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How to build the Best Vocal Chain for Hip-Hop Recording


How to build the Best Vocal Chain for Hip-Hop Recording  · 

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What is the best vocal chain for Hip-Hop production? We look into microphones, preamps, compressors, and more to help you get the cleanest vocals.

In Hip-Hop production, you might be working with an artist with a distinctive voice or one who prefers to use effects like pitch shifting and auto-tune. In either case, how do you ensure you’re getting the best-sounding vocals for your budget?

The answer is expansive, but it all starts with how the microphone is set up in your room and the vocal technique of the artist you’re recording. As a general rule, you want to direct the artist’s voice toward the center of the room to reduce reflectivity from the corners.

The Best Vocal Chain for Hip-Hop Recording

Moreover, no matter how hard the beat goes, you want to avoid the artist bobbing and weaving while spitting their verses. To avoid too much explaining in your recording sessions, simply use the pop filter as a way to put some distance between the mic and the artist and ensure you place it centrally in the mic’s cardioid pattern.

Next, we’ll discuss a range of tools from mics to post-processors that can help you get the cleanest sound possible. While some equipment imparts vintage colour and character onto a signal, we want to avoid this for the most part. This way we can focus on vocal clarity and detail above all else.

SONY C-80

Because Hip-Hop vocals often undergo a lot of post-processing, you want to capture them as cleanly as you can. We’ve discussed the SONY C-800G and its use on Pop and Hip-Hop recordings, and the C-80 provides a great alternative for home recording.

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Sony C-80
Sony C-80

Although the sonic characteristics are somewhat similar to the C-800G, the C-80 is far more compact and better suited to home recording environments. Also, with its low impedance rating, the C-80 can perform well running directly into the average audio interface.

The C-80 can handle up to 138 dB SPL, but ensure your vocalist is using the correct mic distance for their vocal style and voice type. In addition, you’ll want to use a pop-filter to reduce plosives and sibilance.

As a slightly cheaper alternative, the Shure SM7B is a great option that does well in untreated rooms. However, you will need additional gain from a dedicated mic preamp, which we will cover next.

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Elysia Skulpter 500

Unlike many rock recordings, we’re not looking to colour the vocal on the way in. We want the maximum clarity so when we inevitably add vocal plug-ins, we get the best results from them.

Elysia Skulpter 500
Elysia Skulpter 500

When it comes to preamps, there are many ultraclean choices available, including the widely used Avalon VT-737sp, as well as excellent options from manufacturers like Grace Designs and Millenia.

However, the only snag here is the hefty price tag these channel strips and mic pres carry. That’s why 500-series modules like the Elysia Skulpter 500 are a great alternative offering loads of clean gain and a compressor to level the vocal during tracking.

If you’re not prepared to spend more than $500 here, the SSL SiX Channel is also a great choice derived from the SiX analogue mixers. Here, you get a clean preamp, as well as basic EQ and compression, but you will require a 500-series chassis.

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IGS Audio Rubber Bands 500

Depending on your choice of workflow, corrective EQ is most often done in your DAW. However, by tracking with a hardware EQ, you can reduce resonant reflections from untreated rooms, or match an artist’s voice to a mic that just isn’t working.

IGS Audio Rubber Bands 500
IGS Audio Rubber Bands 500

While clean and surgical EQs like the Emperical Labs Lil FrEQ will set you back a small fortune, there are more affordable options. For example, the IGS Audio Rubber Bands 500 gives you two passive bands of Pultec-style EQ in a 1-slot 500-series module.

This gives you the power to add weight or presence to the vocal where necessary or reduce harshness for a smoother overall tone. This can be particularly effective when the EQ is placed before a compressor, which we’ll come to next.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a slightly more affordable EQ option, the Harrison MR3eq is a great 3-band EQ with a versatile midrange band and a high-pass filter to isolate your frequency range.

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Tegeler Audio Vocal Leveler

Using compression during tracking can be the difference between a professional vocal recording and an amateur one. However, this process doesn’t have to be a difficult, technical procedure.

Optical leveling amplifier
Tegeler’s Vocal Leveler.

With tools like the Tegeler Vocal Leveler, you have a “set and forget” optical processor that will gently shape the transients in your vocal takes. With circuitry based on the larger VTRC processor, the Vocal Leveler also has a 3-mode switch for its attack/release times.

A compressor is especially useful for artists who sing and rap on the same track. This makes it possible to achieve the same consistent and upfront sound without having to reconfigure for each vocal take.

As a more affordable option, the dbx 560A is a 500-series version of the discontinued 160A. Its Overeasy setting works well on vocals, and the adjustable ratio makes it a versatile tool.

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iZotope RX10

Once the recording is done and you have the takes you need, there is still a world of processing that can be done in post-production. We’ve discussed some of the most important vocal plug-ins previously, but how can we remove clicks, pops, and other artifacts from your best vocal takes?

iZotope RX 10
RX 10

With iZotope RX 10, you have a powerful tool to help you do this and much more. This industry-standard audio restoration software suite can also remove unwanted reverb or even match up the ambience of rap verses that were recorded in different studios.

The RX 10 Standard version includes 16 different processing modules, 13 utilities, and 15 DAW plug-ins. This means you have all the tools you need for polishing rap vocals, like Mouth De-click, Spectral De-ess, Voice De-noise, and Variable Time and Pitch.

In addition, there are upgrade options available so if you start with the RX 10 Elements version you can upgrade at a later stage and remember to be on the lookout for discount offers throughout the year.

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Image Sources:

  • Elysia Skulpter 500: Elysia
  • Tegeler’s Vocal Leveler is a popular choice for tracking.: Tegeler Audio
  • RX 10: iZotope
How to build the Best Vocal Chain for Hip-Hop Recording

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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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