Building a Home Recording Studio – A Practical Guide With Construction Tips and More

When I was building a home recording studio, I took my time and did things carefully. It wasn't that hard, but took careful planning. 

I did the planning and considerations, and here are some things that helped me. I hope they can be of use to you.

Some first things. How much can you remodel your space? If it is a home recording studio, you are probably remodeling a room in your home. But it could be a shed or other building (even one you rent, with the permission of the landlord, of course!). 

If you can do a lot of renovation, building a home recording studio is fun, because you can control things like double walls, sound proofing, U-boats and RC-8 channel, and double drywall layers. Even if you cannot do much renovation, simple things that don't cost that much can be easy to install and very effective.

The ideas on this page are organized in three sections. First come basic construction ideas relating to building a recording studio. Second are specific things related to acoustical design in the construction. Third, we look at acoustical treatments that can be applied to walls, corners, and ceilings after the main construction phase is complete.

Basic Construction

This is the "building" of building a home recording studio. This section is for folks that can do some remodeling and hiring a contractor (or do it yourself).

When building a home recording studio, use basic common sense for constructing walls, floors, and ceilings that will block as much sound as possible. Remember, there are two ways sound can travel - in and out. In is the most critical for us, because we don't want extra sound popping up on our recordings. But considering out will help to keep the family or neighbors happy.

It would be good now to brush up on the subject of acoustics now, because we'll make use of it going forward. Remember the two ideas of sound transmission and sound reflection.

In the construction part, sound transmission rules. The goal is to build a wall that blocks as much sound going through as possible (within the constraints of space, time, and money). Building a double wall, one that leaves a few inches of airtight dead space, serves as the ultimate sound proofing solution. But it's usually not practical. So we improvise.

Walls. Building a home recording studio requires good walls. Mass is the key word. But be smart. Do things like glue the drywall to the wall studs, caulk everywhere you can from the backside to make the wall airtight. Fill it with insulation (see below). Don't make many holes for wires and stuff. Put on a second layer of drywall (and maybe use RC-8 channel, see below). Maybe use some Sheetblock on it (also below). You can go to the trouble of using a 2x6 wall, and 2x4 studs that are alternating between the two sides of the wall (see picture). I did not - it's too much bother. The picture shows the blue wall studs attached to one side and the green ones to the other (diagram is looking down at the top of the wall).

Insulation. Key idea to consider: fill the walls with cellulose insulation (the kind that is blown in, instead of fiberglass that comes on rolls). The result is much more sound blocking (sound transmission). I checked on the STC ratings of them both when I built my studio, and it was much better. The other option is to go with an acoustical insulation, like one provided by Auralex. See below.

Also, put insulation everywhere you can. In the walls, the floor, the celing, everywhere. See picture below, showing cellulose in the walls and fiberglass in the floor. A related tip is to caulk ALL the joints where studs meet the outside wall. This makes the wall airtight, and increases the sound proofing. (This is perhaps the easiest tip for building a home recording studio. Just make it airtight.)

Windows. You will probably want a window if you plan to make use of two rooms. Trust me, it's worth it, unless it is simply a computer closet or something. To make a window, plan to leave an airspace in between to panes. 

  1. For the window panes, just go to a local glass store (ask at a hardware store if you can't find one) and get 1/4" or 3/8" glass panes cut to the size of your window. 
  2. Wait till the wall is framed up and the drywall is on (but before any trim is on). 
  3. Get a 1x8 from a lumberyard and rip the width down to the space of the window (make sure it covers the two sets of drywall). 
  4. Nail that to the wall framing (it might be helpful to put a rubber decoupler there, like sheetblock). This serves as the basic frame (1). 
  5. Next, rip another 1x8 into two small 1x1s (3) and leave the remainder for the middle. 
  6. Nail the middle piece (2) onto the basic frame. 
  7. Now put some window/door weatherizing strips onto the middle piece (2), the frame (1), and the small pieces (3) where the glass pane will touch them. 
  8. Clean the glass well, and place it against the middle piece resting on the frame, and screw or nail the small pieces to the frame, thereby holding the glass in place. 
  9. Repeat for the other side.
  10. Voila, a professional window! You wil probably want to either stain the middle and small pieces, or put a piece of scrap carpet in it.

Ceilings. If you have upstairs rooms, this will be the hardest. Frankly, I don't know of a way in building a home recording studio to eliminate sound from above, apart from building a separate, detached ceiling. But who has room for that? The only way I've found to take care of the sound is to make sure that no one goes up when I'm recording. But here is what I did. We put big floor joists in, 2x10s or 2x12s (I forget which), and filled the entire cavity with insulation. It helps, but is not foolproof. The ceiling also got two layers of drywall and one layer of Sheetblock.

Acoustic Design

By "acoustical design" in relation to building a home recording studio, I mean those things you do in construction that are specifically designed for acoustical applications in building a recording studio. These are not things like foam panels and acoustical treatments (that comes in the next section), but things like insulation, floor support, and drywall hanging aids. Here are the common options available to someone looking at building a home recording studio.


U-boats. These little things are fun and pretty good. The work to decouple the floor joists from the subfloor. The principle is simple - load these boots around the floor joists and set them on the existing floor. The rubber dampens any vibrations, and takes care of wandering shocks that want to get into the recording. Here is a picture showing them in use.

Drywall hanging channel (RC-8 Channel). If you are building a home recording studio and are putting on walls, definitely give this little tool a shot. As mentioned earlier, an airspace between two walls is very effective in adding to the STC or sound proofing factor of a wall. RC-8 channel is an easy way to achieve this without building a second wall. 

Here's the deal. Screw these to your existing wall, running perpendicular to the wall studs. Then screw new drywall to the tracks. They ensure a 1/2" airspace and are the easiest way to put an airspace in a wall. Here's a picture of them in use (I installed them against a wall with cellulose insulation, and a mesh to hold it in place).

Insulation. We talked about insulation before, so nothing new here. The special acoustical part is the Auralex Mineral Fiber insulation, which I chose not to use in my studio. 2" thick, and 4" thick. I'm sure it works great, but for me the cost did not justify upgrading from cellulose insulation.

Sheetblock. Ah yes, everyone building a home recording studio should know about Sheetblock. This is a rubber sheet that comes on a roll. The goal is to introduce more mass to the wall in a thin, small package. This product gets glued to the wall, usually in a layer inside the wall. Sheetblock adds considerably to the STC level of the wall but is very thin. This makes it ideal for a small but effective treatment. It's heavy. See some sheetblock on the window construction picture - it's the black rubber stuff between the boards.

