Firstly what is it?
Sibilance is the scourge of all voice-over talent, podcasters and audio engineers. On a good piece of audio, you may not even be aware of it, and that means the producer has done a good job. Sibilance are those harsh & sharp ’S’ & ‘C’ sounds formed by the mouth. They are unavoidable, but can be controlled using a native plug-in within Audition.
Why bother to fix it and how to avoid it?
Sibilance is ever so tiring and almost offensive to your listener. If very harsh it can even cause a listener to turn off your podcast in favour of a better produced audio. A woman's voice, due to its pitch, will always carry more sibilant sounds. Recording and microphone technique are also critical in reducing the sibilant sounds at source, in the vocal booth or studio. Making sure you are a correct distance from your mic, checking the room is well sound treated and of course using a high quality pop-filter are all sure fire ways to make your recording sounds as ‘sweet’ sounding as possible before you even take it in to post and your audio editor.
Choose the correct mic
If at all possible, choose a mic that is correct for purpose. There are mics that voice-over talent love to use and that may be a very different mic to that chosen by a live streamer for instance. One basic rule of thumb is always pay as much as you can afford on a mic. Many home creators will not have the luxury of swapping out mics per session, so when buying your mic, try to think ahead - what is your main use going to be, and buy a mic favouring your most regular workflow. With a good room audio environment and a low noise floor, a large diaphragm condenser mic should serve you well. Try, where possible to avoid lav mics. In my experience, they always seem to be more harsh. If of course you are filming, you will almost certainly need a shot mic - I have a video coming up soon on the Røde NTG4+ on my YouTube Channel (so get subscribed!). I have always loved Audio Technica mics - they may well be worth checking out.
The de-esser is your get out of jail card in post! All DAW’s have their own versions, and the one that comes with Audition is so simple to use - when you know how to set it up. Essentially it’s a single band compressor that you dial in on specific frequency. To find that frequency take a few simple steps of exploring your audio first in the Spectral Frequency Display, then taking a print in Frequency Analysis and finally setting up your de-esser correctly. In the video below, I cover all of these points in depth; if you have 10 minutes spare, check it out. I think you’ll find it ever so helpful.
The de-esser in post, really is the final step to having a sibilant free recording. If at all possible, and you are in control of the actual recording session, take time in all the basic set-up that we have covered earlier. Clearly being in a sound treated environment will help hugely; be free of any obvious ‘red flags’ such as recording near to a window a mirror or a room with hard flooring. Choose a good quality mic best suited to the need of your recording. Use a pop-filter on a condenser mic and try to learn correct mic technique and placement. If you can sort out all those points on the session, then your work in post will be so much easier. The de-esser then will really just be polish. But, if you have to engineer a session over which you had no control, then the de-esser will really come in to it’s own and shine.
Oh, and one cautionary suggestion - if your talent arrives on the session and you can hear immediately they are very sibilant - suck it up! mentioning it on a session can cause tension and a bad vibe which really is the very last thing you want. Just take a deep breath and know that in your audio editors back pocket, you have a great tool in Adobe Auditions de-esser.
Take a look at the video and let me know what success you’ve had in setting up a de-esser to reduce sibilance and what other ways you may have found that you can suggest may help in our future sessions.