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Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

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Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hippie162 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 10:59 am

Hi All, me again ;)

I have written and recorded my second track using Cubase Artist 9.5, MIDI track with Vocals.

I have just changed my set up to use an audio interface and changed my mic to a dynamic condensor in a bid to try and reduce hiss / noise on recordings. To a certain extent, it is better than the USB mic I was using last time BUT the song has quite softly performed vocals and as such I needed to boost the pre/gain and the gain on the midas pre amp to get a decent level.. I like the vocal but the track just sounds very "demo" as I can hear that hiss kick in each time the vocal track comes in, it isn't "terrible" but it's there..

I have recorded the vocals many many many times with the same outcome, just a duvet behind me in the bedroom. So this is what I have to work with.. My hope is that someone can give me some tips to reduce the level of that noise maybe using EQ / high pass / gate.. I almost reached for the refir last night but shut my laptop down and told myself off as the result last time was not good :-(
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby The Elf » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:18 am

Good vocal recordings don't come from the processing you do afterwards. They come from recording it properly in the first place. As soon as anyone starts talking about gates and other such sticking plasters it's clear that the basic recording is not up to scratch. You shouldn't need any of that stuff.

You're not giving us much to go on. Tell us what make/model of mic (mic's can be dynamic or condensor - not both) and audio interface you are using, how you have them connected, and how you are approaching the recording from a physical point of view - distance from mic, level you are recording at, bit-depth/sample rate you are choosing...

And maybe an audio example for us to hear.

All of this will help us to help you. :thumbup:
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hippie162 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:35 am

Hi Elf,

I am using an AKG D5 Mic, going through a basic Behringer UMC22 interface with a midas pre amp, using ASIO4ALL driver in Cubase (on laptop). the interface connects to the laptop via USB and the mic has a 3 point pin into the interface.

I have been recording the vocals very close to the mic, right up to the pop shield approx 5cm from the mic. TBH I find this mic a little boomy but then recording so close wouldn't help, I couldn't get a great level singing softly further back without more hiss. I tried not to have the gain too high but found a decent level with the pre-amp at 2 o clock and the pre-gain set to about +13db. Too much?

Where should my master fader be sitting in a perfect world to give headroom for mastering? I have been trying to achieve about -18db but this mix is currently sitting higher, would it help to lower the levels on the instrument tracks in order to lower the levels on the vocal to reduce that hiss?
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jun 11, 2021 11:37 am

EDIT: Oops! Sorry... got distracted after starting a reply and the Elf beat me to it!

Hippie162 wrote:...and changed my mic to a dynamic condensor...

Just for clarity... is it a dynamic (moving coil or ribbon) mic, or a condensor (capacitor or electret) mic?

While there are mics that contain both forms, most are dual-element kick-drum mics rather than vocal mics!

So what is the specific mic model?

I can hear that hiss kick in each time the vocal track comes in, it isn't "terrible" but it's there.

'Hiss' can be electronic or acoustic, and to improve matters it's necessary to identify the exact source. It's not unusual for people to assume the problem is electronic noise but find out it's actually noise from the room itself -- our ears and brain are very good at filtering out ambient noise, so we often don't realise it's there!

Electronic noise comes from mics and preamps, and the first way to minimise that is to establish a good gain structure. Some preamps are significantly noisier than others, too, so it would help to know what model of Midas preamp you're using.
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:13 pm

Sounds like there may be some confusion here...

Hippie162 wrote:I am using an AKG D5 Mic, going through a basic Behringer UMC22 interface with a midas pre amp, using ASIO4ALL driver in Cubase (on laptop). the interface connects to the laptop via USB and the mic has a 3 point pin into the interface.
When you say a midas pre amp, do you mean a separate unit or the preamp included in the interface?

Hippie162 wrote:I have been recording the vocals very close to the mic, right up to the pop shield approx 5cm from the mic. TBH I find this mic a little boomy but then recording so close wouldn't help, I couldn't get a great level singing softly further back without more hiss. I tried not to have the gain too high but found a decent level with the pre-amp at 2 o clock and the pre-gain set to about +13db. Too much?
The D5 is primarily designed as a stage microphone, it's expected to be used up close and has a deliberately non-flat response in order to cut through over a band/backing track. But they're good little mics and you should still be able to get a decent sound out of one providing you take a few things into account.
Firstly, because it's a dynamic and designed to be use up close, it will sound thin and quiet if you use it too far away. But because it's a cardiod pattern microphone, when you get up close you'll experience a more bass heavy sound (proximity effect). You can manage this with EQ post recording, don't worry about it. Try the mic around 3-6 inches from your mouth and see how that sounds to start with.
In terms of levels, when recording you want the general level to be bumbling around -18dB with peaks up to -12dB ish. This gives you plenty of headroom for unexpectedly loud bits and subsequent processing.

Hippie162 wrote:Where should my master fader be sitting in a perfect world to give headroom for mastering? I have been trying to achieve about -18db but this mix is currently sitting higher, would it help to lower the levels on the instrument tracks in order to lower the levels on the vocal to reduce that hiss?
Leave the master fader alone for now. ;)
Good gain structuring comes before then.
If you record all your tracks around that -18 level then when you sum them together your master bus should still have some headroom there to allow for mastering. -18dB for the master channel is lower than I'd expect on one of my mixes. I'd generally expect that to be hovering around the -10dB mark.
But the key thing is to keep an eye on those levels all the way through the process, adding a bit of boost in an EQ, or a bit compression with make-up gain, or a bit of saturation (etc. etc. etc.) can all raise those levels. So use the output function on the plugin (if it has one) or add a gain plugin in between to make sure that those levels aren't creeping up with each bit of processing.