Acoustical Treatments

Building a home recording studio is not over yet! After the construction part is finished, a studio usually needs some kind of management on the walls and ceiling to control reflection inside the room. The solutions above are trying to control sound coming into the room (sound transmission), these are for sound already in the room (sound reflection). These acoustical solutions apply to those problems.

Foam. This is what most people think of first for acoustical treatments. It's an easy way to help tame a room. Does it sound too bright and echoey? Use foam to calm things down. A lot of companies make foam, and I don't know them all. But I know the best one, can you guess... Auralex! Auralex foam is what I used in building a home recording studio, and I recommend you do to. (Make sure you read the easy solution to treating a studio below.)

But it comes in several varieties: different panel sizes, like 2'x2', or 2'x4', or 1'x1', and different thicknesses, like 2" or 4". Of course, colors are up for grabs. I got a kit that worked out well. Here is a small Auralex foam kit.

Bass traps. These boys come in many varieties and can be hard to figure out. Sometimes people actually build them into the structure, and they can be quite complex. Think spaces here, sound absorbtion there, block the low frequency waves here, and so on. There is a simpler way to do it. 

Did you ever notice that the low frequencies tend to gather in the corners of a room? Try singing to yourself, and slowly move into a corner. The bass sounds will get stronger. I don't know why; they just do. Anyway, if you put a bass trap built from foam (Auralex calls them Lenrds) into the corner, it stops those low frequency sounds from running around. It doesn't seem like it should work, but I can say from personal experience that it does work.

Diffusers. Where foam tries to stop sound from reflecting, a diffuser keeps it going but in a special way. The reflections are diffused, or split up. Think of a laser light on a mirror - that's like a sound wave that bounces straight away. But what happens if the light is reflected in a wide spread instead of a single beam? That reduces the power and concentration of the light. Think about a prism.

It works the same way for sound. A diffuser spreads the sound out, smoothing out the echo or reverb of the room. I have these behind my listening position, to diffuse the sound from the studio monitors so it doesn't echo right back to me. I also put them on the ceiling in random spots. They work great to liven the room after all the foam went in. See some Auralex diffusers.

This is an overview of the acoustical treatments in building a home recording studio. Also see the acoustic foam page for more discussion on Auralex products.

Whew!

So, after that exhausting ride on building a home recording studio, what are your thoughts? I'd love to hear if this has been helpful, or if I am missing something here. We went from talking about how to build a recording studio in the construction phase, to talking about specific acoustical products for construction, then to some on acoustic treatment. What a workout! But relax, building a home recording studio should be fun.

So get out there, and start doing it. What do you need? If you cannot do any remodeling, look at what treatments you can put on. That is the best way to make a room sound much, much better.

Return from Building a Home Recording Studio to Home

Here is a site with good information about how to build a home recording studio, talking about selecting equipment.

Note: some links on this site that go to other websites may be affiliate links. What does this mean? Nothing, really, except that if you choose to buy from that link, I'll get a small credit for referring you over. It's a way for you to send a little compensation for the value you received. And it's no extra cost to you. So I thank you!

Your introduction to audio recording process!

Welcome to the wonderful world of home audio recording! The recording process is an exciting journey filled with art, fulfillment, and satisfaction. More specifically, the process is the required steps required to make finished recording - a CD or other music release.

The steps in the recording process may vary from project to project. It depends on what your end goal is. For the most part though, the following steps will get you on the path to successful recording!

So where do I start? Wait no longer!

For the most popular recording--a CD--here is the basic recording process I recommend:

  • Choose your equipment
  • Mic placement & technique
  • Record the songs
  • Do any mixing needed
  • Do any mastering needed
  • Get your copyright permissions
  • Replicate your discs!
Let's look at each one of these briefly.

Choose your equipment

While this is not an action step in the recording process, it is utterly important to get the right equipment.

There is a lot of recording equipment available, for a lot of different uses. By defining your needs you can soon decide what you need and what you don't need!

Some of the things you might need are:

  • Computer
  • Audio interface
  • Computer software
  • Digital recording console
  • Mixer
  • Microphones
  • Mic stands
  • Microphone preamp
  • Headphones
Wow, that looks like quite a list! Don't worry, it isn't quite as bad as it seems! You won't need all of the things listed.

For more help on what you will need, see recording-equipment.

Mic placement and technique

What makes the difference between different recordings? Why do some CD's sound better than others?

The answer lies in various places, but one of the important answers is mic placement.

Mic placement is how you position your microphones in relation to the instrument or voice. Technique is the general strategy used in mic placement.

Where you put your mics while recording will make a big difference in the sound you get. You can just plunk a mic down and record, but a little experimentation can go a long way in getting a better sound.

Learn more about mics here.

Record the songs

OK, the moment of truth! This is one of the most exciting parts of recording, when you actually record the tracks to disk!

Before you do this, make sure you accurately follow the previous steps to get the best sound possible...

You have quality mics, placed in excellent strategic positions. You will be recording with excellent equipment (digital recording console or computer). Now, just push the record button!

Sit back, and enjoy the wonder of it all!

When you are done, go back and listen to it again! Enjoy this feeling!

At this stage, you are in the heart of the recording process. This is the heat of the battle, but keep on going!

But, what if something doesn't work? Is everything plugged in the right place? Why doesn't my computer recognize the sound card?

Problems like these will occur, so get ready for them. In the future, I will add articles to help troubleshoot these questions.

Mixing

When you are baking a cake, you take the ingredients (like flour and sugar) and mix them together to make the chocolate cake. Everything gets mixed together, and out comes a beautiful cake (or sound).

That is what audio mixing is about too. Only now you're dealing with audio tracks instead of eggs and baking powder.

There are a lot of things you can do when mixing besides just combining 4 outputs into 1. You can...

  • adjust the levels of each track
  • adjust the panning of each track
  • add effects to each track
This is where audio engineers spend most of their time during the whole recording process. To learn more, see the mixing.

Mastering

What is mastering? That is a kind of subjective question, different people interpret it different ways.

Basically, mastering means the process of putting the final touches on your mix to make it ready to sell. It is one of the final steps in the recording process.

This can entail subtle eq work, compression, and a touch of reverb, as well as adjusting the levels of each individual track to you can't hear a difference when you're listening to the CD.

The goal is to make the end result work well together.

Usually, a mastering engineer does this. They have years of experience, and know how to get what they want - not to mention they have the equipment they need!

Does this mean you can't do it?

No, not at all - but you should think seriously about having someone else do it. It will cost more, but you will get high quality results.

For more info on DIY mastering or other questions, see learn-mastering.

Copyrights

What? Why do I need copyright permission?!

If you record a song that you or your client did not write, you probably need copyright permission to produce that CD.

