What can you do if your microphone is bright yet dull?

A posting on Facebook by Bill Simpkins reminded me of a fairly common problem.

He was reminding everyone that faders are the primary tool of achieving and manipulating the balance in the mix. Then someone brought up the issue of difficulty when balancing vocals in the mix. My initial reaction was the same as Bill’s that there wasn’t enough space carved for the vocal with EQ – either the presence frequencies on the vocal were lacking or were being hogged by other instruments.

Then it struck me it could be that the vocal mic was one “featuring” a brightness boost. I have come across a number of situations where that kind of mic was making the vocal hard to mix. The reason is that the brightness boost can make the vocal sound too loud when it’s at the correct level for the mix and too quiet if the vocal is pulled down to the level where the brightness is the right level.

If that’s as clear as mud, here is a more detailed explanation starting with the way I identify the key frequencies for any instrument or vocal…

  • Air: the highs above the brightness
  • Brightness: brightness
  • Presence: mids/upper-mids that bring the track to the fore
  • Body: 2nd harmonics.
  • Warmth/mud: The fundamental frequencies.
  • Sub-bass: Body noises, impact/pluck thumps, etc.

For any given track, these will be unique. The sub-bass for a mandolin is going to be a lot higher than for a 5 string bass guitar. Similarly the brightness for a bass guitar is going to be lower than for a mandolin (unless it’s slap bass).

So, with these microphones I’m most concerned about the presence, the brightness, and the air. The problem when the brightness is boosted by the characteristics of the microphone, it can mask a lack of presence and/or a lack of air. Brightness can be nice but it is the presence frequencies of a track that position it in the mix. If there is a conflict between the presence and the brightness it will make the job of balancing harder and it will make the mix less translatable. Bright speakers will make the vocal sound louder but darker speakers will make the vocal harder to pick-out in the mix.

So, what does one do about this?

EQ: Set up a notch filter and sweep the frequency until you find the brightness peak and cut it back until it is under control. Then set up a broad (2 octave/Q=0.7) filter and sweep to find the presence frequency of the track and bring it forward a bit. Finally set another broad filter and sweep to find the air frequency and bring that forward as necessary.

For example, you might end up with a notch (0.5 octave/Q=2.8) cutting 2 dB at 10 kHz, a broad (2 octave/Q=0.7) 1.5 dB boost at 1.8 kHz, and a broad (2 octave/Q=0.7) 1 dB boost at 9.5 kHz. It can seem paradoxical when the boost frequency for the air is lower than the brightness cut but that’s the way it comes out sometimes. Remember that this is an example and EQ should always be adjusted specifically to the track you are working on!

Anyway, hopefully this is of help to you.


© Mike Ellison.


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