Vocal compression or processing

Discussion in 'Mixing' started by Mysterious Squirrel, Feb 13, 2012.

  1. Mysterious Squirrel

    Mysterious Squirrel Active Member

    United Kingdom
    I'm not a great vocalist... in fact I'm not even average but I get by. I write my songs, record them and when it comes to doing the vocals, with a bit of reverb and a touch of delay, can usually disguise the worst with a few harmonies thrown in. My Shure SM58 and ART pre-amp between them good enough for my needs.

    I have been learning a bit about processors and a few that I have looked into, appear to be able to work miracles. And for not much money either! There seem to be many in and around the £200 - £250 price band (and yes, I know you get what you pay for) would possibly suit my needs.

    Because I'm a bit of a dinosaur I still record initially onto one of my faithful old Fostex digital recorders before either, in Brontosaurus fashion, mix it 'by hand' or in new fangled DAW. Either way, that's how I like to record. So, are vocal processors just the music industry's anti ageing cream or are they worth it.

    Suggestions please.

  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    LOL, that is the most eloquent request for advice I have ever heard.

    Firstly, I'm a big endorser of the SM58. It can be every bit as wonderful sounding as a + $3000 US, Neumann U87 condenser microphone from Germany. Your preamp is 100% adequate.

    I'm also one of those people that enjoys tracking with a compressor/limiter to the multitrack recorder. Some folks here have finally realized there is an audible improvement in doing it that way than just taking a raw and bear signal and adding software-based compression & limiting. While your budget is not of the substantial investments may on highly coveted tube compressors, a VCA based DBX 160 series does a very nice job for a couple of hundred dollars US. But even something as inconsequential as an ALESIS 3630 (? Model number) for a little over $100 US, will still provide for you what you want to hear and record. With settings of your ratio around 4:1 with as little as a couple of DB of gain reduction to 10-15 DB of gain reduction on your loudest vocal passages, with just the automatic attack and release times, will get you where you need to be. Then when you mix, you'll still be able to add some short reverb, generating an ambient space of stereo to your vocal. You could then also add a little extra longer plate reverb emulation for longer reverb trails within your stereo ambient space. You won't need any other shiny nor expensive junk to obtain that.

    That's one suggestion
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  3. Mysterious Squirrel

    Mysterious Squirrel Active Member

    United Kingdom
    I like Alesis stuff. I use the SR16 drum machine and prefer it dynamically to my EZ drummer software. So I'll certainly take a look.

    And thanks. It's nice to know there are others like me out there. Who know and understand the sound they like rather than the accepted norm or industry standard. That is why music is so homogenised these days. I've spent years tweaking my gear to sound exactly how I like it and naturally want my own recordings to reflect this.

    The DBX you mention gets a good press but I think it's been discontinued. I only mention this because I read a review just now where the author wasn't impressed with the replacement DBX model now available.

  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    DBX compressors have been a staple of the recording industry since their introduction of the original 160 VU. Production methods have been improved upon and simplified. Sometimes people have a tendency to improve something to death. You and I probably feel the same way about a lot of things like that? I love my old vintage stuff even though I've had to put forth a fair amount of rigorous, tedious, frustrating restoration work. It's worth it to folks who want that particular sound and not something that has been improved upon. Improved doesn't mean better it only means different. And different isn't always better it's just different. That's good if you like the difference. Obviously many other folks here like that. I'm a stubborn old stalwart in what I like, just like you. So even though you may have read some disappointing reviews on DBX stuff, it doesn't hold true for their entire product line. They, like Universal Audio have a reputation to live up to. So they're least expensive compressor/limiter I believe is their 266 and it competes directly with the ALESIS 3630. Not great but they still work. They still do the job. If you take a step up from there and DBX's product line, you'll get something more in line with what professional studios still want. Even George Massenburg utilized DBX VCA & RMS chips in his discrete transistor compressor/limiter's. A competitor to DBX VCA's was Valley People a.k.a. Alison Research. I thought the Allison Research VCA's sounded a bit better than my original DBX 202's did, in the same console, my former California built Sphere Eclipse C, with the Allison Research 65 K automation and VCA controlled faders. And that DBX 202 was the one in the first DBX 160 VU which is still highly coveted by many professionals, today. I love my DBX 165 A's, 160 XT, 166 and don't mind the slight bit of VCA squishiness. In fact it's one of the things that Bob Clearmountain likes about his SSL 4000 E. And it's that audible scrim it puts in front of the sound. So that comes down to the technique in which you utilized that. People putting down DBX compressors are probably people that don't like the sound of VCA's (voltage controlled amplifiers). They have their drawbacks for sure but they also have their sound. So some folks prefer optical, FET & variable mu tubes over VCA's. So their criticism may be highly biased by that. That's not a reason not to have one of the affordable units. In the VCA compressor/limiter's with RMS detection circuitry actually come a little closer in operational characteristics to optical-based dynamic range compressor/limiter's. Whereas the optical-based ones really don't color the sound as much because they are basically passive except for the input and output amplifier sections. But then again, not all optical compressors are good. And that's largely based upon their input and output sections. DBX is already a fairly well known quantity of quality devices. Since he did not indicate which unit the critic disliked, their design philosophies may have changed under the Harman banner ownership? Though I've not heard any of their products that sound distasteful to me. I'll use anything that works as long as it doesn't completely murder my sound. And few things today do that as in years past. Maybe they just don't like surface mount oriented construction? But that's what everybody is moving towards on a economical level. And it's blasted difficult if not impossible to repair something like that. At least if you're over 50 years of age like I am? I won't even attempt to repair surface mount junk. Well I might attempt it but I won't do it. I make very few exceptions.

