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How do the pros get that sweet sparkle? Equalisers (HW)
Old 5th April 2018
  #1
Gear Head
 

How do the pros get that sweet sparkle?

Hey Guys,
Apologies if the answer to this is elsewhere but i really can’t find a definate answer anywhere!

So, my question is, how do the pro’s get that ultra crisp, sweet top end on their vocals?

In my career so far i’ve recorded alot of vocals. My current vocal chain is a U87 going into a Focusrite ISA430 mkii. I’ve used many other microphones and preamps in different rooms and the answer to this question still eludes me. All of my vocals sound dull in comparison to chart mixes. So i end up adding even heavier processing which ends up sounding harsh!

Because it is such a common sound in todays music, surely there has to be a tried and tested way that the pros do it??

I’ve tried copying the vocal to a new channel and high passing it. Then heavily compressing it and blending that back in with the original vocal, but it just seems like a bad idea everytime i do it and the results are never really convincing for me. Surely this is not the ‘right’ way right?? Or is it??

I’ve also tried whisper tracks, which have never ended well, and also analogue eq on the way in. Sometimes i get close, but never close enough.

Somebody please give up this secret!

A good example of this sweet vocal effect is this song... Chris Brown - Emotions
Right from the get go you can hear that crisp, enhanced but natural top end in the vocal.

That expensive sound!

Thanks!
Old 5th April 2018
  #2
Quote:
Somebody please give up this secret!
So, my question is, how do the pro’s get that ultra crisp, sweet top end on their vocals?
Its simple, you just sprinkle some magic pixie dust on the mic before you start singing. Most DAW's come with it, unless you got a download copy only. This is why i always get a hard copy of my DAW, as this pixie dust comes inside the box.. Maybe you can email your DAW manufactures and have them send you some..

With that said, it first starts with recording in a good room
Then recording a sounding voice
Then recording a good performance
Then having it mixed into the song just right, with the correct amount of processing that is needed to have it shine. (Each vocal and song is different, so you will need to do different things to the vocal when mixing it.)

There is no simple secret. The only thing that will get you there is to learn your tools and record quality tracks. This will give you the knowledge of what to do in each situation when it comes to vocals and other things

CJ
Old 5th April 2018
  #3
Gear Maniac
 

Honestly, it's the gear (and the engineer). But definitely the gear.
Old 5th April 2018
  #4
Lives for gear
 
bitman's Avatar
Try the Type-A plug in from Audiothing.
Old 5th April 2018
  #5
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
Its simple, you just sprinkle some magic pixie dust on the mic before you start singing. Most DAW's come with it, unless you got a download copy only. This is why i always get a hard copy of my DAW, as this pixie dust comes inside the box.. Maybe you can email your DAW manufactures and have them send you some..

With that said, it first starts with recording in a good room
Then recording a sounding voice
Then recording a good performance
Then having it mixed into the song just right, with the correct amount of processing that is needed to have it shine. (Each vocal and song is different, so you will need to do different things to the vocal when mixing it.)

There is no simple secret. The only thing that will get you there is to learn your tools and record quality tracks. This will give you the knowledge of what to do in each situation when it comes to vocals and other things

CJ
I’m looking in my old logic pro 8 box but couldnt find any... did they manufacture the pixie dust in 2008??



Haha thanks for the reply CJ... is there any technique you would normally go to first in the event of a dull performance that needs sprucing up? Even when i have a great vocalist in session and get a great take its still difficult to get that crispness without using obscure techniques that end up making it harsh...

Initially i thought maybe the U87 just isnt high-end enough... even though its a 2k microphone. Do you maybe think a better more expensive microphone would make reching this target any easier? Maybe something like an ELAM251?
Old 5th April 2018
  #6
Lives for gear
 
foamboy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
Its simple, you just sprinkle some magic pixie dust on the mic before you start singing. Most DAW's come with it, unless you got a download copy only. This is why i always get a hard copy of my DAW, as this pixie dust comes inside the box.. Maybe you can email your DAW manufactures and have them send you some..


CJ
x a million

I knew I should not have got the cracked version!

