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#1039782 - 03/12/06 02:24 AM Vocal recording problem
BrettThomas Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 09/29/04
Posts: 44
Loc: CA
I've been posting this question on many forums, so I apologize to anyone who's read it over and over, but I've been having a horrible problem lately with vocals and I really need help! It sounds like there is an extremely narrow 10+ dB peak at around 5kHz on every vocal I record. This absolutely destroys all sibilance, especially s, t, and d sounds. In fact, it's so pronouced that I can even hear a harsh whistle when someone takes a breath. I can notch filter it out, but it never sounds natural, and de-essers don't work because the offending frequency range is far too narrow, and behind that, the esses are fine. I've been doing this for a long time, and I've never had a problem like this. Any suggestions? Here's my recording chain:

10'x17'x9.5' dead room (no first reflections at all, but my problem DOES sound like comb filtering). Flat from 40Hz to 20+kHz.
U87 (usually, but same problem exists with other mics)
All Mogami cables
Avalon AD2022 (usually, but same problem with other pres as well)
After that, my monitoring chain and "to tape" chain split (line level split out of the preamp) and the problem exists on both paths, so the problem is somewhere before that split (or in that split?).

This problem has set me back months on all my projects, and now that I've had the same problem with all my mics, all my pres, all different cables, tried dozens of mic techniques, etc., it's finally to the point of driving me mad! Does anyone have ANY ideas???? Someone mentioned to me something about adding a 600 ohm resistor to flatten out my frequency response, but I know nothing about that, any help there? Here are some examples:

http://www.brettthomas.org/files/GS/

Thanks a lot!
-Brett

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#1039783 - 03/12/06 08:43 AM Re: Vocal recording problem
miroslav Offline
Cosmic Cowboy
10k Club

Registered: 05/23/00
Posts: 14215
Loc: NY Hudson Valley, USA
I listened to your example1 & 2 MP3 files...and what I'm hearing sounds pretty normal to me, that is…I'm not hearing anything wrong with the chain.
That is ALL being done by the person singing (I assume it's you).
Some people have a tendency to really hit a particular spot in the frequency range...especially in the "S" zone...and you just have to work it out with the gear or with your vocal technique.

I would not use a sharp notch filter...but rather something just a bit more wider…as a sharp notch will make it sound too unnatural….and a dresser will pull/push if set too strongly to remove everything
Just gently roll off the highs in that range with a medium-to-narrow Q, using a parametric.
Maybe you can apply some gentle de-essing during the tracking (leave at least 50% of the “S” in there). Then smooth the rest out during mixing, using a gentle parametric setting.
Or if you are going to edit in a DAW…just hit those spots with the gentle parametric, rather than the entire vocal.

Are you using a pop filter? Use one...or, try stacking two, about 2"-3” apart.
Or, another trick is to NOT sing directly into to mic...but roughly at a 30 degree angle to the side...and then you only learn to turn your head 30 degrees off-axis when you know you are going to hit the "S" spots.
Or...put the mic's capsule about 4" below (or above) where you mouth is...that way you are not hitting it head-on with the "S".

Keep hitting the "S" zone as you move your mouth around the mic...try the sides, up, down...and then listen to the playback...and find the spot and the distance that has the least pronounced “S”.
Good vocal technique for recording takes some time to learn…how to work the mic to get the best, natural results…so that you have to do less editing later.

You mentioned the U87...which I believe has a natural peak in the upper range...
…but what other mics have you tried, and noticed this same problem?
And what is you mic setup…where is the mic relative to your mouth, etc?
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#1039784 - 03/12/06 08:51 AM Re: Vocal recording problem
miroslav Offline
Cosmic Cowboy
10k Club

Registered: 05/23/00
Posts: 14215
Loc: NY Hudson Valley, USA
Here's another question...

Was there ever a time when you DIDN'T have this problem?
If there was...then think about what you've changed since then.

But if you've had the "S" thing from the start...
…then it is mostly caused by your vocals, and it is not the gear that is causing it.
You just learn to use the gear to fix it...and of course, work on your vocal technique for recording...which will be different than what you might do singing live.
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miroslav - miroslavmusic.com

"Just because it happened to you, it doesn't mean it's important."

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#1039785 - 03/12/06 11:18 AM Re: Vocal recording problem
paully Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 1129
Loc: Northern New Jersey
Have you tried the old 'pencil' trick? Sounds funny, but try taping a wooden pencil directly to the mic; vertically, in the middle of the mike and in front of the diaphram, so that you're looking at it pointing up in front of you as you sing(directly into the mic.. not off axis). It's an old trick, but remarkably effective.

Paul
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#1039786 - 03/12/06 12:45 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
blas Offline
Gold Member

Registered: 03/06/01
Posts: 519
Loc: St. Louis, MO. USA
Paul, The "ole pencil trick" we used to do some 25+ years ago was to first, really sharpen the tip, then point the pencil toward the vocalist sticking about one inch away from the mic itself (are you talkin' about the same?). We never had to worry about someone eating the mic, unless they liked lead holes in their face! Then them dang pop screens came into vogue....took all the fun away (and sure cost a lot more).

