Chasing The Hiss: How to Reduce Noise in Your Studio Equipment
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
We know the sound all too well. The sound of hiss perpetuating throughout your tracks in your session. Sure a little noise can glue a mix together, but a whole bunch adds a lot of unnecessary information for the listener to decipher. Or maybe you're working on a pop or hip-hop track and the artist doesn't want a bunch of hiss but you like to use analog equipment.
I was often running into a small issue with this. Hiss doesn't bother me too much because I work with a lot of analog equipment and some equipment is just noisy. After a while I just wanted to try to see if I could reduce what little noise I had in my setup. What I discovered truly blew me away and that's why I'm here writing this in hopes of helping someone else out of a jam along the way.
I've spent countless hours listening to music on my setup. I've compared and analyzed mixes from artists/producers/mixers I really love on my system. Listening to their noise floor in comparison to my mixes that were mastered and finished. This led me down the rabbit hole of chasing the hiss. Here I will give an overview and tips on how I reduced the noise floor significantly in my setup. Some of these first few tips might seem like no-brainers, but I can't tell you how many times I've received tracks from artists that had these simple issues.
IN THE BOX
Check Those Pesky Plugins
A lot of plugins have a noise setting. Now if you're going for a bunch of hiss then this is a good way to add it. I use a ton of analog equipment and when I use plugins, I just want them to be the plugin. I normally turn the noise off on them. This can be a good starting place, especially if you work mostly in the box.
Listen to the Recordings/Files
If you're hunting some noise in your mix and you work mostly in the box, this is another place to check. You will want to listen to the files themselves and see how they were properly recorded. If they were recorded well the signal to noise ratio should be pretty good. If they were recorded by a novice engineer and the signal to noise ratio isn't great, there are some tools and tricks you can do to try and remove the noise.
Re-Rack Your Setup
This is where things get a little hectic, especially if you has as much analog gear as me. The hiss I was experiencing was happening somewhere in my analog setup. Upon further inspection there were ground loops, buzzes, and all sorts of other noises that were luckily being masked by music. These noises weren't loud but add enough of them up and it can be a bit annoying. I got to the point where I was taking gear out of my racks and moving them around and away from other pieces and was starting to notice a difference. I had spent a lot of time researching about racks and how they can possibly contribute to ground loops. I decided to build my own racks with wooden rack rails as opposed to the metal ones we all know and love. By using wood I would stop the equipment from ground looping through the steel rack rails. This also isolated each piece of equipment from each other. There is a lot more technical mumbo jumbo that goes into this, but when I did this step I noticed a big difference in just my idle console and analog equipment noise - It dropped about 25% - I wasn't super loud before but It was noticeable when the speakers were turned up. This step significantly dropped the noise.
Give the Power Supplies Some Space
If you have any analog gear that have external power supplies, like adapters or wall warts, you should most definitely move them as far as you can away from the equipment. After doing this to all of the external power supplies in my setup, there were absolutely no hums, no matter how loudly I turned up my speakers while the console sat idle.
Give Your Equipment Room to Breathe
When I went to build my racks, I built them knowing that I wanted to leave 1U of space between each piece of equipment. If you don't space your gear out when you use wooden rack rails it kinda defeats the purpose because the equipment will literally be touching each other so the conductive nature of it goes right back to the way it was with steel rails. By spacing the equipment you're isolating the equipment from each other. This is also great for heat dispersion and will keep your gear lasting longer without needing to go in for repairs because of stacking and overheating. One other benefit of spacing them is that sometimes the internal power supplies of some outboard gear may not jive with being so close to other equipment and may create a little bit of noise.
After applying all of this to my setup I noticed a drastic decrease in the analog noise floor. It blew me away when I turned my speakers all the way up and there was not a single bit of hiss coming through all my analog gear and console. I thought "My speakers must be off" and when I looked up the
y were on... Then I thought "my speakers must not be connected" Then I played something back on them and was so astonished and happy that my work paid off. I had to re-rack and re-wire my entire setup to pull this off and this took me a full day with all the gear I have.
I built all of my racks for about 100$ worth of materials and it took a day of cutting and assembling with my buddy. One of my previous store bought racks cost me 400$ and it only held 1/3 of my equipment. Ofcourse results will vary in different setups, but I truly saw a massive change. Again, my noise floor was fine before I changed my setup and some gear is just noisy no matter what, but now I can control how much noise I want in an analog mix.
If you have any questions or input let me know! Thanks for reading.