an important feature for those interested in doing J and L cuts. Right-click a clip and select Expand Audio (CTRL-S) in order to separate the audio component from the video whilst retaining its synced relationship with the clip. This allows you to extend the audio from a clip without affecting the length of the video (or vice-versa)—hence creating J and L cuts. You can then right-click and Collapse Audio to neaten it back up; but be careful because any audio extended beyond the end of the video is still there but not viewable in the timeline once collapsed. This can lead to a problem I like to call rogue, or “phantom”, audio.

“Phantom” Audio

When J or L cuts are hidden from view (because the audio is collapsed), the overlapping audio of the cut is that aforementioned “rogue” audio. If you are hearing something in your timeline that you’re not seeing as a waveform anywhere, all you need to do is right-click and select ‘Expand Audio’ on the clips in and around where your “phantom” audio is playing.

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Once expanded you’ll be able to see if there was any audio extended past where the video cuts that had become hidden from view when it was collapsed. You can then trim it off or silence it to fix the issue.

Show Audio Lanes

If you go up to View’ → Show Audio Lanes you will see that the timeline acts as if you’ve just hit the Expand Audio button for every clip at once. This is another way in which to get to your J and L cuts. The basic difference between Show Audio Lanes and Expand Audio is if an audio Component contains all the same type of Roles (all dialogue for instance) and you hit Show Audio Lanes the Component as a whole will remain collapsed yet separated from the video so you can J and L cut with the Component as a whole. If your Component contains multiple types of Roles (dialogue, music, effects) and you Show Audio Lanes, the Component automatically expands in the timeline as different Roles need to be organized into their separate lanes.

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Expand Audio: audio is separated but Lanes aren’t labeled.

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Show Audio Lanes when all audio tracks are the same Role: audio is separated, Component collapsed and Lanes are labeled to the far left under the first clip.

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Show Audio Lanes when audio tracks are different roles: audio is separated, Component is expanded and Lanes are labeled to the far left.

Detach Audio

This one you have to be careful with because once you right-click a clip and select Detach Audio (CTRL-SHIFT-S) the audio and video are no longer associated with each other and all bets are off. Essentially you have created two completely separate clips—a video-only one and an audio-only one. I don’t really recommend doing this except under rare circumstances when you really only need either the video for b-roll or the audio for sound design. Instead, disable entire audio clips you don’t want to hear by either un-checking them in the audio tab of the Inspector or by selecting a portion of the audio with the Range tool—audio must be expanded or shown in lanes—and hitting V (enable/disable).

The easiest way to bring back the audio after you detach and delete it is to Match-frame (SHIFT-F) back to the original clip in the browser and Replace Edit. This will also replace your video though, so if you’ve made any color corrections or added any effects you’ll want to copy the clip’s attributes/effects before you Replace Edit so you can paste those attributes back onto the replaced video and not lose your work.

Or, perhaps easier, you could do an audio-only edit (Shift-3) and connect the audio to the clip in question in the primary storyline (Q)—although if you do this, the audio will not be married to the video, only connected, but will remain a separate audio clip. Remember to set your edits back to video and audio (Shift-1) afterwards.

Outside of Match-frame/Replace Edit, you can also re-attach audio to a video clip either by creating a new compound clip with them or by selecting a clip—either in the browser or the timeline—and going to CLIP → OPEN CLIP. This is a way to edit the source clip from the browser, hence affecting all future instances of the clip in any of your projects—or an instance of a clip in your timeline, without affecting other instances or the source clip in the browser.

OPEN CLIP is also a way to add color corrections and video/audio effects to your source clips in the browser so that all instances of that clip in your edit reflect them. (Note:  Removing audio, color or video effects from a clip in your browser via OPEN CLIP does not ripple those changes to instances of the clip already in your timeline but only affects future edits.)

And lastly, you could always simply create a new synchronized clip with the separate video and audio—though if it’s a clip already edited into the timeline the Match-frame/Replace Edit and OPEN CLIP routes are better solutions rather than creating a new clip altogether.

Syncing

Any NLE worth its weight in salt should be good at syncing audio to video, and FCP X does not disappoint. In fact, it rivals Plural Eyes’ ability to sync by waveform (Automatic)—even with long multi-camera interviews where cameras are starting and stopping at different places. Before we dive into multicam syncing, let’s take a look at the SYNCHRONIZE CLIP function.

Synchronize Clip

Syncing your footage in FCP X is as simple as selecting the Video and Audio clips in the Browser, right-clicking to Synchronize Clips (OPT-COMM-G), then setting your Sync Settings.

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Here you can do a number of things like rename the synced clip, set the starting Timecode, select whether to Use audio for synchronization and choose the method of the synchronization.

