Why don’t they just enhance forensic audio to make it intelligible?

When we listen to poor quality audio we often have the sense of being nearly able to hear the words.

That makes us susceptible to being misled by claims that speech has been ‘enhanced’ to make it ‘clearer’. We feel so sure we’d be able to hear the words if only the background noise could be removed, or the sounds could be fixed up a bit, that we are willing to trust those who say they have techniques do this.

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An experiment that lets you experience ‘enhancing’ yourself

This was a very simple experiment, designed to demonstrate two important points about ‘enhancing’ forensic audio which, though well known in phonetic science, are often misunderstood in the legal system, and beyond.

  1. Techniques that may be effective in improving the quality of overt recordings (those made openly, with objectively known content) do not necessarily transfer well to covert recordings (made secretly, with unknown or disputable content).
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How the law treats ‘enhancing’ of poor quality audio

Like most things in the law, the handling of ‘enhanced’ audio is determined by a precedent – a ruling made by a judge in relation to one particular case, which is then applied in many other cases that seem superficially similar. The problem with the legal practice of following precedents is that if one judge is wrong, many others will be too.

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