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Jesse Smith

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Recording tips
« on: June 28, 2018, 04:45:49 PM »

Well, today I made some experimental recordings with my new Zoom H2n recorder in the hopes of using it for this month's TotM recording. So much more to learn, above and beyond learning to play the instrument! So I am looking for general tips on making home recordings (especially for linking to separate video for TotM recordings etc). And I have a few specific questions.

I'm recording my Pokerwork, trying to get a natural "as live" sound, but avoiding or smoothing out harshness if possible. For those familiar with John Kirkpatrick's albums "Sheepskins" and "The Duck Race", that's the sort of sound I would be looking for. I am currently using the H2n in the XY mode, about a meter away from me on its little tripod with the XY mic side facing squarely at me.

Levels: I've read the manual and I do understand the "set the gain so the peaks are at -12 dB" bit. Does this mean that when you're watching the meter bounce up and down, the high points of most of those bounces should be around -12? Or only the "peakyest of the peaks"?

Treble/bass balance: Should I angle the melodeon so the treble is closer to / pointing more towards the mic than the bass side? Does the XY stereo give enough separation to make it worth fiddling with that balance in Audacity later?

Room sound: The small dining room that I have been recording my videos in (mainly because it's the tidiest room) gives a fairly harsh sound. There's a piano in the room as well, which probably resonates and doesn't help. I tried recording in my larger living room and I thought the sound was better and less grating. What recommendations do you have for choosing and/or preparing a place to record? I'm not in a position to build a studio room in my house but if there are simple things I can do to improve the recording I'll try.

Post-processing: Besides matching the audio from the H2n to the camera's video, is there any other common useful post-processing I should be looking at in Audacity? I don't know much about this part.

Thanks!
« Last Edit: June 28, 2018, 09:49:29 PM by Jesse Smith »
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2018, 05:19:56 PM »

i use an Olympus LS3 for my recordings.
It was only recently that I realised I'd been overloading it by recording directly facing it a few feet away. I now turn it away from me and sit at right angles to it, as the conservatory where I usually sit to record doesn't allow me to get any further from it. I'm not sure it has adjustable levels so I simply move away from the mic's to record.
Depending on the size of your room, you might have to use similar tactics!

I then upload it to Soundcloud as a sound only recording as it's easier to do...... The only adjustments I make are snipping off the start/finish switching on/off sounds.
I'm interested to know how others record....
Q
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Gena Crisman

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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2018, 06:08:45 PM »

Hello!

I used an H2n recording for the theme of the month post I submitted just the other day. I'm not particularly good at it but here's what I know/do.

I played in a small bedroom, in a corner facing the middle of the room, using MS mode (S was 0dB) with the mic around 2 metres away in the middle of the room. I tried this because I've been a bit unhappy with the mic in XY mode + close to me previously. There is some of the audio from the video that I tried to make mixed in, as it was closer and it picked up a few more 'box' sounds (air and some more bass, both mics pick up the clacking). My previous recording on there, Tripping Upstairs, was recorded facing into the mic in XY about maybe a meter away - my problems have been related to weird echos that are more noticeable when speaking - the air movement sound at the beginning of Bangor demonstrates it a bit, basically I think parts of the sound are being heard out of phase with one another which just ends up sounding weird with certain sounds, so, I tried using distance + MS mode see if that would counter this effect. I'm not sure it worked, I think I might swap to mono in future.

I'd say you pretty much want to err on the side of caution with your gain - if you clip (ie, make too loud a sound) then, that's it, you clipped and have lost information forever. Because you can record in 24 bit (most final audio is a mere 16 bits) and it has a decent noise floor, a quieter signal is still captured with a good amount of detail that you can amplify up with eg audacity in the edit. So, you definitely want to record in 24 bit, probably at least 48kHz, and in wav, and be conservative but not unreasonable with your gain - probably set it so the loudest you think you're going to be would consider kissing -12.

My routine with audio processing is:
  • 1) Noise reduction - select an empty part of the recording and get a noise profile, then select the whole track and apply that to it. It's easier to do this pre edit as you have more empty space.
  • 2) Edit to length, and remove any clicks or spikes added by accident (eg by handling the recorder)
  • 3) Normalise - evenly amplifies the track such that your loudest peak is set to the loudest value possible, 0 dB
  • 4) Maybe save it out to a lossless file, eg a Flac.
  • 5) Try to consider the overall RMS volume/dynamic range of the track, and adjust the gain of the track down if's too loud, or use dynamic range compression (effect / compressor) if sections are too quiet.

