audio engineer jim the boss

Audio Engineer - Jim the Boss

Interview with audio engineer and studio owner Jim the Boss. He's been engineering audio for 20 years. I use this opportunity to ask some technical questions related to podcasting.

Jim is the owner of the studio/label Hoboken HiFi. You can hear more of his music on Spotify, or find him on facebook or instagram.

What gain should I set my mic to?

I see a lot of people say to record as loud as possible without clipping but that was more relevant for analogue recording not digital. You should set your gain so that you are peaking around -12 db and have an overall level of -8 db.

Do the quality and length of XLR cables matter?

Yes it matters. People often purchase cheap cables off amazon that use very thin wires with plastic connectors that break over time. It's good to have gold connectors, they don't oxidize as much as nickel.

Buying an expensive mic and interface then connecting them with a $10 cable is like putting cheap tires on your Lamborghini. Also it reduces frequencies and can add a lot of noise to your signal. They're more susceptible to interference.

Should you buy balanced or unbalanced cables?

Balanced. They shield from electromagnetic frequencies better and you can run them at longer lengths. I recommend cabled from EWI. They're the as good as Mogami (top of the line XLR cables) but much cheaper.

Note: If you prefer purchasing from amazon, Jim also said these cables were good.

Have you built your own cables or mics?

I build all my own cables. When I teach interns how to maintain equipment I show them how to build cables first because they're simple to solder. I've mostly built dynamic mics but I've also modified condenser mics to reduce noise and alter frequency response.

Mic parts has great kits and mods but they're all pcb based so if you've never soldered before you could easily burn out the board. Cables are a good primer, once you've learned to do those you can move on to mics.

Do the cheap foam acoustic panels you can buy off amazon do anything?

They're definitely a waste of money because they only treat high frequencies. Broadband panels will treat high, mid and some lower frequencies as well.

Note: Broadband aka "Velocity Absorbers" work by converting sound energy into heat. These are the ones that I built for my home studio using Roxul safe and sound and following this tutorial. You can make them for around $20 a piece but they do require some basic wood cuts. So far I've built 8 panels and will be posting my own tutorial shortly.

What insullation for DIY acoustic panels do you recommend?

Roxul safe and sound is good. Another good one is Owens Corning 703, it's semi-rigid so a frame isn't completely necessary. The equivalent to that is Roxul AFB but it's softer so you do need a frame.

What about the cloth?

The cloth doesn't matter as long as it isn't really thick. A popular company to buy that from is Guilford of Maine.

Note: I bought my fabric from here and was happy with the quality and shipping speed.

A company you can buy panels already made is Acoustimac.

Note: Jim said they were around $20/panel at acoustimac but that is for smaller ones. I haven't found a cheaper way than to build them yourself. You can do it for even cheaper if you use particle board instead of pine.

What microphones do you recommend in the 100-200$ range?

  • Shure SM58 - $100 - Very well known and pretty indestructible. The only issue is the proximity effect. The closer you get the more bass that will come out in your voice. Some podcasters use that to their advantage.

  • Sennheiser e835 - We don't go into this one much but it is also $100.

  • Telefunken M80 - $250 - Super cardioid pattern which gives you more off-axis rejection.

  • Electro-Voice RE320 - $250 - Jim owns the RE20 ($400) but has used the RE320 and actually likes it better for vocals. The 320 is getting popular with podcasters.

Jim also recommends the Shure SM-7B ($400) and the Rode Procaster ($230) but he suggests that people don't go out and buy the best stuff because it won't sound better if you don't know how to use it.

Can you explain what proper mic technique is?

Use proximity effect to your advantage. The closer you get the more low frequency response you'll get. If you're very dynamic (you talk very quiet and very loud) learn to adjust your distance from the microphone. When you're quiet get close to the mic and when you get louder pull back.

When is off-axis mic technique useful?

With certain mics and certain voices it sounds better to speak off-axis.

What are ways to avoid mic bleed when multiple people are recording in the same room?

For recording music in the studio we sometimes use panels to separate mics. We also learn to make it sound good but for podcasting you don't want that. With dynamic cardioid polar pattern mics, directing your voice away from or towards the back of their mic will provide a lot of rejection. Also you can use a gate/compressor (he means hardware not software and lists a couple).

 

Jim recommends the following settings for a hardware compressor:

  • Dynamic voice - ratio of 5:1 to 10:1 with 3ms attack, 100ms release and threshold of 3-6 db
  • Constant voice - ratio of 3:1 to 4:1 with 3ms attack, 100ms release and threshold of 6 db

 

What do you do to get rid of loud breaths?

Most of the time I have the person turn their mouth away from the microphone while recording. You could always cut it in post but I come from the age of tape and I try to always get things done correctly at the source so I don't have to spend hours and hours staring at a computer screen.