What is Sibilance (and how to AVOID)

What is Sibilance?

Listening to enough music will eventually lead you to situations where your vocals are a bit off. It could be like someone put an agitated serpent in the track recordings.

Did you notice that some songs, headphones, and speakers produce a loud, high-frequency hiss? It makes you want stop listening. Sibilance is a term that can be caused by many factors.

It is important to understand the causes of annoying hiss and how to stop it. If it occurs while you are listening to your headphones, then you need to learn how to minimize, or eliminate it.

 What’s Sibilance?

Sibilance can be described as a sound that involves pronouncing consonants and syllables or words starting with the letter S (or sometimes T or Z). This is more often associated with vocals than any other aspect of music. However, it could also be caused by pitchy instruments such as high-hat drum cymbals.

The letter S must sound clear and distinct in audio reproduction. This is not shch. Sibilance may be responsible for the sound of letter S sounding like it’s being hissed, rather than sung.

How Does Sibilance Happen?

Sibilance is an essential part of human speech. It helps to form words across multiple languages. Continue repeating “Sally sells saltwater shells by shore,” several times quickly and you will get an idea of the noise that sibilance makes.

These sounds can appear particularly sharp, bright, and even piercing when they are reproduced by an audio system. It can happen often or rarely, regardless of whether music is being listened through headphones or speakers. Sibilance can occur when the song is in the upper mid-range.

How to Reduce Sibilance

There are many things that can cause unwelcome sibilance. You can reduce the volume of your music to get rid of it. When the audio signal is too high for components or drivers, excessive volume can exacerbate the effects of sibilance by distortion.

Alternately, you can adjust the frequencies with an equalizer. This corrects only the affected ranges and not all of the sounds. Although this can be helpful, it can also affect the overall presentation.

Equipment matters when it comes to sound. The quality of equipment (e.g., speakers, headphones, and component) will not be as powerful or accurate as the gear from reputable manufacturers.

Also, the source is important. The source of the audio file is also important. It might be worth considering other formats, or re-digitizing at higher quality if you find yourself stuck with MP3s at 128 kbps.

Sometimes the recording process is the cause of sibilance. Placement, microphone quality, vocalist enunciation, recording tools, and microphone placement all can impact the level of sibilance that is present in the final result.

Headphones by Sibilance

Sibilance can cause problems because it may already be present in your recording. A sibilant track can result from a variety of factors. These include improper mixing, incorrect microphone positioning, and inappropriate microphone usage.

Some headphones can amplify the sibilant sound, even though the same songs sound great on other audio devices.

It is largely related to the tuning of headphones. The most sibilant headphones are the brighter, more analytical and V-shaped ones. They boost the upper treble/upper midrange frequencies.

Although it brings out more detail in the vocals and can enhance the hissing noises, this can lead to over-exaggeration of the “s” sounds. It creates a dreadful sound that is difficult to listen to for prolonged periods.

Sibilance in Audio Recordings

The funny thing about this is that, even though people don’t sibilant in person, their speech can be rough when they use the microphone. Vocal sibilance is not the problem of the singer in most situations.

Some audio equipment is unable to handle the noise we make when we pronounce sibilant consonants. This is why sounds outside the microphone’s range are clipped and leave you with a hissy sound.

How to Reduce the Sibilance in Headphones

If you are sensitive to high frequency frequencies, these are things to think about before purchasing headphones.

  • Select a headphone with smooth/rolled-off treble

Many headphones are tuned to lower the treble to counter sibilance. Or reduce the frequency range which causes sibilance.

We’re referring to “rolling-off” when the treble loudness decreases continuously. The high-end frequencies do not reach a point where they produce piercing sound. Although it can affect detail rendition, it can be much more enjoyable to hear for longer periods of time.

  • Play with an EQ

Adjusting your EQ settings might be a good idea if you have headphones that produce a lot sibilant hissing. Either download the app on your mobile phone or the one that’s already included in your app, or both.

Find an equalizer that works in as many frequencies as possible. You can then choose to reduce the frequency range from 5-8kHz, and see if that helps. You have a good chance that someone has posted the frequency graph of your headphones to the internet. It’s worth looking for it so that you can see the peaks and then reduce them in the app.

