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What's THAT Button Do? "Air", "4K", "Vintage"

The usual suspects

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting a number of blog pieces about common issues voice actors have while recording from home. Sibilance is an issue that many voice actors wrestle with. But what if I told you that you might be bringing it on yourself? While it’s true that some people are naturally sibilant, I’ve noticed a trend lately that seems to exacerbate the issue for a lot of people- and one that's easily avoided!

Almost every interface these days seems to have a “special sauce” button that looks to emulate that brands signature sound from days gone by. The SSL interfaces have a 4K button which seeks to give you the sound of the classic SSL 4000 series consoles, which were used to make so much of what you listen to. For Focusrite interfaces it’s the AIR button, which emulates the sound of the ISA 100 circuitry of the mic preamps in their vintage consoles. Even the brand new Universal Audio Volt series offers a vintage button, which seeks to add the full sound of UA preamps to your mic. All of these achieve their goal in the analogue world, meaning there is no processing and no additional latency added. Great, right? But should you use it for your VO recording?

Probably not.

In my experience consulting with voice actors to improve their setup and sound, I have found many cases of people enabling features on both their mic and their interfaces simply because they are there. In just about every instance, it makes the sound worse. A lot of the affordable, large diaphragm condenser mics (Rode NT1, Rode, NT1A, Stellar X2) tend to run a little brighter than their Neumann counterparts. That’s not at all a bad thing. In fact I actually love my voice on my Rode NT1A compared to a U87 for my podcasting work (I’m not a voice actor… phew). Most shotgun mics, like the Senheiser 416 or Synco D2 also tend to be skew bright. So adding any of these features to your voice might propel you into sibilance that you don’t want!

I had actually encountered this on a job, where the actor seemed quite sibilant. They had a great setup- a 416 in a great booth. I just assumed it was their voice, and handled it in post. It wasn’t until a while later when I learned that they had AIR engaged on their focusrite, and it all made sense.

Sibilance from Waves is a tool I'll use to tame the harshness.

So why have these features? Well, while they don’t work particularly well for most voice actors, they DO sound great on instruments. Acoustic guitars, live piano, and even backing vocals (for the singers out there) will have an added shimmer.

If your mic is dull, and you’re using this to give it punch or shimmer, then be very careful about sibilance- and also be consistent with your use of it. If you do a job using AIR, etc, remember to keep it on for any revisions on that job later. Otherwise matching will be a challenge. But by keeping it off completely, you’ll save yourself AND your engineer some headaches down the road.

If you need to book a sound checkup or mic/ gear advice, fee free to reach out via the HELP tab on the website. For more advice and tips, follow me on Clubhouse, Facebook, and Tik Tok.


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