Optimal Noise Gate Settings for Vocals

Optimal Noise Gate Settings for Vocals Optimal Noise Gate Settings for Vocals

We often forget that making great music is not just about the sounds we select; what we choose to leave out or keep silent is equally important. Hence, a noise gate plugin can make a huge difference in several sonic contexts, but perhaps the most important application lies in its relation to the vocals of a track.

In this guide, we'll describe the optimal noise gate settings for vocals and explain the strategy behind them so that you can create masterful mixes. We'll also answer a couple of commonly asked questions so that you can gain a better understanding of noise gates and curtailing unwanted noise.

Understanding Noise Gate for Vocals

You're likely familiar with audio processors called noise gates, which help you block out unwanted noise in your mix. Whenever a signal exceeds your noise gate's set threshold, the gate clamps down on the signal, creating silence instead to keep out the distracting sounds.

Noise gates are particularly helpful when it comes to the dynamic nature of vocals. You can fine tune your noise gate settings to keep out background noise, ambient room sounds, or any other distractions that may be taking away from your vocal performance as showcased below.

Know When to Use a Fade vs. a Noise Gate

Keep in mind that you should use a noise gate when your track can benefit from a gate specifically, otherwise, you might want to consider other subtractive methods like utilizing an EQ or a simple fade on your vocals. For instance, you might have a word or musical phrase that ends in a long "S" sound.

While both a noise gate and fade can help you accomplish the goal of curtailing the unnecessary long consonant, a fade is bound to sound more natural in this instance. Don't be afraid to try out several methods and opt for the solution that sounds best for the situation.

Use Your Ears First and Foremost

Before we dive into some of the most important pointers surrounding noise gate settings for vocals, it's important to understand that they are all just starting points. Your situation and ideal gate settings will vary greatly depending on the context of your audio, raw vocals, and the specific needs of any given session. Aim to understand the basic utility behind each noise gate setting component, and you should be able to adjust parameters accordingly.

5 Best Noise Gate Settings for Vocals

Without further ado, here are 5 noise gate settings and guidelines for optimal vocal performance:

Set Threshold to Address Room Noise, Not Breath

The noise gate threshold determines at what point the plugin attenuates the input signal, cutting out all sound below the threshold floor. In pop music, breath is fairly audible, so it's reasonable to assume that you might start your threshold just above the sound of the vocal's breath.

However, it's best to give your vocals a little wiggle room - breath can easily be adjusted with the help of a fade, which creates more of a subtle, natural flow in most instances. You should be using a noise gate so that you eliminate any unwanted mechanical noise or room ambiance, but not so much that you miss out on any vocal artifacts.

Opt for an Attack Time Between 1-3 ms

You usually want a fairly quick attack time, with just enough pause so that it doesn't sound unnatural whenever the signal dips. For a more subtle effect, you can utilize a slow attack, but in most cases, you'll likely be working within the 1-3 ms range.

Set the Ratio to Maximum or Near Maximum

In the case that your noise gate settings have a ratio, or you're utilizing a compressor to carry out the role of a noise gate, set the ratio to maximum or very close to that. Noise gate works by completely eliminating sounds below the threshold, so the attenuation needs to be applied at max capacity for this to be effective.

Set Hold Between Between 20-100 ms

You want a little hold time so that the transition created when the gate closes and opens doesn't become too jarring. Your hold time will vary greatly depending on what you're using the noise gate for. For instance, if you need your gate to come in and out every couple of words, you're going to need a shorter hold or release time than if you're primarily cutting out the dead space between broader sections of sound.

Gating and Sidechaining Other Instruments

A noise gate can be used as a compressor to side chain and create space within your mix in addition to its ability to remove noise. Just keep in mind that any creative techniques utilizing noise gates in music production are not subtle. Some music artists, like Kaytranada, are able to incorporate this noticeable gating technique with ease into their music. Noise gate settings are primarily geared toward signal cleanup, but don't let this stop you from experimenting creatively.

Other Ways to Eliminate Vocal Background Noise

Keep in mind that noise gates are just one component that may be useful on your quest to craft sparkling vocals. Here are some other common methods used to eliminate unnecessary background noise on the mic:

  • Sound Treatment: Try to record in a space that doesn't have a lot of reflective surfaces to cut back on ambient and unwanted background noise from the get-go. Ideally, your studio has some sort of sound treatment to remove background noise before it can be captured by your recording. It goes without saying that the more you can reduce your noise floor upfront, the easier it will be to clean up your vocals.
  • Proper Microphone Placement: Make sure that you're properly aligned with your microphone, about 6 inches away from the diaphragm. Some engineers and vocalists use "two fists worth" as a rough reference for what that looks like.
  • Gain Staging: Cut down on plosives and ambient noise by taking care to set your microphone at the proper gain level before hitting the record button. It's imperative to test your performance before running through your official takes, adjusting your placement and potential delivery based on the dynamics of your song.
  • Equalization: Ideally, you won't have any unwanted noise baked into your vocal. However, you can continue to make your vocals cleaner by utilizing EQ and other processing to reduce harsh frequencies and create a more balanced sound if transitioned to the mixing process.

Vocal Noise Gate Settings FAQs

Are you still on the hunt for the perfect vocal noise gate settings for your next session? Here are some commonly asked questions and answers to narrow your search:

What is vocal gating?

Vocal gating refers to using noise gates on vocals. The role of a vocal noise gate is to silence an ambient or background noise that may come through in the audio recording in between the lines of a song.

What should noise gate be set to?

We go over some of the best vocal noise gate settings above, but any specific parameters should be fine-tuned based on the needs of the song. Generally speaking, your noise gate should be strong enough to keep out any unwanted ambient noise without clamping down on your vocal recording. The best noise gate plugin enhances the clarity of the vocals without making it obvious that they are present.

What is the threshold of a noise gate?

The threshold settings of a noise gate dictate at what point the noise gate opens and starts attenuating the signal. Noise gates are unique in that they sometimes have both an open threshold and close threshold. Anything below the close threshold will be cut off, while anything above the open threshold level will still be audible (or not attenuated.)

What is range on a noise gate?

The range on noise gate describes how much of the signal noise gate cuts when it passes the set threshold. In other words, range dictates how much noise gate is applied. If the range is set to 10 dB on the noise gate plugin, the signal drops 10 decibels upon passing the set threshold value.

These noise gate settings can serve as a good starting point for producing crisp, clear vocals that still possess a natural flow. That being said, the most valuable asset in engineering is your ears - don't be afraid to differ slightly or break the rules entirely if it makes sense in service of the song. Have fun using these foundational settings to build more professional mixes.

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