I'm trying to get into home music recording of music that will now and then have some very quiet passages, quiet vocals, acoustic guitar--delicate stuff in addition to louder sections. My current setup is this:
- Laptop PC running Audacity (though am open to any recording software)
- MAudio Firewire digital interface to accept XLR mic in and instrument lead in.
- 1 Shure SM57 dynamic mic
- 1 Audix OM2 dynamic mic (similar to Shure SM58)
- Concrete basement room with no audio treatment of walls, no rug. Not obviously echoic, but obviously not an audio studio!
- Various acoustic and electric instruments, drum machine, etc.
- $2 ear buds for listening--for now (I know).
- My larynx :D
The problems are two:
1) Boosting quiet recording results in hiss: When using the mics to record vocals or just acoustic guitar, the sound level I am getting is "not all that loud" (as judged by listening through the ear buds or the computer's speakers...or the audio signal on Audacity) even if my singing or guitar playing is nothing close to "quiet" if a person were sitting anywhere in the room with me. Therefore, to get what seems like a better level, I use Audacity to increase the decibels of the recording. But, then there is an obvious "hiss" during the silent parts of the recording (actually it's there throughout, of course...just more noticeable when there is no other sound playing). I tried to use Audacity's "Remove Noise" algorithm, but even with a long sample of a silent period and the most conservative noise removal level, it creates an obvious artifact (like "tinkling digital crystals") that sounds pretty grim and is just unacceptable.
2) The sound recorded through the mics is "muddy": I just don't hear the crispness of the voice or guitar strings when recorded through the mics. So, of course I tried using the equalizer on Audacity to boost the higher frequencies--but then we're back to Hisstown, USA.
It seems to me that if I could get a higher gain from the start, picking up louder and higher frequencies and bringing that into the digital recording, I would not have to do much (or any!) EQ'ing or boosting and I'd get a very clean recording.
What I want to know is: How do I quantify this and then what should I expect? How do I know what I "should" expect given this setup, or what is possible with a, say, condenser mic or other things people might suggest? I don't want to just base things on anecdote and personal judgment: I want to be able to measure the noise and know if I'm coming up against "acceptable limits". My training was as an experimental scientist, so I still tend to think in terms of what I can measure and what are acceptable benchmarks for quality. I know it is unreasonable to expect the highest level of sound quality when recording in a cheap home setup as if it were a top of the line professional studio with $10k mics, but on other hand I suspect that I can do a lot better than this with some adjustments or not-that-costly purchases.
Secondly, while you're at it, if you can suggest what will improve this "quiet and muddy or hissy, you choose" problem, that would also be helpful.