For tripping upstairs, I had a hard time with it, as well as some headphone problems, and just wanted to be done with it, and it's step 5 that was my mess up. There wasn't enough dynamic range in the recording that the peaks were significantly higher than the rest of the audio, so when it was normalised, the rest of the audio became too loud. I don't have an answer yet for how to work out what the 'correct' amount of loudness is, or how to assess it, other than through feel. It can be hard to assess this by listening to other things since everything has volume controls now.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2018, 07:39:59 PM by Gena Crisman »
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Tone Dumb Greg

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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2018, 06:58:42 PM »

With regard to room sound, a larger room will generally sound better than a smaller room and it is better if the room is not square, i.e., it has a longer side and a shorter side. The sound from a smaller, square room is often described as "boxy". When you hear it you recognise the sound.

If you're stuck with a boxy room one approach is to deaden the natural sound of the room using whatever comes to hand: Experts will poo poo the use of duvets etc. and get technical about selective filtering and such, but they are effective enough to make a difference. Having taken the (unpleasant) natural reverb out of the sound you can add an artificial reverb back in to the mix in your DAW (audacity?). I use something different (Reaper), but I think audacity comes with an onboard library.

The most important  tip with reverb is use it sparingly. Another tip is hang on to your original sound files in case you want to have another go. Once you render a file to  an audio format that is what it is.

Having said that, I don't bother with any of this for TOTM. I  trim it to length and put it up just the way it comes out.

Audio engineering is fun. The magazine Sound On Sound is a great resource. Available in online editions.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2018, 09:36:47 PM »

The key to acoustic treatment is depth, for bass absorption. Carpets don't help much as they are too thin and only absorb high frequencies. Duvets should be a lot better, especially if there room to hang them up spaced away from the wall.
A bedroom is often a good choice to record in because the bed itself, with mattress and covers, absorbs lots of sound. A room with sofas and upholstered armchairs is good; a dining room with hard chairs and a table (even if it has a carpet) usually isn't, likewise a kitchen or bathroom...

I'm not sure why you need noise reduction, unless there are extraneous sources of noise in the room, but background noise is an important point to consider. You might not notice traffic noise, dogs barking outside, a clock ticking, a squeaky chair etc. but they seem much more intrusive when you're playing back your recording.

Without spending a lot of money, there's a lot to be said for spending time experimenting with mic position and location, as every room is different. Certainly the camera's internal mic is not likely to be in the optimum place as it's usually too far away for the best sound.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2018, 10:16:28 PM »

Beware of using compression at the record stage. It will emphasise extraneous noises.
Removing background noises is quite a good idea.
How to remove background noises using Audacity:
https://www.guidingtech.com/26498/free-tools-remove-background-noise-audio/
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2018, 10:24:55 PM »

Levels: I've read the manual and I do understand the "set the gain so the peaks are at -12 dB" bit. Does this mean that when you're watching the meter bounce up and down, the high points of most of those bounces should be around -12? Or only the "peakyest of the peaks"?

You can learn something about how to read your meters by transferring to Audacity, which shows the peaks clearly. The  Audacity volume 'effect' suggests the amount of gain needed to normalise, and that gives you a measure of how far your peaks are from maximum.

I wouldn't throw away a recording if there were a few clips - listen and decide if they are actually audible.
The -12dB suggestion is to leave some headroom because there will be levels over that after you've done a preliminary test recording. We don't have tape hiss any more, so the old-school habit of 'recording hot' simply isn't needed. If the level is a bit low, you can safely boost it later (see ref to normalizing, below)

Quote
Treble/bass balance: Should I angle the melodeon so the treble is closer to / pointing more towards the mic than the bass side? Does the XY stereo give enough separation to make it worth fiddling with that balance in Audacity later?
Only your ears can be the judge of that. You won't get a lot of separation, but you can make adjustments. If you want to change the L/R balance and keep the stereo image central, though, you'll inevitably find you are narrowing the stereo image. Sometimes that's a good thing; if the H2N is closer to the instrument than a normal listener would be, the stereo image will be unnaturally wide.

Quote
Post-processing: Besides matching the audio from the H2n to the camera's video, is there any other common useful post-processing I should be looking at in Audacity? I don't know much about this part.
I sometimes add some compression, EQ and reverb, but not always and not much. Again let your ears be the judge. Reverb is one of those strange things that's almost too much if you can hear it, but you notice the difference if you suddenly take it away.
I often use a small amount of limiting to reduce the highest peaks by a couple of dB.
Once you have done any processing you need, always normalize as the last step, to get the level as high as possible without clipping. (Audacity's volume tool does this for you)
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2018, 10:42:02 PM »

Another thing: nobody has mentioned data formats. (warning: this is going to get technical)

Don't record MP3 files initially, especially if you are going to load into a program like Audacity. Audacity converts the MP3 into
PCM when loading the file, then re-encodes as MP3 again when you save the file, even if you didn't change anything. There's a loss of quality each time you go through that loop.

