September 9, 2014 at 8:43PM

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A quest to improve audio knowledge and quality!!

I have recently been looking into the world of sound in much more depth... I have found that looking into the world of the studio recording of music has reaped HUGE benefits, and there are many tips that I can transition over to my video work... Those sound guys know their stuff guys!

I have found that my knowledge has greatly broadened and there is no doubt that my audio in the future will be MUCH improved, not only in terms of capturing audio, but also in terms of the post-production process...

So without further a-do... I would love if we could share with each other some resources to help each other not only capture better audio, but to treat it in post-production in a way that replicates high-quality production seen in movies and the music world.

Fire away Audiophiles!! Heres some I have found helpful:

COMPRESSION: Understand compression PROPERLY!! I believe it is single-handedly the most important post-production process for achieving that film-quality audio:

For those 'Visual' Learners, heres a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1U2hZHHFY0

For those who prefer reading articles, heres a great one: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/1996_articles/apr96/compression.html

EQ: Use of EQ can drastically change the feel of your audio, can remove annoying or distracting sounds, can allow you to layer various sounds and can allow you to make a source more prevalent.... so it is imperative that we understand how to use it properly. Again I look to the world of music for tips:

A Fantastic NFS article about EQ for Filmmakers: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/06/eq-tips-tricks-tackle-audio-issues-film

EQing Vocals in a song Context (More helpful that you may think): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdDDVortvRU

MICROPHONES 101: Get to know the difference between different microphones!!! There are more options out there than just your Shotgun! Get to know microphones as well as you understand your camera :)

Shure microphones guides you through a basic explanation of microphone specifications (3 Part Series) :
http://blog.shure.com/shure-notes/understanding-microphone-specification...

And my final link is about Recording levels, what level should I be recording my sounds at?? This is a question I always had, and never really got an answer for. Now, this article is indepth, but if you scroll to the bottom, it has a summary that is very easy to understand:

http://www.massivemastering.com/blog/index_files/Proper_Audio_Recording_...

Feel free to add your own links and/or to comment on the links that I have provided, I am wanting this to be a place where we can give each other advice and share knowledge! Fire away! :)

7 Comments

I think this is a great set of articles - the only thing I would mention is that when we work in recording studios, they are usually perfect recording environments with amazing acoustics and no background noise. I unfortunately have yet to be on a location that replicated the music work I have done in a studio - but as I have always said, get out in the field and try it. You aren't going to learn how to make a better sound track by reading articles. Go record something, bring it into your favorite software and play with the different tools mentioned above. See how sweeping EQ filters will alter your sound, see what compression feels like and how it can either add something to the mix or pull it to the front.

But most of all - did I mention go record something :)

As sound people we are often the last thought because we like to hold long poles that end up at the top of the frame - but without quality sound then you have nothing. Your visuals can be oscar worthy and if it sounds likes its been recorded and mixed on a Walkman then no one will watch past the first 15 seconds. It matters that much - trust me!

So go out into the field and see how different mics play in different situations. I can say my eyes were opened once I discovered how cardioid and hypercardioid mics could be used vs my shotgun rig.

Oh and if there is one investment worth making - its a great set of headphones. And I'm not talking about Beats :) Take a look at the Sony 7506's - my first pair lasted my 10 years and now I found comfy velvet ear pads for my new pair that have even made them comfortable for a 10 hour day!

September 10, 2014 at 10:01PM

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Scott Selman
Content Creator | Filmmaker | Producer
1018

Beats headphones have always sounded awful to me. It saddens me how they continue to sell so well. You can get MUCH better sounding headphones for the price, and you don’t even have to look very far.

September 12, 2014 at 2:19PM

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Ryan Toyota
Graphic Designer / Typographer / Video Editor
1081

Great discussion topic! This is one area I’ve been wanting to dive into a lot more myself as I’ve realized that sound is SO VITAL to the quality of a film. I don’t know much about sound yet, but I’ll be coming back to this topic to check out all of the articles you posted.

One small trick I have discovered is to use a keyframed EQ to adjust the soundtrack beneath interviews in a documentary. I’ve just been playing with this recently, as I only figured it out a few months ago when I found it annoying having to drop the soundtrack down to hear the voices in an interview. When the soundtrack level is noticeably lowered, you lose a lot of the emotion in the music. I found that by lowering the level of the soundtrack just a little, and then using a keyframed EQ to lower the frequencies surrounding 1000Hz, it keeps the bassline and the percussion quite audible, which when you’re using an upbeat song can be the driving feel of the film that you don’t want to lose. Now, I might be doing this wrong (I’m not sure if 1000Hz is the best frequency range to play with for this) but it’s been working a lot better for me than what I was doing before.

