Studio Myths and Facts

Myths

1- Myth: You need external preamps.

     Not true! Any modern recording interface will have built in preamps that are actually pretty good.  Most external preamps that are under the $300 price mark are not even any better than the built in preamps on an average interface.  Where expensive preamps do make a significant difference is when using low sensitivity microphones such as ribbon microphones, and some dynamics. As long as you are using condenser microphones, or good quality dynamics, the preamps in your interface are just fine. 

2- Myth: You need expensive microphones

   Not true! In the past, this was true. Microphones require intricate and precise manufacturing, which in the past had to be done by hand by an expert. Nowadays, we have automated equipment that can be calibrated and fine tuned with extreme precision, and it is capable of mass production to a very high level of quality. Just consider the production of things like smart phones.. a microphone is much less intricate, and the production cost of any modern mass produced microphone is certainly lower than the production cost of a high end smart phone. When a modern produced microphone costs over a thousand dollars, you are paying for the brand name, for the advertising, distribution, and for exuberant markup. 

3-Myth: You have to do it the "Right Way"

There's no real right and wrong. Our motto is "Let you ears decide", and if it sounds good, then it's right, even if it contradicts what the people online say (even me)

4- Myth: Studio Magic can fix a bad recording or bad performance.

Nothing can fix a bad recording. Not even duct tape, but some people will try lots of reverb. There are many little tricks to make a vocal sound fuller, which I go over in lesson 63, however these tricks generally bring out the qualities of the vocal, whether they're good qualities, or bad qualities. 

5- Myth: Condenser microphones pick up more of the room.

I can't stand when people say this. It's because condensers have a stronger overall signal output, which means more of the room, and more of everything else. Simply turn the gain down on the preamp, and the condenser microphone will pick up less room. When volume levels are matched, a condenser does not pick up more of the room than a dynamic. The amount of "room" that's picked up is dependant on the microphones polar pattern response, which I cover in lesson 14. I'll say it again, with an equal signal output from the preamp, and the same polar pattern, there's no difference in how much "room" a microphone picks up wether its a ribbon, dynamic, or condenser.

6- Myth: Carpets and Egg Cartons are effective for room treatment.

Ok.. if you think egg cartons are going to improve your sound, and make your studio look more professional, just stop right here. Don't read anymore. Close your computer, and go do something else with your life.  You're beyond help.

They are not only useless, but actually detrimental. Carpet will only absorb high frequencies, which are actually desirable. It's the low frequencies that are problematic, and carpet will not help with those. Egg cartons do not really absorb anything, maybe a bit of high frequencies. They say egg cartons are good for diffusion, which means scattering the sound waves. Due to the small size of the contours on egg cartons, they will only scatter high frequencies. Not helpful, because again, it's the low frequencies that are problematic. Check out lesson 10 on room treatment.

7-Myth: Digital doesn't as sound good

Digital is very pure, and authentic to the source it is replicating. The resolution of digital audio is so high, it is way beyond the capabilities of human hearing to hear it's defects. If your digital recording doesn't sound good, then it's because of something else, not the fact that it's digital. Old fashioned analog gear, such as tape and Vinyl, has a reputation for sounding "better", but it's because these mediums add noise to the sound, and this noise makes the music sound smoother, and perhaps, nicer. That noise can simply added in to a digital recording, and it will be authentically replicated. For instance, many mastering studios will record their finished song on to tape, and re-record the output from the tape player back into the computer to capture that extra "noise" created by the tape. 

8-Myth: Tubes sound better

Tubes sound different, but not necessarily better. The tube is just one component within an audio amplification circuit, and many of the other components play just as much of a role in influencing the sound. Long story short, tubes are noisier, but it's a nice noise, solid state is cleaner. Check out lesson 70 where I go further into it.

9- Myth: MP3 doesn't sound as good

This is only true in the case of really low quality mp3's, or for mixing and mastering purposes. As far as just listening, a good quality mp3 is not discernible from a .wav.  An mp3 is created by an algorithm, and some algorithm's are better than others. Also, mp3 's can have various bitrates, higher being better sound quality. If an mp3 is a really low bitrate, like below 100 kbps, then it will be audibly lower quality. An mp3 with a bitrate of over 160kbps encoded with a good quality algorithm is indiscernible from a .wav even by teenagers listening in a mastering studio (teenagers have better hearing than us old guys)

 

10-Myth: Expensive cables sound better

A cable simply transmits the electrical signal.  As long as the connection is made, the signal will be transmitted. High power signals require thicker cables, but in the studio, you're not dealing with high power signals, so thin wires aren't going to hurt anything. The advantage of better quality cables is to make better contact at the connections, resist interference better, and last longer. Aside from these aspects, the sound quality is not affected.

11-Myth: A small enclosed space will sound better than a large open space.

Ok.. I don't know who started this nonsense practice.. but as a rule of thumb, a larger space will sound better than a smaller space. I've talked to several people who have set up their closet as a vocal booth, and they can't seem to figure out why their sound quality sucks. I guess it's because so many studios use vocal booths, that amateurs think that's what's needed to get good sound. The reason vocal booths are used in studios is for isolation, to prevent outside noise from coming into the recording. In these professional environments, they sacrifice a bit of sound quality to achieve isolation, so they can record a full band live, or get clear recordings in an environment that is otherwise noisy, such as an office building, or radio station. For home recording, I often recommend the living room, because most living rooms are open to a large part of the house, so acoustically, it's a much larger space. Usually, the added background noise from a fridge or furnace or something is a worthwhile trade-off. I also don't recommend bedrooms, because the space is still too small to get good sound quality. The room is the single most influential aspect of getting good sound quality. Try this simple test.. on a calm day, run a microphone outside and record something, and compare how it sounds to the same thing recorded in your space. You might be surprised.

12- Myth: You Need To Record as Loud as Possible!

   A commonly employed method for setting gain is to turn it up until it goes into distortion at the loudest part that's being recorded, then back it off just a bit, so that you have it as loud as possible, without the loudest part going into distortion. The main problem with this is if the artist was being a bit shy during the sound check, and actually goes louder in the recording, you could go into clipping and ruin the entire take. This happens all the time when people try to record as loud as possible, so it's not worth the risk, especially since there is no benefit to it. That's right.. I said it, there is no sonic benefit to recording as loud as possible. The purists will disagree and say that you get a better signal to noise ratio. Technically, that's true, but this lower noise floor is so extremely tiny it's not even close to being audible, even when recording at 5% of maximum volume. Instead, aim to record so that your peaks hit somewhere between 40%-75% of max volume. 

Facts

 1- The room affects the sound.

Regardless of all the gear, and effort you put into your recording, the room is the single most influential factor in how your recordings will sound, and your mixing and mastering as well. In a nutshell, bigger is better, smaller needs more treatment, especially in absorbing low frequencies.

2- Professional mixing and mastering can bring a song to life

Mixing is an art that takes a lot of practice to get good at. Many amateurs think it's just a matter of adjusting the volume of each track, with some panning, compression reverb...etc. But no, there's more to it. I have an entire chapter dedicated to mixing (chapter 4). Also, a pro mixing studio will often invest tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear, in the room, monitors, analog gear, plugins etc. When it comes to maximizing how good a song can sound, all these little things add up to make a significant difference.

3- You can get great recordings with budget gear

The industry always wants to convince you that you can't get good sound unless you buy more stuff. While you do need to buy stuff...cause you can't record with nothing... these days, even basic budget gear can sound really good. Check out lesson 49 where I record a full band with less than $1000 worth of gear, plus a laptop. The part where expensive gear does help is with the mixing and mastering.