Does phase really matter in recording?
A major question I get from a lot of people is “Does phase really matter in recording?”
And the simple answer is yes - it matters a lot especially if you want to get clean and crisp recordings
I remember one time, when I was recording in my home studio and the audio always came out as garbage and muddy
I tried everything tweak and watched every YouTube video I could find about audio recordings.
It was only after I had read about Phase recording and fixed it, that I was able to get my recordings to sound clean and professional.
In this article, I will be showing you all about Phase in audio recording and how to ensure you get it right when recording
What is Phasing in Recording?
If you have ever wondered why your mix is just not sounding right and you can’t put your finger on it?
Then you may be experiencing something called phase cancellation.
This is simply a phenomenon whereby certain frequencies vanish from your mix leaving it all muddy.
Basically phases refers to sound waves or the vibration of air
When we listen to sound, what we’re hearing are changes in air pressure.
Just like the ripple of a stone in water, sound is created by the movement of air. And just as in water, those movements cause a rippling effect — waves comprised of peaks and troughs. Those waves cause our eardrums to vibrate, and our brains translate that information into sound.
When we record sound, the diaphragms in our microphones essentially replicate the action of our eardrums, vibrating in accordance with those waves.
The waves’ peaks cause the mic’s diaphragm to move in one direction, while their troughs generate movement in the opposite direction.
The first illustration below shows what happens when we’ve got two channels of a signal in phase.
When both channels are in phase, we hear the sound at the same amplitude level at the same time in both ears.
How do you fix phase issues in a mix?
When recording audio, phase issues can quickly become complicated and cause a lot of issues if not properly treated.
And it usually become a big problem if more than one channel is used to record a single source such as a stereo miking a guitar or using a microphone/DI combo for bass
As sound waves of different frequencies reach different microphones at different times, the potential for one mic to receive a positive phase while another receives a negative is greatly increased, and the relationship between all of these waves’ phases can be unpredictable.
In fact, the more mics in play, the more inevitable some sort of phase issues become.
So what is the fix?
And the simple answer is that it depends
Take for example, you identify the problem during the recording phase, then a simple fix is to move the mic around or to simply flip the phase on the mic or it’s input channel
If you also want to capture ambiance then there is a special hack which I use perfectly and works like gangbusters
It is called the 3:1 Rule of mic placement
Put simply, when using two microphones to record a single source, what you do is you place the second mic three times the distance from the first mic, as the first mic is from the source
So if the first mic is say about 1 foot from the source, the second microphone will be placed about 3 feet from the first mic
Using this simple 3:1 mic placement trick will help minimize any problems you have with phase while recording
But what happens when you notice the problem while mixing?
What you can do is to pull the tracks up in your DAW, zoom in close on their waveforms and then slightly nudge one track just a bit.
By doing this you will be amazed at what can happen simply by moving around a few tracks by one millisecond or so.
Sound Radix Auto Align Plugin Review
If you are looking for a plugin to help you fix all your phase issues, then this is the best bet for you
This is one plugin that helps take all the guesswork away from from phase alignment
The Auto Align is an automatic microphone alignment and phase correction plugin that helps you deal with all issues of phase in your mix
What happens is that when you are recording an instrument with more than one mic, sounds tend to reach each microphone at a slightly different time than the other
This causes some frequencies to build up and cancel each other unnaturally, causing a phenomenon known as the comb filter effect
When this happens, this is when you need Auto Align Plugin
This plugin will auto analyze your multi mic recordings and then automatically detect and compensate for the delay between the microphones sample, significantly reducing the comb filter effect and dramatically improving the sound effect
Here is a YouTube Video showing you how the Auto Align plugin works
- It automatically sample accurate time and phase alignment
- Phase polarity detection
- Alternate matching points for improving phase correlation while preserving delay
- Displays distance in samples, milliseconds, inches or centimeters
- Mac: Intel Core CPU, 2gb Ram, OS X 10.6 or higher
- Windows: Intel Core CPU, 2gb Ram, graphics card supporting OpenGL 2.1
- Plugin formats: AAX, Audio Unit, RTAS, VST, VST3
How to fix phase issues in a mix.
The following points are some simple and easy ways you can use to fix phase issues in your mix.
1. Fix phase cancellation from the beginning
The simple and best time to fix phase issues is at the beginning of the mix.
Anything after that and it becomes increasingly difficult.
So make sure you check for phase cancellation during the mix preparation and make this a permanent part of your work flow
2. Go beyond the polarity
You want to make sure that you use your DAW and check the waveforms for polarity issues when recording
3. Check layered drum samples
4. Pay special attention when EQing correlated sounds
5. Use stereo imaging plugins with caution
6. Use phase problems to you advantage