  • Automatic: FCP X automatically chooses the best sync method
  • Timecode: uses timecode
  • Content Created: uses internal camera time (NOT timecode)
  • Start of First Clip: syncs from the beginning of each clip
  • First Marker on the Clip: syncs by markers.

These methods also utilize waveform analysis if it is selected so you are getting a fine-tuned sync.

Creating and Working with Multicam Clips

In terms of syncing multicam, the FCP X manual warns that it may jam up your system if the clips are too long and/or there are a lot of them. While I have found that the initial sync may not be perfect, (especially with aforementioned problem scenarios) FCP X generally always plows through and gives you at least a good place to start fine-tuning your sync. Thankfully FCP X also provides an additional way to fine tune your “sync-map” once the multicam clip is initially created.

Labeling clips for your multicam

First off, you have to tell FCP X how many angles are going to be in your multicam via the selected clips’ metadata. Final Cut first looks to your Camera Angle then the Camera Name and lastly the Camera ID so if name and ID info did not come over automatically upon import go ahead and add the appropriate Camera Angle information for each clip of your multicam. This includes labeling any dual-system audio (like a Zoom recorder or 633) as its own, separate angle.

You enter this metadata in the Info tab of the Inspector. If you don’t see Camera Angle as an available field make sure your metadata view is set to Extended.

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Once you’ve done this, simply select all the clips in question, right-click and select New Multicam Clip… This brings you to the sync settings for multicams.

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This screen is very similar to the Synchronize Clip settings but in addition to the Angle Synchronization option—the same options as for Synchronize Clip—you now have two additional drop-down menus:

  • Angle Assembly: this will dictate the number and order of angles in your multicam.
  • Angle Clip Ordering: this will determine the order of the clips within each angle in your multicam.

Once you’ve created your synced and/or multicam clips, you may need to go through and adjust sync in some places.

In the case of synchronized clips, this is as easy as selecting the clip and going to our trusty CLIP → OPEN CLIP function. Once the clip is opened in the timeline, you can slip the sync manually by dragging and/or nudging the audio with your keyboard shortcuts

Nudge left 1 frame: , (comma)
Nudge right 1 frame: . (period)

You can also make adjustments to your sync directly in the multicam clip. Double click on your multicam clip to open it in the timeline. Then click on the triangle disclose on the upper left of each angle. There you will find additional options, such as setting one angle or another as the Monitoring Angle. This is the angle to which all the other angles will be synced. The best candidate is the one that contains the longest unbroken clip.

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You can also use this menu to re-sync a clip that came in slightly off during the first pass. It will be synced to the newly assigned Monitoring Angle by selecting it and choosing Sync Selection To Monitoring Angle from the dropdown..

Personally, I like to sync my footage in Resolve, if for no other reason than it allows batch-syncing and Final Cut does not. Also FCP X does not provide Checksum Verify (a feature which ensures your footage is being copied from the camera card to your hard drive properly) so I like to use Resolve for initial camera card download and syncing for this reason as well.

Related: Why Resolve May Be the Single Most Powerful Tool in Post

Audio Editing

Once you’ve brought your audio in, made any initial basic fixes, synced all your clips, and started the actual editing process, now it’s time to actually get down to the nitty gritty of audio editing.

Subframe Audio Editing

For anyone who has ever tried to isolate a single word of an interview or cut off a speaker mid-sentence only to be forever frustrated by the limits of a single frame, the need for subframe audio editing becomes clear.

A frame is the smallest unit of video upon which you can make edits, and for many of you, that will be 1/24th, 1/25th or 1/30th of a second (I’m rounding for simplicity). But audio is not broken into frames. The closest thing to a “frame” in audio is a sample. There may be situations where you need to make an edit on the audio within one frame of video. In order to do that, you need to go down to the subframe level—which in FCP X is as small as 1/80 of a second.

So how do you access subframe editing in FCP X? First off, go to your General Settings and setting your Time Display to HH:MM:SS:FF + Subframe. This will add an additional 2 numbers to your timecode display that will go from 00-79.

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Then essentially you just zoom into the timeline until you are at the subframe level. You’ll notice the timeline goes gray, indicating the boundaries of a single frame. If you look at the timecode marker you can see the playhead is parked at the 17th subframe.

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From here you can either hold OPTION while using the left/right arrow keys to move one subframe at a time; or simply skim with your cursor and add keyframes by option-clicking.

For clips in your primary storyline, you cannot cut audio anywhere other than on each complete frame boundary. Therefore, in these cases, subframe editing in FCP X is limited to keyframing.

