Thread: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

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  1. #1
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    Fly Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Standard disclaimer of no one size fits all solutions exist. I'm not asking for a magic way to fix a problem I have. Looking for a discussion of things the collective has experienced.

    Would anyone be interested in discussing some of the frequencies involved, some of the common mistakes or misconceptions made, and any advice on how you manage sibilance on a vocal, while maintaining good clarity??

    I've been doing some comparative listening and I'm finding my vocals tend to be kind of sibilant, not quite harsh...but close. When I try to go the other direction, I tend to get a flat feeling that's not very articulate. I'm interested in what you guys look for in your vocal and how you work to get to it.

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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    I'm curious as to what kind of mike and preamp you're using, for starters.

    The reason I ask is because years ago I used to use a mackie 1202 VLZ (the original one with the really bad pres) for practicing.

    When I added a Beta 58 to the signal chain it was so harsh my ears hurt thinking about it, and that had to be at least 15 years ago.

    In that case, changing the mike and preamp made all the difference.
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    I'm curious as to what kind of mike and preamp you're using, for starters.

    The reason I ask is because years ago I used to use a mackie 1202 VLZ (the original one with the really bad pres) for practicing.


    When I added a Beta 58 to the signal chain it was so harsh my ears hurt thinking about it, and that had to be at least 15 years ago.

    In that case, changing the mike and preamp made all the difference.
    It has been a variety, which makes me think I have a ill formed notion around how I go about achieving a clear and present vocal.

    There were a couple that I picked up online files for. Not sure what was used on those.
    Others included, Telefunken AR51/A-Design Pacifica, Aston Origin/Dakin, sE T2/Daking, Sure SM7b/Antelope Orion.
    So not always the "best" but nothing that I would consider the "cheap chinese" thing you might associate with overly bright mics.

    That's a good point though, in most cases I've noticed it after the fact...so I need to pay more attention to it when recording. I've certainly been thinking about it in terms of "fix it in the mix".

    -r
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Probably stating something that you've already thought of, but where is the vocalist in relation to the mic? If its pointed slightly off-axis, it may keep the extra sibilence out of the way.
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Standard disclaimer of no one size fits all solutions exist. I'm not asking for a magic way to fix a problem I have. Looking for a discussion of things the collective has experienced.

    Would anyone be interested in discussing some of the frequencies involved, some of the common mistakes or misconceptions made, and any advice on how you manage sibilance on a vocal, while maintaining good clarity??

    I've been doing some comparative listening and I'm finding my vocals tend to be kind of sibilant, not quite harsh...but close. When I try to go the other direction, I tend to get a flat feeling that's not very articulate. I'm interested in what you guys look for in your vocal and how you work to get to it.

    -r
    Yeah. I have problems with sibilance (to me) on my vocals. What do I do?

    1.) Microphone selection. For a while I was using a Shure Model 300 ribbon, which helped. There are other ribbon mics That I'd want to use, but not any of the "modern voiced" ones. For the last few years I've been using a prototype Pearlman TM-1 tube mic, which is a slightly dark LDC vaguely based on an original U-47. There are probably some better mics in that vein, but the TM-1 works well for me.

    2.) Mic placement. Don't get too close, work with your distance to get it right. I put the mic ABOVE the level of my mouth angled down. Which brings us to -

    3.) NO POP FILTER! Pop filters are sibilance generators, some worse than others. There's a thread somewhere around here on this. Instead I position the mic as described above so you don't pop into it.

    4.) Watch out for compression - it can easily compound the problem.

    5.) Practice your mic technique.

    6.) Resist the urge to deal with it using EQ.

    7.) De-essers generally suck.

    8.) If you have dentures, modify them to reduce whistle.

    9.) As McLights touched on, try singing slightly to the side of the mic.

    10.) Use a good, clean preamp. I use a CRS-IND 4412, which is, I believe, based on a Quad-8 discrete opamp circuit. I users +/- 30V rails, which give it amazing headroom.
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Probably stating something that you've already thought of, but where is the vocalist in relation to the mic? If its pointed slightly off-axis, it may keep the extra sibilence out of the way.
    I hadn't thought about that. The reason I point the mic off-axis is to avoid plosives. I didn't realize there was a second benefit.

    Thanks for the input
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    John has it: distance and angle.

    Also, am I right in thinking you have the Slate bundle? The de-esser in that is great, because it is a dynamic EQ with lots of options for shelf/pass/bell. Also, be wary of the EQ you use to boost high-end, because they are not all created equal.
  8. #8
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    I hadn't thought about that. The reason I point the mic off-axis is to avoid plosives. I didn't realize there was a second benefit.

