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Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

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Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby UneducatedWeasl » Sat May 14, 2011 1:00 am

Probably relating mostly to guitar and drums, I suppose.

Certainly, as far as guitar goes, I've seen two different methods of tracking (among the multitude of others). One using white noise to line up capsules, find the deepest null etc, all pretty standard. I've also seen a method where you put the mics where they sound good individually, and line them up in tools using aux channels and the TimeAdjuster plugin (along with an obvious transient to find the delay between mics/amps in samples) summing the result to single channels in tools. Specifically, this was with a dynamic close to one speaker, a condenser about a foot or so back from another (top 2 of a 4x12 in this case) to get a little more of the 'whole cab' sound, rather than just ear to one cone, with a total of 3 cabs, each fed by a different head, all fed by one guitar signal. I've seen the TA method used to line up inside, outside, and sub kick mics as well.

I've seen both methods used in the same studio, heard the results of both, and find both to be interesting methods for use. Not necessarily saying one is better than the other, but food for thought, certainly. Anyone else use the TA method? It's one that had not occurred to me before, the phase alignment method is generally the 'taught' method. I've found myself using it more often recently, with good results, especially if using a multiple amp setup. The slightly computational, mathematical element of working out samples between mics, and then amps, and them combining them to one track makes a lot of sense to me. I find I can get my head around it fairly easily, and it certainly doesn't sound bad. Certainly, a multi mic/amp setup would be a nightmare with phase, although I suppose no more than with time alignment.

Equally, any people have experience with the whole 'phase eq' thing mentioned in the tracking guitar article that was in SOS a while back. I think it was Joe Baressi (two r's, one s?) who is mentioned as being a fan of the technique. It's something I've never really got around to trying, so I'd be interested in knowing if people have had success with it.

Vaguely related, the whole overheads equal distance to snare thing. Is it necessary? I've come around to the idea that it doesn't really matter so much. The differences in time between the two microphones are what make it stereo in the first place, are they not? I tend to have close mics anyway, so if I need something to be bang in the centre, the close mic is there. Again, not saying a method is better, just interested in opinions on it. Healthy discussion, and all that jazz.

Apologies for the word-splurge, just a thought that popped into my head, thought it was worth opening some kind of discourse on it.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Sat May 14, 2011 10:47 am

Wow... mathematics has replaced the assitant engineer, lol.

Seriously I think of all those incredible recordings that have been made, seminal stuff and not a calculator in sight.

I am not suggesting comprehension of these techniques or experimentation is a bad thing just that I think there is merit in a simple and practical approach which has largely how I have made recordings.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby UneducatedWeasl » Sat May 14, 2011 10:53 am

Well, sort of mathematics. The ability to count samples at best. As a method, it makes sense to me, although i've tried both with good results, as I said.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Mixedup » Sat May 14, 2011 1:39 pm

I'll time-align if there's a problem with transients not coming through strongly, particularly on drums. But it all depends where the mics are and what it sounds like. Eg a distant mic won't be picking up the same thing as a close mic: you'll get more room sound, and so you might end up aligning thing and find that it f***s with other aspects of the sound... in which case simply rolling off the transient of the delayed signal (thus relying on the close one for the initial transient) might be enough to remove the 'problem'.

With guitar, do the white noise (or the hiss from a strat or whatever) thing. It works. If you don't get that right, or you find you need to fiddle to make room for other mix elements, something like the Little Labs IBP (for UAD) or the Betabugs freeware phase rotator plug-in can work wonders.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Jack Ruston » Sat May 14, 2011 1:55 pm

Re guitars...

The time aligning and white noise aligning methods give different results. Because when you delay one mic, you're also moving the spill of the other speakers. But that doesn't mean it's wrong. It means that the result might be different and it might be a little less predictable. It might be better of course. When you align two mics on a cab you are reinforcing the common charachteristics of the two, which usually means you're making it thicker. If you want to make it thinner in some part of the frequency spectrum, you'd be better to sweep it and position by ear. Or just use one.


Re drums

The distance thing on snares is very deceiving. Because while the transients align, that doesn't mean that the character is the same in each position. One side might sound a lot brighter, closer, more vivid, even though they're exactly the same distance away. It depends on the drum and the position in the room. You also have to consider the cymbals and toms. So personally I always position spaced overheads according to subjective focus, and go for xy if equidistant is for some reason crucial. I rarely find that it is. I don't like time aligning close mics with overheads because I feel depth is compromised, but that's not to say that I wouldn't delay a mic to some degree if it was causing problems.

