In this article, we’ll help you understand the main types of sound recording that exist, which to use, and why.
In short, the first step of the development of the audio recording process was mechanical sound recording. Several decades later, it was possible to use tape and enjoy the warm, lush sound. Soon, digital recording appeared and opened a new world of possibilities, including mono and stereo effects.
5 Types of Sound Recording You Should Know About
When we talk about sound recording, we mean that the sound waves are caught using mechanical, magnetic, digital, mono, or stereo techniques and then are recreated. In some cases, you can combine several methods to get the most sonically pleasant results.
For example, you can combine digital and magnetic sound recording. Firstly, you record instruments and vocals on the computer. Then you connect the computer to a tape recorder and move the sound on the tape. If needed, you can move the sound from the tape back to the computer.
Or you can combine digital and mechanical recording. It starts with recording instruments and vocals onto the computer and then connecting it to the vinyl player. It is worth mentioning that it’s rather a complex process even though you achieve a pleasant vinyl sound.
Basically, you can combine up to 3 recording techniques. There are almost no limits except for making sure that the sound-capturing process would not take you the whole day.
Mechanical sound recording
Mechanical recording was used for a very long time and was the best way to store audio recordings till the moment when digital recording appeared. The process consists of a few stages, starting with a sound wave that triggers the needle or a cutter to inscribe the cylinder or disk with the wavy-line pattern that repeats the sound wave. That was how the phonograph records were made for quite some time. The advantages of the following method of sound recording are that records are produced easily, at a low cost, and can be stored for more than a lifetime.
Magnetic sound recording
Magnetic recording or tape recording depends on the concepts of electromagnetic induction, and it is a decent technology that still is used widely for capturing and saving various forms of audio data. Nowadays, with the rapid development of audio technologies, one may argue for the necessity of magnetic recording to be used in studios. But a large part of sound engineers and music producers still cling to tapes because they sound warm and cozy. As well as adding some tape sound to the recording, you can observe the changes in nonlinear frequency response and saturation.
Among the many advantages that magnetic sound recording has, we can emphasize the possibility of re-recording and reusing the same tape, being cost-effective and saving massive amounts of data. The main disadvantage of such a method is that the lifespan of the tape is no more than 15 years.
Digital sound recording
When the sound is transcripted into the binary format with the help of an analog-to-digital converter, it is called digital recording. Computers or other devices can crack the transcript and produce sound. All of the various types of digital recordings differ in the way data is recorded and in what that data is stored.
When the data that is in itself the digital recording is relocated into the file on the computer, it is compressed. There are two ways of compression, such as lossless and lossy. Lossless formats mean that data was not changed during the process of compression, while lossy suggests that a small proportion of data was changed during compression.
Among many advantages of digital recording, we can name one – copying. All digital recordings can be copied almost infinite times without any loss of quality, which is very convenient for editing stages.
In mono recording, we capture the sound in one channel, and it’s the most popular way of recording sound. The popularity of a mono recording is caused by the fact that the majority of recording devices have only one mic. Also, it is really simple to record in mono because all you need is to put any type of mic with any pattern to the sound source and record the sound produced. The instruments that better sound in mono are snare and kick drums, bass, and lead vocals.
The position of the lead singer is always in the center of the stage, which is why it’s better to record it in mono. Snare drums are also positioned in the center of the stage, which is why mono recording is what you need. Kick drums are heavy on the low end and need lots of power to be authentically reproduced on speakers, which is good reason enough to be recorded in mono. Bass consists of low frequencies, and mono recording is capable of catching it in full.
When we’re recording in stereo, it’s quite a common practice to use 2 mics to capture the sound from one source. The best way to create wideness is to direct mono signals from the microphones to the left and right channels of the stereo track. There are two ways in which the stereo effect can be made, such as the contrast in timing and in frequency balance.
The contrast in timing can be achieved by putting the mics at diverse spots from the instrument so that when the sound is produced, it will reach two mics not equally. A slim difference of no more than a few milliseconds is more than enough to get the desired effect.
The contrast in frequency balance can be achieved by changing the angle of the mics in correspondence to the instrument that produces sound. In such a fashion, each mic would pick up a bit diverse balance of frequencies. So, the wider angle you choose, the more stereo effect you will get.
There are five techniques of stereo recording, such as A/B, X/Y, ORTF, Blumlein pair, and Mid/Side.
To achieve a perfect sound with the help of the A/B technique, you should use 2 small diaphragm condenser mics with omnidirectional patterns and direct them to the sound produced by the instrument or vocalist. You have to put the mics at least 1ft from the sound and maintain about 2 ft in between. You can move the microphones around based on your liking and the result you plan to achieve. As there is some distance between the mics, you will get a stereo effect that is achieved by contrast in timing.
Both X/Y and ORTF techniques need 2 compact diaphragm condenser mics with directional patterns.
The difference is that for the X/Y technique, you have to position and angle microphones in such a fashion that their capsules are directed to one point. The general suggestion is that the angle should be from 90 to 130 degrees, but you can experiment with values to get a wider stereo image.
When speaking about the ORTF technique, you light to position them so that they’re 6,5”-6.8” apart and the angle is around 110 degrees. As a result, you will get a wider stereo image and reduced ambient room sound.
Blumlien pair technique suggests obtaining 2 mics with bi-directional patterns and positioning them similarly to the X/Y technique. Using such placement and bi-directional pattern results in gaining a wider stereo image with the addition of room sound.
Just by looking at the name of the Mid/Side technique, you can picture two mics being placed in such a fashion that they capture mid and side sound from the source.
So, to get it done, you need to have 1 small diaphragm condenser mic with a cardioid or omnidirectional pattern and 1 large diaphragm condenser mic with a bi-directional pattern. The latter have to be placed a bit on the side of the sound source and inclined no more than 90 degrees. That is the perfect position to capture the side. The small mic needs to be placed lower or higher than the larger mic and be aimed at the sound source, which lets it catch the mid perfectly.
Thanks to this positioning, you get a much wider stereo effect than using the A/B technique achieves. As well as it makes it possible to raise the room ambience, which is quite similar to what the Blumlein pair does.