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How the Pros Match ADR and Production Dialogue

If you've ever worked with ADR you probably found that making it sit into a scene can sometimes feel like you're attempting to climb to the summit of K2. And other times it just sits right in like your favorite pair of slippers. This article is for the former - 'cause if you weren't having issues with your ADR you probably wouldn't be reading this now. So read on friends...

I'm gonna reverse engineer the process we use to make ADR match production dialogue here at Thunderbird Sound.

Here's what I'll cover:



ADR is weird like that. Actors/Actresses going back into the studio after production to "fake" their performances in order to capture a better recording. Sure... it's sometimes a necessary part of the production process - albeit it a strange process.

Trust me I get it, sometimes there is just no way to salvage a production recording. Other times a director may want to change how the line was performed, or even change a script line all-together. There are many reasons that ADR can be a great tool for the storyteller, but it does present a number of challenges for the sound department.

Today I'll go through my approach to making ADR sit into a scene and match any surrounding production dialogue as best as possible.

This leads me to my first point:

Performance is King

Most actors don't care much for the ADR process. It can be challenging for them to get back into character and re-act appropriately to the scene. That being said, the very best can re-deliver their lines just as they did on the day of filming. I'm always impressed by those that can pull this off.

There is no substitute for a great performance... period. Often times a great performance will get you 90% of the way there. If you're working with a less than optimal performance your work can be much more challenging to make the new line feel believable.

I like to make sure the director is present for the ADR session to ensure the lines are being delivered to their satisfaction. Getting it right on the day of the ADR recording will save you many a headache in post.


Mic Selection

It's important that you get the mics correct for the ADR session. It's commonplace to try and match the mics used in production. So give your production mixer a call and ask them what they used! Often times they'll be thrilled that you are taking the extra effort.

To two most commonly used mics for ADR are a "boom" mic and a "lavalier" or "lapel" mic.

The Boom Mic

Use a boom mic in ADR to match the sound of what the "boom op" captured on set. It's best to position the mic similar to how it would have been positioned on location. Often times that's about 12-18 inches above your talent with the mic angled towards their mouth. Be careful here because backing the mic too far off in a poorly treated room will bring out lots of nasty room resonances in your ADR.

The Lapel Mic

Most actors are also mic'd with a lapel mic hidden under their clothing. It's best to record a lapel mic in ADR in addition to the boom. Place the mic on their shirt about 8 inches or so below the chin.

I find that many times the lapel will be my first choice when attempting to make ADR sit into the scene. The boom will have more of a "full-range" sound that can sometimes be too clean when trying to match production. The lapel can have more of a gritty and mid-rangy bite that many times will match the location recordings better.



Your next step to achieving ADR greatness is the almighty edit. The quickest way to amateur ADR is to not have lip-sync - meaning the syllables don't line up with the person's mouth. This is something that can easily be fixed in editing.

One trick I like to use is to visually match the waveform of the ADR line to the waveform of the production dialogue.

  1. Start by lining up your your waveforms as close as possible.

  2. Slide around any words or syllables that don't quite fall into sync.

  3. Use very narrow crossfades to hide your edits.

  4. Listen back to make sure your edits aren't noticeable.

  5. Now watch again to make sure your ADR matches lip-sync.


Tonal Matching

Your ADR must tonally match the production dialogue - otherwise you'll blow the whole charade. I'm talking specifically about the frequency content of your ADR. The tool of choice for this process is an Equalizer, and there are several key steps to keep in mind here:

Filters Are Your Friend

Use high and low pass filters on your audio to cleanup the recording as much as possible. You might find that you'll need to take these a little more extreme than normal to match production. Sometimes I'll have go as high as 200hz with a high pass filter and as low as 5kHz with a low pass filter. If it sounds right it is right.

EQ for Room Resonance

First listen for any room resonances or ringing in your ADR recording. These resonances will make your ADR scream amateur faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. You'll find common room resonances in the 250-400Hz range. Boost with a very narrow Q filter to find the ringing and then notch it away! Often just notching out one of these will be enough.

EQ for Tonal Matching

Now this process is a little bit trickier for me to explain. But your ADR needs to tonally match your production dialogue if you want it to stand a chance. Try thinking about your ADR in these 4 frequency ranges and use gentle EQ cuts to carve out any offenders that sound different than your production dialogue.

  1. Lows - 100-250Hz: These is where you dialogue can sound tubby and boomy.

  2. Low Mids - 250Hz-800Hz: These frequencies can make your dialogue sound boxy.

  3. High Mids - 800Hz-4kHz: This is where the clarity of your dialogue lives, but too much can give your dialogue that "telephone" sound. It can also be nasally or ear piercing here.

  4. Highs - 4kHz+: These are the sparkly bits. You don't need too much information up here for dialogue's sake. Often times a studio recording will have more high-frequency information here and sound too "forward" or "polished".