Anyways, that’s one thing I thought I’d pass on as I feel it’s made a great improvement to the stuff I’m doing. Looking forward to hearing tips from others in the area of sound!

September 12, 2014 at 2:16PM

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Ryan Toyota
Graphic Designer / Typographer / Video Editor
1081

To record good audio while shooting requires a few key components...

- The right mic for the environment you want to shoot in. Most low cost shotgun mics are terrible when used indoors in small highly reflective environments, but these same mics are very good when used outside with proper wind protection. Hyper-cardioid mics are the best choice when working indoors, especially in small highly reflective environments.

- The right placement for your mic. To record high quality audio your mic can't be more than 2 feet from your subject, which means using a mic on a boom-pole that is just out of frame, or using a small lav mic that is hidden from view. The biggest mistake that most amateurs make is placing the mic too far away from their subject. ( on-camera mics are only useful as reference, or to record ambient sound from the environment, because most of the time they are too far away from your subject )

- Good mic pre-amps are key to getting the best audio from your mics, so a high quality pre-amp like a JuicedLink Riggy box or a Sound Devices MixPre-D mixer can greatly enhance the quality of the audio you record. The MixPre-D also has a built-in 1 kHz test-tone that will enable you to calibrate your camera or recorder to obtain optimal audio quality when recording. ( the test-tone can also be used to determine the noise-floor of your recording device, so that you will know the limitations of it. For example the popular Zoom H4n has a fairly noisy noise-floor of -66 dB RMS, while the new Panasonic GH4 camera with the factory audio-fix has a noise-floor of -70 dB RMS. )

- Good quality low-noise recording device: In the low cost range the Tascam DR-07 mkii, Tascam DR-40, Sony PCM-M10 recorder have pretty low noise-floors ( between -80 dB to -75 dB RMS ) when used with a LINE level audio signal, so feeding an audio signal from a JuicedLink Riggy box or a Sound Devices mixer will produce a good low noise recording.

Some cameras like the new GH4 ( and likely the new Sony AS7 ) are also capable of recording high-quality audio when fed a proper signal from a good pre-amp or mixer.

The main goal is to have your pre-amp or mixer do most of the "heavy lifting" when it comes to amplifying your audio signal, and NOT to have your camera or recorder doing this. A dedicated pre-amp or mixer usually has much better quality pre-amps than most low cost recording devices.

Professional grade recorders like the Sound Devices recorders don't necessarily need to be used with a specialized pre-amp or mixer, as it's pre-amps are already the same quality, so there's little to be gained in terms of audio quality by adding a mixer in front of them, but a mixer is very useful when you've got a dedicated sound person "riding" the levels as you shoot.

September 22, 2014 at 11:40AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31650

Great list.

December 12, 2014 at 10:24AM

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I've maintained my own little music making studio for 15 years now, I usually like to master my own creations so I've dug pretty deep into the audio realm. Over the years I've learned of several critical things that affect the outcome of my audio edits, mixes and masters. One of which, and probably most important, is accurate studio monitors. Just like a colorist needs a quality calibrated display monitor, so do sound engineers need good audio monitors, and further more the audio chain that feeds those monitors. I understand that there is so many other things to spend money on for your film making gear, and the realm of studio monitors can be just as expensive as cameras or lenses, you really have to decide for yourself how badly do you want to hear what is actually there?
Fortunately, just like cameras and lenses, there are plenty of budget to semi-pro options. If you want to start out with better than computer speakers, but want to keep it under $500 (for a pair), I would recommend the Yamaha HS5 (or HS7 depending on what sale you can get it on). Like most studio monitors these days, they sell them individually so you can start out with two then add mode if you want to move to a surround setup. These Yamaha monitors embrace the philosophy of the "ugly truth", trying to keep the signal as flat as can be for the price, that can come across as forward and bright sounding, but people get good mixes off them and translate well to the mastering stage. I would not recommend these for mastering though.
Next up would be around the $1500 mark, the Adam A7X, and yes, you will have to jump up this high to justify dropping the Yamaha's, they are that good. What you gain is not only a fairly flat frequency response (which is the goal, if you didn't know), but articulation of the finest of detail thanks to the folded ribbon tweeter. Improved dynamics, and bass accuracy with a frequency response up to 50Khz. I had these monitors for a year and absolutely loved them, I could hear all the little pops and clicks that needed fixing.
Finally, I we come to the monitor that I currently have and still love, the Focal Solo6 Be. I cannot say enough good things about these monitors, although they will set you back $2700 for a pair, IMHO they beat out monitors costing thousands more. You have all the articulation of the a7x, but display effortless control over the nuances in any frequency, no matter how quick, loud or delicate the sound, it handles it with grace, as if this is what it should really sound like. These can be found in mastering studios as near fields.
Now, there are so many more options out there, I could go on for pages, and in the end you will still have to go and listen for yourself. Just try to follow this advice in picking out a studio monitor:
- Go to some audio review website and start getting to know what is important about accurate sound and what to look for.
- Listening to monitors at store it a practice in futility. So much depends on the room you will be editing / mixing in. So many times I was convinced that I had picked the perfect speaker from the store only to set it up at my studio and hear a completely different one. If they will let you, try to borrow two pairs to try out, and see which one you like better - in your studio room.
- Try not to pick it based on bass response alone, a lot of poor sounding monitors will try to impress you with deep bass and sweet highs, but leave no detail in the mid-rang - the critical listening area.

