The advancement of recording technology and of the Internet have both made it much easier for people to create high-quality media in the comfort of their own homes; without the need to rent out studio time or to have massive amounts of financial backing from those in the industry. The rise of self-made musicians on platforms like SoundCloud is perhaps the biggest success story of this principle in action in modern times. Now, people are able to pool together relatively small amounts of money to produce videos and songs of comparable quality to those of professional media companies.

People do everything from recording their own musical talents to making their own electronic music from scratch using a typical recording device, a laptop, and a playback device. What separates the beginner from the expert is the ability to make sure their raw, original sounds are as uncolored as possible. Uncolored sound also goes by the name of transparent sound, or in more scientific jargon, as the most accurate reproduction of tonal qualities as possible.

But what exactly is sound coloration?

Simply Put: What Sound Color Is

No technology is perfect. To those who haven’t put much thought into it, recording a song may seem as simple as going to a recording studio, doing your thing without error, and then going home and waiting for the royalty money to start flowing in. This is not the case. Achieving the desired final sound requires a lot of mixing in the recording studio after the musicians have finished playing.

The colored sound is the sound that has been distorted or altered in some way from the original source audio. Audio equipment essentially converts the sonic frequencies responsible for sound, and turns them into electronic signals that can then be replayed on other devices. The authenticity of this conversion can vary significantly in the final recording, depending on the quality of the equipment used. There may be some frequencies that were picked up too heavily, some frequencies that weren’t recorded properly at all due to limitations of the device, or vibrations from the device picking up the sound may have added unwanted extra sounds or “color” to the audio.

How Sound Gets “Colored”

There are two pieces of equipment that color audio - microphones and loudspeakers.

If you’ve ever seen a professional microphone setup, you might have noticed the little screen placed in front of the microphone. This is to reduce one form of sound coloring. These are called pop screens and eliminate the coloring effect that fast moving air from the singer’s mouth may have on the recorded audio. Fast moving air affects the sensitive equipment inside the microphone, adding an unwanted dimension to the sound. That’s just one example of how microphones can color sound even with high-quality microphones. Lower quality of microphones may simply just not be as good at picking up certain audio frequencies compared to the high-quality ones.

Speakers are the next point of sound coloring. Think about home recording equipment from even five years ago, such as handheld cameras. The audio wasn’t very crisp. There might be static or fuzziness. People don’t sound like how they do in real life. However, the same recording played on the camera may sound slightly better on a home computer. This is sound coloring at work. Different speakers have different capabilities with regards to audio playback, and as such, they all color sound differently from each other.

How Is Sound Coloring Corrected?

To make audio that sounds as close to what the creator intended across as wide an array of devices as possible, those who create media choose to purchase high-quality microphones during the recording process. They employ what are known as studio monitors during the sound mixing process to alter what the microphone picked up, making them closer to their end goal. One particular studio monitor is coming out ahead of the pack - Musician Concepts - KRK Rokit has a good breakdown as to what the KRK Rokit is doing for semi-pro audio professionals. A proper studio monitor allows sound engineers to hear the most accurate reproduction of the recorded sound, which can then be adjusted to suit the needs of the media being produced. For instance, in television, they are employed to make non-essential sounds quieter while making those who are talking more audible.

Sound coloring to some degree is 100% inevitable; technology isn’t perfect. However, the industry has perfected ways over time to make sounds as crisp and genuine as possible.

Published by Joseph Nicholls