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#1039787 - 03/12/06 02:22 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
BrettThomas Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 09/29/04
Posts: 44
Loc: CA
Hello everyone, thanks so much for your input. I'm not a singer at all, these are clients that I've been working with for some time, and this problem came up all of a sudden with all of them. Never had this problem before. Mic technique doesn't seem to have any effect on this problem, and I've tried the pencil trick also. Didn't help \:\( . These same people who used to have extremly smooth sibilance while singing directly into the mic from 9" away now sound harsh even with the mic 30 degrees up pointed down and 2' away. I always use a popscreen (usually the metal Steadman one) and I've tried using two, as well. I've tried using my U87, TLM 103, NTZ, my Schoeps CMC6 (very flat) and some cheaper LDs as well (AKG C2000B and Studio Projects C1, etc) as well as a Vintech preamp, a Demeter preamp, and a Sound Devices field recorder (722) preamp for the hell of it. What bothers me is that I've changed absolutely nothing about my recording technique in 10 years, and all of a sudden everyone's voice (including people I've recorded many times before) sound unnaturaly harsh. The comparison to my older recordings is what kills me. I'm starting to look towards electrical problems since I'm almost out of ideas. Anyone know if extremely dirty power can manifest itself in the audio signal as artifacts like this? I can't afford to drop a lot of money on a nice power conditioner if that won't help at all. Might be a long shot, but I'm getting desperate! The reason this comes to mind is the fact that the Sound Devices 722 field recorder sounded the best! Didn't even need a De-esser in most cases. Thanks so much to everyone for your help!!!

-Brett

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#1039788 - 03/12/06 02:37 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
Bill@Welcome Home Studios Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 08/23/03
Posts: 9613
"I'm starting to look towards electrical problems since I'm almost out of ideas. Anyone know if extremely dirty power can manifest itself in the audio signal as artifacts like this? "

No.

What have you changed in the system? Sounds like crappy converters to me. New amp? New speakers? New room layout? what has changed? SOMETHING is obviously different.

Bill
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Steve Martin

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.


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#1039789 - 03/12/06 02:43 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
BrettThomas Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 09/29/04
Posts: 44
Loc: CA
Hi Bill,

So no way it's my dirty power, huh? The room is totally dead and flat, no changes there. I've always used the same crappy converters \:\) , but this problem is before the converters as it's in my monitoring chain "before tape" as well. I wish I knew what was different. If I did, I'd change it back immediately!!!

-Brett

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#1039790 - 03/12/06 03:55 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
paully Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 1129
Loc: Northern New Jersey
If there's an AD/DA somewhere in the chain, have you somehow inadvertently lowered the sampling rate? Less samples will abate/shrill the higher frequencies. It won't boost them, just make them sound worse. Also, if your going to tape, is it possible that noise reduction was not used to record, but engaged for playback/monitoring? The f-band you describe is right around where NR works. One other thought. Check any XLR connections for opens/cold solder points on the '3' pin. You've stumped Bill. Congradulations.. that takes some doing! \:D \:D

Paul
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WUDAYAKNOW.. For the first time in my life, I'm wrong again!!

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#1039791 - 03/12/06 04:06 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
paully Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 1129
Loc: Northern New Jersey
Quote:
Originally posted by blas:
Paul, The "ole pencil trick" we used to do some 25+ years ago was to first, really sharpen the tip, then point the pencil toward the vocalist sticking about one inch away from the mic itself (are you talkin' about the same?).
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
NO!! I hope you're kidding, but that's actually not a bad use. The idea was to break up(disburse)the higher frequencies prior to hitting the diaphram. The only audible difference is the lack of 'sss'. Sometimes 2 pencils would be used. Sounds like Brett's problem is something more unusual.

Paul
_________________________
WUDAYAKNOW.. For the first time in my life, I'm wrong again!!

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#1039792 - 03/12/06 06:59 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
BrettThomas Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 09/29/04
Posts: 44
Loc: CA
Paul,

No A/D or D/As anywhere in the chain until the interface, and I'm very careful with sample/bit rates (and the problem is before that in the signal chain anyway). Most of my cabling is relatively new (I think I replaced it after this problem came up thinking that it might help) so I think that should all be fine. . . . I'm using all Mogami 2549 for everything. The first time I used the pencil trick was a few weeks ago, and it didn't do anything at all, which is partly what lead me to believe my problem is AFTER the mic. Again, the frequency band that's boosted is EXTREMELY narrow. It's easier to hear on some voices than others. When someone takes a breath, you can hear that frequency jump out of that wide band noise in the form of a whistle. Almost like there's some interference that's boosting that narrow band, but it's not a reflection or anything. The room is totally dead. I shouldn't have trashed all the takes that we've tried singing off axis into the mic. That made it VERY obvious. The high freqs. would be much more tame, but that one frequency would be just as loud as usual, making it stick out much more. I appreciate all your suggestions! Next time I have a willing volunteer I'm going to pull apart my signal chain one piece at a time and try to narrow down where the problem is coming from. Thanks so much again!

-Brett

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#1039793 - 03/12/06 08:19 PM Re: Vocal recording problem
paully Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 05/25/04
Posts: 1129
Loc: Northern New Jersey
Brett,

I listened to both files and as Miro stated, I really couldn't hear anything wrong either(computer speakers). The 2nd file actually sounded more subdued in the highs, but nothing out of the ordinary. It just might be a change in your monitor's EQ. Is there an EQ just before the monitor amp, or a level adjustment for horn/woofer within the monitors? Whatever you're hearing, it sounds pretty clean via MP3. When you catch your breath, sit down and map out for us
the 'exact' audio path for the vocals.. from singer to the monitors. Sometimes a blind perusal can pick out something you have overlooked. One question. Has the change occured with other instruments and other channels? I'm sure you've tried this, but make a CD of music-only program material(no vocals), using your monitors for reference. Or use a trusted CD that you're familiar with. Then put the CD through different systems and listen for change. As was alluded to earlier, it sounds like someone had their mits on the EQ buttons. A spectrum analysis will quickly point up any bad anomolies. How about phones? Difference there? From what I heard on the first fle, you might just try backing off the high shelving a bit and see if it helps. Newer boards are using much higher shelving frequencies than the old ones, and when you get up to those frequencies, you don't have many samples taking place.

Best, Paul
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WUDAYAKNOW.. For the first time in my life, I'm wrong again!!

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