Now, I mentioned above that your audio chain feeding the monitors is important as well. If you don't already have a production suite like an Avid or BlackMagic system, and are just looking for a decent sound output, I will do you the favor of listing a few since there are just so many options out there. Of course, from least expensive on-wards, and assuming that you will need at least 5 outputs for surround sound, we start at the Steinberg UR28M ($350), a desktop type interface, the mic pre-amps are very good for the price, based on an inverse-darlington class-A circuit, many people have reported being quite happy with the results. There is a slightly cheaper option that is quite interesting, the Steinberg UR44 also works with an iPad, so if you can get it powered from a battery source, you'll have a four channel field recorder! Alas though, it only outputs four channels. Next up is where the market get a little crowded, there are fine options from Focusrite (Scarlett-18I20 $499), Roland (Octa-Capture $599), and Steinberg (UR824 $799). Each one justifying the price with increasing sound quality. I'm going to end it with the best bang for buck, the one I currently own, the Universal Audio - Apollo (UAD Duo $2000). There is so much in this interface I'm not going to go any further, but I will say that the real value is in the DSP plug-ins that are by far, the best in the world and the current industry standard. if you don't know about it, I highly recommend checking it out.

BTW, for headphones, if you want isolation and good quality: Audio-Technica ATH-M50X. If you want very detailed, accurate sound that is unmatched in value: AKG K702. You should know though, they are open back so you will hear stuff happening around you and vice-versa, people nearby will hear your music...

Hope this helps with the monitoring side of things!

December 14, 2014 at 2:15PM

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Stefaan Sorensen
CEO / Creative Director
93

Pat, thanks for the selection! I knew none of this -- very helpful!

February 1, 2015 at 1:18AM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
3623

I think in music recording there's an emphasis on music color that is totally irrelevant for sound production in post, with expensive compressors and mysteriously high-priced outboard that's of no value to any filmmaker.
That said, good compression is hard to come by. Many compressors add a lot of distortion and while that's cool for a vintage effect on your sound, it's undesirable for purity and clarity. Same with EQ. If it weren't for George Massenburg, we would all still believe in the inevitability of distortion, and then mostly phase distortion in the case of EQ. Learning to recognize resonances in sound and on location, i think is vital to getting good audio.
https://vimeo.com/100724760
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kBFqHo2z9Q
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Xemqg8jkpQ

Microphones have become incredibly good value these past decades. With a little research it's hard to go wrong as there are so many good and inexpensive microphones out there. Still there's a reason why some expensive microphones continue their success. A good thing so many cheaper mics can be modded with better capsules for stellar performance at a lower cost.

When it comes to mastering, you really need to have good and often expensive gear. Some of this is available in plugins these days, like the MD3, which makes it more affordable. But i think it's best to get out and have it done in a proper facility or when you have the technical skill to rent a TC6000 or something, cause to my ears this is the only area in audio that has not been democratized and the expensive stuff really sounds better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Alo2wDBMSFE

Audio is a vast vast subject. And sadly there are a lot of bogus claims made and a lot of oil snake sold. In the end you only get what you pay for up to a certain limit. After that, it's just sales talk and playing people's perceptions into buying something they cannot compare, cause our echoic memory is only 4 seconds, at least in most humans.
So yes it comes down to knowing your gear and knowing when to use it and when to get something different. A good thing YouTube is full of enlightening audio tutorials nowadays.

https://www.youtube.com/user/MixWithTheMASTERS
https://www.youtube.com/user/PensadosPlace/videos

April 10, 2015 at 7:06PM

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Willem Van den Broeck
Sound Engineer
95

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