The technical term for this permission is a mechanical license. That allows you to make recordings of songs you did not write.

Another copyright issue is that of IPR, or intellectual property rights. If you or your client recorded the sounds, instrument and voice tracks, you own the IPR for that. But if you are using a drum sample on a song, you need to get permission to use that in the recording.

Normally, if you are doing a project for a client, it is their responsibility to get the necessary permissions. However, to add an extra service to your recording studio, you could offer these services.

Remember, this is something that needs to be done. Don't skip this important step.

Replication

The last step in the recording process is replication. What is replication? It means having copies made of your CDs. Duplication is another word that means almost the same, but with slight differences.

In duplication, the music is burned onto blank CDs. This is usually used for small runs, like 25 - 500 CDs. From 500 on up in quantity, it is usually more cost effective to go the replication route.

In replication, the process is different. They take your master copy and make a glass copy. From this, they stamp out your new CDs. The bottoms are silver and it looks a bit more professional.

It is more expensive in quantities under 1000, but can be done for just $1 or $2 a disc nowadays. If you can, I recommend you get them replicated. In my opinion, it seems more professional.

There. That's it!

Now, all you have to do is give the CDs to your client, or start marketing it if it's yours!

This recording process is a very rewarding process, but can be very frustrating. It takes time and perseverance, but when you get that final CD, you get a wonderful sense of satisfaction and pride in a job well done!

Now, what are you waiting on? You've got the basic recording process ideas down, so get out there and get it done!

Need help deciding what to record with? Choosing mics for your recording process. 


Where to buy recording equipment

Where is a good place to buy recording equipment? There are so many places offering stuff for sale, where should you choose? And why? 

First, I recommend Amazon. They are one of the largest online retailers, with a network of suppliers. And you can trust them. They'll probably have what you're looking for, at the best available price.

zZounds Logo

Also check out zZounds.com. zZounds offers the widest selection of name-brand insruments at guaranteed lowest prices. You can purchase over 125,000 different products from their website 24 hours a day (and they offer free shipping on most of it). Check it out!

Another good place to look is Sam Ash. It is a family run business, priding theirselves with an impressive inventory, good support, and a passion for music. 

Sweetwater.com is a great place too. I've found their sales support staff very helpful, but the prices not the most competitive. Fullcompass.com is another good place to go. They can sometimes email you quotes that are better than advertised prices. 

About the links you see on Bedroom-Recording.com - most of them are affiliate links where you can support the site by clicking through and purchasing. Thank you for your support of Bedroom-Recording.com!

Do you have a "best place" to buy audio equipment? I'd love to hear about it!

What to do on your computer with voice recording

OK, you're using your computer with voice recording. Now how do you tweak that computer voice recording to your advantage?

Computer voice recording opens up a world of possibilities for a lot less money than previous analog and digital recording solutions.

How does all the computer technology relate into providing good products for computer voice recording? Several ways. With computers, you can use DSP, or digital signal processing extensively with vocals to craft the exact sound you need. DSP has also made possible plugins like AutoTune. We'll discuss those later.

So what are the tools? How can you use a computer and software to improve your voice recordings? Here's a few tools:

  • Dynamics adjustment
  • EQ adjustment
  • Reverb
  • Levels & pan
  • Special vocal processing

With these types of processing available, you can do amazing things with your computer voice recordings. You'll need some kind of audio editing software for your computer. There are many available, some free, some not. They offer various feature sets, so when you are getting one, look for compatibility with the tools discussed here.

Computer voice recording tool 1 — Dynamics

First of all, dynamics are the flow of music – the transition from loud to soft in volume. Dynamics are a lot of what makes music flow and work; they add life to it.Sometimes the dynamics of a recorded vocal track aren’t quite right. Maybe the singer got too quiet at one part of the song, and you can't hear him/her among all the other voices/instruments. Or, maybe they sang too loud, overpower the rest of the mix.

You could just turn them down, but what about the parts when they were just right? Well, you could use automation in your DAW software to counter-act that, but a compressor will do the job as well.

You put a compressor on the track to smooth out the loud parts but keep the quieter parts the same, so the track will sizzle from start to finish – no bad spots!

When a compressor does its job, it takes the loud parts and makes them quieter. So when you turn it back up, the quiet parts are now louder. This can be used to make sure the singer's volume remains constant during a song.

All this said, remember that it's hard to polish mud.

EQ - Computer voice recording tool 2

EQ is also a prevalent effect in computer voice recording. You can shape the vocals as the occasion requires. Your microphone has a lot to do with the sound, but you can adjust with EQ to make it like you want.

For voice, I find that there is a lot of harshness in the 1–3khz range. If your computer voice recording sounds a bit harsh and blaring, try gently cutting in this range. Take it easy, or it will sound hollow and empty. This is where some of the most important frequencies in the voice are.

From 3khz to 8-10khz you have the air of the recording. You can boost this upper end a bit to make it more live, but with too much it just sounds too sizzly – more like burnt!

To make the voice warmer and fuller, try boosting at around 200hz or so. You may want to do this on the lead vocals; they should sound the best in the overall mix.

While experimenting with EQ, you’ll discover a new source of information on EQing. Who is this new teacher on EQ? Where can you learn the most, and best remember what you learned? The answer may surprise you…

Practice

That’s right! Experiment – try different things to see what they do. You will learn better by doing than if I just told you what to do. If you are trying to take away an annoying buzz, and you work for 20 minutes on it till you get it, you’ll remember exactly what to do next time!

Reverb - Computer voice recording tool 3

Reverb is one a fun thing to do with audio. It can make your tracks sound good, and add some professionalism. Basically, it is adding reverberation (many small echoes) to a track to make it sound like it was recorded in a different room.

The effect can be anything from a closet full of clothes to a church, a bathroom to a concert hall, or a cathedral to a garage.

Take care when you use reverb, because you can overdo it very easily. If you’re doing a band, you can put different instruments in different reverbs, but be subtle rather than distinct. Don’t do too much, or it’ll sound wishy-washy. Too much reverb is a classic amateur mixing engineer mistake.

Levels and Pan - Computer voice recording tool 4

Levels and pan are two of the most basic things in mixing. They don’t apply just to voice recording, but to everything too. They are the basic building blocks of any mix. Just ask any mixing engineer and he’ll tell you, you can’t mix without levels and pan!

With levels, each track is set at a specific volume in relation with the rest of the tracks. This makes tracks seem louder or softer in comparison to others. It is very necessary, because without it your mixes would seem abnormal and out of perspective.

For example, the lead vocal should stand out from everything else to allow for intelligibility and understandability, so you would turn its level higher. You would set the instruments that are less important quieter so they can fill the mix out.