So use .WAV format. If you load that into Audacity, there's no loss of quality other than the tiny rounding errors from any processing you do. 16bits will do; 24 bits gives you great extra headroom but won't sound any better because the noise level at 16 bits is already far below the ambient noise in a household room.

Also if you can record at 48kHz sampling rate instead of 44.1kHz, there's a small advantage because it's the standard for video and won't have to be converted by YouTube or by your software. When combining video and audio (I use KDEnlive for that) I set the audio in the final output to 48k and AAC, because I believe that's least likely to get converted to something else by YouTube and anyway AAC is better quality than MP3 for the same bit rate.
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Jesse Smith

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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2018, 07:33:09 PM »

Wow, so much great information! It's a bit overwhelming, this sound stuff could turn into almost another musical instrument to learn! Thanks so much everyone!

I recorded my TotM contribution this morning using the Zoom H2n. Didn't bother with any post-processing effects except to normalize the levels in Audacity. It definitely already sounds better than my phone's microphone.

Anahata, I use KDEnlive, too (on Windows) and I successfully created my last two TotM videos with it, but when I went to use it this morning, I found that the video preview doesn't work. The audio from the video track plays but the video is so laggy it barely updates at all. And the position indicator of the preview doesn't move. This is the case even on the project file that worked perfectly last month! Maybe Windows Update pushed something down that broke KDEnlive? Any ideas?

I wonder if I should just do a dual boot install of AV Linux to run these programs, or if that would just introduce a whole new world of frustrations...  ::)

It's always something!
« Last Edit: June 29, 2018, 08:31:19 PM by Jesse Smith »
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2018, 07:42:47 AM »

Did you somehow know or did you guess? I have a dual boot install of AV Linux and Windows 7. It works perfectly. You might have a few learning experiences in the installation and setting up, but the whole point of AV Linux is that all the tricky stuff you have to do to get realtime audio processing performance in Linux has been done correctly for you. It's well supported too, with a nice PDF manual and support forum.

You'll be able to use Ardour for recording, mixing and editing too! (though that also works quite well in Windows these days) It's much more powerful than Audacity and is free software though donations or subscriptions are encouraged.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #10 on: June 30, 2018, 08:20:29 AM »

Did you somehow know or did you guess? I have a dual boot install of AV Linux and Windows 7. It works perfectly. You might have a few learning experiences in the installation and setting up, but the whole point of AV Linux is that all the tricky stuff you have to do to get realtime audio processing performance in Linux has been done correctly for you. It's well supported too, with a nice PDF manual and support forum.

You'll be able to use Ardour for recording, mixing and editing too! (though that also works quite well in Windows these days) It's much more powerful than Audacity and is free software though donations or subscriptions are encouraged.

Yes, I trawled through many old melodeon.net threads gathering suggestions on recording and post-processing software and I saw your discussion of AV Linux. And that is actually what I ended up doing tonight! I still don't know what fouled up KDEnlive on Windows after it was working great for two months, but I ran AV Linux off a live DVD and put my TotM track together that way! It worked great and I had it done in less than an hour.

I go back quite a long way with Linux. I installed Slackware Linux from a dozen floppies on my college computer in '95. The live DVD boot worked well, although it would only mount the Windows partitions read-only for some reason, so I had to use a USB stick to get the MP4 back to Windows. I do have a lot of free space on my hard drive, so I'm going to give serious thought into setting this up to dual boot since it worked so well.

Syncing the separate audio worked well too, and I think it's definitely an improvement in sound quality, but I think the H2n gain was probably a bit low after all (even after normalizing in Audacity the video seems quieter than most). Oh well, just something to keep in mind for next time.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2018, 09:49:30 AM »


I think the H2n gain was probably a bit low after all (even after normalizing in Audacity the video seems quieter than most). Oh well, just something to keep in mind for next time.

Applying a bit of compression before you normalise will make it sound louder. Don't overdo it, though.
Also, look out for peaks a lot louder than the  average volume. They will determine how loud the overall sound goes when you normalise.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2018, 04:53:08 PM »

I’ve always felt that normalising is a pointless process, all it does is lift the level to a point where the highest peak is at the chosen ceiling, and actually the listener can easily raise the level with his volume control.
As Greg says, when raising the level, you need to watch out for peaks that are much higher than the average level.
So I would use a digital limiter after the compressor - set it to 0db or lower, and as you push the level up (ie using the compressor’s make-up gain), it will take care of those extra-ordinary peaks. As with all processing, over-doing a limiter may spoil things, so... don’t over-do it unless that’s the sound you’re looking for.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #13 on: June 30, 2018, 04:54:47 PM »


I think the H2n gain was probably a bit low after all (even after normalizing in Audacity the video seems quieter than most).
Applying a bit of compression before you normalise will make it sound louder. Don't overdo it, though.