You can make cuts on audio that is not within your Primary Storyline. So this could include music, audio effects, VO, etc. If you need to make a cut on a piece of audio connected to a video clip within the Primary Storyline, you would need to detach the audio first. As I mentioned above, this is not recommended as you increase the risk of audio going out  of sync. Keyframing should be able to accomplish most of the tasks you’d want to complete.

Fades

It may seem like a tiny thing, but if you need to start adding a lot of fades to tops and tails of audio clips, it sure helps if you can do it all at once. With FCP X’s Apply Fades, that’s exactly what you get. Just lasso any clips you want to add fades to and go to Modify → Adjust Volume → Apply Fades to apply fades to all selected clips. This does not have a shortcut assigned to it but I highly recommend mapping it somewhere handy.

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If you just need a single fade on a single clip only, it may be easier to just grab one of the fade handles in the top-left and top-right corners of the audio waveform. Dragging these inwards creates a fade that you can right-click to change its type.

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  • Linear: Maintains a constant rate of change.
  • S-curve: Eases in and out of the fade.
  • +3dB: Starts quickly and tapers off. Good for quick fades.
  • -3dB: Starts slowly then moves quickly. Best for “natural” fades.

The last two quick and dirty ways to add a fade are 1) clicking on the top or tail of a clip and hit CMD-T (add cross dissolve), or select the entire clip, type CMD-T and add cross dissolves to either end. Doing either will actually put the clip into a Secondary Storyline, which has its pluses and minuses, depending whether or not other clips are included.

Quick and Basic EQ

Every Audio Component has an EQ built into it. The EQ controls can be accessed from the Audio Inspector tab, and they have numerous presets such as Voice Enhance, Music Enhance and Treble Reduce. You also have quick access to a visual EQ which can be set at either a 10 or 31 bands.

Often times you want to match the audio EQ of one clip in the timeline to another (for instance if you are doing an edit with multiple instances of the same interview clip). FCP X makes this extremely easy to do. Simply select the clip you want to EQ and click the magic wand on the bottom of the viewer and click on Match Audio.

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Two clips will pop up in the viewer with the clip you are editing on the right and a prompt asking you to “Choose a clip that has the audio you want to match”. This will be the clip on the left. Once you have found it simply click Apply Match and you are all set!

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Just like before, if you change the EQ on a clip in the browser this change will be reflected in future instances of that clip edited into a timeline only. Similarly, if you change the EQ on a clip in the timeline it will affect only that instance of the clip and not ripple to the clip in the browser.

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Manual Normalization

Once you have your edit locked and you’re ready to start editing audio, one of the first things you generally want to do is go through and bring everything to the same relative loudness. This is referred to as Normalizing and FCP X makes it a breeze.

Now there are of course effects and plugins you can use to fine-tune your normalization. One of the best ways to do this is with FCP X’s built-in Limiter.

fcpx limiter

In a nutshell, the Limiter allows you to set the maximum db level of any part of the clip to which it’s applied, while at the same time, bringing up the lowest parts of the clip to a certain gain level. Video training guru Larry Jordan has a great excerpt from one of his webinars explaining his favorite settings.

The settings Larry uses are:

  • Output: -3 db
  • Lookahead: 2ms
  • Release: Anywhere between 300 to 500 ms (this sets how long the effect lasts past the last bit of audio that goes through it)
  • Gain: whichever amount you want to increase the lowest parts of the video (the previously set Output will put a ceiling on louder parts of the clip).

If you want to make localized and individual adjustments manually (e.g. ducking audio if you have a music track under a speaker or voice over), you can do that easily as well. First off you’re going to want to bring up your audio meters. This can be found in Window → Show In Workspace or by the keyboard shortcut SHIFT-CMD 8. You can also just click on the little audio meter icon next to the timecode in the viewer.

Turning on the audio meters allows you to see the dB levels, so as you make adjustments, you can fine tune the audio to the desired levels.

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FCP X allows you to add keyframes to audio during playback and any adjustments you make to levels are reflected in real-time in the audio meter and through your speakers (though playback must be paused for the waveform image to properly reflect this change).  An easy way to quickly add four keyframes at once is the Range Tool (hit R to enable this function). Once enabled, lasso an area of the waveform you want to lower or raise. This will create four keyframes by which that portion of the clip my be adjusted. Using the Range tool, you can go throughout your edit, finding the places where audio levels need to be adjusted and quickly make adjustments.

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You can also lasso a section of an audio clip (it must be at least expanded from the video clip) and hit V (Visible) to effectively mute that section of the audio. You can then drag the edges of the selection to expand or contract the range that has been muted.