The proper use of EQ is extremely important in tonally matching ADR to production dialogue. A good bit of experience is needed in order to become an EQ ninja. So get in there and get your hands dirty.

Lasty, it's important to continuously check back and forth between ADR and production to make sure your stuff is matching. Run your playhead back into the scene a bit and watch to see if you can hear your ADR sticking out. If it does then keep working!


Ambience Matching

Another key ADR step is to match the ambient space in which the production dialogue was recorded. In other words, it needs to sound like it was in the same room. Here's where I will reach for my favorite reverb plugins to re-create the space from production. These are my two favorite reverb plug-ins:

1. Altiverb

Altiverb has an amazing selection of hyper-realistic room spaces that just sound awesome. With so many available room options, it's pretty easy to find a match. I like to just quickly flip through their spaces until I found something that sounds similar to production, and then I'll tweak some of the finer settings until I get it the way I want.

2. Revibe II

Revibe is a great option that comes with ProTools Ultimate. Altiverb can be pricey so this is a great free alternative. Revibe does an awesome job of creating releastic sounding spaces. I can usually find a great result with this plugin as well.

There's a million reverb plug-ins out there but it's worth nothing that you need to use a realistic Impulse Response style reverb. They will get you closer to your original space much better than a "traditional" style reverb.

Remember to use these reverbs in mono in order to match the mono boom mic.


Room Tone

Last step of the process is applying room tone to your ADR to match the background noise of the production track. Your production recordings are probably complimented with some sort of steady room tone from the location. You'll need to extract some of this tone and smoothly slip it under your ADR in order for their to be no audible breaks in the background noise.

Many times you can find this tone hidden in your production recordings, often at the head or tail of the take when everyone is quiet. If you can't find it in this take you can look at an alternate take from the same scene.

If all else fails you can reach for a tool like "RX Ambience Match" which will read a section of your production recording and artificially recreate a room tone that "matches" the scene. I have mixed results with this, often times I just need to turn the newly processed tone up or down in the mix to make it sit right. Your ears will tell you if it's working or not!

Smooth your tone in and out with long fades.


Additional Tricks

Sometimes even the best of the best still can't make ADR sit right after mastering all the previous steps. There are a few more tricks of the trade you can apply in order to get better results. Here are a few of them:

1. Aphex Aural Exciter

This is a pretty cool trick pointed out to me a few years ago. If you're trying to match a production lapel mic you might give this a try. Production lapels can sometimes be grainy and gritty in the upper range - due to the nature of wireless frequency transmitting. The Aphex Exciter can generate some harmonic content in your ADR in order to help match the production lapel better. Give it a try but use it sparingly.

2. Distortion

In the same vein as the Aural Exciter, you can also use distortion to help match production lapels. You'll find that many times your ADR just sounds too "clean". Distortion can help dirty up the ADR just a bit so that's it's not so "pure". I like to use the Avid Lo-Fi plugin here.

3. Compression

Sometimes you'll run into production audio that is over-compressed. Either from the limiters on a sound recorder or from the compression used in the frequency transmitting of wireless mics. I certainly don't recommend over compressing but sometimes you just need to hit it a little bit to make it match location. You can visually look at your production waveform to see if it may be over-compressed.

4. RX EQ & Dialogue Match

Izotope RX has some pretty cool tools to help auto-match production dialogue. There have been times that these tools have gotten me the results I needed, but there have been many times where it just didn't work. I tend to not reach for these tools first, but often times when I've exhausted other options I'll go down this route just to see if it can help. Give it a try and it may be just what you need.


ADR matching can be an extremely challenging process. Couple that with the fact that the entire goal is to fly completely under the radar. So yeah... it can sometimes feel like a thankless task. But as we all know, bad ADR can totally take the viewer out of the story. As sound artists we must keep the narrative alive at all times. In my experience if I can really nail the ADR for a client, they are eternally grateful and thankful.

It takes some practice but you too can master the ancient Chinese art of ADR matching and make almost any dialogue sink right into the scene.

What are some of your ADR matching tricks? Let us know in the comments below.


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P.S. We're so proud you made it to the end. Here's a Free "Period Firearms" Library from Thunderbird Sound.


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2 kommentarer

20. maj 2021

Interesting that compressing and distorting the dialogue works so well for you! But maybe I was just spoiled how clean the lapel mics sounded so far.

Then again, some people in the industry here (Germany) are rather invested in speech intelligibility to the point that even the production dialogue sounds like bad ADR, so at least makes getting in actual ADR easier.

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Jeff Carpenter
Jeff Carpenter
20. maj 2021
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Thanks for the reply! Yeah occasionally I'll get a "less than ideal" dialogue track and have to do some serious futzing to make the ADR sound like the original recording. Great to hear that Germany takes great care in preserving dialogue! We all know you all make the best mics.

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