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How to Avoid Audio Clipping When Recording Dynamic Vocals

by Arthur Kody, iZotope Contributor April 15, 2021
4 Tips for Vocal Recording on Your Phone

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As a vocalist, you’ve got enough to worry about during a recording session without having to stress about the technical aspects. One of the most frustrating technical problems I run into when recording vocals is audio clipping. In this article, I’m going to teach you about what causes audio clipping and give you some tricks on how to record vocals without clipping using the Spire app for iOS

What is audio clipping?

When recording vocals, audio clipping can occur when you push your audio signal past what your recording device can handle. To get technical, a signal above 0 dBFS in your recording software will be discarded, clipping off the top of the waveform. This can happen if your microphone is turned up too high for the vocal you’re recording, and it ends up adding unwanted distortion to your audio. 

Here is an example of what a vocal sounds like when it’s clipping:

Audio Clipping Example

Sure, you could use the distortion caused by clipping as a creative effect, but this is typically done in the mixing phase of a track. It’s always a good rule of thumb to record a crisp, clean vocal first, then add distortion later with plug-ins in a digital workstation like Trash 2.

How to record vocals without audio clipping

You can easily tell if your audio is clipping by checking the volume meter in the Spire app while performing. If it turns red at any point, this indicates some clipping occurred. 

The red volume meter on the left hand side of the track indicates digital audio clipping
The red volume meter on the left hand side of the track indicates digital audio clipping

In order to make sure this doesn’t happen, it helps to run a Soundcheck before you begin recording. In the Spire app, simply tap “Soundcheck” and then perform the loudest vocal from your track. Soundcheck automatically sets your levels and sculpts your tone after detecting your voice, preventing any clipping from happening during your actual recording. This feature honestly saves so much time and energy!

PRO TIP: Spire Pro members get access to Soundcheck Pro, achieving crisp, consistent vocals for pro mic clarity. By listening to your voice and environment, it applies personalized processing to make sure your voice sounds clear and polished, no matter where you record. Start your free three-day trial to try it out! 

Use Soundcheck in the Spire app before recording to avoid clipping
Use Soundcheck in the Spire app before recording to avoid clipping

If you’re like me, your energy during soundcheck might be a little less than when you’re actually laying down your vocals. Because of this, I find it best to perform your soundcheck vocal slightly louder than you think you will during recording. This allows for a little more headroom for your vocal in case you get lost in the music and end up belting out a phrase a bit louder than expected. But, if you find yourself still clipping after you fully get in the groove of recording, just use Soundcheck again and the Spire app will reset your recording levels automatically.

Recording dynamic vocals using the Spire app

What if you need to deliver a very dynamic vocal performance for your track, starting off quiet and building to a loud crescendo for the chorus? You don’t want to clip on the loud parts, but if you’re recording quieter vocals with the microphone sensitivity very low, this can cause the noise floor (all of the sound that gets added by your recording equipment) to be much higher in relation to your vocal.

The Spire app will set your levels automatically to avoid clipping during Soundcheck
The Spire app will set your levels automatically to avoid clipping during Soundcheck

If my vocal for a track is going to be pretty dynamic in volume, I typically like to run multiple soundchecks throughout my recording session. Here’s my step-by-step process: 

  1. First, I’ll use Soundcheck for my quieter parts and then record all of the vocals I need at that volume. 

  2. Then, I’ll use Soundcheck again before recording the louder phrases. This prevents audio clipping, but also makes sure the vocals get recorded at maximum volume throughout the track. 

  3. Next, I’ll take a listen to the tracks and re-record as necessary to get the best vocal takes. 

Here’s what the final take sounds like: 

Vocal Example without Audio Clipping

Put an end to audio clipping

If you want to get great-sounding, dynamic vocals that won’t clip, download the free Spire app and test out the Soundcheck feature for yourself. It’s sure to save you time, energy, and a whole lot of frustration!

BONUS: Spire Pro members get some additional processing to help clean up their recordings. This processing includes automatic noise removal, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re still facing problems with the noise floor. Sign up for your free three-day trial of Spire Pro to try it out.

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