Levels can also be used to adjust the perceived distance in your mix. Quieter tracks will be heard as farther away while louder ones will seem closer. Distance from the microphone has an impact on this too.

If levels are vertical adjustment, panning is horizontal. You know what a stereo track sounds like, right? Pan is used to make the left-right positioning heard in stereo audio. Most all mixing is done to stereo, so you need to get used to using pan in your mixes.

Panning will make a soundstage, so you can tell where the sound is coming from – right or left. When you sit on the front seat in a concert, you can hear the orchestra from left to right. Your mind localizes these sounds, so you can tell that the violins are on the right side!

When you hear a recording, two tracks are played back in a left and right scenario. When you mix you can use panning to make this soundstage.

If you have all your tracks panned to the center, it will probably sound full and overloaded. You might even have clipping, because too many signals are occupying the same space. If you separate them between two channels, it sounds a lot better. Try it!

Special vocal processing - Computer voice recording tool 5

After the basic computer voice recording mixing effect, you can go into special effects. These can be anything from a basic pitch adjustment to a crazy flange effect.

Do you ever have a vocal track that varies in tune? Maybe they gradually sharped the song, or maybe they just hit one note a bit flat. How do you fix this? Do another take, right?

Not if you have pitch correction software! You can use pitch correction to help your out-of-tune track. Digital Performer has limited pitch correction built in, and AutoTune is another outstanding product. With AutoTune you can adjust the pitch up or down, and even add or subtract vibrato.

OK, suppose you have a vocal track that you want to sound thicker. What do you do for that? There are a few tricks available to do this.

#1, try double tracking. This means record one take of the song, then go back and overdub a second track. Make sure the timing and pitch are on, so it sounds almost like the same voice.

The effect will be that of a doubled voice. If you did it good, it’ll still sound like one voice, but thicker and fuller. If it wasn’t done quite good enough, it’ll sound like two different voices.

There is a pro tool to do this. It's called VocAlign. It takes all the guesswork out of it, and makes it very easy to get good results.

Another trick is take one voice track on the computer and duplicate it. Normally, I leave it in the same position, but you can give the second track a few milliseconds of delay (10-40 will do). That’ll give you a fuller sound too. This is a "cheater" way of doing a double track! Now you can give it different settings for EQ, compression, reverb, and other processing to add a little color.

Another way to do this is by using an echo or delay plugin. Then you can set the length of your delay, from 1 to 100 milliseconds. A cool trick when using delay or echo is to set the delay a little longer, say from 100 to 400 milliseconds. This gives you a slap back echo, or an echo that slaps right back at you.

Well, now you know a lot about recording voices. With all this info, you can go a long way. Looking back, what would you say is the most important step in the whole chain?

It has to be the singer. They are the ones responsible for a good recording. If your singer can't sing, you just can't make them good!

Spare nothing to get a good performance. The singer cannot sound bored. Get the singing intense and very charged with the song's emotion. This is the key in getting a computer voice recording to sound good.

Another rule of thumb is you can’t polish mud! Really, though, that is truth. If you have some gold, polishing will only make it better. But, if all you have is mud, no amount of scrubbing will make it shinier!

What EQ can do for your audio, and how it works

EQ helps your audio sound better and corrects problems when recording. You can even use it to create special effects.

How can it do all that? Let's take a look at what audio is made of; the building blocks of sound.

Parametric EQ

You hear frequencies

When you hear different pitches in music, you are hearing sound waves in different frequencies, or speed of the waves. A high pitched note comes from high frequency sound waves. Low pitch means a slower wave. 

The frequency range that people can hear is approximately from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz (abbreviated Hz & kHz). An average person can hear most of this range, but usually not the extremities. Normally, 40Hz is the low end and 16kHz the high end of a healthy human ear.

Most microphones take advantage of this by having a frequency response of 20 Hz  to 20 kHz.

Fundamental frequency and overtones

When you hear an A on the piano, you are hearing sound waves at the fundamental frequency of 440 Hz. This simply means the base, or the most important, is 440. 

But you guessed it, there's more!

In addition to the fundamental frequency, a lot of other frequencies work together to give the sound character. These are called overtones. Simply put, overtones work in concert with the fundamental and make each sound distinct. Overtones are the reason we can tell the difference between a piano A and a guitar A. 

You know how you can usually know who is calling on the phone, simply by hearing their voice? You're hearing their overtones.

Why do we need to know this to work with EQ?

Microphones and coloring

Mics usually color the sound they record. Color simply means that they pickup some frequencies better or worse than others. A good mic will not color much at all, but some are worse.

This "coloring" is not all bad, though. High end mics are designed to give a nice smooth sound - they can color your music so it sounds better.

But sometimes this coloring that happens is not what you want. Whether it came from inside the mic or mic placement, things can go wrong.

So when you record several audio tracks and mix them together, you can multiply the problem. You now have something you don't like. How can you fix this?

This is where EQ comes in

That's where the whole equalization thing comes into play. It lets you change certain frequencies while leaving the rest alone. In this way, you can go in there and tweak the certain spots that need fixing. Then you have a better finished mix!

If you've ever tried this, you know that this is a lot easier said than done.

I'll try to explain roughly how the different frequency ranges impact your sound. 

I record a lot of a cappella music, so you may find a few differences with instrumentation added. (A cappella means no instruments)

Some tips on EQ

40Hz is usually as low as most good speakers can make sound at, so it doesn't make sense producing anything below that. The very bottom bass notes are down close to here!

If you have any trouble with your mix clipping, but it doesn't seem too loud, try cutting around 150-200Hz and lower. If that helps, you had a case of low end build up. That comes from a bunch of tracks with excessive low end sound, when it feels kind of boomy.

(If any of this sounds foreign, get the basics on using a parametric EQ.)

On voice tracks, I've found that you can take away some harsh edge by cutting the 1100-1500Hz area. Don't overuse this, because too much can sound pretty fishy! 

Try it. I'll wait. Cut around 1100Hz by 20dB. See how bad (or cool) it sounds.

Another range to check out on vocals, especially choirs, is 2-3kHz.

The vocals tend to come out a little more if you boost slightly at 5kHz or so. This brings out the upper end of the frequency range. Also try experimenting in the 8-12kHz range. Be gentle though, too much here will show up quickly!

OK, now we discussed some freqency specific things. Let's move on to some higher level stuff again.

Rules of EQ

Conventional wisdom will tell you about the "rules" - what you can and can't do. Get ready, because I'm going to tell you something completely different! You may want to sit down...

There are no rules.

What! No rules! How am I going to get anything done?!?

Slow down a tad! I said no rules, but there are some guidelines. You can't really "break" any rules when you're doing this, but if you follow the guidelines you can get somewhere faster.