Is it really worth the extra money for the Pixie dust? Do ya think CLA uses the pixie dust?

fb
Old 5th April 2018
  #7
You definitely have the gear to make great sounding vocals. If you cannot achieve with what you have, new gear will not help you..Do not waste your money on a new mic.
Old 5th April 2018
  #8
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pangolin View Post
Honestly, it's the gear (and the engineer). But definitely the gear.
Any gear in particular?? I was thinking of investing in a Maag Eq to take advantage of the air band... but is this likely to get the results i’m looking for??
Old 5th April 2018
  #9
Lives for gear
 
foamboy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by ItsMisterVee View Post
I’m looking in my old logic pro 8 box but couldnt find any... did they manufacture the pixie dust in 2008??



Haha thanks for the reply CJ... is there any technique you would normally go to first in the event of a dull performance that needs sprucing up? Even when i have a great vocalist in session and get a great take its still difficult to get that crispness without using obscure techniques that end up making it harsh...

Initially i thought maybe the U87 just isnt high-end enough... even though its a 2k microphone. Do you maybe think a better more expensive microphone would make reching this target any easier? Maybe something like an ELAM251?
Could you post a clip of something that is not to your satisfaction? Sometimes we can easily lose perspective.

fb
Old 5th April 2018
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by ItsMisterVee View Post
Any gear in particular?? I was thinking of investing in a Maag Eq to take advantage of the air band... but is this likely to get the results i’m looking for??
Look at the Kush Audio Clariphonic MS

Kush Audio Clariphonic MS
Old 5th April 2018
  #11
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by foamboy View Post
Could you post a clip of something that is not to your satisfaction? Sometimes we can easily lose perspective.

fb
Here’s something that i recorded a while ago using the U87 into the Focusrite ISA430.

Finding Wonderland by thao nguyen | Free Listening on SoundCloud

It’s not bad when listening on it’s own but if you compare that with the sound of this song...theres a big difference in clarity.

YouTube
Old 5th April 2018
  #12
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
Look at the Kush Audio Clariphonic MS

Kush Audio Clariphonic MS
Good shout, i actually own the plugin of this and have only ever really used it on the mix bus... never thought to try it on a vocal.
Old 5th April 2018
  #13
Lives for gear
 
foamboy's Avatar
Well this is my humble opinion......to me it sounds like you need to mess with the eq a bit more and pay attention to the 250-600hz range. Try taking some out. Also, it sounds to me like a little more of a wide q and boost around 1-2.5k might open things up.

Also, it sounds to me like the vocalist is "pinching" a bit which will create a bit of a closed sound.

Who knows, maybe a different mic IS what you need. I don't own a really nice mic like the U87, but my wife has a very unique and thin voice and the C214 was about the best thing for her in my budget. I had to eq very little after using that mic.

Also, fwiw, take a look at the YT vid and listen to what he says around 45 seconds....it is a very specific point.

Good luck.
fb


YouTube
Old 6th April 2018
  #14
Here for the gear
 
Teal_66's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by foamboy View Post
Who knows, maybe a different mic IS what you need. I don't own a really nice mic like the U87, but my wife has a very unique and thin voice and the C214 was about the best thing for her in my budget. I had to eq very little after using that mic.
This was my first thought. Every voice responds differently to a mic. Perhaps the U87 isn't working for the vocal you are recording. This is why good studios have a lot of different mics. Proximity to the mic is important too, and can really change the sound.

Some very famous singers (Bruno Mars) have had hits doing their vocals with an SM57 because it sounded right. Another thing is that you can compress going in, and commit to it rather than compressing and processing after the fact. In other words, have it sound exactly the way it should going in with no need to further process the vocal. Figure out a chain that works and use it.
Old 6th April 2018
  #15
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by foamboy View Post
Well this is my humble opinion......to me it sounds like you need to mess with the eq a bit more and pay attention to the 250-600hz range. Try taking some out. Also, it sounds to me like a little more of a wide q and boost around 1-2.5k might open things up.

Also, it sounds to me like the vocalist is "pinching" a bit which will create a bit of a closed sound.

Who knows, maybe a different mic IS what you need. I don't own a really nice mic like the U87, but my wife has a very unique and thin voice and the C214 was about the best thing for her in my budget. I had to eq very little after using that mic.