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A feature  FCP X is missing is the ability to do “auto-ducking”—ducking all the audio section automatically vs. manually. As of this writing, you’ll need a third party plugin. A highly recommended one is FCP X Auto Duck. Another is Audified’s SpeakUp plugin (significantly more pricey).

Compound Clips as Audio Busses

Don’t you hate it when NLE’s never have audio busses like in Pro Tools and other DAWs? An audio bus is a way to apply an effect or plugin to a specific track of your audio mix as opposed to individual clips. But as you well know, FCP X doesn’t have “tracks.” So what is a DIY audio mixer to do?

Well if you assign your Roles and Sub-Roles carefully and then create a Compound Clip with your Timeline, when you are done editing, you can Show Audio Lanes and now each of your audio Roles will be grouped together in one clip per Role. Now you can drop effects and adjust master volume on each Role as if it was a separate audio bus.

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Since this was also covered in great depth and detail in Reuben’s Evan’s incredible article I’m not going to go into more detail here. Suffice to say: the use of audio Lanes and Roles vs. Tracks allows you a greater amount of flexibility when applying audio effects.

Fine-tuning Your Mix

Let’s dive into the next stage of your audio work and fine-tune the mix by applying audio effects and plugins, then animating them in the timeline with the Audio Animation Editor.

Since the whole point of this article is to explore not leaving your NLE for final mix, it is convenient and most welcome for FCP X to include a whole slew of audio effects from Logic Pro—Apple’s professional-level DAW. There are around 50 in total to choose from and you get access to the full parameters you would inside Logic. Some of the ones you will find yourself frequently using may include: Adaptive Limiter, Compressor, Denoiser, Limiter (see above) and the Noise Gate.

fcpx logic plugins

In addition to the Logic Effects, you have a slew of presets from FCP as well such as telephone, television, boom box, car radio and space designers of various kinds. And of course, FCP X allows you to import 3rd party effects/plugins to add to the library of pre-packaged ones.

If you want to preview what an audio effect will sound like on any given clip in the timeline (without having to apply it) simply select a clip in the timeline, then hover over the audio effect you’d like to preview. You will see that the skimmer enables and if you hit play the audio clip will play with the effect temporarily applied to it.

The Audio/Video Animation Editor

This is a nifty way to control your keyframes and various effect parameters from inside the timeline in FCP X. Essentially it is a way to get access to some of the parameter controls for certain attributes and effects right in your Timeline (as opposed to in the Inspector).

Just right click any clip and select Show Audio Animation and the Editor will open.

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Any audio effect you’ve added will now appear as layers below your clip. You can add keyframes here and adjust effects in various ways depending on which ones you have applied—either by changing a parameter’s duration (dragging keyframes left and right) or by changing its intensity (dragging keyframes up and down).

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The Audio Animator is a great way to see your effects play out linearly in your Timeline. and I’ve also included a quick video tutorial on this feature in FCP X for your edification. Check it out right here:

Finishing and Roundtripping

At the end of the day, whether you choose to do your final audio mix inside FCP X or spit it out to a DAW like Pro Tools or Logic, will depend on many factors including budget and deadlines. For many of  you who work independently on smaller, less complicated projects, FCP X  will have everything you need. Those working on more complicated projects just may need to export to a DAW and have a pro engineer finish your mix.

FCP X is still only capable of sending out .fcpxml and so the only DAW to which you can export directly to is Logic Pro. The problem with that is, first, Logic Pro is far from the most used DAW, and secondly, you already have access to Logic’s effects inside FCP X. Chances are, if you send a project out to be professionally mixed, the audio mixer will be using Avid’s Pro Tools. But, unfortunately, there is no AAF or OMF support in FCP X to export to Pro Tools, so you are going to have to spring for the X2Pro app to convert. (If you want to avoid spending money, you could always try the FCP X to Resolve workflow I wrote about earlier.)

Keep in mind though, the more complicated the edit, the more complicated the roundtrip. So what works for something quick and simple (like going from FCP X → Resolve → Pro Tools) may not work for a more complicated edit, and just may need the extra fire-power of X2Pro—which is designed specifically to do that one thing and one thing only.

My hope with this article was to give you enough information about FCP X’s tools to make the most informed decision. As you can see, there is a lot to cover.  Did I miss anything? What tips and tricks do you use when editing audio in Final Cut Pro X. Share in the comments.

Thank you to Ryan Charles for contributing this article.

Ryan Charles is an indie filmmaker currently residing in NYC. Editor, writer and video essayist Ryan also plays music and produces for www.ZombieParkour.com in his spare time. Ryan works extensively in documentary film-- as well as having cut a few feature indies. He is currently getting his Masters in Post-Production from the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema. You can check out some of his video essays at the Nitty Gritty Film Blog: www.nittygrittystudios.com

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