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Causes of Vocal Distortion

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In the image, a vocal section recorded too hot results in distortion. The 2nd take, backing off, appears to not indicate distortion (in the waveform.) IF one's ears still detect distortion, what could be the cause of it?

  • Can one overdrive the mic capsule without pegging meters? Could this be it?
  • Other?

2019-02-05_1343.png

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If your preamp's gain/input level was too hot and then you compensated this by taking the output level down, then the signal could be low but distorted.

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Would need to know your vocal chain starting from your mouth, loud or soft singer? range Alto/Soprano? How far are you from the microphone, do you use a pop screen, are you going into a preamp or compressor etc using any hardware/software plugins etc, all the way through to the audio arriving on the disc.

Any soprano or higher using some types of cheaper condensers, generates a horrid fizz distortion, most noticable when doing high harmonies. Wave form will look normal. If you have a typical lower male voice, it is unlikely to be this though. Most likely something in the chain is being overloaded, take all the elements out of the chain to find out what it is.

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+1 on a cheap mic. Love 'em, that's all I have but man, that fizz. A problem I also battle constantly comes from recording vocal takes in a poorly treated room. This results in a relatively high noise floor which, after a compression stage tends to distort the signal. So even though your gain staging was dead on, if there's noise in the chain it will get smooshed into audible fuzz.

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I'm in a cabin at the moment, until I return to civilization later. The cabin has a small kitchen/lounge where I have to record vocals. It has terrible reflections. To do a guide track on a song, I use a dynamic mic (old EV757) with the full foam screen that fits over the mic. I sit right on top of the mic when singing almost touching it with my lips. This gets rid of all the bad reflections and results in a very dry recording, good enough for a scratch track but not the best sounding because of the proximity effect and spiky dynamics because of being so close to the mic, a few pops here and there. Ok for a scratch track.

Using a condenser sounds awful, I use the AKGC214. So what I do is put up the Mic Thing reflector (which does almost nothing on it's own) pull the wings in a bit and wrap a towel around top and bottom (to prevent reflections from ceiling and floor) and bury the mic in it . Then I use my photography backdrop stand behind me and throw a duna or 2 over it. The combination of all that does a great job of killing the reflections.

The photography backdrop stand  consists of 2 photography light stands with a bar between them, mine is about 3.6 meters wide and up to 3 meters high.

It's what's behind you when you are singing into the mic that causes the most problems. If you've got a wardrobe full of clothes, you could try opening the doors and singing into a mic with the open wardrobe behind you, see what that does.

I am looking at getting a single light stand of the stage type (that holds the par 54 lights) and then hack sawing the bar that comes with it, so I can create a V shape behind me , and put the duna over that, less to set up.

This is a portable solution until I buy the house, then will be able to set up a room with some treatment like I had with the other house. If you've got a poorly treated room, you've got to do something about it if you can. These ideas might help.

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+1 to Tezza's observations.. I now use my SHure beta 58 for all my vocals. I tried a half dozen LDC mikes and they all make me sound terrible. 

The room, the sibilance, plosives, snorting, breathing and yes  distortion... yikes! I could never find a good input setting on my Scarlett, I even bought a Joe Meek pre amp and that didn't help much...  I just about gave up singing. 

My Beta 58 with a cheap windsock I get in close and touch it and back off for my power parts.  Works.. sound good to me. I just add the BBE Sonic MAximizer to crisp it up a little. 

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25 minutes ago, Cactus Music said:

+1 to Tezza's observations.. I now use my SHure beta 58 for all my vocals. I tried a half dozen LDC mikes and they all make me sound terrible. 

The room, the sibilance, plosives, snorting, breathing and yes  distortion... yikes! I could never find a good input setting on my Scarlett, I even bought a Joe Meek pre amp and that didn't help much...  I just about gave up singing. 

My Beta 58 with a cheap windsock I get in close and touch it and back off for my power parts.  Works.. sound good to me. I just add the BBE Sonic MAximizer to crisp it up a little. 

I use a Shure SM58 for my vocals too (just the standard one, not the beta). I've never got along with condensers for my voice.

I suspect a Shure SM7B would be better, but I'll need to find somewhere to try one out first.

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I used to use an SM58 for vocals. When Gibson acquired Neat Microphones, I had a chance to work extensively with their condenser mics. Now I wouldn't go back. For my voice, what works best is:

  • Singing back from the mic - the perfect distance is the distance from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my little finger, with them outstretched as far as possible. This alone may solve your distortion issue, although as alluded to above, check for gain-staging issues in your signal chain first.
  • Having the mic slightly below mouth level when singing to pick up more "chest," and slightly above for narration.
  • Small diaphragm for singing, and large diaphragm for narration.
  • The secret ingredient: a Pauly Ton pop filter. The damn thing is incredibly expensive ($300!!!), but worth every penny in the time it saves not having to fix vocal issues.

All the vocals on my Neo- album were recorded with a dynamic mic, all the vocals on Joie de Vivre! were recorded with a condenser. You'll hear the difference - with the latter, the voice is much more forward, present, and distinct. For Neo-, I had to use a huge amount of high-frequency lift to attain the same kind of intelligibility. That alone tended to cause distortion if I wasn't careful.

Edited by Craig Anderton

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I use an SM 58 as well, but typically only live. In the studio... one needs to create a slightly different sound, one that even high quality dynamic microphones just cant cut it. So I use a condenser mic for 95 percent of vocals (along with a high quality pre amp).

My first choice is the most realistic one of course...and that's "what I own" :D (a Rode NTK and a Rode NT1000)

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Any electronic piece can cause distortion.  Mic - see above.  Preamp, yea, esp. the $5 worth of electronics that can come with cheaper interfaces.  Even your compressor can …  One good thing - if your converter overs you will notice.

 

But really, you have to go down the list from mic to converter back to mic, testing each iteration.  And tho I don't sing, singers are usually like every other musician and play louder than they practice.  Might be the problem.

 

@

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