Also, fwiw, take a look at the YT vid and listen to what he says around 45 seconds....it is a very specific point.

Good luck.
fb


YouTube
Thanks Foamboy some good points youve made here. Maybe i’m concentrating too much on getting an enhanced high end but not balancing that by working down the lows. Will give this a try tomorrow.
Interesting video also... makes me want an ELAM251 even more though haha! - One day!

Thanks for the advice
Old 6th April 2018
  #16
Gear Head
 

Could recording in omni mode on a microphone help with this? Perhaps by getting rid of some of the proximity mud it may make the highs pop out more? Anyone done this?
Old 6th April 2018
  #17
Lives for gear
 
12ax7's Avatar
 

As Sylvia Massy has said: "Its not a trick; its a skill."

...And it involves a lot of this: Tacit Knowledge (Wikipedia).

Last edited by 12ax7; 6th April 2018 at 02:03 PM..
Old 6th April 2018
  #18
An 87 isn't a bad place to start at all, though for super modern vocals, you could try something even brighter like a Manley Reference Cardioid. It seems to be all the rage among the modern set these days.

Also, #bitman 's suggestion of the Dolby plugin (Type-A) is a good one. Also try the SPL Vitalizer. That still gets used a lot.

And I like Mick Guzauski's trick of boosting WAAAAAY up high - saw him do it at 17k once on the last Jamiroquai record - to get the air you're looking for.
Old 6th April 2018
  #19
Gear Addict
Quote:
Originally Posted by bitman View Post
Try the Type-A plug in from Audiothing.
I was going to mention the same thing!
I am typically against the idea of some piece of gear giving you "studio magic" just by passing your signal through it. Especially when we are talking about a plugin because there is already so much bogus marketing out there that makes that claim.
But just try it! There is a demo so you don't have anything to lose.
Even if it doesn't get you all the way there I think it will move you a lot closer to where you want to be.
Old 6th April 2018
  #20
Lives for gear
The room and the chain after the mic can help. For example, I'm putting together a new vocal chain: Vipre-VariableMU-GML8200, with options for LA2A or 1176. The vipre is dark, I have an old millinia pre for close, and a Locomotive for pocket.
Old 6th April 2018
  #21
Lives for gear
 
dights's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ItsMisterVee View Post
Hey Guys,
Apologies if the answer to this is elsewhere but i really can’t find a definate answer anywhere!

So, my question is, how do the pro’s get that ultra crisp, sweet top end on their vocals?

In my career so far i’ve recorded alot of vocals. My current vocal chain is a U87 going into a Focusrite ISA430 mkii. I’ve used many other microphones and preamps in different rooms and the answer to this question still eludes me. All of my vocals sound dull in comparison to chart mixes. So i end up adding even heavier processing which ends up sounding harsh!

Because it is such a common sound in todays music, surely there has to be a tried and tested way that the pros do it??

I’ve tried copying the vocal to a new channel and high passing it. Then heavily compressing it and blending that back in with the original vocal, but it just seems like a bad idea everytime i do it and the results are never really convincing for me. Surely this is not the ‘right’ way right?? Or is it??

I’ve also tried whisper tracks, which have never ended well, and also analogue eq on the way in. Sometimes i get close, but never close enough.

Somebody please give up this secret!

A good example of this sweet vocal effect is this song... Chris Brown - Emotions
Right from the get go you can hear that crisp, enhanced but natural top end in the vocal.

That expensive sound!

Thanks!
Whilst there is no doubt that a high-end recording chain well matched to the vocalist and a good recording environment will make a big difference, you should be able to get a great result with the U87 and Focusrite.

Most top engineers I have been lucky enough to assist work based around a set vocal chain for that mix, and my techniques are largely taken from what I was able to learn from those and my own experiences.

As others have said, part of the way to get the top end to sound natural and "sparkle" is to deal with the low end and other unwanted frequencies, as well as this simply having an effect on how you perceive the high end. If there is less low end the overall sound will be perceived as brighter, even without boosting the highs.

First try removing unwanted frequencies with EQ before any other processing. Concentrate on taking out extreme low frequencies, and then balancing the low mids below 600Hz with some cuts where necessary. If the vocal has harsh tones higher in the midrange these can also be addressed. You can even use a multiband compressor at this stage to lightly control some of the high end and make it more natural.

