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Is dryer (= less room ambience including room modes and short first reflection times) always better for the final mixing result, or is there a threshold below which it simply doesn't matter, and the optimization of other dimensions, such as tonal balance, transients, harmonic purity and tonal consistency becomes more important? How do you find the best compromise between signal dryness and how good it sounds raw, without being able to hear the final result in a professional mix?

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    It's an artistic and production choice. The worse the recording environment is, the more there is to be gained by having less of that environment in the microphone (which means a dryer recording). If the room the vocalist is in sounds great, then you can have a very wet recording that still works. In other words, there won't be a clear answer that is objectively correct for all situations. Jan 16, 2023 at 22:58
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    My limited experience suggests that while dry vocals may be great for the sound engineer, they're awful for the singer.
    – Aaron
    Jan 17, 2023 at 3:40
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    This depends a bit on your setup and equipment, but you don't necessarily have to choose between the two. Usually you can record a completely dry (or as dry as the room allows) signal while applying a little reverb to the singer's monitor feed. This way you have better control of the mix, but the sound is a bit more natural for the singer, and this encourages them to sing more confidently.
    – AJFaraday
    Jan 17, 2023 at 11:35
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    @It's HEDLEY This is a good point, and is generally why I record the actual track dry (except for maybe a bit of compression), but the vocalist gets a processed track in their in-ears with the full compression, reverb, delay, or whatever else goes on the vocal track.
    – element11
    Jan 17, 2023 at 20:41
  • Garbage in, garbage out.
    – Mazura
    Jan 19, 2023 at 1:44

3 Answers 3

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"Completely dry" gives the sound engineer complete freedom to supplant any amount of reverberant room acoustics without causing any inconsistencies, allowing free location of all musicians in a virtual room.

So it's the best material to be working with. That doesn't mean that it's an absolute prerequisite for the results to turn out good. But the fewer tracks require special care, the more likely the sound engineer has freedom to focus on producing quality.

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    With great freedom comes great responsibility. In other words, a completely dry recording might be much harder to make sound good and fit the mix than one that has some high-quality ambiance. I'm not sure if this was your intention to imply that dryer is always better. If that's your answer then I disagree. Jan 16, 2023 at 23:01
  • ""Completely dry" gives the sound engineer complete freedom to supplant any amount of reverberant room acoustics without causing any inconsistencies, allowing free location of all musicians in a virtual room." Makes sense, but if the room ambience is like 5% of what you would hear in a typical mix, is that more problematic (if at all) than a noticable loss of texture and increase in muddiness, which cannot be fixed via EQ?
    – Fid Rewe
    Jan 18, 2023 at 18:58
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In addition to what user90207 said, dry vocals play nicely with several common effects:

Pitch-correction software may have difficulty tracking pitch on very wet vocals, or more commonly the reverb tails just sound unnatural when a note is corrected.

If there is reverb in the recording, it will be affected by compression in a way that may not be desired. A dry vocal lets you do all of your compression and then add reverb later. If you took the amount of compression used in modern metal recordings and put that on a nice ambient recording, you'd get an explosion of reverb after each line.

Distortion also has a compressing effect. Putting a wet vocal through distortion gives a noisy track.

There is also the possibility that reverb tails in a wet vocal cause difficulty when editing takes together ("comping").

These are all standard processes in modern recording, so studios tend to record vocals very dry.

Now, to directly answer the question- It largely depends on how heavily you will use the above effects. I've had good results close miking in a mostly untreated but dead room (rug, soft-ish ceiling tiles, big bookshelves, I hung one blanket off a mic stand by the singer). In the mix, it sounds fine, even after heavy compression and pitch correction. If the vocal is especially exposed for a bit, you could just do more takes and less pitch correction. But really, my "noise floor" (measured between two syllables on the words "we could") is about -45dB, and most of that is the direct sound of me at the mic. That's plenty dry enough. Close miking does a lot for rejecting room noise.

I'm not sure what you mean by "tonal balance, transients, harmonic purity and tonal consistency". Transients can be adjusted with compression or transient shaping plugins, and everything else can only be made worse with room reflections.

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  • Thanks for this very interesting reply. The room accoustics is pretty good according to REW. I've used thick high quality absorbing material behind the mic and at the first reflection points. However, this doesn't have much effect below ~300 Hz. The microphone is the Sphere L22, which has a freely tunable pickup pattern, as well as a superior customizable off-axis rejection, but going as tight as possible comes is at the cost of linear off-axis response. Also, close miking works down to a point, where several issues arise that just can't be fully corrected with EQ or compression.
    – Fid Rewe
    Jan 18, 2023 at 19:11
  • The vocal doesn't sound reverbant at all and I don't notice a tail that could affect a compressor, let alone pitch correction, which I don't desire anyway, but in comparison to what I get when I push it, the effect of the room is still pretty noticable. When I push it, it sounds like a voice right in your face in complete silence, while the setup I would choose based on other deliberations sounds more natural, not reverbant, but I quess the decay tails are just a bit longer, which makes it sound more natural and slightly less close.
    – Fid Rewe
    Jan 18, 2023 at 19:24
  • The threshold below which it simply doesn't matter is called the noise floor, +1. GL keeping it where it is; that's the holy grail of recording. GIGO.
    – Mazura
    Jan 19, 2023 at 1:39
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I'd suggest keeping the vocal signal that you actually record as dry as you can, but put some nice effects on the vocal signal going to the singer's headphones as they perform.

That way they'll feel comfortable, but you'll have an unaffected vocal recording giving you the freedom to try other signal treatments.

It also makes punch in and comping easier because you don't have to worry about clipping reverb tails.

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    The thing is, "as dry as I can" would mean I put the microphone with the obligatory pop filter uncomfortably close to the mouth, producing an imbalanced, inconsistent, muddy sound with popping noises. If I choose a distance of 12 cm, although technically the sound is not as dry, it still sounds very dry and upfront, while sounding much better overall, but going just slightly further back creates a more crisp, balanced sound, while the effect of the room is very minor still. So the question for me is, how much dryness is worth the cost.
    – Fid Rewe
    Jan 18, 2023 at 18:44
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    @FidRewe "popping noises" or clipping is the only thing worse than a dirty noise floor. You gotta do what you gotta do. "uncomfortably close to the mouth" : not my problem, deal with it. "imbalanced, inconsistent" : stand still, laddy!. "muddy sound" is either too close or their voice is real deep, and/or your mic is trash. .... Trading the Bluesmobile for a microphone wasn't a joke. Are you using a $2k condenser? If you had one of those you'd be asking how to keep room noise out of it, not let some in.
    – Mazura
    Jan 19, 2023 at 1:58
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    @Mazura your interpretation is wrong. It's about finding the optimal setup, not about fixing major issues. The sound quality is very solid. The terms I use are relative, describing differences. No matter how good the singer or the mic is, the sound quality will always depend on mic placement. My mic is all I could wish for, it has a tighter pickup pattern, lower proximity effect and more linear off-axis response than single capsule condensor mics could have. It also gives me possibilities classical mics don't offer. But as another commenter said, with great freedom comes great responsibility.
    – Fid Rewe
    Jan 19, 2023 at 8:32

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