Hey! Keep the noise down! by Dan Lenard, Home Studio Master

Posted on January 12, 2012 by

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So last week we peered into Marc Cahsman’s Fortress of Solitude. The follow-up oohs and ah’s from everyone’s comments showed a lot of “studio envy.”   But I promised I’d start throwing out some ideas on how you can lower your noise floor in an economical way or without building a new wing to your house. (“noise floor” definition: Normally the lowest threshold of useful signal level, i.e., the residual noise with no signal present ie. your voice)

Remember…You’re dealing with two types of sounds when we talk about a home studio. The noise from the outside you don’t want on your recordings, and reflection of the sounds you make as you modulate your way across a script. They both end up on the recording. Each one is distinct. Lets start this week with keeping noise out.  We’ve talked in weeks prior about stuff coming from the exterior of your house. Your neighbors dog, air conditioner, Harley Davidson, F-150, or F-16’s coming from a local airbase. You can’t control that. Preventing it from being heard by your microphone is damn near impossible, or as we saw with Marc’s “Voice Vault,” prohibitively expensive for the average guy or gal.

Two things:

1. You live where you choose to live.

2. There’s 24 hours in a day.

Both are challenges. If you can’t change where you live, and if you’re like me, and enjoy at least 6-7 hours of shut-eye a night, and can’t record at 3 am, what do you do?

You need to reduce noise by increments to where you can get your audio to a point where you can electronically eliminate background noise seamlessly. Not as hard as it sounds, if you’ll forgive the pun.

You can reduce some of the exterior bleed by sealing yourself in somewhere. And I mean seal. Find a closet, preferably to the center of your home or apartment, away from windows. We’ll talk about how to treat it for reflection another time. But for starters, create as much of an airtight seal as you can using storm door insulation and door sweeps. It won’t keep out a jackhammer out front, but it will reduce it by significant “dB’s.”

If you’re not in a closet and are setting up in an office or in a small room, close the door. We’ve talked here before about shutting everything off in the home when you record, including your family or roommates. Turn off the furnace, AC, TV, dishwasher and laundry.  Those are things you have control over.

But, here’s the worst offender. Your computer. Especially PC’s. Computer fans are too loud to have in the same room you’re recording in. Do everything you can to get your CPU in another room from your mic. Thats what microphone cables and monitor and USB extension cords are for.  Also, learn how to turn the fans off from the computers operating system when you record. Better yet, use a Mac. The newer ones have solid state drives or even if they have hard discs, run very quiet. When iPads and other tablets come along with compatible interfaces that can record more easily hit the market, go for it. They’ll make NO noise.

But here’s a little tip that makes a big difference when it comes to computer noise. Don’t mount your microphone on a desk stand.  Especially if you didn’t listen to these prior points and throw your computer under the desk on the floor, or have you laptop on the same desk. Mount your mic on a floor stand with a boom and a SHOCK MOUNT. The vibrations that come from a computer in close proximity to a mic are transferred easily through furniture. I hear it all the time. and when I tell people to get it off the desk, it makes a significant improvement!

The standard I look for is getting your noise floor under -50dBfs.  If you can achieve that, then we can talk about the use of noise gates, and occasionally, other electronic noise suppression programs. What’s -50dBfs? its a measurement of volume. -50dbfs is very quiet, but not inaudible.( http://www.jimprice.com/prosound/db.htm#spl )

Perhaps some thoughts on noise gates and these other, more intrusive filters next week.

Do you have any questions for Dan Lenard about this article? Please share!

About the Home Studio Master

Dan Lenard Dan is a Voice123 talent and owner of http://www.homestudiomaster.com/