In this article, we will provide you with an explanation of the best audio recording quality.
Achieving the best audio recording quality is definitely in your best interest as someone working in the audio engineering field. It’s not enough to just have a great idea for the future track. You have to know how to record it properly so it would be sonically pleasant.
How To Achieve The Best Audio Recording Quality
To get the best audio quality possible, the first thing that you need to do is prepare the room where the recording will take place. You have to be sure that it’s protected from all unnecessary noise, from the outside and inside as well. Ideally, all your electronics should be in one room, while you have a specially designed room that is used for recording purposes only. If it’s not the case, then you need to put in extra work, change all the cables, and put in absorbing panels, reflectors, and diffusers in their rightful places.
Then, you need to have a proper audio interface, mic, and pop filter. These days on the market, you can find mics for any occasion that you need, meaning specially designed mics for vocals, instruments, rooms, etc.
While recording audio, you should stick to WAV files as this format is industry-standard and is easily manipulated. Be sure to record everything in 24 bits with a 44.1 kHz sampling rate.
When we talk about audio quality, we mean audio bitrate, which is affected by the sampling rate and bit depth, and audio format. As a computer saves information using bits, bit depth dictates how much information can be saved. 24-bit depth is more precise because more nuances are saved, and you get more dynamic range. The golden standard of recording for many years is 192 kHz/24-bit, which lets you easily work with your recording as all nuances are present.
The standard sampling rate is 44.1 kHz, and it is much easier for your computer to handle. Another option is to record everything in 48 kHz, which is a bit harder for a PC to handle, but it gives you more opportunities to work with your mix.
When speaking about audio formats, you need to be aware that WAV is a universal format for recording audio, though sometimes you can record in lossless or lossy. Aside from WAV, you can use PCM, which is also known as pulse-code modulation, and it converts sound waves that are made from recordings into a digital format using sampling. FLAC belongs to lossless audio formats and is characterized by the original size of the file being reduced by 60% while the original recording is left as it is. MP3 belongs to lossy audio formats and is characterized by much lower audio quality due to significant compression.
Clipping and loudness
Clipping is another annoying thing that can affect the audio quality, and it appears when an audio signal is magnified more than it should be. When the said thing happens, the overdrive appears, which then leads to distortion and an overall reduction of audio quality. In some genres, such as heavy metal or rock, distortion is rather a desired result, and there is no need to get rid of it. But in all other cases, we should eliminate it.
Generally speaking, there are three levels of distortion, such as overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. Overdrive can usually be hardly spotted and is considered to be the lightest of them all. When distortion appears, it can be easily heard as audio tends to break up and significantly lose quality. Fuzz is characterized as if a lot of bees were closed in a very tiny space and hysterically wanted to get out.
Except that the track sounds really bad, clipping is also harmful to the speakers as they consist of components that react to the audio signal. Volume has a tight connection with the voltage is sent through, which means that the higher the voltage is, the higher the temperature is. Meaning that if you let the speakers clip for quite some time, they overheat, and the coils will be damaged.
Moreover, clipping can appear anywhere. If we talk about analog clipping, it can appear on everything from the microphone, pre-amp, amp, A/D converter, PC, and speakers. At the same time, digital clipping can be in any software and converters too.
If you notice that there is clipping present in your recording, the best thing that you can do is to record it again, if it is possible. Also, you should use gain staging to keep clear from distortion.
Any noise can affect the audio quality quite a lot, so it’s utterly important that the place where the recording process happens has zero noise. We can’t stress enough the significance of canceling out any noise from computer, laptop, electronic devices, lights, etc., but it is much better to deal with it in pre-recording stage than spend countless hours cutting noises from the track.
Not only said electronic devices can produce unwanted noise, but wind, radio frequency interference, hisses, clicks, and crackles. While putting a fuzzy covering on the mix can cancel out the majority of the wind noise, it is quite possible that you will have to use a high pass filter as well. Crackles and clicks are caused by bad cables most of the time, so it would be a good idea to change unbalanced cables to balanced ones as the latter are designed in such a fashion that they cancel out any external noise.
Choosing the right audio interface can influence the overall quality of audio recording quite a lot. There are three ways in which audio interfaces affect the sound they produce, such as noise that they generate, the quality of their pre-amps, and analog-to-digital conversion.
