I often record small to medium size a cappella choirs (usually live, using a simple stereo-pair of condensers), and normally the sound is quite satisfactory, but when I compare my work with my reference recordings of professionally recorded choirs the sound seems to lack a certain 'sparkle' and instead sounds dull and heavy. I often end up trying to fake it by bumping up the high end EQ a bit to make it sound less dull but that often ends up making the sound too tinny and bright.

Does anyone have any advice? Any good vocal exciter effects I could buy? Maybe even relatively inexpensive outboard boxes? Or is there simply an EQ or dynamics trick I'm missing?

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    Got a sample of a recording we can hear? – Brad Dec 15 '10 at 16:28
  • Not right now, I'm at work, but I can upload one later. – Mark Pim Dec 15 '10 at 16:34
  • "Sparkle" is quite an ambiguous term. While I understand the issue exactly is the fact that you don't know what it is that creates the sparkle, try to find a way to share with us what you mean by it a bit more in detail. How would you describe the sound of your recording after you listened to the reference recording? – Pelle ten Cate Dec 15 '10 at 19:23
  • @Pelle I suppose the main thing I notice about my recordings when compared to reference recordings is that they sound quite dull and muddy. This is why I often end up trying to fix it by bumping up the high end EQ. The professional recordings seem to have more space and clarity. – Mark Pim Dec 16 '10 at 9:27

As a general rule always try removing before adding. For vocals I usually end up taking out a few db of midrange (200-300 Hz) when it's sounding too thick and muddy.

I've also found that a short plate reverb can sometimes help to brighten up vocals.

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    When using vocals - and purely vocals - I tend to make a small exception to this rule, adding just a little bit of 3Khz and/or 8KHz can be a huge improvement to the intelligibility of the vocal sound. – Pelle ten Cate Dec 15 '10 at 19:25
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    +1 Pelle, and a spectrum analyzer helps a lot in determining the amount as well. – Nic Dec 15 '10 at 19:48

Here's an old-school technique you can try. It's basically using an EQ and compressor to reinforce the most essential part of the vocal: http://www.recordinginstitute.com/R2KREQ/excomp.htm.

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