Recording Harsh Sound Quality for Higher Notes ?

Pete Effamy

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I still record in the same room, with the same gear and although I have slightly altered the mic position, it has only slightly softened the harshness I hear at higher frequencies.

I have begun to wonder whether there is a resonant frequency due to some dimension in the room that is causing the problem. Although the walls are covered in books and soft finishes, the ceiling and floor are both hard and flat and parallel (unsurprisingly). The room is approximately 18 x 7 x 8 feet and box-shaped.

Can room resonance be a significant issue for recording the saxophone (or other, lesser acoustic instruments) and what can be done about it ?

I have seen various "reflection filters" that go around microphones, typically for recording the human voice in a "dry" way. This sort of thing:

But searching on the internet, it seems that opinions are divided about how useful such reflection filters are for voice recording and I've not yet seen a saxophone being recorded with such a filter in place.

Any thoughts ?

Rhys
Room acoustics play a massive part. Just as a test - have you tried sitting down to record, in order to make sure that it isn't bouncing off the ceiling?
 

Droptical

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I have begun to wonder whether there is a resonant frequency due to some dimension in the room that is causing the problem. Although the walls are covered in books and soft finishes, the ceiling and floor are both hard and flat and parallel (unsurprisingly). The room is approximately 18 x 7 x 8 feet and box-shaped.

Can room resonance be a significant issue for recording the saxophone (or other, lesser acoustic instruments) and what can be done about it ?
Totally can be, but in my (limited) experience it's been lower frequencies which tend to present - clapping your hands in a completely bare reflective room will result in a metallic ringing sound but "stuff" in the room helps diffuse that, although, as you say, in your case the shiny surfaces top and bottom aren't going to be helping much with that.

As a quick and dirty test on the floor/ceiling hypothesis, maybe you could pop down some duvet/blankets on the floor, try a recording and see what happens?

There are calculators on the web which will calculate the resonances for you if you plug in the dimensions you shared (search for "room mode calculator"), but they'll probably top out at a few hundred to 1kHz or so.

If you're interested in continuing down this particular rabbit hole (it is kinda fun and educational), there's a bit of software called Room EQ Wizard which, when used with a calibrated mic and some decent speakers, will measure exactly what's going on - then you can decide (or ask for advice from experts) exactly how and what to approach.

Might be worth posting a recording or two too?
 

Pete Effamy

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Having had a bit of a read of posts @altissimo is completely on the button with everything he has said. I've been recorded a lot, programmed a lot and done a little engineering/producing. My interests in recording are purely to capture the sound, not to manipulate it - I certainly don't know much about that.

The mic in question is for live gigs but less for recording saxes in my experience and it's primarily an announcers mic. The important thing to remember is that everything colours/affects the source - from the room acoustic, to the mic, lead, pre-amp, and A/D converter to the amp leads and speakers. Sometimes they affect it in a nice, useable way.

As has been said before, mics are usually chosen for a specific job - U87 on vocals is usually used to facilitate a singer with a rich voice to cut through a mix (rather than turn up in volume) and a classic combo was the U87 coupled with the Neve 1073 pre-amp, which was set to overload (fizz) slightly, thus making the vocal sound bigger.

That isn't to say some 'unusual' mic choices haven't been inspirational - the Shure SM7 used for Michael Jackson.

Many artists over the years have requested Frank's (Sinatra) mic. I believe Diana Krall is one. Well, she isn't Frank and the mic in question will have been re-skinned a few times since Frank used it and also had a change of valve. Also, I think she'd just benefit from a different mic. Brecker used a U87 a lot. He must have liked how bright it is. I'm not sure his wonderful tone was always captured at its best.

There are 'boutique' mic companies that make copies of the 'legendary' mics. They are not all extortionate in price, and they are not all good! I've had a lot of dealings with Advanced Audio from Canada. Their U87 copy (a few years ago) was less than £300. Imagine an authentic sounding (they're all a bit different) U87 for £300. Their U67 copy is a really good mic though, and it's about £800 I think. Look up the price of an original (whatever that means!) on eBay. Their U67 was always good on anything, if not stunning.

As @altissimo says about mic positioning - you have to experiment. Lots of great sounds in recording studios came by a happy accident.
 