As the audio interface is an electronic device, it is quite natural that there are some noises involved, such as those from circuitry, pre-amps, and analog-to-digital conversion. Most of the pre-amps that are used in audio interfaces make the frequency response flat, while various frequencies from the input signals can be amplified equally, but not all audio interfaces give you sonically pleasant results, which may include some noise. Whether there will be some additional noise included in the results of ADC and DAC processes depends on the build quality, as well as the sampling rate and the bit depth.
Choosing a suitable mic for the recording is equally important. Firstly, you should choose between dynamic and condenser microphones. Dynamic microphones are the best when you need to record several people in a space that is very noisy or untreated. Also, a good idea would be to put a performer or the instrument right in front of the mic and as close as possible so that the mic would catch only that sound and nothing else. Condenser microphones are significantly sensitive but also precise. To use these microphones, you need to record in a treated room where all noises are canceled out.
When talking about polar patterns, you should pay attention to the mics that are unidirectional, as they record the sound from one direction only. Within the unidirectional category, you can choose between cardioid, super cardioid, and hyper-cardioid.
Depending on which purposes exactly you need the mic, there are several manufacturers to choose from. Typically, if you need a universal mic for recording instruments and vocals, you should look for Rode microphones. There are a lot of manufacturers who produce mics for vocals or podcasting, including Shure and Neumann, so you should choose wisely, taking into consideration all factors, including budget.
Pop filters and other peripheries
Anyone who is familiar with voice recording knows that having a dedicated mic is only a part of the equation. The next thing that you need is to have a pop filter, which is the simplest way to make vocals or voice recording better. The primary function of the pop filter is to minimize the number of plosives, or “p” and “b” consonants, specifically the bursts of air that the diaphragm of the mic would catch up to and cause the spike in the input level. As a result, you get popping sounds in the recording or even distortion. To let the pop filter do its job, you should place it in front of your mic but not too close so that there is some air between the filter and the mic.
Aside from plosives, you need to watch out for any sibilance that might occur if the vocalist or person whose speech you are recording talks right into the mic. Sibilance, or “s” and “z” sounds, can be addressed by keeping the distance between the person who is speaking or singing and the mic about 8″, especially if you use a condenser mic. If you use a dynamic mic, the distance should be less than 8″. Another thing that you should try is to angle the mic so that it is tilted back for a bit and turned left but is on the same level as your mouth.
Having the right room acoustics is very important because it results in better audio quality. Not only there won’t be any unwanted noises and reflections, but also you will be able to hear all the nuances and details of the sound.
You can more or less easily resolve the issues in room acoustic by knowing all the specs of the space that need improvement. One of the easiest solutions is to have lots of acoustic absorption. Depending on which materials were used in your room, sound waves would hit and reflect differently.
Typically sound waves reflect from smooth and flat surfaces, such as windows or anything else that is made from glass. And such materials or objects as curtains, rugs, or panels absorb sound waves. So in order to make room acoustics better, you need to minimize all materials or objects that help sound waves to be reflected and increase those that absorb waves.
In order to make the room insulated from all external noise, we need to soundproof it. There are a few ways in which the desired result can be achieved.
Firstly, if it is possible, you can build a thicker wall, and to add even more insulation, you can add a sheet block inside the wall. But if you need to improve the existing wall, you can add a sheet block on the outside of the wall and hide it under the layer of drywall. In addition to that, you can add a sheet block inside the room, hide it under the drywall and paint over it.
Secondly, you can add foam mats or absorbing panels, which not only protect from the noise outside but tend to soften the noise inside the room. There are plenty of options to choose from on the market today, but ideally, you should look for those panels or mats which equally well absorb high and low frequencies. Because it will be a rather unfortunate situation if you end up with a very dry sound without any reverberation whatsoever. A good idea would be to look for panels that are based on fiberglass because they absorb the sound very well and also are easy to clean.
Reflections and diffusion
To improve the sound in the room and audio quality as a result, you need to use acoustic diffusers, which spread sound waves and give a more lively sound. You should place diffusers at all points of reflection in the room, such as a back wall, on the ceiling over the place where you sit, and behind studio monitors. There are a huge variety of diffusers on the market today, so you can choose in accordance with your needs, the design of the room, and your budget. There are lightweight diffusers that are easily mounted or heavy diffusers that are made from wood and look like bars of different heights, they are mostly a bit harder to mount but not impossible.