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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby The Elf » Sat May 14, 2011 3:13 pm

When I need more close-mic signal than room/overheads I will time align to keep things sounding sharp and punchy. For many modern rock/metal styles I feel it's practically a necessity.

Also for rock styles I'll measure overheads to snare as a centre point. That just feels 'right' to me. For less intense musical styles it's no big deal if the snare isn't centred and for jazz, for instance, it's a positive boon if the kit sounds a bit more unfocussed.

The worst thing IMO is to assume that one method suits all. Every engineer has his own methods and every job has its own requirements. Be open to what you can achieve by bending rules, even if those rules are of your own making.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby narcoman » Sat May 14, 2011 8:21 pm

SafeandSound123 wrote:Wow... mathematics has replaced the assitant engineer, lol.

Seriously I think of all those incredible recordings that have been made, seminal stuff and not a calculator in sight.

I am not suggesting comprehension of these techniques or experimentation is a bad thing just that I think there is merit in a simple and practical approach which has largely how I have made recordings.


No mathematics? We used to measure the distance of mic's and calculate what was going on and minimise issues with 3:1 solutions....!! :)

I hate time aligning - it causes as many problems as it solves. I like phase aligning - IBP is my latest love....
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby UneducatedWeasl » Sat May 14, 2011 10:28 pm

The Elf wrote:The worst thing IMO is to assume that one method suits all. Every engineer has his own methods and every job has its own requirements. Be open to what you can achieve by bending rules, even if those rules are of your own making.

Never has a truer word been said.

Jack Ruston wrote:Re guitars...

The time aligning and white noise aligning methods give different results. Because when you delay one mic, you're also moving the spill of the other speakers. But that doesn't mean it's wrong. It means that the result might be different and it might be a little less predictable. It might be better of course. When you align two mics on a cab you are reinforcing the common charachteristics of the two, which usually means you're making it thicker. If you want to make it thinner in some part of the frequency spectrum, you'd be better to sweep it and position by ear. Or just use one.

Interesting to hear your position on this Jack. If I am doing the time alignment, I do check to make sure that each signal (or summed amp signal) is adding to the overall level, and not detracting, so there is at least some level of phase correlation going on. Can't say that I've had much chance to really compare the two techniques. Tight timelines tend to force me into working with what I know how to do quickly, rather than allowing me time to experiment outside of 'client' (university) work. Them's the breaks, I guess


I saw (and heard) Sean do the phase alignment trick at the masterclass you advertised on here (whenever that was), and saw Dave Eringa do the TA trick at another class (same studio). I know that you've worked with Sean a bit, and think I remember hearing that he learned under (was shouted at by) Dave for a few years. I find it interesting to see how these two methods have worked out. Certainly, with Dave's 4/5 amp approach with the Little Labs PCP, the TA method does seem to make sense, at least to me. I can't honestly say that it sounded bad. Some of the best guitar tones I've heard for a while. Admittedly, great collection of amps, guitars, pedals, racks of gear, monitoring, and lest we forget, players.

Do you tend to do much work multi-amping, and do you try to alight phase between amps, as well as mics? Seems like a complete nightmare to try and do, at least to me. An area for a combination of technique, perhaps?

Very interesting to hear your thoughts guys. I know there was a reason I come back to this place now and then. Forum indeed!
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby narcoman » Sat May 14, 2011 11:32 pm

I defo do phase alignment using the IBP - that system just works very very well and of course it's only really useful on a handful of (probably fundamental) frequencies.
the problem with moving signals is you will change any phase relationships you have. Of course, it is impossible to have two microphones to have every frequency at the same phase - bit of tail chasing even trying to do that BUT that doesn't preclude getting cool sounding results. The mistake is to use time aligning to solve "issues" - using it creatively has its place (the heavy metal example mentioned above is one such thing; getting transients to slam at the same time) - but you can't "solve" problems with time alignment. You can change them to such a state that might be more pleasing.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby UneducatedWeasl » Sat May 14, 2011 11:53 pm

Oh, absolutely, I wouldn't usually line things up after the fact. Kick mics and subs seem to line up, but that is because I only use the sub for the sub. Trying to fix things with time alignment is a deep rabbit hole that I do not want to enter. I do it all on the way in, make sure that it actually sounds good. If it sounded terrible, I'd tear down, try something else, less mics, the phase trick, etc. So far i've been lucky with it, and got some good sounds.