If this is done before your main compression, then the compressor/s will only be working on the frequencies you want to shine and will give a more open and more natural result.

Then try using a series of two compressors doing different jobs; try one with a fast attack and release lightly removing peaks, and another with a slower attack and release doing the bulk of the dynamic control. This again will give a more natural result as neither compressor will be working as hard. These compressors should be chosen to compliment the vocal, the song, and the job, as various compressors have their own vibe, tone and strengths.

After this if necessary use a nice smooth/character EQ to add some boosts to the vocal, one that sounds open and natural in the high end. A classic approach is to use a high shelf or wide bell to boost in the very high end air band somewhere up to 20kHz or above.

Finally you can use a de-esser to control the sibilance of the vocal, and this can be placed before the compressors or at the end of the chain depending on the situation.

One final consideration would be that the clarity of your vocal is also affected by the FX you apply, such as reverb or delay. These will also contain a lot of the low end frequencies that may not be necessary for the effect, and will therefore muddy up the vocal sound further. If the effects are used on a separate bus via aux sends, you can then EQ the effect return itself to remove these unwanted frequencies with a low cut. Since digital reverbs are quite toppy you may even find that reducing the high end of the reverb a little with a shelf can help to improve the clarity and natural sparkle of the actual vocal.

Obviously these are my own observations and opinions and, whilst they are an overall idea on technique, each mixing situation is different and will require a different approach. Understanding these simple ideas should however give you the flexibility to react to the mix and adjust accordingly.

I hope this helps.

Good luck
Old 9th April 2018
  #22
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dights View Post
Whilst there is no doubt that a high-end recording chain well matched to the vocalist and a good recording environment will make a big difference, you should be able to get a great result with the U87 and Focusrite.

Most top engineers I have been lucky enough to assist work based around a set vocal chain for that mix, and my techniques are largely taken from what I was able to learn from those and my own experiences.

As others have said, part of the way to get the top end to sound natural and "sparkle" is to deal with the low end and other unwanted frequencies, as well as this simply having an effect on how you perceive the high end. If there is less low end the overall sound will be perceived as brighter, even without boosting the highs.

First try removing unwanted frequencies with EQ before any other processing. Concentrate on taking out extreme low frequencies, and then balancing the low mids below 600Hz with some cuts where necessary. If the vocal has harsh tones higher in the midrange these can also be addressed. You can even use a multiband compressor at this stage to lightly control some of the high end and make it more natural.

If this is done before your main compression, then the compressor/s will only be working on the frequencies you want to shine and will give a more open and more natural result.

Then try using a series of two compressors doing different jobs; try one with a fast attack and release lightly removing peaks, and another with a slower attack and release doing the bulk of the dynamic control. This again will give a more natural result as neither compressor will be working as hard. These compressors should be chosen to compliment the vocal, the song, and the job, as various compressors have their own vibe, tone and strengths.

After this if necessary use a nice smooth/character EQ to add some boosts to the vocal, one that sounds open and natural in the high end. A classic approach is to use a high shelf or wide bell to boost in the very high end air band somewhere up to 20kHz or above.

Finally you can use a de-esser to control the sibilance of the vocal, and this can be placed before the compressors or at the end of the chain depending on the situation.

One final consideration would be that the clarity of your vocal is also affected by the FX you apply, such as reverb or delay. These will also contain a lot of the low end frequencies that may not be necessary for the effect, and will therefore muddy up the vocal sound further. If the effects are used on a separate bus via aux sends, you can then EQ the effect return itself to remove these unwanted frequencies with a low cut. Since digital reverbs are quite toppy you may even find that reducing the high end of the reverb a little with a shelf can help to improve the clarity and natural sparkle of the actual vocal.

Obviously these are my own observations and opinions and, whilst they are an overall idea on technique, each mixing situation is different and will require a different approach. Understanding these simple ideas should however give you the flexibility to react to the mix and adjust accordingly.

I hope this helps.