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Wonko

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I have begun to wonder whether there is a resonant frequency due to some dimension in the room that is causing the problem. Although the walls are covered in books and soft finishes, the ceiling and floor are both hard and flat and parallel (unsurprisingly). The room is approximately 18 x 7 x 8 feet and box-shaped.

Can room resonance be a significant issue for recording the saxophone (or other, lesser acoustic instruments) and what can be done about it ?
Ceiling and floor that are parallel could give you standing waves of certain frequencies. Most concert halls and recording studio's (from what I hear, never been in one myself) that are well constructed have a ceiling that is some odd shape.


And as some have already pointed out, hard surfaces give more reverberance and resonance.
Placing a carpet on the floor could help and is perhaps the easiest solution. Thick and heavy carpet should work best.
If you want to put in some more work, you could make a false ceiling using "slats with spacing" (that helps to dampen the sound) and ideally make the ceiling somewhat sloping or curved.

Google for "recording studio ceiling" and look at the immages that google shows you.....
Example of the kind of construction I was refering o: Google Image Result for https://www.woodstoxx.be/images/photolib/380x380c/2367/plafond.jpg
 

Vetinari

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Have you tried playing back through diferent amp and speakers. Some speakers have peizo-electric tweeters which can sound horrible if even slightly over driven or if fead with low frequencies.
 

Pete Thomas

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Thanks, I'll give it a go. Any suggestions on the frequency to use ?

Rhys
Just set really high (e.g. 12k which is above what you will hear) then gradually lower it until you hear a difference.

As well as the frequency, you should also be able to adjust the slope to taste (ie it is gradual rather than a sudden "cliff edge".) In Logic I might use a frequency of between 5k to 7k and a default slope of 24dB/Oct depending on the context. In a mix with other instruments competing with higher frequencies I may even go as low as 4 or 3kHz for an effect or if it sounds good.

The Low pass is cutting out everything above the frequency cut off, which may include :

The natural brightness of your tone
Added brightness introduced by a baffle or particular reed
Brightness introduced by overblowing
Brightness introduced by microphone
Brightness introduced by room reflections

Ideally, in a perfect world, I would ensure that the sound actually coming out of the instrument is what I want and is perfectly captured by the mic, but it's often not a perfect world.
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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Thanks very much for all these helpful responses and useful ideas.

Are you able to borrow beg or otherwise liberate other mic's to see how they sound. Some of my mic's are OK with vocal and suck on sax some are great on vocal and ok on sax but suck on guitar. Every good recording engineer has a number of mics that work for different instruments in their studio. Finding a nearfield or midfield position that works well can take a lot of trial and error. I have spent half an hour playing around with mic positioning before finding the sweet spot with some.

I am not a fan of dynamic mics for recording sax but that is a personal thing.
I also have a Zoom H2n digital recorder which is surprisingly good, but the mic capsules are obviously budget rather than very high quality items.

But a friend of mine has lots and lots of microphones where he works. What types or models of microphone would you suggest for home recording a saxophone ?

Room acoustics play a massive part. Just as a test - have you tried sitting down to record, in order to make sure that it isn't bouncing off the ceiling?
Good idea - I'll try it. It occurs to me that when I'm standing the bell of the sax is pretty close to halfway between floor and ceiling, if that is significant.

Have you tried playing back through diferent amp and speakers. Some speakers have peizo-electric tweeters which can sound horrible if even slightly over driven or if fead with low frequencies.
I mainly listen back to my recordings and do my mixing through some decent AKG headphones. When I play it out loud I use my HiFi with some good B&W speakers. I think that those headphones may be a bit bright, so I will do some comparisons.

Just set really high (e.g. 12k which is above what you will hear) then gradually lower it until you hear a difference.

As well as the frequency, you should also be able to adjust the slope to taste (ie it is gradual rather than a sudden "cliff edge".) In Logic I might use a frequency of between 5k to 7k and a default slope of 24dB/Oct depending on the context. In a mix with other instruments competing with higher frequencies I may even go as low as 4 or 3kHz for an effect or if it sounds good.