Vaguely related note, does anyone else swap the polarity on the top snare mic, and start from there? The theory was put to me that the first transient from the speaker would then be going towards the listener, rather than pulling away from them. Kind of made sense, and we are often dealing with micro level stuff in mixes, especially in modern rock, so every little must help, although I feel that it may actually make no difference at all.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby The Elf » Sun May 15, 2011 8:40 am

I *do* time align after the fact, and it works fine. I don't find time aligning at all problematical. I use the top snare mic as my static point and everything is aligned to that. Usually it's just a few minutes work at waveform level. As I mentioned before, you have to be sure you want the spikier drum sound it produces, but if you do it sounds great. Be sure to check both alignment AND phase though!
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Jack Ruston » Sun May 15, 2011 9:26 am

Well Dave got Sean into the white noise thing. And I learned that from doing records with Sean. As you say, Dave now does the time align thing and I guess he's modified his approach because of the complications of working with multiple amps. And because it's a lot quicker. Obviously you are affecting the phase of the spill. Another complication with this is that some amps and cabinets invert polarity. If this is happening you need to know.

Personally I only ever use two amps in a multi amp setup, and that's not that common for me. When I do that I'll only be doing one mic per amp (unless it's a Leslie) because I don't need all that extra thickness. There's saturation happening between the amps. If you want perfect alignment you can print a DI while tracking with the core sound, and then run that DI through the second head plugged into the existing cab without moving the mic. Again, be wary of some heads inverting polarity.

You know, I have to say that while I love the multiple mic'd thing for certain genres and bands, as a mixer, I find it's often too much in a busier track. Like all techniques it has its place. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to phase align, time align, multi mic, multi amp etc to get a great sound. Those techniques can be just the ticket but not always.

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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby UneducatedWeasl » Sun May 15, 2011 10:40 am

Jack Ruston wrote:

You know, I have to say that while I love the multiple mic'd thing for certain genres and bands, as a mixer, I find it's often too much in a busier track. Like all techniques it has its place. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to phase align, time align, multi mic, multi amp etc to get a great sound. Those techniques can be just the ticket but not always.

J

It does tend to add up a bit, in terms of sonic information to work with. I've started getting into the habit of summing it all down to one track, just living with the sound that I end up with. Bit of a risk, but I find it helps to make the decision early. You are right though, it is situational, as is everything else. To be fair, if I can't get a good sound from a JCM 800 half stack with just a 57, then I've wasted the last 5 years of learning how do do this quite impressively
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby narcoman » Sun May 15, 2011 10:57 am

The Elf wrote:I *do* time align after the fact, and it works fine. I don't find time aligning at all problematical. I use the top snare mic as my static point and everything is aligned to that. Usually it's just a few minutes work at waveform level. As I mentioned before, you have to be sure you want the spikier drum sound it produces, but if you do it sounds great. Be sure to check both alignment AND phase though!


Which is an excellent technique if you are looking for that transient re-inforcement. The other side of it is you change the high end frequecies in a way you couldn't hear at the start - not a problem in loud and punchy music as those frequecies (cymbals, snare tone) are very much hidden by what else goes on. It sounds VERY phasey with less punchy stuff.

As I say - as a production decision - cool, go for it, just be aware of the changes you bring. You DO gain your wanted transient line up but you have merely changed any cancellations you had going on - often for worse ones! If I was to look at moving stuff in that way I'd also slap on a few IBPs and work those too. Of course it might just be that in the room you are recording you DO get a pleasant tone from such moves! Can't say it's ever happened here (nor do I like the mass transient build up) but as this sort of exercise (actually - perhaps even exorcise :) ) is a subjective thing then there is no right or wrong way.... just all be aware that you are changing phase issues, never solving them. Do double check polarities though.... good advice !