    Thanks for the input
    Another thing is nobody's face is perfectly symmetric. All singer will project more to one side than the other. Thus, positioning the mic on one side or the other won't give you exactly the same sound. One side will generally be "meatier", especially on the more "passionate" sections of the song.
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Aside from all the mic placement/ technique related advice that I wholeheartedly agree are the first and major way to deal with the issue, Something i've noticed is just how variable different voices are in terms of where the objectionable sibilance falls in the freq. range.

    My only De-essing VST is the IK multimedia one, which I like well enough. I find myself switching between 2 and 3 band operation (2 band = everything above X freq, 3 band = everything between X and Y freq, don't know how other plugs deal with that).

    For my own voice, I like 2 band set quite high, seems like my T's and S are quite tight so I can set it to 9k+ and use quite a lot of GR without things sounding muddy or adversely affecting the air the rest of the time. Don't get me wrong, my voice has 99 problems and they're all bitches but that isn't one of them.

    Another voice I've dealt with a lot this year has sibilance quite low, it feels, almost sloshy sounding down at 6.5k, and for that I find I need to use the 3 band mode to leave the stuff above 10k unaffected otherwise by the time I'm getting the control I need on the S's it's also starting to trigger on bright vowel sounds.

    If I had a bigger mic locker, there would probably be a better mic choice for him but as always we work with what we have.

    Compression choice/ amount plays a big part, over the weekend I was using Waves' DBX 160 on voice (!) and loving everything except the S's, which I considered a fair trade off for the positive it was giving me.

    Of course, de-essing vocals isn't what De-essers are for, really; taming JCM800 upper mids, and controlling fret clank on basses.

    Oh, as far as the pop shield/sibilance problem goes, many people here tried the tape-a-pencil-to-the-front-of-the-mic trick? Used that successfully in the past.
  10. #10
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Mic technique, placement and choice have been added to the top of my checklist. I had not seen/heard the pop filter problem. I will look for more info on that. (if anyone happens to know what that specific thread was, Iíd appreciate a point in that direction)

    Compression, or types of compressors and how they affect the sibilance is something Iíll add to my list. Rev, you are correct that my primary plugin set is the Slate bundle. I do also use the Klanghelm MJUC for some things. There are a handful of compressor options to choose from between those two. I can <virtually> stack them next to each other and listen for the differences there.
    The Eiosis E2Deesser is include in the Slate bundle and in comparison to the Waves one I had, it has been pretty good. Factor in some room for user error here, but I struggled with the Waves plugin being very heavy handed. To the point that I would usually end up removing it. With the Eiosis one I have to kind of push it before it starts getting weird. But de-essing is a subject Iím still learning. Iím still pretty much at the stage of picking a preset that sounds okay, then tweaking knobs (without knowing exactly what/why) to see if it improves. A slow and kind of blind luck approach.

    To answer another point you made Rev, I generally grab the FG-N ďBRIT N EQĒ. I really like the way it sounds, but every tutorial on it comes with a disclaimer of ďuse judiciouslyĒ. I might be causing myself some problems there. I can do a side by side with the EQís I have pretty easily too. Iíll do that on some tracks where Iíve struggled.

    I really appreciate the input guys. I donít want you to think I havenít been trying things on my own Ö I have. It'd become un-intentioned tweaking though. I appreciate you guys giving it some direction.

    -r
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    I’m still pretty much at the stage of picking a preset that sounds okay, then tweaking knobs (without knowing exactly what/why) to see if it improves. A slow and kind of blind luck approach.

    To answer another point you made Rev, I generally grab the FG-N “BRIT N EQ”. I really like the way it sounds, but every tutorial on it comes with a disclaimer of “use judiciously”. I might be causing myself some problems there. I can do a side by side with the EQ’s I have pretty easily too. I’ll do that on some tracks where I’ve struggled.
    I'm pretty sure there's a rundown of the Eiosis de-esser on Slate's youtube channel.

