Dull is the new bright
There’s a new kind of whining present in the audio world, about things being harsh and too bright. That’s what is considered amateur sounding nowadays. Yeah man, what’s with that? Lately the audio snobs are going for the dull sounding stuff. They of course call it “silky smooth”, and shit like that. So suddenly those sought after condenser mics are not cutting it anymore. At least not the usual suspects. If you want the modern pro sound, you need super dull condensers and dynamics, or better yet, just get yourself ribbon microphones, and enjoy the ride with those.
A shift in preference
So what caused this? It’s of course partially because of digital audio. While people had to fight tape constantly to bring out enough high-end without the noise, with digital recording, it’s no longer necessary. We get the high-end without any fight. And the problem is, we get too much of it many times.
Yup. Knowing what you’re using is key. Because doing the same to the tracks you did when you were working with tape will do you no good in digital. You record all those inherently bright (enough) vocals then boost the top with a shelf? That’s what I call a perfect setup for disaster. Digital audio is notorious for enabling you to get the sounds pretty much the way you recorded them. It does require a change of mentality, if you are way too used to tape. In reality, most of the pros see it as a blessing, for the above mentioned noise, or rather the lack of it. And of course the higher dynamic range that comes with it, as well.
Don’t throw away your condensers
So if you want the smooth sound right away, does it mean you really need the creamy ribbons? Of course not. You just have to dig into recording and miking methods deeper. Because believe it or not, it’s possible to get the silky tone with your regular condensers. Even with the ones that are considered “toppy” sounding. Most of the time it takes as much as angling the mic slightly off-axis from the source. Or use a thicker/different kind of pop filter. Or play around with the distance. And when it comes to mixing, resist the urge to automatically boost the highs.
Speaking of them highs, the new trend also brought back the new-old method. It involves using the above mentioned dull(er) sounding mics, then boosting the top end on those. And yes, with the low noise levels of digital audio, it works nicely, because it boosts only so much hiss along with the source audio. But still, why not just use the right tool for the job, and get the desired sound? Of course that requires for you to not believe that doing it that way will give you a different sound than the boosted dullness method. Most people still fail at that. Don’t be one of them.