Have you ever had a look at measuring both the snare and kick drum against the overheads? It does somewhat limit your OH placement BUT the central and solid image they produce is astounding.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby The Elf » Sun May 15, 2011 11:57 am

narcoman wrote:Have you ever had a look at measuring both the snare and kick drum against the overheads? It does somewhat limit your OH placement BUT the central and solid image they produce is astounding.
Yes, I've tried this a few times (following a little advice from Mr. Ruston - thanks, Jack!), but it doesn't really do much for me TBH. I'm happy to just get the snare centred and HPF the overheads to the point where I'm pretty much only getting a ghost of kick drum anyway. My overheads are really just cymbal mic's in this context.

Again, I should point out that I'm typically speaking about rock/metal/similar here!

I did work with a soft pop/jazz act a few weeks ago where I used XY overheads and room mic's with just a hint of close mic for support and it sounded temendous in context - really smokey jazz club! No the snare wasn't centred and there was a bit of a honk from some of the room resonances, but it sounded so honest and open it fitted the mood perfectly.

It's tempting to get too hung up about drum attack transients when a lot of the perception of a drum's power actually comes from the body and ring. Without looking after them you end up with a kit of perfectly time/polarity aligned clicks!

It's really just about knowing what you're trying to capture and using the right tools in your toolbox.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Jack Ruston » Sun May 15, 2011 8:37 pm

UneducatedWeasel wrote:
Vaguely related note, does anyone else swap the polarity on the top snare mic, and start from there? The theory was put to me that the first transient from the speaker would then be going towards the listener, rather than pulling away from them. Kind of made sense, and we are often dealing with micro level stuff in mixes, especially in modern rock, so every little must help, although I feel that it may actually make no difference at all.

I think it does make a difference. But I'd be wary of habitually flipping the snare top just because so often there's a reversal happening somewhere in the chain anyway. Better to look at the waveform and check. I also think that kick seems to benefit more from that absolute positive polarity thing than snare. I guess it's just more speaker excursion.

While we're talking about this stuff, I find the relationship between the spill of the kick in the snare mic(s) and vice versa to be quite important. It's this that changes if you start time aligning stuff. For example, the snare often rattles slightly on the kick attack, and that sound can become a very important element. If you time align the snare track to the overheads you move that sound in relation to the kick in both the overheads and the close mic (as the kick close mic will need to move more in order to align to the overheads than the snare will). Equally you can get very pronounced snare colouration from the kick mics which you might not want to mess about with. If, like me, you also like the whole ringing tom spill thing, there's another element to juggle. I'm not saying don't do it. There are many people who use the technique, and obviously Elf is a big fan, but just be aware of the things that you need to watch out for when you mess with it.

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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby onesecondglance » Mon May 16, 2011 8:10 am

some of my recent guitar recordings use two mics at different distances - a dynamic close up to the cloth and a condenser a foot or two away.

i've not bothered doing any aligning adjustments, as i figured it would only be needed when the mics are roughly the same distance away. do you think it would make any difference?
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Jack Ruston » Mon May 16, 2011 8:53 am

Yeah it would change it enormously. Try level matching two mics close on the grill and then with cans on pulling one slowly back. It's best if someone keeps tweaking the gain to keep them matched. What you hear is big peaks and nulls sweeping through the combined sound. You can use this like an extreme eq, cutting unwanted areas. Aligning with noise is really for when you want increased reinforcement and saturation. Your method allows for a vast pallette of colours but at the risk of some funny business that you might later decide that you don't love. I'd just print them separately and that way you've got a get out of jail free card when you're mixing.

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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby onesecondglance » Mon May 16, 2011 10:39 am

thanks Jack. i was sensible enough to keep the tracks separate in the box so still have the option to play around with the timing. i'll experiment a bit with aligning the phase first, i think.

i'm matching peak to peak, right? i'm guessing i'll have to push the distant mic forward in time a couple of samples to account for the extra time it took for the sound to reach it?
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Jack Ruston » Mon May 16, 2011 4:41 pm

Yeah. Roughly speaking it's around a foot per ms. So at 44.1k you'd move it 44 samples if it was a foot back. You are aligning peak to peak but there's a lot of distortion in guitar sounds and it might not be easy to see. Ultimately, judge it by ear.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby UneducatedWeasl » Mon May 16, 2011 4:54 pm

