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

Image from pixabay
Image from Pixabay

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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Why the term ‘enhancing’ is misleading in forensic contexts

‘Enhancing’ takes something good and makes it better

In ordinary English, the word ‘enhancing’ means ‘to further improve the quality of (something that is already good)’. That doesn’t quite fit its usage in forensics though, where the whole point is the audio is poor quality to start with. Let’s look in a bit more detail at what ‘enhancing’ means in forensics.

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