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Notes on Radio/Audio Drama: Session Recording Equipment and Wiring

MikeKardec

One Too Many
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Los Angeles
Intro:

From 1985 through 2015 I produced, directed and wrote a series of about sixty Audio Dramas for Random House Audio Publishing. These productions had run times stretching from one to three hours, casts of four or five up to over twenty actors, and sound effects created both live in studio and, later, in the field and on realistic locations.

Session Recording Equipment and Wiring:

Voice recording has a lot of silence in between words and sentences. This is unlike most popular music which is often wall to wall sound. Because of this, many music studios are never really motivated to seriously clean up their electronics and wiring. The noise floor tended to be pretty high and there was often an additional snarl of grounding hum. I can’t tell you how many studios I have walked into and asked them to just turn up 6 or 8 faders so I could listen to the noise. The result was generally unacceptable for voice recording. Because commercial recording studios has the space we needed, waiting rooms, restrooms, and insurance, we always worked in commercial studios. However, some of these observations and experiences should translate to people recording at home.

After putting up with less than perfect commercial studios for many years we eventually began to bring our own, carefully vetted, equipment and wiring into the studio spaces we worked in. Taking advice from people who recorded classical and chamber music we used minimalist equipment and both it, and our cabling, was checked for absolute polarity, consistent high/low/ground connections, and the lowest noise throughout the system. Everything was powered from our “Balanced Power” transformer to remove any ground loop issues. We would even bring the amps and speakers from our editing studio to make sure what we were hearing was as consistent as possible.

A typical “studio package” that we brought into an outside studio consisted of: 4 Sennheiser MKH 40 Cardioid microphones, connected to a 4 channel Jensen Twin Servo Mic Preamp. Each signal was then split into two paths, one went directly into our Apogee ADA 8000 converter at “normal” level, the other path went through a set of 4 DBX Limiters and then into the ADA 8000 at a level 10 db lower … this was intended to give us coverage of any spikes in loudness from our cast. If the signal went over, we could cut to this “protection track” and get a clean recording.

After the ADA 8000 the 8 channels, 4 primary and 4 protection, went into a workstation running Pro Tools. All channels were monitored with meters registering both VU and Peak with a “peak hold” light set to tell us if we had hit – 6 FS, a level we tried never to exceed. If your system is 24 bit, and quiet enough, you shouldn’t need to record any hotter than this and it gives you a safety margin for peaks too fast for your meters to register. The limiters mentioned above were set so that they only controlled the peaks. Limiting and compression, if not used carefully, can increase noise and bass and generally has an unnatural sound.

For all of our connections we used a custom cable made for us by a friend, however, he was honest enough to tell us that Belden 1800F is about 95% as good and quite a bit cheaper. We have used it for many situations where the custom cable was not appropriate and never had any problems.
 

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Peacoat

*
Bartender
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6,269
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South of Nashville
Excellent post.

Having lived most of most of my life in and around Nashville, I have had the opportunity to be in many of the studios in that area, from the large—RCA's famed studio B, to the smaller boutique studios owned by individuals.

My favorite was the Bennett House in Franklin, developed by Norbert Putnam. He built the studio in an old carriage house behind his home. The entire compound is surrounded by a tall stone wall that gave privacy when we went outside to take a break. No one knew who was there, and no one could see inside the compound, so there were no pesky fans to interrupt the creative process, and the periods of relaxation. In fact, I doubt most of the residents even knew there was a recording studio there.

Being a studio musician himself, Norbert knew exactly what he wanted in a studio. The week I was there, a sound engineer was brought in from LA—your hometown—to run the board. If I remember correctly, his name was Elliott, and he liked everything about the board and the sound. The studio was small, so there was a feeling of intimacy on both sides of the glass, which is often laking in the larger studios.

I have never run the board in a recording studio, but have run several of them in radio over 10 or so years, so I have an interest in the process.

Thanks for an interesting and informative post.
 

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