Surgical face masks and mixing speech
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, audio engineers worldwide have been facing a seemingly banal yet ubiquitous challenge. How to mix a spoken word properly when there is a face mask or a respirator directly in front of the speaker's mouth.
Despite it sounding trivial, after hearing daily news reports from all over the world and following some FAQs, it seems evident that many struggles with this issue. Because of that, we have decided to give you some basic tips on how to deal with this.
Things to keep in mind:
- A surgical mask or a basic face mask is a direct obstacle in front of the sound source.
- It can negatively affect articulation and loudness of one's speech.
- It acts both as a volume pad and a high shelf filter with a negative gain.
- dB reduction and frequencies affected are dependent on the type of material used and the thickness of the face mask.
How to counteract face mask effects:
- If you have some time for preparation, record a snippet of one's voice with and without the mask and use frequency analyzer to compare, what the exact mask does in terms of frequency filtering.
- Give your signal chain a bit of "juice" right from the start. Do not be afraid to drive your preamp gain a tiny bit hotter than usual.
- When selecting processing tools, i.e., compressors, choose those with inherently brighter sound characteristics.
- EQ your way through the face mask! - Do not be afraid to use broader and bolder EQ curves than you usually do.
- This will vary with each speaker. But you may focus specifically on these frequencies: 200-500 Hz for cutting out some of the "mud," 1000-3000 Hz for finding and boosting the articulation point of one's voice, 3000 Hz and higher for inverting the negative high shelf caused by the mask and bringing back some presence. Depending on the particular voice, you can go very far with this last move.
Many of these issues can be easily solved, i.e., with our ToneSpot Voice Pro plug-in. Feel free to try these settings:
If you are the owner of our ToneSpot Voice Express, you may try the included preset called Presence Boost, too. It is located in the Essential preset category.
We sincerely hope that this will help you on your journey in addressing this unprecedented situation.