Unfortunately, this can have a negative impact on the overall sound presentation and make your headphones sounds a little different. EQ that covers a wide range of frequencies is essential. This allows you to fine-tune the sound and decreases the risk of your headphones sounding completely different.

  • Use different types of earpads/eartips

Similar to how room acoustics affects speaker sound, the signature of headphones can be altered by different padding materials such as eartips and ear pads. Every material acts like a sound absorbent. It modifies the frequency range of those who come in contact with it.

This is why leather earpads enhance the bass while slightly masking some of the treble. Velour pads are more breathable and offer a brighter and more airy presentation.

Similar principles apply to the silicone and foam tips of earbuds. Silicone tips have a stronger seal and a richer sound, while foam tips produce a slightly less airy sound.

It is worth checking the forums to see other people’s experiences. Sometimes silicone tips can produce more sibilance then foam ones. Also, changing the tips or earpads can cause a complete change in your headphones’ sound. Hopefully, you will find that the audio quality will be better.

  • Do not use damping in front

We’re entering the modification territory. This is where you can break your headphones or void the warranty. You should consider this the last resort in fixing the sibilance.

As with full-sized speakers there are damping material inside the housing of the headphones. The manufacturer can further shape the sound quality of your headphones by using this material. Foam materials may be placed either in front or behind the driver.

You can modify the foam within the earcup to create a more natural sound. This is the least disruptive way to alter the sound. It is easy to replace the foam and put it back in. Try again to get some advice from the forums. People are already suggesting which materials will achieve the desired effect.

Some modifications may also be made by opening your headphones or changing or adding to the internal structure. You could expose your driver, making it vulnerable. If this is your first time doing something similar, skip this step.

  • Use passive headphone filters

This trick doesn’t work for all headphones, but it does work well with wireless headphones. It involves placing a physical filter between a headphone’s cable, and a source. Each filter is specific to a headphone and there is no universal filter.

Filters employ capacitors to alter the audio signal that is sent into headphones. This equalizes the output. The result is a reduction or elimination of undesirable peaks (including sibilance).

It’s not easy to find one because they’re not mass produced. You can create one yourself if your skills are in circuitry. You will need to order the parts and measurements online in order to create a specific filter. You can also contact someone who is familiar with electronic circuits and order one online.

How to Prevent Sibilance from Getting in Your Recording

It is best to address sibilance before recording begins. You can ruin the final product quality by removing it later. It’s best to be aware of these things:

  • Select the right microphone

Different microphones pick up different voices. A dynamic microphone, as used on stage, has a smaller dynamic range. Condenser mics are better for studio work.

  • Placement of the microphone

Place the microphone away from your mouth when placing it in the studio. You might place the microphone between 12 and 18 inches (30.5 cm to 45.7 cm) from your singer. Sometimes, it is helpful to speak off-axis slightly. This will allow you to direct your voice away from your microphone.

  • Turning on the microphone

Many singers prefer to hold their microphones in a cool way. If you hold your dynamic microphone in an incorrect way, it can decrease the volume of your voice and increase the sibilance.

  • Use chewing gum

The gum should be stuck to the roof of the mouth. By doing this, you can reduce the amount of sibilance produced by your airflow. This method may not work for everyone, however, as it can change the pitch of the overall singer.

How to Remove Sibilance after Recording

If you tried everything and still have some sibilance in your audio mix, you should consider software-based solutions.

First, let’s understand how our ears work. Our ears developed in order to amplify human speech during evolution. This is why large subwoofers are needed to play the bass. Smaller tweeters, on the other hand, consume much less energy and use less power.

Mixing is difficult because sounds can appear loud but are not perceived as such. Sibilance is in the frequency range where the loudness of our ears is increased, so sibilant noise in the waveform can remain hidden. It takes a bit of time to correct your vocal track.

  • Use a fader: This task is the most tedious, since you need to manually reduce every sibilant frequency within the vocal track.
  • De-esser: There are two main types of frequency-selective (Split-Band) and wideband de-essing technologies.  One reduces a frequency in order to eliminate sibilance. While the other uses a wider range, the first is more specific. This produces a non-sibilant sounding audio recording and the vocals can sound dull.

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