Shattering Old Myths About Audio Recording

Those of us who have grown up doing professional audio recording establish certain rules of the road that we learn and tend to never forget. The problem is — over time — new technology makes these our old rules obsolete. Here are some common old-school myths that we now all need to forget.

If we came of age in the analog era when audio tape was king, the rule was to record audio levels to the max. Recordings in the analog era had to stay above the noise floor of the tape. Running too low a level made the audio too noisy. On certain types of recordings, such as rock music, pushing the level could result in a pleasing, compressed sound.

That is no longer true with digital recording. In 24-bit recording, with 144dB of dynamic range, recordists can record at -40dB and have 100dB of dynamic range. Forget about the past, including the early days of digital recording. Today, using good quality digital gear, don’t ever overload the recording. It will result in distortion that will ruin any recording.

Another audio misnomer centers on digital hardware versus plug-ins. No question about it, in the early days of digital audio outboard hardware compressors, EQ and effects were of better quality. Now, with the rapid development of plug-ins that emulate classic hardware, the audio world has changed. Design of plug-ins has come a long, long way in a short time.

Universal Audio Plug-In of Classic Hardware

Universal Audio Plug-In of Classic Hardware

Sure, the old arguments about which sound better will continue, but today many engineers actually prefer the sound of plug-ins to hardware. Their string of hits prove that most listeners can’t tell the difference. The question is: can you?

Another misnomer, says Sweetwater Sound, the pro audio dealer based in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is that external digital clocking improves the sound of an audio interface.

Not necessarily true, says the company. When interconnecting a lot of digital gear, users may want to use a high-quality master digital clock. But in most cases, the master clock won’t have an effect on the quality of the sound. The clock’s function is to make everything work together without digital pops and ticks. Connecting to an external clock isn’t going to improve the sound quality of its digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters unless the clock in the interface is very poor.

Another obsolete oldie is that ribbon microphones can’t be used on loud sound sources. This began back in the 1930s when ribbon elements were very fragile and would fail if used on loud musical instruments. It has been totally untrue for decades, though some people still believe it.

AEA N22 Ribbon Mic

AEA N22 Ribbon Mic

Mics like the AEA N22 or Royer R-121 are ribbon mics commonly used on guitar amps in the field. In fact, most modern ribbon mics can easily withstand extremely high sound pressure levels and be used on any source. Shure’s KSM313/NE ribbon has a ribbon made of Roswellite, a substance created using carbon nanofilm technology that is virtually unbreakable. It can handle levels up to 146dB SPL.

So modern ribbon mics can be used like any other. Just avoid allowing wind or blasts of air to blow directly on the ribbon. Their natural sound quality offers an excellent alternative to dynamic and condenser models, which is the reason for their increased popularity.

Auralex Sound Treatment Kit

Auralex Sound Treatment Kit

When treating a room, use professional acoustic material. Forget egg cartons, mattress foam, old rugs, etc. These make-shift materials don’t sound-proof rooms, whereas drywall, insulation and acoustic foam, such as from Auralex, are the materials of choice. The myth of egg cartons clearly dates back to small radio stations in an earlier era.

In any acoustic treatment, what’s important is isolation and acoustics. Isolation is keeping sound from getting in or out of the space. This is best done with some form of mass-air-mass construction. For the acoustics inside the space, a combination of absorption and diffusion is necessary. That’s it. Use nothing else.

With these common myths shattered, perhaps it is wise to take another piece of advice from Sweetwater Sound: there is also no “right” way to record. While the rules keep changing, so does experimentation with sound. Many recordists find unorthodox ways to make recordings work and to create a signature sound. New “rules” are being written every day as old ones are being discarded.

Editor note: Want to know more about audio recording? Enter the name, "Frank Beacham" in The Broadcast Bridge home page search box and you will find a wealth of audio, video and technology resources written by the author. 

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