Your audio journey – Part 5 – Optional Processors

As the audio journey continues I’m going to take a break this week from essentials and talk about optional extras. If you’re recording using a USB microphone then this section doesn’t apply to you but if you’re using an XLR microphone then read on.

So far we’ve discussed selecting your recording space and your microphone as well as how to get your audio into your computer for either recording or streaming. So hopefully by now you’ll have an idea of your recording space, your microphone and whether you want an interface or mixer.

Let me briefly explain, when you record your audio into your digital audio workstation (this doesn’t apply for live streaming), you are recording raw audio. Usually you’ll want to do an element of processing to your audio, depending on what it’s for. This can include equalisation, or compression and can be done either at source or in the digital audio workstation in what we can post-processing.

If you’re live streaming then what goes into your computer will be what goes out as live. If you record your stream then you can post-process the audio and repackage it but as far as the live stream goes then exactly what comes into the computer is what goes out.

If you’re recording voice over for any purpose or recording a podcast, then you have the flexibility of being able to post-process your audio in the digital audio workstation of your choice. If you’re using a USB microphone then this is the only option you have but if you’re using an XLR microphone then you can add to your chain and remove the need for a lot of post-processing.

In my chain I have my microphone routed directly to a dbx 286s before then hitting my mixer and finally my computer. The dbx 286s is a microphone pre-amp and processer. It can supply 48v phantom power (needed by my condenser microphone) as well as taking care of a lot of the processing at source leaving me less work to do in post-processing.

There are basic controls which start the job before the real processing kicks in. There’s an input level control, a 48v phantoms power switch an 80hz high pass and a process bypass switch.

The first processing element in the dbx 286s is a compressor which I’ll cover more later in the journey but essentially a compressor reduces the differences between the loudest and quietest parts of your audio. The higher your settings the more uniform the volume of your voice will be, the lower your settings the more variance between loud and quiet will be recorded.

Next is a DeEsser which basically does exactly what it says. Some voices and some microphones are prone to sibilance, which is where “S” sounds in your audio become harsh and piercing. The DeEsser is a compressor which works on a certain frequency only to turn down the frequency causing the sibilance while allowing other frequencies through untouched and it removes the harsh “S” sounds leaving just a pleasant “S” sound. I’m intending to cover processing your audio in more detail later in the journey but a word of warning here, do not go overboard with the DeEsser or your audio will end up sounding like it was recorded while you had a horrendous cold!

The next item in the processing is an enhancer. This is a very basic graphic equaliser which can boost the low and high sounds in your voice. The dial goes from zero to ten but a word of warning, be careful how you set this as its a powerful tool and you could easily end up sounding horrible if you go too far with these boosts.

Next up is an expander/gate. One thing I’ve never understood is why a downward expander is called a downward expander! Expansion in my mind means getting larger but a downward expander actually makes quieter so it’s really more a contractor than an expander. Passing on though from debating the name the expander/gate section is for you if your recording space has a bit of background noise in it which you wish to eliminate before recording. Your two controls here and threshold (where the expander/gate becomes stops being active) and ratio (by how much the background noise beneath the threshold is reduced). It’s worth pointing out that whilst this is a powerful and valuable tool it’s not a replacement for finding a quiet recording space as the minute your voice kicks in and the audio level exceeds the threshold, all noise including the background noise which was otherwise excluded by this feature is allowed through so it remains essential to record in as quiet an environment as possible.

Finally, there’s an output gain which adds (or subtracts) volume from the processed signal before it goes to your interface or mixer.

For a voiceover artist or podcaster, while it’s not essential, a dbx 286s should be more than enough if you opt to add a processor into your chain. For a live streamer there may be other options you wish to add.

For example if you’re running a live stream using a mixer you may want your microphone to go to a dbx 286s and then into your mixer with the output from your mixer then hitting a compressor to ensure the final output is nicely compressed before hitting an interface and being streamed out via the interface.

As I’ve said, for voiceover and podcasting, a processor is not an essential element in the chain as everything done by the processor can be achieved in post-processing in your software but if your budget can stretch then it’s a good addition to your recording chain.

Let’s take a look at some processors

This is the processor that’s in my audio chain as a matter of personal preference. It means I can either monitor exactly what’s being recorded with little need for post-processing when I record or I can broadcast live knowing that my audio sounds good and is at the correct levels. Works with a single microphone on its 1 channel.

This processing strip has two channels meaning you can run two microphones into it.

Let’s move on and take a look at a few additions if you’re either podcasting live or live streaming. Again please remember these are optional and would only be necessary in a professional environment.

For an ideal live streaming, or live podcasting output I would recommend the following.

Route your microphone via a processor (one microphone per channel or processor if single channel processor) and run the processor to the mixer. Route the mixer output through an EQ (if there is no EQ on your mixer) and finally run through a compressor before routing the compressor back to an interface and out to your stream or podcast.

Route the output from your mixer into the equaliser unit to tweak the final sound boosting and cutting the correct frequencies.

Add the final touch with a spot of compression to the overall mix to ensure the sound never peaks and is an easy listen without a constant need to jockey the volume button.

All of the above is optional! Whether you’re starting out in voiceover or podcasting it is essential to remember that the processing element of these additions can all be achieved in your digital audio work station after you’ve recorded. Many voiceover artists will add one as a matter of preference and while it will give you 48v phantom power for your condenser microphone you’ll still need to route the ouput from a processor to an interfance (which can also power your condenser microphone) to get the signal to your computer.