Good luck
Really helpful and great post Dights. Going to implement and try out these techniques. Thanks for your help
Old 9th April 2018
  #23
Lives for gear
 
dights's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ItsMisterVee View Post
Really helpful and great post Dights. Going to implement and try out these techniques. Thanks for your help
No problem mate, glad to help.

A good way to do this would be to copy the vocal track so that you have your original processing saved, and then work on the new processing. That way you can switch between them and learn from the differences that can be achieved.

Have fun!
Old 9th April 2018
  #24
Lives for gear
 
andychamp's Avatar
Contrast helps.
When evryone and their mother are competing for real estate in the 4k-and-upward zone, the vocals don‘t have much opportunity to shine.
There are so many instruments that don‘t need all that air to be well represented.
That leaves the cymbals and that‘s where we must hope the drummer knows when not to step on the vocals‘ turf.
Old 10th April 2018
  #25
Lives for gear
After the talent and material and mix. Take that out, And I assume you are still asking the question.

#1 The right mic for the voice. The 87 is workable for most, but not the best choice in many cases. Taking the time to find the right one can get that sound if you have the selection.

#2 The compressor for the style. If you want a big voice, a variable MU or LA2A or 1176 are a good tools. If you want your first one, get a distressor, it can play the rolls of the other ones well enough and it has a few tricks of it's own.

#3 The EQ style. Each EQ is different. GML 8200 or AMD inductor are the choices I picked. UBK has some cool stuff for EQ's now.

All of this before you hit the converters. Oh yeah, how good are your converters? Do you use a Word clock? Are you 96K? RME, Burl, SSL, who's converters are you using. Motu and Presonus working USB don't cut it.

What works best for the sound you want? We can't tell you, each style want's something different and new.

There are only 3 things you can do to audio. EQ, edit dynamics, and apply foldbacks. That's it. How good was the raw capture? (Singer, Song, Room, Mic)
Then how good is your EQ, Dynamics editor, and Effects? It's easy to spend $5000 each.


So in a nut shell, how do they do it, They have $20,000 recording chains that kick ass. And they know how to use them!

Can you make good records on the cheap, hell yes. But it's not going to give you the intimate close and big vocals you want.
Old 10th April 2018
  #26
Lives for gear
 
Cardinal_SINE's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ItsMisterVee View Post
So, my question is, how do the pro’s get that ultra crisp, sweet top end on their vocals?
They use a good mics and preamps into LA2A. Also they use some Eventides and Lexicons. The biggest thing the pros do is get to record greats vocalists in a great studio with lots of time to do it.
Old 10th April 2018
  #27
Quote:
The biggest thing the pros do is get to record greats vocalists in a great studio with lots of time to do it.
A lot of great vocals in songs were recorded in a bedroom or a control room.
Take for instance Alanis Morissette. She recorded her vocals for some of her biggest hits in her bedroom. Bono used an SM57 and sang sitting on a couch in a control room on some of his big hits.

Its Talent, performance and knowledge that get great vocals. You can achieve great vocals with a $99 mic and a $100 audio interface and any DAW

CJ
Old 10th April 2018
  #28
Lives for gear
 
dights's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
A lot of great vocals in songs were recorded in a bedroom or a control room.
Take for instance Alanis Morissette. She recorded her vocals for some of her biggest hits in her bedroom. Bono used an SM57 and sang sitting on a couch in a control room on some of his big hits.

Its Talent, performance and knowledge that get great vocals. You can achieve great vocals with a $99 mic and a $100 audio interface and any DAW

CJ
Exactly. The OP has a U87 and a Focusrite ISA430. They should be able to get good vocals.
Old 10th April 2018
  #29
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by dights View Post
Exactly. The OP has a U87 and a Focusrite ISA430. They should be able to get good vocals.
The OP might need to move to a place with a better-sounding bedroom. Unlike an SM57/58, the U87 hears the room as a significant part of the capture.
Old 10th April 2018
  #30
Lives for gear
 
dights's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
The OP might need to move to a place with a better-sounding bedroom. Unlike an SM57/58, the U87 hears the room as a significant part of the capture.
Personally I think unless the room is really tiny, you can make a dead booth with as little as some duvets and blankets.

It's all very well having the luxury of a nice sounding "space", but you can get a great vocal sound if it's just tracked dead.
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