I found that 'rebooting' the guitar by replugging the jack makes a nice sharp transient that is easy to match samples to. You could also setup up a reamped click signal, or a sine wave that cuts off partway through the peak, to do the same job
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby onesecondglance » Mon May 16, 2011 5:20 pm

sounds like a good idea.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby onesecondglance » Mon May 16, 2011 5:21 pm

Jack Ruston wrote:Yeah. Roughly speaking it's around a foot per ms. So at 44.1k you'd move it 44 samples if it was a foot back. You are aligning peak to peak but there's a lot of distortion in guitar sounds and it might not be easy to see. Ultimately, judge it by ear.

cheers Jack, i appreciate your help here. :lol:
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby UneducatedWeasl » Mon May 16, 2011 11:13 pm

Glad to see that I've got a fair bit of discussion going on this one. Could really do with changing the title, as we've covered a few other bits since I wrote it.

Still closely related to time alignment, got one to throw out there over Delay Compensation. This one's directed at Jack, to a certain extent, but I'm always interested in anyone's thoughts on the issue. Sean mentioned that he turns off Delay Compensation, does it all by hand. I don't remember if he ever said exactly why it is he does this, so I'd like to hear if there is anyone else that does this, and if there are significant benefits to doing it. From what I understand, Kenny Gioia does the same thing. Jack, did you ever pick up on Sean doing this? In theory, I worked without it for about a year with PT8, although I'm sure I remember reading that it has a little bit of ADC that it doesn't tell you about, about 1000 samples or so. Since bought 9, and I have noticed that printing through outboard gear during mixing does seem to line itself up nearly sample accurate each time (it's about 2 samples out on average. Changes a little with different buffer settings)

Completely unrelated note, Tom Wait's Rain Dogs is a fantastic album :D
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby The Elf » Tue May 17, 2011 7:30 am

I use Cubase and an RME Fireface. Delay compensation is something I simply never have to think about. I create zero-latency monitoring from RME's TotalMix and Cubase takes care of the rest. It really is a non-issue.
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Jack Ruston » Tue May 17, 2011 7:34 am

Yeah, in PT any record enabled or input monitored tracks are not delay compensated. Therefore it shouldn't make any difference whether it's on or off for the white noise thing, but ADC has been known to do some crazy stuff under TDM, so generally we turn it off for anything like that.

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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Steve Hill » Wed May 18, 2011 8:45 pm

onesecondglance wrote:some of my recent guitar recordings use two mics at different distances - a dynamic close up to the cloth and a condenser a foot or two away.

i've not bothered doing any aligning adjustments, as i figured it would only be needed when the mics are roughly the same distance away. do you think it would make any difference?

Broad-brush, sound travels at 1 ft per millisecond. A millisecond is 44 samples. Mics 2 feet apart are 88 samples. You should be able to see this on the recorded tracks if you zoom in on both. (Sometimes I ask guitarists to give me a couple of "scratches" for just the transients to help later on...).

You can leave it all alone, and it might be great. Or you might, by chance, find the two mics are exactly out of phase with each other and are making a good thing sound weedy. I like tweaking the phase more than I like trying to time-align the two tracks, but happy coincidences exist too. Try it and see.

(I remember doing a job with narcoman where we had about five mics on a guitarist... I thought he was mental, but he thought we nailed it. What can you say? ;) )
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby narcoman » Wed May 18, 2011 9:29 pm

haha! indeed mental although I'll qualify it by saying it was "stoner rock".... we're talking full Kyuss tones......

I've got a few IBPs so getting monster fat tones from different speakers is the way of the exploding fist - sounds huge! But you absolutely have to "work" it. Better than EQ. :D
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby onesecondglance » Thu May 19, 2011 7:38 am

thanks Steve. just finished comping the various takes together last night so time to begin playing with alignment and balancing the mics!
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Re: Phase vs Time Alignment in Multi Miked Recordings

Postby Mike Senior » Thu May 19, 2011 8:34 am

Jack Ruston wrote:I don't like time aligning close mics with overheads because I feel depth is compromised

This is one of the big reasons why I rarely align a close mic with the overheads. Although you might get a sharper more coherent transient, the instrument then usually also takes a step backward in the balance, a bit like when applying a reverb without predelay. Not to say I haven't done it on occasion, but it's pretty rare for me.
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