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What is production? Part 4: Mixing
Q: Should I use a mixer as a preamp before recording into my DAW?
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Spend $3600 on a microphone, then find that your recordings are no better than before
Two microphone preamplifiers compared at Abbey Road Studio 2 - tube and transistor
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An interesting microphone setup for violinist Nigel Kennedy
The next time you make a recording, as an experiment set all the EQ controls of your mixing console to their centre positions and leave them there until you have finished the final mix. Dont be satisfied with anything less than perfection, and dont give yourself the excuse that you cant get a good sound because you were not able to use the EQ. EQ is a very powerful and effective item in your toolkit, a bit like a circular saw in fact! But you wouldnt use your Bosch or Black and Decker for a fine carving. You would use basic hand tools, and most importantly your skill and judgment. As a recordist, it is your own abilities which are going to be most important to the degree of success of your recording, and you will use the appropriate tool for the appropriate situation.
It is always best to make sure that you get as good a sound as possible from the microphone, or from your synth or sampler, coming into the console. If you start off with good sounds, then a good result is almost inevitable. It is becoming increasingly popular to use microphones for recording, even when DI (direct injection) is possible, because of the wider variation of tonal qualities available. Even small variations in microphone position make vast differences to the sound picked up, and it is a sign of an expert recording engineer that he or she will listen carefully to the sound from the mic and adjust its position and angle, and even try out several microphones, rather than pretend that it is possible always to get it right first time. Once you have built up your skills in this area then you can think about using EQ. I could give you all sorts of proverbs about the things you cant make silk purses out of and the things you ought not try to polish, and these proverbs apply especially to EQ. You should always aim to use EQ to improve an already wonderful sound. If the sound isnt good without EQ, then you will never end up with anything but second best. The only time you should ever use EQ to save a sound is when you have been given a tape to work on that was recorded by a lazy engineer.
Just as there is an art to creating a brilliant sound, there is an art to bringing that sound to perfection, and also blending several sounds together to make the perfect mix. Van Gogh didnt learn to paint overnight, and no-one is born with the inbuilt ability to EQ. Its a skill that is learnt by experience and a good deal of careful listening. As a first step (although I know you have used EQ already!), lets see what EQ is and what it does, then Ill move on to looking at the machinery and techniques. Figure 1 shows one of the parameters you would expect any item of sound equipment to aspire to - a flat frequency response. This, or at least a very close approximation, will be the frequency response of your mixing console with the EQ controls set to their centre positions, or with the EQ buttons switched off. Here, the balance of frequencies of the original signal is preserved in correct proportion at the output. It is just as trebly, tinny, harsh, nasal, honky, bassy or boomy as it was when it left the microphone, or just as perfect perhaps. Notice that the frequency response indicates what the EQ does to the sound. A cymbal for example will have strong high frequencies, and that emphasis towards HF will be preserved by a flat EQ setting. Likewise, a flat EQ will reproduce perfectly the boomy bottom end of an undamped bass drum.