I've noticed this too. Most cameras have Automatic Gain Control on the sound, which is basically compression with a long release time.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #14 on: June 30, 2018, 05:22:01 PM »

I do not use "normalize", but compress the track first as suggested above and then use "amplify" to bring the level up.  This knocks down any spikes that would otherwise limit the final level in normalizing. 
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #15 on: June 30, 2018, 05:25:34 PM »

"amplify" in Audacity is the same as normalize if you use the gain level it suggests.
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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #16 on: June 30, 2018, 11:44:50 PM »

"amplify" in Audacity is the same as normalize if you use the gain level it suggests.

IF...

You can use either after squashing the envelope a bit, I suppose.  I prefer "amplify" as it allows me to choose the final level and recommend using compression as needed prior to raising the level.  I also have had to separate the stereo track into L and R mono tracks on occasion when only one channel has a spike which prevents attaining an acceptable final level or there is a significant level imbalance between L/R.

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Re: Recording tips
« Reply #17 on: July 01, 2018, 01:15:17 AM »

I’ve always felt that normalising is a pointless process, all it does is lift the level to a point where the highest peak is at the chosen ceiling, and actually the listener can easily raise the level with his volume control.

Actually, I'd describe the situation as entirely the reverse: pretty much anyone can lower their volume, but only a few pieces of software allow you to apply volume changes in excess of 100%. I wear headphones and there are actually pretty hard limits to how loud I can set the volume, in part because my sound card etc only has so much power, but also because of safety concerns wrt both my ears and my headphone speakers. I have though, several times, been unable to have eg my phone or an mp3 player increase the volume of a quiet audio track sufficient to make it audible without editing the file and amplifying it in some way it first.

Additionally, some people's audio equipment will have some issues with noise/hum etc, and if you force them to increase their volume by eg 10dB, then you may be increasing the amount of noise they hear also by 10dB. While you will also amplify any noise that is present in your recording, you can often take steps to reduce this via noise reduction, and at the very least, you aren't going to be making the SNR any worse. If you're really underutilising the available output waveform region, you're also effectively reducing the bit depth of your audio output by several bits (eg, you could express it effectively with only 15 or 14 bits or fewer).

Now, that's not to say that it needs to be 'normalised' to 0dB, the maximum possible amplitude, or even close, in order to be 'correct', but, I do think some care ought to be taken to try to make your audio such that it's mastered similarly to the other audio people will play back on their systems, ie, before whatever volume modifications you have on your playback software are applied. If you only listen back in Audacity, and it sounds just right vs other music you listen to in your regular media player of choice, it's worth taking the time to also play back your output file in your media player, in case you have different volume settings selected for the two applications. That's the voice of experience btw, and has 100% bitten me before. Just a reasonable effort, is all, you never really know when or how someone might like to enjoy your content.

On a slight tangent, I'd also like to share that, if you don't consider some kind of 'normalise' before you apply dynamic range compression, you may not really be applying dynamic range compression as per the options your filter has set up. For example, this somewhat contrived example:



In this case, because my non normalised test signal did not enter the -12dB region that the Compressor is configured for, which is where it applies a reduced amplification, it didn't really end up doing anything. Since I have make up to 0dB checked, it ended up normalising the output up to 0dB. You can see though that it looks just like the normalised (to -1dB) test signal at the top. If 'based on Peaks' were to be checked, the results would still differ from one another: although both signals would have their dynamic range compressed, the -12dB threshold I have selected will a represent a larger effective proportion of my unamplified wave form, the amplification 'kink' will be positioned in a different location. So, if anyone ever finds they get mixed results from their compressor passes, this could very well be a reason as to why.

As per:
Applying a bit of compression before you normalise will make it sound louder. Don't overdo it, though.
I do not use "normalize", but compress the track first as suggested above and then use "amplify" to bring the level up.  This knocks down any spikes that would otherwise limit the final level in normalizing. 
In this case, any spikes that hit within (with my settings) the 0 to -12dB region might be reduced in volume, so, this may be an effective strategy, however, compressors have attack/release curves specifically to avoid strange audio distortions as music changes dynamics very quickly, and in these cases of rapid change, the compressor may not really be doing a very effective job, and you may be better off, depending on what the spike is, manually adjusting it in some way (eg localised attenuation, or silencing).

Please note, I'm really not trying to say 'oh you're doing this wrong' or anything, just trying to share info. Balance is the important part, I think; not just left/right pans, but, also producing audio that's similar to the zeitgeist.
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