As you experiment with these guidelines, you will be learning far more than if I just told you what to do. You won't just blindly copy instructions. You will see for yourself what happens, and you will retain it far longer.

So - rule #1... sorry, guideline #1:

Keep it subtle. Don't do any drastic changes. 

Unless your dry (unprocessed) audio is very bad, you shouldn't have to do anything major unless you want a weird effect. If you find yourself doing big changes (like 8dB or more of cut or boost), stop. Come back after a break and see if you still think it needs it.

Guideline #2: Find the Frequency

When you hear something you don't like in your mix, find what's going wrong. Boost the frequencies in a band of EQ, and "sweep" around to find the frequency that is causing the problem. When you find it, the problem will seem to "jump" out, because you are boosting it. Then, just give it a gentle cut. 

After you do this a couple of times, you will learn a lot about working with EQ. Experience is the best teacher.

If something seems lacking in your mix, put a gentle boost on. Do the "sweep" thing again until you find something that works. Alternatively, do a gentle cut and see if there is a spot where you hear a change.

The key is...

Don't give up trying. When you find the problem after a hard search, you will remember that for a long time. It will become part of your toolkit.

Go try to take away that boomy sound. When you succeed, you will remember exactly how you did it.

You've heard me talk about boosting and cutting, or sweeping. What do these mean? I'm speaking specifically of a parametric EQ, a powerful tool. I highly recommend you use one.

You can also check out a graphic EQ.

Top 10 Vocal Microphone List

Choosing a vocal microphone is difficult. There is a lot of money involved, and you don't want to make a wrong decision. On the other hand, for most small home studios, the vocal mic has to play double duty as an all around microphone, recording vocals, guitar, drums, and more.

I've taken the liberty to write up a top ten list of vocal microphones to provide a jumping off point when looking for a quality vocal mic for a new home recording studio. What you'll find below are my thoughts on 10 mics that are well suited for vocal recording.

Please know this - the price ranges drastically, but sometimes price is not the final arbiter of the sound quality. Sometimes a medium or even lower end mic will give you what you want, when a top dollar one is something a little different.

Here's what I recommend. If you are looking to buy a single vocal microphone to get your studio rolling, do not buy super expensive and do not buy cheap. Get middle of the road. Why? This way you are paying for a good quality microphone that will be versatile. Get the cheaper ones as a second one. For my first mic, I bought an Audio Technica AT4050 (see below). It is an amazing all purpose mic that I still use all the time.

What you don't want is a cheap vocal mic that makes you sad each time you use it. It's worth paying a bit more up front to get quality, because there is a quality different between a $100 mic and a $600 mic. That's my recommendation.

The list below is tailored for people who want vocal microphones that work well for other uses as well. I tried to keep this realistic - the prices range from $100 to $1000, with the Neumann U87 thrown in because it is just world class and needs to be on any top 10 list.

At the bottom of the list is a special feature of this page - a place for you to share raves about your favorite vocal mic. Click here to go straight there.

How to use this list

I've divided this list up into categories by price, and sorted them descending (highest price first). Please smile and read the info about the U87, even though it's out of the budget for pretty much any small studio. But it's a sweet mic. Each vocal microphone has some info about it to help you think about them.

Enjoy!

The Vocal Microphones

High End

Neumann U87

This is a classic studio mic. It is the "go to" mic for many different purposes. The quality is second to none. Sound is amazing. In short, if you can, get this microphone - you won't regret it.

Price: $3200

Middle Range

Remember, these are the ones to get if you at all can.

Audio Technica AT4050

This was my first microphone, and has served me well for over 10 years. It just works - I've never had any problems. I love the sound - present and full. It doesn't do any fancy things with trying to make the output sound flattering. It just pumps the sound through. I use it as a vocal microphone, but it is a studio workhorse - it's also known as an acoustic guitar mic. It has a switchable pattern, meaning it can be set to cardioid, omni, or figure-8 mode. I can't say enough good things about this, so I'll let you decide for yourself.

Price: $699

Price: $749

Rode NTK

The Rode NTK allows one to step down on the price axis a little bit but still maintain quality. It comes in at around half of the AKG C414, but still packs a solid punch in recording quality.

Price: $530

SM 27

The SM 27 is one of the vocal microphones by Shure (we'll meet more below). This one is falls in the bottom end of the middle range. It sports a condenser capsule, with a fixed cardioid pattern. The capsule is designed from the Shure KSM series, a higher end line, and placed on the SM 27. It is a multi-purpose mic, at home with the vocal microphones or many other categories. It nicely complements an SM 57 or 58.

Price: $299

The Low Range

Beta 58a

The Shure Beta 58a is an upgraded version of their wildly popular SM58 (below). It features a dynamic capsule with a hypercardioid pattern. That simply means that it is a directional mic, and a bit more directional than a standard cardioid. It is good for stage use, but quite at home in the studio as well. The frequency response of the Beta 58a is engineered for vocals. It brightens the midrange and rolls off the bass, to eliminate the proximity effect.

Price: $160

AT 2035

The Audio Technica AT 2035 is a large diaphragm condenser mic designed and budgeted for small studios. First, it is a condenser mic, not a dynamic mic as most of the vocal microphones down here are. However, here is the caveat: cheaper means more affordable, but not as good quality. This is one mic that I would save for a second or third mic, after you have a better one. The AT 2035 is a cardioid mic, and can accept high levels of sound.

SM 58

​Possibly the world's most popular microphone ever, the SM 58 is here to stay. It features a dynamic capsule, lacking the condenser part that allows upper end condensers to provide the clear sound that they do. The SM 58 is used in live sound applications a lot, but has found a place in the recording studio. It is a vocal mic, but much more - another workhorse.

Price: $89

AT 2020

​​Last but not least, the AT 2020 microphone. It brings up the rear of this list, meaning it's at the bottom. However, that doesn't mean that it is no good - it has its place. As one reviewer put it, this is a good mic for a starting home recording engineer. At $100, the price is right. You can buy cheaper, but the quality isn't there. Don't expect the AT 2020 to perform like the AT 4050 above, but it will work for you. It is a large diaphragm condenser that can handle loud sounds and a wide dynamic range. 

Price: $99

Conclusion 

Again, when looking at a vocal microphone, get the highest quality one you can afford. You will not regret it, and your sound will be better. Remember, the microphones are the ears of the studio. Your vocals will never sound better than your vocal microphones will allow. And you can't polish mud.

But also remember, a good microphone is the first step towards a good sound. Using it properly the whole way through the recording process is a necessity.

The nature of this list must exclude some microphones that are very good and deserve to be here. It is a top 10, not a top 50 list. But there are others that have just as good a chance be mentioned here.