    What might work better for you would be to use the Brit N EQ for low and low-mid EQ'ing, but try the Custom Series EQ for adding air.
  12. #12
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    There's already tons of useful info here. I wanted to stress that as with anything judgement is required. There are many records where sibilance is quite prominent and yet they are quite popular. It's easy to get caught into a cycle of battling with something and become over-reacting when there is no problem in reality.
    Among other things to try might be putting a good tapesim at the end of the vocal chain. By the nature of how tape works it may smooth out sibilance for good degree.
    Also when using De-Essers, it might be best to try a combo of wide-band and split-band de-essing. But so much effort is only required when there are clear problems at the source.
    And there is a new and rather cool VST to tame high frequency harshness called "soothe". I was using it mostly on distorted guitars but it also works well on vocals.
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Oh, as far as the pop shield/sibilance problem goes, many people here tried the tape-a-pencil-to-the-front-of-the-mic trick? Used that successfully in the past.
    Haven't tried that for sibilance. The origin of that trick is actually to keep from popping into ribbon mics.
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    Everything is some mixture of awesome and suck. We simply want the awesome to be highlighted sufficiently that it distracts listeners from the suck.
    Originally Posted by Bob Ohlsson
    The appropriate role for science is the study of observed phenomena to gain an understanding. It is not dictating what people ought or ought not to be observing.
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Well, as I said, I generally avoid de-essers - most of them do funny things to vocals IMO. In do have a pretty good one - and ADR SCAMP module - and I think we've used it exactly once - and I'm pretty sure it wasn't on a vocal. Since we don't mix ITB I'm not really familiar with the more sophisticated plugins, but the Chris Johnson's Airwindows one sounds pretty interesting - a lot of people around here seem to like it and it does stuff that other de-essers won't.
    http://www.johnnyoklahoma.com/

    Originally Posted by Bob Ohlsson
    Everything is some mixture of awesome and suck. We simply want the awesome to be highlighted sufficiently that it distracts listeners from the suck.
    Originally Posted by Bob Ohlsson
    The appropriate role for science is the study of observed phenomena to gain an understanding. It is not dictating what people ought or ought not to be observing.
    Hey, if I'm Grumpy, where the hell is Snow White????
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Well, as I said, I generally avoid de-essers - most of them do funny things to vocals IMO. In do have a pretty good one - and ADR SCAMP module - and I think we've used it exactly once - and I'm pretty sure it wasn't on a vocal. Since we don't mix ITB I'm not really familiar with the more sophisticated plugins, but the Chris Johnson's Airwindows one sounds pretty interesting - a lot of people around here seem to like it and it does stuff that other de-essers won't.
    Yeah, I think that generally if you're recording the vocal then just record it without obnoxious sibilants.
  16. #16
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    The origin of that trick is actually to keep from popping into ribbon mics.
    See, you wouldn't expect a brummie to be so subtle, would you? I know this, it's to replace the job of a pop shield, but I tried it once and found sibiliance to be less of an issue than the takes with a pop shield in front of the mic. VERY unscientific, I admit. Shamefully so. Just wondered if anyone else had ever noticed a similar correlation.
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    See, you wouldn't expect a brummie to be so subtle, would you? I know this, it's to replace the job of a pop shield, but I tried it once and found sibiliance to be less of an issue than the takes with a pop shield in front of the mic. VERY unscientific, I admit. Shamefully so. Just wondered if anyone else had ever noticed a similar correlation.
    Well, yeah, pop shields generate sibilance.
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    Originally Posted by Bob Ohlsson
    Everything is some mixture of awesome and suck. We simply want the awesome to be highlighted sufficiently that it distracts listeners from the suck.
    Originally Posted by Bob Ohlsson
    The appropriate role for science is the study of observed phenomena to gain an understanding. It is not dictating what people ought or ought not to be observing.
    Hey, if I'm Grumpy, where the hell is Snow White????
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Plosives are quite easy to deal with, compared to sibilance, or rather, good results are much easier to get with less damage to the signal, even if it can conceivably take more of your time.
    Having said that, I always use a pop filter. I don't find sibilance to be that untenable a problem generally. And a deesser generally works fine, unless it's just a real bad person/mic match.


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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    Plosives are quite easy to deal with, compared to sibilance, or rather, good results are much easier to get with less damage to the signal, even if it can conceivably take more of your time.
    Having said that, I always use a pop filter. I don't find sibilance to be that untenable a problem generally. And a deesser generally works fine, unless it's just a real bad person/mic match.


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    I dunno. De-essers always seem to me to leave audible artifacts, at least hardware. There are some plugin de-essers like Chris J's that do things that (analog) hardware can't do, so they might be good for people who work ITB all the time. A De-essers is a fairly drastic gain control device, and they nearly always leave artifacts.
    http://www.johnnyoklahoma.com/

    Originally Posted by Bob Ohlsson
    Everything is some mixture of awesome and suck. We simply want the awesome to be highlighted sufficiently that it distracts listeners from the suck.
    Originally Posted by Bob Ohlsson
    The appropriate role for science is the study of observed phenomena to gain an understanding. It is not dictating what people ought or ought not to be observing.
    Hey, if I'm Grumpy, where the hell is Snow White????
  20. #20
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    Default Re: Vocals: Sibilance & Clarity

    I'm not saying they don't leave artifacts, I'm just saying that used prudently, the side effects are less bad then the disease.


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