Hello Dear community!
Our last webinar was in regards to Gain. We explained what gain is and how it works in your interfaces/preamps. We also shared good practices and tips you can use to avoid unwanted clipping and distorted tracks.
If you want to know more about what was said, keep on reading!
What is gain?
When we talk about gain, we make reference to transmission gain which is the increase in the power of the signal. This value is expressed in dB. This setting can be found in your preamplifier, on your mixing board or interface, and will let you modify the intensity of the signal that is coming in from your microphone.
Every piece of equipment, either your preamplifier or your interface and even on some microphones, has what is called a nominal level. This is usually represented in the middle of your gain knob. This is the, basically, the perfect point in which you’re going to have the best performance from your equipment. It's not going to be the same value always as it depends on each piece of equipment, for example: if the nominal level of your interface is +4dB, that is going to be the level that is going to be taken as the best value or gain number you can achieve. In summary, this level is that specific and perfect point where your level and gain of your input is going to have enough headroom before the distortion point.
Here are some basic terms that will help you with this particular topic:
Noise Floor: Is the measure of the signal created from the sum of all the noise sources and unwanted signals between a measurement system. Every electrical device, due to its components and design, will produce a certain amount of noise. It’s that minimum or functioning noise the device produces. You will also have an overall noise floor for the whole recording chain.
Headroom: In digital and analog audio, this term refers to the amount by which the signal handling capabilities of an audio system exceeds a designated nominal level. It's the space above until the audio reaches distortion. It's a safety zone that allows the transients to peak without creating distortion.
Dynamic Range: Describes the ratio of the softest sound to the loudest sound in a musical instrument or piece of electronic equipment. Its ratio is measured in dB. It's the distance between the noise floor and the point where the audio gets distorted.
Distortion: Is any change in the content of an electrical signal or the shape of a sound wave during its transmission. Every system has a minimum and a maximum amount of level they can handle before the signal gets altered.
Solutions and Best practices
Here are some tips that may be useful to solve the three types of distortion that can appear while recording (analog, digital and mic capsule distortion):
- Record at 24-bit (144 db) instead of 16-bit (96 dB). Every bit is equal to six dB. If you record at 16 bit, you'll have a dynamic range of 96 dB. However, if you record at 24-bit, you’ll have 144dB. If you keep in mind that 130db or 150db are almost the maxima of amount of pressure that humans can handle before starting to have damage in our hearing, 144dB is a great amount of dynamic range. A big dynamic range will give you the opportunity to set the gain loud enough to move away from the noise floor and to keep the noise of your recording chain as low as possible, as well as allowing you to set the gain soft enough to leave enough headroom for the dynamics.
- If you add some processing layer or you want to add a compressor or limiter, make sure that you maintain a healthy input-output relationship in every step of the recording chain.
- Make sure to study all the dynamic processors (compressors, limiters, gates) that you plan to use to keep a careful balance between elements in the recording. If you are unsure on how to use a specific processor, it’s better not to use it as it can damage your recording heavily if not used appropriately.
- Practice a lot, know your gear and tune your ear. You'll find throughout the process what works for you and how to set up best your equipment.
- Try to achieve the best recording right from the start. Recording issue-free is way more effective in the end to achieve an overall good recording and will save you a lot of mixing time.
- Don't try to fix a distorted audio while in the mix as this is almost impossible to do. If your audio is distorted, you may need to record again as it will save you time and effort trying to fix an unfixable audio.
- The more processes you use, the more damage your signal will have. We usually recommend you to not use any process, but if you add any, keep them low to avoid the take to sound overprocessed.
These were some of the questions we received in our Webinar:
What processes you recommend we use for VoiceBunny?
It depends. There's no absolute answer. We personally suggest you guys don’t use any processes, as we want "well edited, unprocessed audios" that are ready to use. This in case a client wants to do processing afterwards. Limited or overprocessed audios don't give the client the chance to manipulate it as they please as the signal has already been modified. We recommend you to stay away from dynamic compressors and, especially, from noise reduction plugins. You can add some EQ if you want, but keep in mind that the most important thing is for you the recording to sound great right from the start.
In summary, you can use some EQ to clean the recording if you know where and how to use it. It's always better to remove than to add so there’s that, too.
Can you suggest settings for recording with Audacity?
As with any other DAW, you need to pay attention to how the signal is coming into your computer or interface. You need to choose the right equipment for your voice and what you try to achieve, and follow the chain. Use good cables that won't add noise. When you enter the preamp make sure you set the right amount of gain, and that the signal is as clean as possible all the way through. Keep in mind that the DAW is just a tool to represent the audio being captured by the interface or preamp, so it really doesn’t matter that match which one you use as long as you’re accustomed to it.
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