YOUR Best Vocal Microphone 

If you have used microphones before, you know what it's like to have one that just works. Why don't you share your best vocal microphone choice.

The rest of this page has two parts. First is an easy form to build a new web page automatically. Below that you'll see the raves that other people already posted about their favorite vocal microphone. Join in the fun!

A picture is worth a thousand words, so why not add a picture of your mic, or maybe of you (or someone else!) singing in it?

If you see someone else has already posted a rave for your favorite mic, you can post a comment to that page, or create a separate page if you have some new thoughts.

Quick guidelines: keep it real - make it personal. Say what you can about the microphone - don't just say "The AT 4050 works great for voice." Think about how it may help other people viewing this page.

The Vocal Microphone – What to Look For

A vocal microphone is usually a versatile mic, and works for a number of different things. But most importantly, it works amazingly on vocals. Microphones are probably the most important part of an audio recording studio (besides you, the engineer!). They are like the ears of your recording system. The same way your ears let sound into your brain, vocal mics take the sound into the system.

The term "vocal microphone" just means that it is especially suited to recording a voice or singing. There are any number of these available, and we'll look at a few here.

Why are they so important? Anything you do after the microphone is simply working with and polishing what's already there. You can do a lot with eq and compression, but you can't change what you actually recorded. You can make it sound better, but you can't polish mud!

It is very important to get a good sound when you record. That is where you should do most of your experimentation to get better sounds.

So, what is a good vocal microphone to get? How can you know which are good ones?

Here are a list of a few that are known to work well.

First, the Shure SM58 is everywhere. It uses a dynamic type of pickup, and is used on stage a lot. (More info on dynamic vs condenser.) The SM57 is a close cousin to the SM58, and eliminates the proximity effect (see below).

One that I like a lot is the Audio Technica AT4050. It is a large diaphragm condenser mic, and works wonderfully as a vocal microphone as well as a myriad of other things.

The Neumann KM184 is another one that works amazing for me. I do a lot of stereo recording, and this mic, in a set, delivers for that. However, it also works wonderful as a vocal mic. I used it on a recording with my a cappella quartet last year, and love the results. Finally, it is known as "the" guitar mic. Do you sense a pattern? The Neumann KM184 is good!

Look for recommendations. Ask some recording buddies, or call up a studio and ask them. Look online, especially at a site that gives reviews. Learn about the microphone. Check out Top 10 Vocal Microphones on this site.

When shopping for microphones, you need to consider several things in deciding what type of mic you need. These things are:

  • pickup pattern
  • diaphragm size
  • body style

I would say that pickup pattern differences aren't crucial in the studio. (More info on these things on the microphones page.) On the stage you want directional mics to avoid feedback, but in the studio you probably won't have any speakers turned on while recording. You can experiment with different mics, or get one with a switchable pattern.

An interesting characteristic about cardioid microphones is that the closer the singer gets to the mic, the more the bass frequencies come out. This makes the sound fuller and bassier. The effect is called the proximity effect.

I think that large diaphragm mics work good on lead vocals, because they produce a warmer sound that makes a voice sound good. Of course small & medium diaphragms work good too, but results between the three may vary slightly.

When you look at body style, I think that the side address body style is used in studio microphones more. Front address mics are more commonly found in live sound applications. But don't base your microphone decision on this. Look at pickup pattern, brand, reviews, and price.

At any rate, be sure to see the article on microphones to help you further in choosing a mic. 

When you're buying a vocal microphone, remember that you'll probably keep it for a long time. It'll get used on a lot of projects, and serve you faithfully. With this in mind, you should get the best one you can afford.

That will get you better results sooner, and it'll be much cheaper than buying a cheap mic now only to upgrade to a better one later. Don't be penny-wise but pound-foolish!

Take your time while shopping. Learn all you can about the microphone your getting, and about other ones close to the performance of it. Try to test it out before buying, if you can. Be a smart shopper. Check some reviews on different microphones to see what some pros are saying. Are they recommending it for vocals?

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Top 10 Vocal Microphones

SE Electronics SE2200a II vocal mic

The SE Electronics SE2200a II – A New Classic Vocal Mic

Guest article by Steven Williams​​​​​​​

The SE Electronics SE2200a II is the latest rendition of the UK’s best selling studio condenser microphone the SE2200a, which is a firm favorite for home and even professional studios worldwide including recording the lead vocals throughout of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album. Its vast appeal is due to its compact size, amazing quality and most obviously its price. Now the new SE2200a II aims to take this reputation further and add some new features of its own. 

When you use the it you immediately notice its warm detailed sound, especially in the upper frequencies. The single cardioid response pattern is very impressive, and its award winning design (taken from its predecessor) is justly acclaimed. 

Another great feature is the mic's versatility - the dual-diaphragm means it can be changed between cardioid, figure 8 and omni directional polar patterns. This is ideal in a studio environment where you can really experiment and express yourself in the way you intend.

It's not bad to look at - not exactly crucial; but it sure helps. Although the SE2200aII has been designed for practicality rather than looks, it emanates an aura of quality.

The SE2200a II is finished in black rather than silver, which is obviously much less visible on stage or in a dark setting. The black rubber finish is also done for practical reasons and reduces the chassis resonance (handling noise) and the amount of reflections on its surface. 

So here’s a recap of the key features:

  • 1” Gold Sputtered capsule 
  • Black Rubber Finish 
  • Frequency Response- 20Hz-20kHz 
  • Max SPL for THD 0.5%- 135dB 
  • Multiple polar patterns- Cardoid, omni, and figure 8 
  • Free shock mount and metal pop filter- for a limited time 

On a personal level when I was looking for a new vocal microphone for my home studio it only took me a few clicks to reach a decision. I had a very limited budget but couldn’t afford to sacrifice quality. I read a few reviews and this mic ticked all the boxes. 

You’ve got to remember, using Amy Winehouse’s microphone isn’t going to make you sounds like her, but it will drastically improve the quality of recording. So if you feel you have a good voice and you’re gear just isn’t doing it justice, then you its time to upgrade. 

I think anyone that owns or has used the SE Electronics SE2200a II would agree that it really is a great value for money. There is good reason for its vast popularity ranging from you’re local band to Hollywood producers. It would be a compact and quality addition to anyone’s studio.

Where to buy: The SE2200a II is available to UK readers here. US people will have to do more legwork, or watch Amazon (links to the older SE2200a). If you know of a good source, please let us know.

Studio Monitors – What they do, and why you need them

Studio monitors are high quality speakers designed for a recording studio. The main difference between a monitor and another speaker is the attention to precision. 

