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Avoiding and Reducing Unwanted Background Noise
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (4 votes) 
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DanielB
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July 19, 2013 - 3:23 am
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For the sake of home recording, "noise" can be defined as "any sound you do NOT want".  "Sound" is what we usually call the part we want, and "noise" is what we want less of.

Noise can come from a lot of sources, fans, air conditioners, central heating, computers, traffic outside, all the way down to even the breathing of the player with some instruments and situations. 

Professional studios go to great pains to prevent and reduce noise, starting with how the building is constructed, making some rooms or booths essential noise-proof and so on.  Sometimes more of the budget for a pro studio goes into such measures than actually goes into the recording and editing gear!

Such extreme measures are usually beyond the finances of those of us players just trying to get a reasonably listenable and nice sounding recording from our own homes.  I personally also feel that too *much* noise control is not necessarily desirable for home recording because we can lose some of the feeling of ambiance that you get with recording in your home or yard.  Too much noise control will likely lose the natural acoustics of the room or location, and can result in tracks that just feel to "sterile".  That is my opinion, anyway, not everyone would agree with it.

A regular room in a player's house *can* have pleasant acoustics.  If you play in more than one room of your house, then you probably have a favourite place to play.  Part of the reason may be that it just darn well sounds better.  In most "pro" situations, they would want to have almost no natural room acoustics so that acoustics can be applied later via electronic means during engineering and mastering.  That is a very workable method for professionals working in a carefully structured studio environment, but for most home recording, we try to pick a room that is reasonably quiet and where we like the acoustics of the room, if possible.

However, a lot of times the gear has to be pretty much in one place with home recording, and it isn't affordable or practical for the player to run a bunch of long cables to pick and choose the nicest sounding room in the house.  So some tricks to control the noise and acoustics a bit to get better sounding recordings are what are in order.  That will mostly be what we'll be talking about here.  I'm going to break some tricks down into separate posts/sections to make it easier to find stuff and keep this from turning into a book-length post. LOL

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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July 19, 2013 - 3:43 am
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In recording, like in real-estate, the three most important things are location, location, and location. LOL

So, if possible, you want to try some different locations in your house (or yard or etc, if you want to record outdoors) so you can find out which ones sound best. 

If you happen to have one of those little digital recorders that can be held in one hand, then all you need is maybe a mic stand (or something like one) and you can go around the house trying 10 or 20 different spots and then listen back to hear which one sounds best for you and your violin.

If you don't have one of those, but you have a laptop or similar portable computer, then it isn't hard to move around and try some different spots.  My "mobile" rig is a laptop and I could fit it as well as my large diaphragm mic and preamp and etc and a power/breaker strip into a small suitcase at least.  And it can work anywhere there is an outlet within a reasonable distance.  I also have a battery rig for it, so I can take it outdoors or to a park or whatever and go "on location" with at least some of the comforts of the home studio.

So, scouting around for a good location in your home or wherever can be one of the best ideas.  If there is a room where the natural room acoustics are what you want and there aren't any noisy things nearby to ruin takes, it can save a ton of "fix" work later.  Also, a room where the sound of your violin is the way you like it, you *will* just tend to play better.  It will be more pleasant and natural.

But not everyone can manage that.  Some of us only have a desktop or only one place in the house where the computer can be set up.  Or a place where it is already all set up, and we just do NOT want to have to move stuff around and hook everything up every time we want to cut some tracks.

So we need some tricks to tame the noise and hopefully help the acoustics a little, but that can be done on a room that is currently.. less than optimal.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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July 19, 2013 - 4:05 am
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First, you need to understand some basic things about sound.  Low pitched sound is not very directional.  It tends to flow all over a room, like a tide of water.  Higher pitched sounds are directional.  They also bounce off surfaces.  So high pitched sounds act kind of like ping-pong balls. 

Now, if you are using something like a large diaphragm condenser mic or a dynamic mic like say, a Sure SM-58 or something made for handheld use, they are somewhat directional.  Meaning they *mostly* "listen" in one direction.  

So the first trick is to set up the mic so it is pointing at where you and the violin will be, and ideally have any noisy items like fans and etc that can't be shut off for recording off to the side.  The mic will *mostly* pick up in the direction it is pointing.  But they also tend to pick up at least a bit in the opposite direction.  They pick up the least directly off to the sides. 

