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Recording in a noisy setting

August 24, 2008

A friend commented that she doesn’t have the luxury of a quiet recording environment. I thought I’d put up this simple tutorial on using the GarageBand effect settings. Might be useful to GarageBand users who, like many of us, don’t have expensive and sophisticated recording equipment.

BTW, I don’t have any formal sound engineering training. Just sharing the bits and pieces that I’ve learned.

#1 – Try your best to find a quiet(er) environment
Granted there are times the recording environment is noisy. Just do what we can. Every little improvement helps make that sound recording better, when you tweak the effects later. For instance, closing the room door or shutting the windows. It may not eliminate all ambient noise but my experience is that every little bit helps (I do all that AND switch off my fan when recording vocals… better to smell a little funky than to ruin the recording LOL).

#2 – Use the GarageBand “Gate” setting
Gate setting
From the Wikipedia entry on what’s a Noise Gate: “In its most simple form, a noise gate allows a signal to pass through only when it is above a set threshold

The Noise Gate is a sort of filter. Let’s say you set the gate level to “15”. This means the sound will only be allowed to pass through if the audio level is above 15.

The gate works if the sound level you want to record (e.g. your voice, or your guitar) is higher than the ambient noise. In a way, the bad thing about the Noise Gate is that it also lowers the sensitivity of your mic. The higher the gate level, the louder you have to speak into your mic.

#3 – Speech Enhancer effect setting
Speech Enhancer effect setting

This GarageBand effect setting gives you more control compared to the Noise Gate. You can choose either the preset effects, or go Manual and select the appropriate options (noise level, microphone type, voice type).
Speech Enhancer manual settings

ASIDE: Sound recording equipment
I use this microphone (the ones that come with a headset). I found this works just as well as the cheap microphones that comes with the home Karaoke set (unless you have a super-expensive home Karaoke system).
Earphone & mic headset

But increasingly, I prefer to use my Macbook Pro’s built-in mic. I found that if I close the room door and windows, the recording quality is a lot sharper. Combined with the Speech Enhancer setting, the overall vocal recording quality is much higher.

I didn’t create a sample, but here are two of my songs that used the two different mics. Just compare the audio quality of the vocal recordings (never mind the singing quality!)

The vocals for this song were recorded with the headset mic. They tend to sound muffled and I had to use a lot more sound effects settings to raise the vocal audio level while reducing the ambient:

The vocals for this one were recorded with my Macbook Pro’s built-in mic. The audio quality is a lot sharper and there’s less audio manipulation needed to get rid of the ambient noise. You can also hear the difference in the acoustic guitar recording when compared to the first song:

OK, hope this tutorial has been helpful. Feel free to add your tips or experiences as a comment.
~ Ivan

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2008 12:29 pm

    Thanks! Will give it a go 🙂

  2. January 3, 2009 9:25 pm

    Hi! Just wondering if it’s possible to remove the static noise if the song has already been recorded.

  3. January 4, 2009 2:55 am

    Hi LF, normally I’ll try turning on the “Gate”. Or do some adjustments with the Graphic EQ (or Visual EQ) to lower the higher frequencies. But they are not ideal as they also cancel out some of the sound you might want.

  4. March 1, 2010 9:17 pm

    Ur suggestion worked wonders. Thank u


  1. How to record in a noisy environment with the Macbook pro « My Right Brain
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