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Session Notes: Making Custom Baffles

The Practical Craft of Recording
By Mike Senior

To minimise spill between the mics when capturing four vocalists, without interfering with sight lines between the performers, Mike built a  cross-shaped DIY baffle using MDF, Perspex, and aluminium profiling, surrounding the whole structure with blankets and duvets. This picture gives you a  sense of what it was like inside the finished construction.To minimise spill between the mics when capturing four vocalists, without interfering with sight lines between the performers, Mike built a cross-shaped DIY baffle using MDF, Perspex, and aluminium profiling, surrounding the whole structure with blankets and duvets. This picture gives you a sense of what it was like inside the finished construction.Photo: Daniel Plappert

Some creative thinking and a little DIY pay real sonic dividends when recording four vocalists.

Last month I discussed my recording, on location in the theatre of a local music school, of Spektakulatius' latest album. An unusual aspect of the band's line-up is that it features four singers, who share out the lead and backing duties between them, sometimes switching roles in the same song. As we were on a tight schedule (three days to record 14 songs), I was keen to capture the full band and all the vocalists simultaneously, but I also wanted the ability to edit each vocal part independently, and even to comp their parts between different takes if necessary. Fortunately, we had the luxury of a separate room where we could record the singers in isolation, so spill between the vocals and the band wasn't a concern. But that still left the challenge of how best to reduce spill between the singers themselves.

On the one previous occasion I'd worked with this band, we'd been using the main function room of a converted pub as our recording space. It had a little raised stage along one side, which the new owner had partitioned off with fibreboard and plexiglass for use as a video control room, and we ended up using that space as a vocal booth. Though workable enough, there were several drawbacks. Firstly, the space was pretty small and had no acoustic treatment, which gave it an unflattering 'medium closet' ambience. I did my best to damp this by hanging blankets and duvets, but we didn't have unlimited supplies of those so this only reduced the boxy resonances of the enclosed space a certain amount and left me with more EQ work to do at the mix than I'd have liked.

The second problem was that the booth's long, narrow shape forced me to set the singers up side by side; I was only able to separate them with fairly flimsy DIY cardboard-and-blanket partitions, which weren't a huge amount of help, to be honest. Also, the vocal mics I was using were cardioids, which only attenuate by about 6dB at 90 degrees off axis anyway, and the bleed between the singers proved problematic when mixing a few numbers. Again, I found ways around this at mixdown, but I didn't fancy repeating that extra work this time if I could avoid it. Finally, as the singers were standing in a line, with partitions between them, they had poor visual contact, making it trickier for them to maintain tight ensemble timing and match the phrasing of their lead and backing lines.

Bespoke Baffling

To reduce these problems for this recent session, I decided to try creating a bespoke baffle, using wood and Perspex to get better spill rejection (especially at high frequencies, which I knew I might want to boost at mixdown), while maintaining...

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Published August 2019