That can actually help quite a bit.  If you have a way of hearing what the mic is hearing with headphones (and you should figure out a way to do that, really), you can just play around with turning the mic and find the least noisy direction for it to be facing in a given spot in a room. 

If you have a way to set up to do that with headphones, you can also try turning yourself and the instrument a bit in different directions, which can make some surprising differences to the sound.  Remember what we said early on, that the idea is to get more of the sound we want and less of the noise we don't want? 

The position and direction of the mic, and where you and the violin are sitting or standing in relation to the microphone is one of the easiest and most effective ways to adjust those things.

But.. It will not always be enough.  Some sounds, like a central heating furnace blower or an air conditioner are low pitched sound.  Remember when I mentioned that low pitched sounds aren't as directional and kind of flow all over?  Mic positioning can help a bit with that, but maybe not enough.

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Fiddlestix
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July 19, 2013 - 6:22 am
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Don't stop here, DanielB, keep going, this is really interesting and informative, something we all should learn.

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DanielB
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July 20, 2013 - 5:49 am
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Now, obviously the best way to avoid noise from fans, furnaces, air conditioners, and etc, would be to turn them off before recording.  But that is not always possible.  If you record with a desktop computer, those need their (sometimes rather noisy) cooling fans.  In very hot or very cold weather, it could get unpleasant.  And sometimes, the takes where we play best end up being where we were "just goofing off", and didn't set up well or think to turn off what noise sources we could have.

So for those situations, we have noise removal/reduction using software.

http://fiddlerman.com/forum/re.....on/#p47103

Within it's limits, noise removal/reduction can do some wonders for helping to make home recorded tracks sound nicer.

There are some other tricks that can be done in the "real world" side of recording to prevent some of the noise, though.  

Often, a good bit of the low frequency noise is not being picked up by the mic directly.  It is vibrating the floor, which vibrates the mic stand.  If you have figured out how to hook up headphones to "hear what the mic hears", you can test for that by gently lifting the mic stand off the floor.  If some of the noise stops or drops in volume, then you have found something you can improve.  Something as simple as a cushion or a foam pad under the stand can help.

The "whine" from computer fans is at least partly made up of higher pitched sounds.  Early on I mentioned that higher pitches sounds are more directional.  The good thing about that is that they can be blocked to some degree by putting a barrier that can absorb some sound between the fan and the mic.  That barrier can be something as simple as a cushion borrowed off a couch or bed and leaned against the side of the machine, so it doesn't stop the air flow for the fan, but soaks up a chunk of the sound before it can get to the mic. 

The higher pitched sounds from things like computer fans also can bounce off walls.  So when you're figuring out where to put the mic stand and position the mic and where to sit, try to avoid setting up so the mic directly faces a wall at a 90 degree angle.  Most rooms are more or less square boxes.  If the mic is set up at a bit of an angle instead of lined up with the walls, it can help keep the noise down.  It can also help to get a more natural sound as well, but we'll talk more about that when we talk about "room treatments".

Another source of noise is windows.  Most rooms have them, for light and air, but open windows can let quite a lot of noise in.  Close the windows when you are going to record a take, and close the curtains.  The hanging cloth of the curtains helps kill some noise from outdoors, but also absorbs some sound from inside the room that might otherwise bounce off the glass.  If it is a really big window, you might consider hanging something heavier, like a blanket or sleeping bag over it when you are recording a take and hoping to get it to turn out particularly clean.   

Since houses people live in are just not designed to be as quiet as professional studios, there is always going to be a bit of noise.  But if you do what you can to keep the noise as low as you can reasonably manage, it can help quite a bit.  There is always noise removal/reduction via software for what you can't manage to eliminate, but the less electronic removal you need the better.  The more that has to be "fixed" by software, the more chance there is of the recording ending up sounding less natural. 

How much pain in the butt you are willing to go to for the sake of getting the recordings a bit cleaner vs how much electronic noise reduction you use, well that's going to be up to you to decide.

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Fiddlestix
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July 20, 2013 - 10:05 am
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@DanielB:

I totally understand after you mentioned setting the mic at an angle to the noise source or angled to the wall's, it's the same thing as bouncing a ball off the wall and having it bounce away from you, if you throw the ball straight at the wall it will bounce straight back at you, as will the sound, but what about an "omni-directional" mic, do they not pick up sound's from all direction's ?

 

Ken.

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