3 techniques for working in an untreated room
BY FREDDY VINEHILL-CLIFFE
In the first installment of this blog, I talked about using NUGEN Audio plug-ins to improve a scrappy drum recording - take a look if you missed it! This time I’d like to suggest a few ways you can deal with having to work from home in an untreated room, perhaps with less powerful monitors than usual. There’s only so far you can get with careful speaker placement and a generous smattering of soft furnishings to swallow up those nasty high frequencies. These plug-in solutions are applicable for both music and audio post, whether you’re mixing, or recording vocals, voiceovers or ADR. And as with last time, if you give any of these a try then please feel free to get in touch and let us know how it went.
Use Visualizer to visually monitor the frequencies you can’t hear
Outside of your usual control room or mixing setup, it’s pretty likely that certain frequencies will be less audible, some will be significantly boosted, and others might be completely missing. A comprehensive audio analysis suite such as NUGEN Audio’s Visualizer is always a useful tool for picking up the slack when your ears don’t quite cut it, but in situations like this, these tools really come into their own.
In particular, the ‘Spectrum Analyser’ and ‘Spectrogram’ views within Visualizer will both assist with spotting any frequency bands where there is a significant buildup. Say, for example, your home setup is useless at reproducing anything below 100Hz, you’ll want to make sure you haven’t completely overlooked or unwittingly added in an unwanted hump around 90Hz. These views both have an overall and a stereo-differential mode (is one frequency range much more prominent in one side than the other!?), and the mouse-over readout gives you precise information about which frequencies you’re looking at. The most obvious application for this is in mixing, but you can also use Visualizer as an insert for monitoring on the way in. This is a great visual guide for adjusting microphone placement in order to avoid subtle ringing frequencies creeping in.
Use noise removal plug-ins to tidy up extraneous sound
As Keith Alexander pointed out in our recent chat, half the battle when recording voiceovers or ADR at home is finding a place without any reflective surfaces or noise from outside. But in an untreated or undertreated room, you’re unlikely to completely avoid unwanted ringing frequencies, reflections, or background hum. Thankfully there are plenty of options these days for slick and accurate noise removal.
One of my favourite sets of tools for this is the ERA 4 Bundle from our friends at Accusonus. Although there are extra controls if you need them for fine tuning, basic operation for each of these plug-ins is achieved with just one big knob, and I love the simplicity. Not only does ERA 4 include a Noise Remover, it also includes a dedicated Reverb Remover for absolute clarity! Perfect for dealing with a client’s ill-advised bathroom recording setup. ERA 4’s Plosive Remover is also an added bonus for anyone who, like me, has managed to tear a hole in their usual pop shield.
Mix on headphones with a "smart" monitoring plug-in
Of course, you might decide you’d prefer to avoid mixing on speakers in an untreated room altogether. Experienced engineers seem to have historically warned against mixing on headphones, but within the past few years there have been some significant advancements in “virtual mix rooms” and other similar software. Virtual mix rooms aim to recreate the spatial experience of mixing in a well-treated room with a decent pair of monitors, or for a more dry and technical approach there are options which aim to calibrate your headphones in order to compensate for any shortcomings in frequency response.
As ever, Production Expert has a great guide explaining some of the main options. Last year, Dan Cooper gave his thoughts on offerings from Waves, Sonarworks and others. It turns out you can mix on headphones after all, and you’ll prove that BTEC Music Technology teacher wrong yet!