When you listen to a mix, you (as recording engineer) need to know exactly what is there or the mix will not work well.

A bad mix might play nice on one system, but on the next, it might sound horrible. It is absolutely critical that you hear it correctly while you are mixing.

Studio monitors are available in many sizes, shapes, colors, and of course, price points. For most people doing home recording, you won't need the most expensive monitors. Some can even get by with just using headphones.

You really should use studio monitors for serious audio work.

Headphones vs. Monitors

Headphones are an excellent way to keep tabs the mix. In addition, they are a great way to start out a studio. In fact, that's how I started. But I couldn't believe the difference it made when I got a set of studio monitors - I could actually hear!

Headphones will give you a closer perspective on things, and you can learn with them, but I think monitors are essential for producing quality recordings.

A studio monitor is built from the ground up for accuracy. It won't give you a nice and pretty sounding mix; it will give you the dirt that is actually there. 

Of course, the more you pay, the more accurate they will be. If you want pretty music, get some home theater speakers. If you want to learn to record, get some studio monitors.

A nearfield monitor is designed to be placed within a few feet of you, the listener. This does several things - first, it eliminates most of the reflections from walls in the room. You need to hear what is going on, not the room reverb of the mixing room. (Headphones are the best isolation in this respect.) Then, it gets you close to the sound, not far away.

Nearfield studio monitors

Nearfield monitors are by far the most popular and smart choice for a small studio, not to mention economical. The other option is to get some big speakers, and mount them in a wall in a big room.

The main drawback to smaller studio monitors is the limited bass response provided by the smaller speakers. The simple way around this is to get a set with a subwoofer. The sub takes care of low frequency sound, and the monitors get the rest. You don't need a sub, as in absolute necessity. 

I use a set of 6.5" monitors now (Event TR6), without a sub. But I can see drawbacks, and have a CD out that I'm kind of embarrassed by, because it has too much bass in it.

Why does it have too much bass? Because I put too much bass in the mix. The monitors didn't give me what I thought should be there, so I put more bass in. It ended up being too much.

A sub would have solved the problem. It would have given a more accurate sound for the bass.

You don't need anything bigger than nearfield monitors. 

The Event 20/20BAS is a monitor I would look at seriously. It's priced right for a small studio, but it has some killer features - rock solid bass, smooth response. All the things you need in a set of good monitors.

Active vs. Passive

There are two types of nearfield monitors when it comes to amplification: active and passive. An active monitor has the amplifier built in to its system. A passive one has no amplifier - you need to have a separate amplifier. 

It's really simple to tell the two apart. Active has an amplifier (remember two As), and passive does no work (kind of). 

What does this mean to you? If you use passive monitors, you must have a separate speaker amplifier. For me, it's not worth the extra bother of having yet another piece of gear around in my studio. I use active monitors. They may cost a little bit more up front, but you really don't need the quality of passive monitors unless you are a pro studio.

Monitor Hookups

You will want some sort of balanced cable, such as a TRS (1/4") or XLR (microphone) cable to hook these critters up. My current set of monitors accepts XLR cables. So I got a patch cord with a XLR on the one end and a TRS on the other to go from my MOTU 828 to the monitor.

They use a standard computer power cord, so if something happens, I can quickly swap it out with another one.

What monitors should I get?

It depends a lot on what your budget is. A good rule of thumb is you get what you pay for. Get as much as you can afford, because monitor sound is something that will directly influence your mixes.

I use a pair of Event TR6 active monitors, and really like them. However, they have been discontinued. Bummer. Check out the Event 20/20BAS for a better substitute. It's a newer version.

Here are a few models that I think are noteworthy.

The Yamaha HS80MActive(Amazon) - Yamaha makes this industry classic - I read some reviews of this one, and it looks like something I want to upgrade to (if not the Event 20/20, above). 

You can get it in a stereo kit WITH a subwoofer. That's the one I'm looking at. 🙂 You might want to check that one out (zZounds).

From what people are saying, it is a very, very good quality studio monitor, especially for its price point. Don't ignore that. 

Another model worth noting is the Yamaha HS50M(Amazon, or zZounds) Active Studio Monitor. It comes in at 70 watts of power, as opposed to the HS80M's 120 watts. 

The HS50M runs cheaper in price - you can get a pair for about the same price as a single one of the HS80M. It won't sound quite as good or balanced either. That's just the trade-off in quality and cost.

Studio monitors are essential in the recording process. Use them well, and don't skimp on quality. 

When you get your set, don't forget to think about how to control them. Where is the volume knob going to be?

Stereo recording techniques – stereo mic techniques

In stereo recording, it is important to have a plan for the mic technique. There are several main stereo recording techniques to use; each have variations to try. They differ in the way that they separate the stereo information for the brain to decode. There are 4 main ways:

  • Coincident
  • Spaced
  • Near coincident
  • Baffled or binaural

Coincident mic technique
The word coincident means occupying the same space or time. That is a very good description of the coincident mic technique, since it uses two microphones at the same place, angled differently, to pick up the sound.

The most popular coincident technique is the XY method. To make an XY setup, place the mics so one mic's diaphragm is directly above the other. Angle them 90 degrees apart, and point the middle of the two toward the middle of the sound source.

This requires directional mics, like cardioids. The stereo image given by this technique is based on level differences, or the volume of the one signal compared to the other. When a sound from the far right side of the stage comes to the microphones, the mic pointed in that direction picks it up louder than the other one. The second mic still gets sound, but it's not aimed the same way, and the picked up sound is quieter. When the sound is played back on stereo speakers, the right channel will have that sound louder than the left, so it is perceived as coming from the right.

XY is the most popular coincident miking setup used, but it has its drawbacks. For example, while the XY pattern has excellent localization (the ability to determine where a sound is coming from in the soundstage), the stereo image tends to be narrow. You can help by moving the microphones closer to the sound source and surrounding them with the source, but it just won't sound as spacious as some other stereo recording setups. Another type of coincidental mic setup is called the mid-side technique. It also involves two mics, but placed in a different pattern. A single mic of any polar pattern (omni, cardioid, hypercardioid, ect.) is set up pointing straight on to the sound source. This forms the mid part of the setup. A figure-8 mic is placed in the same area with the null axis towards the middle of the sound source. (The null axis is 90 degrees away from the front of the mic.) This will pick up sound from either side of the sound source, but not in the middle, so it is called the side.

In order to play it in stereo, a decoder is needed. The decoder combines the side signal with the mid signal and separates the left from right so the recording can be heard as stereo. The side mic is the one translating to stereo. The main principle here is polarity -- anything coming from the left side will make a negative signal, while the right side produces a positive signal (providing the mic is pointed to the right). The mid mic is used to sort out the two, and you have a stereo signal. The mid-side technique also provides good localization, but requires the use of a decoder, or some smarts and a few extra console tracks.