As suggested above, a sample recording would really help, you can host things on soundcloud as a private file and then share the restricted link here.
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hippie162 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:45 pm

Wow what an amazing response thank you :-)

To answer a few bits:

The Midas preamp is built into the unit, it is only a cheap little thing hence the ASIO4ALL.. so I adjusted the level of gain on that preamp prior to changing the pre-gain in Cubase on the channel, assume that would be the right way?

The mic is picking up a decent sound of vocals, it's just part of the track is piano backing only and the noise is noticable in these parts. Fading in the part is helping a little but I can still tell it is there.

I have been aiming for -18db recording levels so that is good to hear. could I ask another thing.. so would you record at that level and then adjust pre-gain to achieve -10db prior to mastering? I ask as I was working on the principle of achieving -18db prior to mastering and as such some of my instrument tracks needed to sit at almost -24db and it seemed excessive!
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hippie162 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:47 pm

Also to add.. I am planning on posting a SC link to you all anyway prior to releasing this one! As you are the sound gurus :angel:
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:54 pm

I suspect you might get better results if you set the Cubase 'pre gain' to zero, and increase the gain on the interface preamp. Aim to have the vocal signal peaking to around -10 or even -6dBFS when it gets into Cubase.

As Drew says, the D5 is a stage mic, so you need to work it quite close -- no more than 2-3 inches away, and ideally closer!
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:57 pm

Hippie162 wrote:The Midas preamp is built into the unit, it is only a cheap little thing hence the ASIO4ALL.. so I adjusted the level of gain on that preamp prior to changing the pre-gain in Cubase on the channel, assume that would be the right way?
It's important at this point to keep your recording and mixing processes separate. You shouldn't need to adjust the level of the gain in cubase at all. Set that to unity and then use the pre-amp gain on the front of the unit. Don't worry if that means you need to right round almost to the maximum; it's quite normal to have 'gain bunching' (where most of the gain is in a limited amount of the dial) on budget interfaces.

Hippie162 wrote:The mic is picking up a decent sound of vocals, it's just part of the track is piano backing only and the noise is noticable in these parts. Fading in the part is helping a little but I can still tell it is there.
It's normal to cut out the non-performance parts of a vocal recording when you're mixing. The important thing is not to cut too closely. Leave the breaths before phrases in, and don't cut too quickly at the end of a phrase as there are frequently little magical moments of delivery right at the end.
Expect to spend a fair bit of time automating your vocal level towards the end of your mix process to get the most from it.

Hippie162 wrote:I have been aiming for -18db recording levels so that is good to hear. could I ask another thing.. so would you record at that level and then adjust pre-gain to achieve -10db prior to mastering? I ask as I was working on the principle of achieving -18db prior to mastering and as such some of my instrument tracks needed to sit at almost -24db and it seemed excessive!
The -18dB guideline is a guideline for individual tracks when recording, not for a fully mixed master bus. If you add half a dozen individual tracks at -18dB together, you'll find your master track is naturally sitting at a sensible level for mastering.
I'll leave it to one of the mastering engineers on the forum to confirm, but generally mastering engineers ask for 3-6dB of headroom in my (limited) experience.
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jun 11, 2021 12:57 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:As Drew says, the D5 is a stage mic, so you need to work it quite close -- no more than 2-3 inches away, and ideally closer!
In the event that anything I write is corrected by Hugh (or anyone else really), listen to them not me! :D
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby The Elf » Fri Jun 11, 2021 1:20 pm

The D5 is not the most appropriate mic for recording an exposed vocal, but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to get something usable, as the others have said above.

Get all Cubase faders at unity and leave that gain control well alone! I suspect you're digitally boosting your incoming signal and under-driving the analogue mic input as a result (think of it as the difference between optical zooming with a camera lens and digital cropping, if that helps). The only time you should be going anywhere near a Cubase gain control is to trim a signal *after* recording. Set gain to zero and leave it well alone during recording!
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hippie162 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 1:28 pm

The Elf wrote:The D5 is not the most appropriate mic for recording an exposed vocal, but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to get something usable, as the others have said above.

Get all Cubase faders at unity and leave that gain control well alone! I suspect you're digitally boosting your incoming signal and under-driving the analogue mic input as a result. The only time you should be going anywhere near a Cubase gain control is to trim a signal *after* recording. Set gain to zero and leave it well alone during recording!

This is what I have been doing.. I was reading all about "gain staging" and assuming that it is done re recording :headbang: So..

Right. I am going to re-record these vocals and try and get it right at the source, using your tips!
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby The Elf » Fri Jun 11, 2021 1:37 pm

Just don't go running away with the idea that you're going to get crisp, ultra-clean, quietly delivered vocals with that gear. I also have a D5 and I'd perhaps choose it for a rock vocal (I mostly use mine for drums), but it's not the tool for an 'Enya-esque' half-whispered performance.
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby Hippie162 » Fri Jun 11, 2021 1:52 pm

The Elf wrote:Just don't go running away with the idea that you're going to get crisp, ultra-clean, quietly delivered vocals with that gear. I also have a D5 and I'd perhaps choose it for a rock vocal (I mostly use mine for drums), but it's not the tool for an 'Enya-esque' half-whispered performance.

Yes true.. I think I only really need to re-record my first verse which is accompanied by piano only as once the rest of the track kicks in you can't hear any noise.. Yes I promise to be realistic Elf ;)

One day when I actually have money in my account after the bills come out I will actually upgrade my equipment lol :lol:
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Re: Tips for getting a clean sound on vocal recordings?

Postby The Elf » Fri Jun 11, 2021 2:02 pm

We all do the best with what we can afford. It's no criticism of you; I just wanted you to have realistic expectations. :thumbup:
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