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I've been playing around with running vocals from our 1073 pre-amp into an Avalon compressor and EQ before hitting our Pro Tools rig. I'm loving the sound I'm getting, but am not sure if this is giving me the same flexibility have an un-compressed, flat vocal afford.

Which method is more commonly used?

  • One way around this issue/to get the best of both worlds, would be to split the signal and send one through clean and one through the effects chain. This way you will have the processed sound you like but are not stuck with it if you find an issue. One of issues with processing your signal on the way in is that you cannot add things back in that were taken out via processing, eg, if you remove the low frequencies with a high pass filter, you cannot get them back. On the other hand, you can always remove them after the fact. – Basstickler Mar 12 '14 at 17:25
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First of all, there are no absolutes. Recording is an art form (albeit one with technical considerations), and there are no rules with art. Your only guidelines are "does this sound good" and "do I like it?". Aside from that, you're free to experiment.

Experimenting, however, does have its pitfalls. By placing anything in the signal chain which will alter or color the sound (ie. compressor, EQ) you are committing to that resulting sound and choosing to live with it. There will be no "unwinding" the processing later.

When recording anything live you do want to afford yourself some room for the unexpected, such as sudden peaks that might distort, in which case having a limiter in line is a smart move. Or, if you know that there is low end present that you definitely won't want later, a gentle high pass filter would probably be a good thing. But those are examples of corrective processing, rather than what I would call "artistic" processing, or using gear destructively during the recording phase of a project.

So, in conclusion, I believe you'll find as many approaches to recording as you will recording engineers. It all boils down to knowing what you're looking for in a sound and feeling confident about your choice to commit to it early.

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If you love the sound that you're getting, you're doing it right. What matters, is that you know your intended purpose for that vocal. Will you need the flexibility on the back end or do you already know the sound you're looking for? Compression and EQ before Tape was, and still is, a common signal chain in certain musical situations when you already know the sound you're trying to achieve. Do you know the secret to mixing good drums? You record good drums. If you can start with a sound that's closer to your endgame, that's less processing down the line. Back before DAW's, you'd have to make destructive commitments all of the time. Now, because of the flexibility afforded to us, we're often more hesitant to commit to a decision and live with it. Because hey, what if I want to change it later?

  • excellent observation re. life before DAWs. – Jay Jennings Mar 7 '14 at 16:46
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Jay is right. Furthermore I'd think it should be possible to have to Avalon in a re-recording chain. This would allow you to add the 'colour' of the Avalon and the EQ to the recorded signal. There's a great post on how to do this on ProtoolsExpert, however this is a members only video: http://www.pro-tools-expert.com/home-page/2014/3/2/how-to-record-virtual-instruments-via-hardware-effects.html But you should be able to figure this out with some researching on the net..

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It all depends on the quality of sound you're trying to achieve. I would not recommend using compressor while recording unless you're confident that you would not want to change eventually.

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Generally, compression is used in the recording chain to avoid unwanted peaks. I always run vocals through a compressor as the human voice has an incredibly wide range of dynamics and is very susceptible to sudden peaks. It is generally not used in the same way as it is in the editing stage e.g. to level out the dynamics. As for EQ, usually this should be left to the editing stage although, depending on the vocalist, I sometimes run the signal through an EQ for the foldback mix. I always leave the recorded signal dry though. For maximum flexibility, any effects that can be applied at a later stage, should really be applied at a later stage. This way, you can always go back to a dry copy. If you really have to use effects in the recording chain, keep them to a minimum.

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Corrective is fine (as mentioned limiter, high pass ...), destructive only if your sure and even at that i would think twice. What is popular in a lot of modern studios is to record the signal twice, one processed and one not (though mainly done with instruments). This way if you are loving that compressor sound but the artist gets loud the gain reduction might kick in too much, you have to have a fall back. You should never have to ask the artist to do their perfect take again (only doubling ).

Note: careful if you are thinking about using both sounds as they will not be phased aligned as everything you put audio through (digital or analogue) introduces latency, which might sound great but may not.

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