Assignment # 4: Demonstrate how to reduce unwanted electrical and acoustical noise when recording.

Hey all,

Gary here.  For this assignment I will be focusing on reducing unwanted acoustical and electrical noise in the home studio environment as that is the area where I have some experience.  Noise is any unwanted sound.  It is an interesting experience sitting down and listening to what a “silent” room actually sounds like.  There are many things going on that you never would have factored in.

I will discuss this topic under the following headings

  • Acoustical noise
  • Electrical noise

So, pretty simple then!!  Lets gooooooo!!

Acoustical noise

This is the type of noise I understand the most.  I am no expert but I shall try to explain how I deal with it when I record.  I think for the average home recording artist (the fancy title for what we do) acoustical noise can be a real problem.

First of all you will notice that no room is silent, even when it is silent.  There is noise everywhere and in the absence of all external noise we humans create it just by living (heart beat, blood flowing, nervous and digestive system etc).  The best way to understand where this noise is located is simply to sit still and listen.  I find it helps to set up recording equipment and listen through that.

When I first did this these are some of the noises I noticed:

  • My computer’s fan: The noise of the computer really became a prominent sound in the room as heard through my mic.
  • Clock:  The constant ticking of the clock can sometimes go unnoticed until you start to record.
  • My Chair: I think one of the most important pieces of equipment in a studio is a comfortable chair, you will be parked in it for long periods of time so it is best to choose a seat that will be kind to your behind.  However they are noisy, any small movement can be easily picked up by the mic.
  • Other people:  This only applies if you live with people or are recording near people.  If there are people in another room you will hear them on your recording.  If you live in an apartment or record in the room nearest the street in your house you may find some of that noise leaking in.

Here are some of the ways I have tried to counter these problems.

  • Record away from your computer:  There are also programs that allow you to turn the fan speed on your computer down.  But recording is very cpu intensive so that could make your computer heat up considerably.
  • Turn that clock off!!  In fact turn anything that is not needed for recording off.  If you are in the same room as the fridge it may be a good idea to plug it out for a little while.
  • Stand when recording vocals, not only will it get rid of any chair noises it will enhance your singing performance.  If you must sit use a stool while recording.
  • Wait until people have left the house.  You can also hang up blanket around the window area.
  • Mic placement:  Place the mic in the most silent part of the room.  This will take some experimentation.
  • Mic Polar pattern: I find that a directional mic such as a dynamic mic helps to tune out ambient noise and focus on the performance.

Electrical noise

Every piece of musical equipment you use has a set amount of “Self noise”.  This is the electrical noise created by the gear.  In microphones it is represented as a kind of background hiss.  Electrical noise is also present in other household appliances.  These can sometimes contribute to “dirtying” the electricity.  Things like dimmers can also contribute to electrical noise.  In my own experience I have noticed that my bass guitar makes a loud humming sound but when I face a different direction it drastically reduces.  One suggestion I got was that my computer monitor was the cause of this, I have yet to try turning the monitor off but when I turn away from it the hum decreases.  It seems that some electrical signal the monitor is emitting is being picked up by my bass’ pickups.  This is something I will look into.  Another cause of electrical noise is long or unbalanced cables.  The longer the cable the more chance the signal has to pick up noise and unbalanced cables do nothing to cut out noise.

To reduce this noise there are several options:

  • Use less pieces of gear:  The less equipment you use the less chance there is to dirty the signal with noise.
  • Use high quality gear:  A high quality piece of equipment has to earn that tag, dealing with noise and noise reduction is one way in which it does so.
  • Turn non essential electrical items off.  This could mean your fridge, TV, anything that might interfere with the signal.
  • Use short, balanced cables (XLR or TRS).  The shorter the cable the faster the signal gets from A to B and the less chance there is of noise.
  • Use a noise gate.  This is a good post production tool for eliminating some noise but should be one of the last measures you take to clean up a performance.  If you rely on “fixing in the mix” you limit yourself and can add hours to your workload trying to clean up mistakes that could have been eliminated by simply re-recording.

The home studio is a unique place and it will take a lot of experimentation to get the best sound out of your space.  I hope I have helped strengthen your understanding of noise reduction.  It is definitely possible to get great sounding recording from seemingly acoustically poor spaces when correct steps for noise reduction have been taken.

Thanks for reading!!


About gazztastic

This blog is another attempt at self motivation to do these four things in a year: (In order of supposed difficulty) 1). Achieve at a 75% or higher in the JLTP 二級 test. 2). Write and record a song every two months 3). Learn all the modes in guitar, learn to play at least 3 classical pieces and learn to sweep pick. 4).......lose 10 kilos Should be doable if I can make myself get up and do them!!!!
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