The Low pass is cutting out everything above the frequency cut off, which may include :

The natural brightness of your tone
Added brightness introduced by a baffle or particular reed
Brightness introduced by overblowing
Brightness introduced by microphone
Brightness introduced by room reflections

Ideally, in a perfect world, I would ensure that the sound actually coming out of the instrument is what I want and is perfectly captured by the mic, but it's often not a perfect world.
Very useful ideas and that gives me a lot to experiment with.

Although I don't use high baffle mouthpieces, I do wonder whether the reeds I use (mainly Rigotti Gold) are adding a bit of brightness. As well as the other sources of brightness you mention, I wonder whether my current favourite tenor (Selmer Serie III) emphasises brightness in the second octave and upwards. And would over-tightening my embouchure up top also cause brightness/harshness ?

Thanks everyone.

Rhys
 

Jazzaferri

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@rhysonsax At home I use my Neumann KMS 105. Although it is actually designed as a live vocal mic it does a decent job on sax. I paid $400 USD for it 10 years ago. The DPA 4099 that I use for live performance also does a decent job. A cardioid pattern will typically be easier to set up than something more focussed.

Neiher would be my first choice for a serious recording but neither have any obvious sound colouration.

Pete posted some mic recording examples here from his stable. I think there were maybe 5 mics.
 

Pete Effamy

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s. And would over-tightening my embouchure up top also cause brightness/harshness ?
Not directly I don’t think. It will give a thinner sound and a squeezed, choked sound if really too tight. You could hit a harmonic/squeak too but it isn’t that as you know what that sounds like.
I think that the tightening might carry with it a higher tongue position though - something associated with higher notes.
Metal mouthpieces seem to exacerbate this harshness, especially on alto. And yes, the reed could be the cause too. Some reed/mouthpiece combos don’t work well.
 

Colin the Bear

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Just a thought...

Recently while recording in the back bedroom studio, I accidentally had the mic the wrong way round. Big foam sock covered up the markings. So I was playing into the back of my condenser mic. The captured sound was better, smoother, less harsh. So nowadays I play sax into the back and sing into the front.

I'm assuming that I was overloading the mic and taking it out of the line of fire, so to speak, allowed it to do its job better. The volume of a saxophone is really quite loud. I can compete with a truck horn on tenor and I wouldn't dream of getting a truck horn up close to a mic.

I've tried using headphones to record but the result is always disappointing. I don't seem to be able to get the same sensitivity or feel out of the horn, so consequently I play with the backing track coming out of the speakers. It bleeds but what the hey. If the final result is acceptable what does it matter. Let it bleed.

For me the mic makes very little difference. I've made acceptable recordings with a skype mic. Having said that, the Shure 55 I use for live vocals and sax, doesn't record as well as the cheap USB condenser I acquired. It's all a matter of getting used to your gear and learning how to get the best out of it.
 

Pete Effamy

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For me the mic makes very little difference.
With respect then, you’ve not gone through something that was able to make a difference. However, if the feel and vibe is good, then it doesn’t matter so much as we get swept up in the groove etc. If you’re talking purely about sound capture quality though I think you’d be shocked at the difference the right mic for you and the track makes.
 

Jazzaferri

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@Colin the Bear If you have a figure 8 polar pattern it wouldn't make much if any difference, if its a cardioid well, you could also spend a bit of time figuring out where the ideal on axis placement is.:D

All mics have an ideal placement for each instrument, whether do a great job of accurately picking up the sound or a poor one. In my experience it can be a matter of an inch making a noticeable difference, even on such august names as Neumann mics.
 

Guenne

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I have seen various "reflection filters" that go around microphones, typically for recording the human voice in a "dry" way. This sort of thing:
I own a Halo. It's ok, but playing into a clothes rack does a better job. Not that you will notice less or more frequencies, you get the effect of the horn cutting through the playback in a better way.
I experimented a lot with mic position, and how I place it is dependant on what I record to.
I am recording with an Avantone BV12 mic.

Cheers, Guenne
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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I own a Halo. It's ok, but playing into a clothes rack does a better job. Not that you will notice less or more frequencies, you get the effect of the horn cutting through the playback in a better way.
I experimented a lot with mic position, and how I place it is dependant on what I record to.
I am recording with an Avantone BV12 mic.
Cheers, Guenne
That's interesting, thanks @Guenne .

And that microphone is quite a price ! Still, it would be worth paying it if I could play like you.

Rhys
 
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