    So maybe you should be looking at some used UREI LA-4 or, 5's? High headroom, balanced input/output optical-based compressor/limiter's of the earlier electroluminescent version of the LA 3 & 2's. The 4 & 5 are utilizing LED light sources like most modern optical limiters use today. And those are capable of +24 DBM output levels. Way more than even the DBX 166 can deliver which I've been using for 20 years without problems. So maybe you want to seek out some used 160/166's on eBay? Especially if you felt the critic was accurate in his disappointment of their newest product offerings. He obviously wasn't criticizing those previous versions. So stick with the retro theme you already love. Go for a used retro-limiter. Of course you might then need a microphone preamp in the front end? I provided for clients DBX 286 units. They are later 386 is similar. It's a microphone preamp, coupled to a 160 type compressor, coupled with a high and low frequency enhancer coupled with a variable downward expander. A simply fabulous vocal input device complete with high pass filter and phantom power. But beware, their first iteration of that device while offering phantom power did not offer +48 V of phantom power. Only the later ones did. So they'll earlier unit was fine when used with electret permanently polarized condenser microphones. It wouldn't work for a non-polarized condenser microphone which all require +48 V of phantom power. I think that original unit only provided for up to 15 or was it 25 V phantom? Something like that. So it wouldn't work with a Neumann of any kind, MXL, Nady, etc. which were true condenser microphones requiring +48 V to polarize the diaphragm with.

    Hope that helped MS? Funny that your initials are akin to a stereo microphone technique. Love it.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  5. aj113

    aj113 Active Member

    Hull, UK
    My suggestion would be stick with what you have got. The best way to process a vocal is to sing it well in the first place, no amount of processing is going to replace that. Processors are just the icing on the cake - you need know how to bake a $*^t hot cake first.......

    Having said that, here's what I do - everybody's different, but this is my method:

    1. Compress going in
    2. Shelve it off at the top and bottom as much as you can without raping the crap out of it.
    3. Spend 12 hours manually editing levels to make it sound as near perfect as possible. (IMO this is the best 'processor' in the book.)

    After that you can pretty much put any kind of chorus, reverb, delay etc on it and it will still sound good.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    I second what AJ 113 said.

    I was in the top 10% of the bottom of my class.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. Mysterious Squirrel

    Mysterious Squirrel Active Member

    United Kingdom
    Blimey... There's a lot to take in guys but advice from aj113 to 'sing it well in the first place' was a bit over the top. If I could sing, I wouldn't need a gadget to make it sound good and, let me tell you, I wouldn't have had to break it to the good Lady Squirrel that I'm about to spend her monthly hairdressing budget on 'yet another bloody box'.

    Thanks for all of this. I'll let you know what I got in due course.

    Our school form master threw himself out of a fourth floor window of the science block during a biology test.
  8. dkelley

    dkelley Active Member

    I haven't posted here in... oh wow, months? years? but GS is down/dead and I used to post my opinionated mumble jumble on there, so now I'll start living in recording.org instead. Always nice to start fresh!

    So imho what you might be looking for Squirrel is something like an eventide harmonizer (or some more affordable equivalent). I have worked in studios right from 1990 until a few years ago that had an old harmonizer kicking around for use on a singer that might not have had the biggest sounding voice or possibly not the most amazing pitch control accuracy. Try running a harmonizer with sort of a crazy chorusy effect in it (like it's creating a second and/or third voice that is basically singing the same note but slightly different tuning and/or with some extra shimmery stuff going on).

    It can turn an unforgettably unprofessional vocal performance (which I am quite capable of... vocals are my weakest performance instrument ;-) into a cool sounding vocal and I have heard this on several albums over the years and hundreds of demos. I can't think of any useful examples right now, but they do exist and CAN work.

    On a great singer I think it's a bad effect, but on someone who describes their singing as you do, Squirrel, it might be just the ticket!

    A used eventide harmonizer can be found for a $1000-ish on CL or ebay.. big bucks for an experiment. So I would look into a plugin such as Audio damage Discord2, or the eventide Anthology Bundle (the latter of which I think is only for protools users...). There are certainly several other plugins that do the eventide "mirco harmony" vocal effect I'm talking about also. And you might already have a chorus plugin that you could try which by definition does fluctuating micro-harmonizing effects which is similar enough to the specific effect I'm describing to give you an idea if it will be helpful to you.

    I hope that's a useful alternative idea. I think the rack mount setups you were asking about (I presume you meant the voice channel types of things with pre, comp, eq, and sometimes a de-esser and/or limiter and/or "tube" distortion type of effect) are quite fun and cool for your specific needs, with even the cheap ones (art pro channel) offering some great sound (fantastic optical compressor in there and a vocal-complimentary mic preamp with a pleasant mid-push, for like $150 used on CL), or several competing products from presonus and focusrite that are quite useful as well; some are better than others of course, and all are subjective choices imho.

    But honestly the harmonizer on a micro-detune fluctuating type of effect (or even a really seriously great sounding chorus plugin) can be exactly the solution you might be looking for!


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