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Help: Vocals sound like crap
Old 20th January 2019
Here for the gear
Help: Vocals sound like crap

Hi guys,

I have a question regarding the sound of recorded vocals.

I've been recording (mainly) vocals and guitar for quite some time now, however I always used the integrated mics of my cellphone and laptop because it was just for fun. The recordings obviously never had great quality, but they were good enough to check whether you were singing in key and on time etc.

Recently I set up a social media account where I upload piano and guitar covers, which is why I looked into more professional ways of recording my stuff. I decided to get a Scarlett 2i2 audio interface and a Rode NT1-A mic.

Here's the thing: This set-up works fine as long as I record piano/guitar instrumentals. However, recording my singing with the Rode makes my ears bleed. It doesn't sound awful, but it certainly does not sound good either. While I'm not the best singer out there, my vocals never sound so bad when I record them with my cellphone or laptop. If it makes any sense, the vocals sound way harsher and lose a certain "warmth" with the Rode. Now I don't know whether my voice just sucks or if I could actually improve the recordings with a different set-up.

I record with GarageBand, try and keep the mic about 30cm aways from me and put the gain at about half. I do not use any effects. Is there anything I could improve here?

And why would vocals sound better on a cellphone recording compared to a professional studio mic? Do you know of other quality mics that would perhaps suit my voice better?

I'm still a noob regarding home-recording so your input would be greatly valued!
Old 20th January 2019
Do you want to quickly verify if your Rode is okay and give us a clue why you prefer the laptop mic, so we can discuss effectively and to the point?
> Post raw samples of your voice with the laptop mic and with the Rode and let us guide you.

Or do you want to have 200 answers about something up in the air and no one knowing what you hear and what's going on?
> Don't post samples.

Last edited by Henrik Hjortnaes; 20th January 2019 at 06:17 PM..
Old 20th January 2019
Lives for gear
1 Review written
🎧 5 years
I think the OP already has identified the problem. The NT1a. A few people on GS love that mic. I’m not one of them. Like the OP, I bought the NT1a as my first “affordable but good” serious LDC studio mic. I even bought another to have a stereo pair. I never loved the sound of my own voice with that mic, but I didn’t even suspect that the mic was the problem. I changed preamps, used various deessers, tried software and hardware EQ... I still didn’t suspect it was the mic. I thought it was the microphone accurately picking up my (apparently) unpleasant voice. Then I recorded someone doing voiceover who had been a radio personality and had, at various stations and on different mics, a mellow, pleasant radio voice. But through the NT1a, he sounded thin, harsh, and sibilant. I had a Eureka moment. That mic is a truly awful vocal mic. I eventually had my two modified by Michael Joly, in part because I wouldn’t feel right about selling them on to someone like you, who could in happy ignorance screw up his own recordings for years. Joly, who no longer does mods, had an excellent piece on his website that detailed how the headbasket caused some phasey smearing of the capture that could not be corrected with electronics. He also thought the capsule and the circuitry around it tended to emphasize the most unpleasant qualities of the human voice, particularly harshness and sibilance.
I can suggest a $100 experiment that will prove the NT1a is the problem. Buy a Sennheiser 835. Record your voice. If it suddenly sounds 100% better, sell the NT1a or keep it for an acoustic guitar mic.
If you are looking to buy a different LDC mic, that’s for another post.
Old 21st January 2019
Lives for gear
🎧 10 years
Is it raw tracks that sound bad or has any real mixing been done?

A cellphone is going to have a heavy dose of AGC compression (Automatic gain control) which makes the volume of a sound whether its near or far sound like its the same volume. There may be tonal changes and added reflection as you move farther away but the actual volume is going to be nearly the same of something close or far.

When you record with a pro mic through an interface there is no compression till you add it mixing/mastering. If you don't like how the vocals sound its likely because you haven't learned how to mix. The vocals likely have uncontrolled dynamics and compared to a keyboard which has a steady output the vocals will sound at best amateurish till you properly EQ the vocal track, compress, limit and likely add some reverb or echo to add some space between it and your other tracks.

That's what takes all the time and skill to pull off well. Many don't realize just what they were in for when they bought the gear to get going. They figured better gear should instantly give me better sound quality, right?

Think again. Quality sound has much less to do with the quality of gear and everything to do with how its used tracking, and then mixed and mastered to properly enhance what you captured. Its very possible you captured excellent tracks too, but multitracking isn't the same as tracking something live. You have to have enough experience pulling a few tricks out of the old mixing bag to make a raw track sound like it was done by an expert live through a great sound system run by pros. If you haven't got that experience, guess what. you either learn or you pay someone else to do it for you. Not much gray area between those two.
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