The Blumlein pair is yet another coincidental mic technique. It uses a pair of figure 8 microphones, one above the other. They are angled 90 degrees from each other so their figure 8 patters combine to form a cloverleaf pattern. Aim the mics at the sides of the sound source (like an XY technique), and pan them opposite each other. This technique provides excellent localization, but also picks up sound from the rear.

Spaced pair stereo recording technique
Spaced pair microphones are the most basic setup for stereo recording. Two microphones are set up apart from each other to record separate signals for stereo recording.

In an AB setup, you take two mics, usually omni but they can be directional, and set them up side by side, however far apart you want them. The gap is arbitrary, from really close (about 2-12 inches) to far apart, (the width of an orchestra maybe).

The spaced pair uses a different principle of sound to relay a stereo image – time differences. When the microphones are spaced apart, sounds coming from the right side of the soundstage will reach the right microphone first. There will be a slight delay until it reaches the left, but your brain can hear that distance. When spaced pair stereo sound is played back on speakers, the right signals play from the right speaker slightly before the left. Your ears hear this time delay, and can instantly place it in the soundstage.

When you are setting up a spaced pair microphone set, you may find yourself placing the mics further apart to get a better mix of the whole ensemble. This is good, but after a while you start having a "hole" in the middle. Putting a third mic in the middle is a quick and dependable solution to this.

A variation of this setup is called the Decca Tree, named for the tree-like placement of 3 microphones. There is one for each side and one for the middle, but usually the middle one is front further than the side ones. The usual distance is half as far front as the side mics are apart. This option offers good localization with excellent stereo spread.

When you compare coincident to spaced pair stereo recording, you have two different styles. Coincident is sharp on localization, but slightly narrow in stereo image. Spaced pairs have a much nicer sound when it comes to width and ambience, but the image isn't quite as sharp. The wider you place the mics apart, the wider the image becomes, but the localization is a bit fuzzy.

Another drawback is phase problems. If your target media will always be stereo, like a CD, you don't need to worry about it. But if you expect that it will be listened to in mono, you might want to listen to how it sounds. The microphones might be out of phase with each other, causing phase cancellation when combined to mono.

Near coincident
The third type of stereo recording mic setup we'll look at is called near coincident. While the first two used level or time differences to make the stereo image, near coincident offers both. Let's look at how it's done.

Two directional mics are placed in an xy pattern, but instead of putting the diaphragms at the same spot horizontally, you space them apart about 7 inches. Often they are angled out more than 90 degrees.

This stereo recording technique offers the sharpness found in coincident patterns combined with the width and spaciousness of a spaced pair. It builds a more accurate stereo image using time and level differences, one that is understood by the brain better.

By far the most common near coincident technique is the ORTF. (It's an acronym in French for the French broadcasting system.) It says that the diaphragms must be 17cm apart, (about 7 inches), and angled 110 degrees from each other. You can either use two mic stands for this or get a stereo bar and mount both mics on one stand.

Some other near coincident techniques are NOS and DIN coming from Holland and Germany respectively. The NOS technique specifies the spacing of the mics to be 30cm with an angle of 90 degrees, while DIN specifies a spacing of 20cm and an angle of 90 degrees.

Which of the three stereo recording setups is best? I hope this doesn't surprise you, but there is no best one. What! Yep, if you pressed the question "Which is better, ORTF, NOS, or DIN?" to me, I might respond with "yes!" They each have their own sound. I tend to like the ORTF technique, but don't take my word for it. Go try yourself! But do it in some spare time so you'll know before the recording session what might work better.

Binaural
All of the stereo recording mic setups we looked at so far use either time and/or level differences to create a stereo image. We can get a fairly good stereo image from this, quite impressive actually. But let's think for a bit how we as humans hear.

We have two ears separated by a dense object in the middle. (Hmm, who's is denser, mine or yours? 😉 ) Our ears work as omni mics, although separated by the head. The pinnae around our ears reflect the sound into the ear drum, separating the frequencies by where they come from. The [physical] head also does this, filtering out higher frequencies in the ear opposite the sound source.

When our brain hears all these patterns (level, time, and frequency differences) it decodes the information to localize exactly where the sound came from. The time and level differences are close to what is created with a near coincident mic technique. But our natural stereo hearing system uses three principles to form a stereo soundstage -- time, level, and spectral differences. How can we get something that mimics as close as possible the natural stereo hearing we use all day long?

This study is called binaural recording, trying to get a recording that sounds like you were there. There are two main ways of doing this, a baffled omni setup, or actually using a dummy head with microphones where the ears would be.

The baffled omni is easier to set up. Basically it's two omni microphones with a baffle in the middle to separate the stereo image. A Jecklin disk is a common way to set this up – take a 12inch round piece of hard material (plywood or plexiglass) and put the mics on either side.

You can buy some disks that look professional or you can make one that serves the same purpose. When you have this ready, you mount the mics on each side with the diaphragms about at the center of the disk, separate them about 7 inches, and angle them out slightly. This mimics the position of a human head and ears, giving a stereo image based on level, time, and spectral differences.

The other way to get a binaural stereo recording is to use a dummy head and put microphones in the spots where the ears should be. There are dummy heads that closely resemble a human head -- complete with nasal passages -- providing very accurate filtering resulting in superior imaging.

Summary of stereo recording techniques
Phew! That was a long way, so let's tie up the loose ends. Here's a brief summary of each stereo recording technique discussed.

Coincident stereo recording

  • Uses level differences to produce stereo image
  • Provides a sharp image, excellent localization
  • Soundstage is a bit narrow
  • Signals are mono-compatable

Spaced pair stereo recording

  • Uses time differences to produce stereo image
  • Provides more diffused stereo image, localization is a little fuzzy
  • Soundstage or stereo spread can be exaggerated unless a 3rd mic is used
  • Provides a nice sense of ambience
  • Signal may have phase problems when combined to mono
  • Can use omni mics, so low frequency sound can be better

Near coincident stereo recording

  • Uses level and time differences to produce the stereo image
  • Provides a fairly sharp stereo image with good localization
  • Stereo spread or soundstage is accurate
  • Gives more air and depth than coincident methods

Baffled omni stereo recording

  • Uses level, time, and spectral differences to produce the stereo image
  • Stereo image is sharp
  • The stereo spread tends to be very accurate
  • Realistic, more what your ears hear
  • Low frequency sound is excellent

You can use these different techniques for many effects in stereo recording, and I encourage you to try them out. What happens with each one? What are the characteristics of each? Let me know; I'd love to hear from you!

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