How to Eliminate Vocal Muddiness From Your Mixes

Audio Production Questions

Vocal muddiness is a frequent problem.

We all want clarity in our vocals. We want the vocal to shine through the mix without the low-end cluttering it up. It’s such an important part of the mix, and we don’t it to come off muddy and boomy.

But what can you do to fix muddy vocals?

I got a question from a reader who had this exact issue. He was having problems with too much low-end, causing the vocals to sound boomy.

Here’s his question:

I’m recording with a condenser mic and I’m using the Auralex Mudguard to eliminate reflections but the vocals sound muggy and low. I tried to put a tube amp effect on it but it makes no difference. Can you help me?

I’m answering this question without hearing the audio he has recorded so I’m somewhat limited in my advice. However, there are a few different things you can do to clear up your vocals in order to make them less boomy and muddy.

1. Scrap that tube amp effect

That probably won’t do anything to help you clear up your vocals. If anything it might add more lower mids, causing even more boominess.

2. Filter out the low-end

If you’re recording vocals with a microphone that has a low-frequency roll-off, use it. It might be enough to clear up the rumble and low-end that’s causing that extra boom in your vocals.

If that doesn’t work, use a high-pass filter to remove the frequencies below about 100 Hz.Vocals don’t really occupy the range below 100 Hz, so there’s no reason to have extra unneeded energy cluttering up your vocal recording.

3. EQ out the muddiness

If that’s not enough, use an equalizer to cut the extra boominess from the vocal. There might be extra muddiness building up around 200 Hz. Take a medium to narrow cut around that area and listen to where the vocal clears up. Muddiness can be a really big problem, but it’s not always that difficult to solve.

As a reference, here’s an example of what an EQ curve would look like when you’re trying to cut out that boominess and mud.

EQ'ing boominess

Sometimes you only need to filter out the low-end and add a little cut to the low mids to clear everything up.

What do YOU Recommend?

Now it’s time for the audience participation part of this post. Have you tackled a similar problem in your mixes? What did you end up doing? Did you solve it all with EQ or did you take different measures? Let us know in the comments!

Ps.

EQ solves A LOT of problems. It’s the #1 processor when it comes to fixing bad sounding instrument. Understanding EQ is a great resource that teaches you how to work the frequency spectrum, complete with real world problems and practical solutions. Check it out here.

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  • Navarre

    I’m an intermediate producer working female vocals on a synth-funk project right now, I did something similar to clean the low end whooshing, though there wasn’t much boom. De-essing is trickier for me, although I’m getting better at handling it with Ableton’s multiband compressor. Thanks for the post! Peace from SD, CA.

    • Navarre

      Actually, I’m working the vocals right now and had to EQ the signal -3db with a gentle Q at 750Hz to get rid of some “congestion” that was making my vocalist sound like she had a cold. Not boominess, but I thought I’d share anyways. Peace.

      • http://audio-issues.com Björgvin Benediktsson

        Thanks for the tip. Yeah that nasal sound is equally annoying to deal with!

  • Bdhender

    I’ve recently boughts an ipad2. Problem is, every time I come to look at one of you articles, as soon as it loads, it then drops a white panel in front of the text. Very strange. I can see your home page ok, but not the articles. Any clues?

    • http://audio-issues.com Björgvin Benediktsson

      Yeah, I’ve heard about this issue. I uploaded a mobile theme that automatically detects mobile devices, but you need to change your browser setting to a mobile setting. That way it shows the different theme and you can browse. I’ve been looking into how I can change it the other way but without any luck. 

      • Jonnydjweston

        Me too. Hopefully some resolve can be got soon.
        Almost all my web activity is done n my iPad now lol!!

        Thanks for great content!
        Jonny

      • Jonnydjweston

        Actually using sky fire browser on the desktop setting works fine, but on iPad mode it gives the same problem as the safari browser.

  • Aaron Straughan

    If the degree of muddiness is variable I like to use multi-band compression to keep it in check and avoid making the vocal too thin.

  • Gdh1532

    I always use the low freq. roll off on the mic’s . If I’m doing a song with distorted guitars, lots of bass guitar, and punchy kick drum. I’ll filter all the low end completely out of the vox starting around 250 – 300hz ( high pass filter).

    For my own vocals I came across a mic I really like, better than my u87. The AT 4047. It’s got a crisp midrange that cuts through, without being harsh. I also like the AKG C414 for my vocals.

    That said, other vocalist sound better through other mics. So finding a mic that works well with the singers voice helps.

    Use the low end cut on the mic, if there is a lot of music going on in lows and low mid range, don’t be afraid to pull that area out of the vocals.

    My own tastes I prefer not to use a lot of compression on the vocals. I’ll spend more time riding the faders. I prefer not to add any reverb or delay effects, until I have the vocals sitting in the mix the way I like(or they like).

  • Glen Stephan

    I gotta say that I have never encountered low end problems in the vocals that weren’t caused by either poor mic placement or bad live room modes (or both). In either case, usually moving the mic both up and away from the singer’s head, and moving it’s location in the room a foot or two will take care of it. If not, try another room or another mic.

    And the thing to remember about portable mic isolaters such as the Auralex Mudguard or the SE Reflexion Filter are that they 1) work mostly on mid and high frequency bounce reflections, but simply cant stop low frequency room modality any more than stickling a plank in the water can stop an ocean wave, and B) that these filters do nothing to stop sounds of any frequency from bouncing against the floor, ceiling or rear wall and entering the microphone from the front.

    You can’t do a lot about 1 other than different mic placement or effective bass trapping within the room. As far as B, have the singer stand in front of an open, full clothes closet (or a more formal wall-mounted absorber/diffuser). Place a thick piece of padded carpet on the floor below the mic and the singer to dampen floor reflections if you suspect a problem there (also isolating the mic tripod from any floor vibrations, BTW – another possible source of LF mud). And a common cause of reflection problems in the home come from the ceiling, especially if the ceiling is linkda low (7-8ft), Especially if the mic is up around 5-6 feet – that puts it a lot closer to the ceiling than practically anything else in the room.

    Glen S.
    http://www.independentrecording.net

    • http://audio-issues.com Björgvin Benediktsson

      Glen does it again, with a comment that’s more informative than the article itself! Thanks for that great comment man, and yes the getting things as good as possible at the source is obviously the best bet.

  • Mark Young

    I use my HPF & find where the bottom cleans up between 100hz & 150hz. EQ cut  mid-range mud around 500hz. I also like to boost 3khz & 6khz 1 to 3 db to add clarity.

  • http://twitter.com/BenPeilow Ben Peilow

    I totally agree, subtractive EQ before additive EQ, and if Im tracking the session and I notice its a bit muddy, I’ll either change the distance/angle of the current mic, or use a different mic altogether! I once found that a D112 sounded best on a singer’s voice. Whatever works, works!

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  • https://www.facebook.com/sasha.jevremovic Beat Essentialz

    Thanks for this, imma try some if these out as I’m never satisfied! I love writing and recording but I HATE editing.

    http://Www.essentialzmusic.com

  • http://www.dmoproductions.net Derek Mosley

    Man I am so thankful I found you. Thank you for the emails and post. I open so many tabs reading your posts and never have enough time in the day to read everything. My mind is currently a sponge soaking up. Again, thank you and please do not stop.

    Sincerely,

    Derek Mosley – DMO

    http://www.dmoproductions.net