What level of background noise is acceptable in a recording?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Monday March 3, 2014

An Audio Masterclass student lives close to a busy road. Is it acceptable to have background noise in his recordings?

Here is a question from a new Audio Masterclass student regarding their first recording assignment...

I live in an apartment on a main city street and have noisy neighbours. What is the acceptable level of background noise for the first module's assignment? Every recording has a car on it!

This is an interesting question. Professionally the answer is that the acceptable level of noise is none that is audible. You should be able to raise the listening level 6 dB above what is comfortable and hear hardly any noise at all. This is the standard that would be required, for example, for an audio book.

However, we accept that a lot of media is created that is capable of commercial exploitation, on YouTube for instance, where there is a significant noise level. The standard required is a little more subjective, but you should consider whether someone viewing a YouTube video would be irritated by the noise. This links to the content. It wouldn't matter if a 'funny cat' video had quite a lot of noise. If however a manufacturing company made their own widget demonstration video, then the irritation of the noise is competing for the viewer's attention against their potential interest in the product.

If you aspire to be a professional producer or engineer then you will be competing for work with people who are able to record with a completely silent background. For work such as voice over or foley effects, this is an absolutely essential requirement. For classical music recording it is very important, although you might consider http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingsway_Hall, specifically the section titled 'Recording at Kingsway Hall 1926-1984'.

Rock music is considerably more forgiving as the instruments are loud and vocals can be very close-miked. It is likely that the outgoing noise will be more of a problem than the incoming.

With electronic music, there is no problem at all with acoustic background noise, other than it may be a distraction for the engineer who needs to listen closely to the sound coming from the monitors.

When we listen to your work here at Audio Masterclass, we will be able to give you an indication of where you stand with regard to the above. However we would ask you to consider what lengths you would go to if this were the one piece of work that might secure your place, or your continuing career, in the audio industry. Recording at dead of night in between passing cars wouldn't be too far a step to take.

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

Come on the Audio Masterclass Pro Home Studio MiniCourse - 60 great hints and tips to get your home recording studio MOVING

It's FREE!

Get It Now >>

An interesting microphone setup for violinist Nigel Kennedy

Are you compressing too much? Here's how to tell...

If setting the gain correctly is so important, why don't mic preamplifiers have meters?

The Internet goes analogue!

How to choose an audio interface

Audio left-right test. Does it matter?

Electric guitar - compress before the amp, or after?

What is comb filtering? What does it sound like?

NEW: Audio crossfades come to Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9!

What is the difference between EQ and filters? *With Audio*

What difference will a preamp make to your recording?

Watch our video on linear phase filters and frequency response with the FabFilter Pro Q 2

Read our post on linear phase filters and frequency response with the Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Harmonic distortion with the Soundtoys Decapitator

What's the best height for studio monitors? Answer - Not too low!

What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

Will floating point change the way we record?

Mixing: What is the 'Pedalboard Exception'?

The difference between mic level and line level

The problem with parallel compression that you didn't know you had. What it sounds like and how to fix it.

Compressing a snare drum to even out the level

What does parallel compression on vocals sound like?

How to automate tracks that have parallel compression

Why mono is better than stereo for recording vocals and dialogue