Is it possible to remove distortion?

We record our sermons on audacity, and one of our sound guys consistently puts the levels up too high, so there is a lot of distortion in the playback. Is there any way to lessen or remove that distortion? And yes, we’re working on training this guy better!

Short answer - No.

Longer answer - you may be able to make some amount of improvement, though the results are generally mediocre at best.

If there is a tiny bit of “clipping” (where the top/bottom of the waveform has been cut off due to hitting 0 dB) then you can use the “Clip Fix” effect that is included in Audacity 1.3.12. If the sound is so badly distorted that the distortion is clearly audible, then it will be too much for Clip Fix to cope with and there will be little if any audible improvement.

Recording too loud causes a type of distortion that produces large amounts of high frequencies - this can be moderated by filtering out high frequencies (either with the Equalizer or with the low-pass filter effect), though this will of course also remove any “brightness” from the recording and make it sound muddy (and the distortion will most likely still be heard).

Unlike recording on analogue media (such as tape), it is not necessary to push the levels as high as possible. A maximum peak level of -6 dB (a waveform that is half the height of the track) is quite adequate as digital recording has a much greater dynamic range than cassette tape (there is no “tape hiss”). The other consideration is (as you are obviously aware, but good information for your sound guy) is that digital audio is totally unforgiving of overloading. Whereas tape will tend to gracefully compress the peaks (unless it is massively overloaded), digital recording just chops the peaks off flat and produces a horrible “digital clipping” rasping sound. The rule of thumb is that for digital recording, too low a level is far far preferable to too high a level.

not unless you have the budget of the cia

fire the guy
those types never learn

I’m not much of a Church goer myself, but I attended a wedding recently in which one of the readings was 1 Corinthians 13:13

you didnt say 1st or 2nd so i show both

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13 (NKJV)

All the saints greet you.
2 Cor 13:13 (NKJV)

not sure how either applies

go by the golden rule
do unto/for others as you would like them to do to/for you

i dont want to hear distorted sound
i want them to stop that guy
so do other people - they dont want their ears assaulted either
i say fire the guy
so he cant harm mine yours or other peoples ears
give him another job to do like selling the cds afterwards

not sure why you responded with that strange reply to my suggestion
did you remember the wrong quote ?

Thank you, I’ve corrected my error.

not sure there was any error
just an omission
neither seemed to fit the situation
i always confuse corinthians with collosians

to elaborate on my previous answer to make it perfectly clear –
if I were screwing up the sound
I would want someone to correct me
if I continued to screw up the sound
I would want to be fired
so that the bad sound did not hurt/bother everyone else

based on that
and applying the golden rule
i say fire the guy who won’t listen and keeps distorting the recording by putting the gain too high

it can be gentle
dont have to hurt his feelings
and certainly you can find another job for someone who is willing

but dont let him keep destroying the value of the recordings

Since the performer is generally paid far more and or have higher stature than the sound guy, the sound guy would go in favor of one that knew how to record live performances. It’s far more difficult than anyone thinks.

Thanks for the replies, guys. I’ve also enjoyed the theological discussion! :sunglasses:

The sound guy is a 16-year-old kid, who’s heart is huge. The other sound guy is my 17-year-old son. He has figured out how to avoid the distortion, so as soon as he is back from his summer job, he will show this guy how to do it. In the meantime I’ll ask him what he’s doing and maybe I can show our sound guy.

He is teachable - so not worried about having to fire him. Besides, his dad is the vice-chairman of our church board. If I fire his son, then my next board meeting will be, shall we say, a bit uncomfortable concerning my job security.

Actually, that’s not true - he’s a great guy and our church board isn’t that petty (Thank God! :smiley: ).

The solution seems to be in avoidance, not in clearing up existing files. That’s life, and we’ll move on.

I do appreciate the feedback, guys!

In my experience this type of distortion comes from a newby sound guy who thinks that running that faders at “2” (out of 10) is OK as long as the meters don’t go into the red. Trouble is, the mic pre-amp is probably overloading.

All faders should be set to their nominal settings (usually 7 out of 10 for a channel fader and 10 out of 10 for a master fader), then the “gain trim” (usually at the top of the channel strip) should be adjusted for nominal readings on the output level meters during the loudest passages.

If the faders are marked in “dB” then they should be set to their “O dB” position.

Hope this helps.

– Bill

You implied he was not teachable. If he really is then just have someone show him what to do. Run some test sessions to be sure he understands it. I would be more worried about him blowing a speaker by turning the phantom on in the wrong sequence than some distortion.

Maybe you all need one of those books on how to do sound for a church that instructs the average guy about what to do. There are more problems lurking.

Unless this is a real job with a megachurch you should not worry or care about what anyone else thinks about the sound. If you do what needs to be done be happy. If they fire you anyway be happier. And if this is a real job then you all need to get your act together before your next check is deposited.

AAmazing. Most churches are rife with petty politics.
As well as many other contradictory characteristics.

Yes. WRT distortion you have to avoid it.
In theory , with enough money, you can take a digital photo that is out of focus and correct it. But you cant take one that is overexposed and fix it. Underexposed - yes to some extent but with a lot of noise. Not sure what the analogs are but I would link clipping to overexposure. Not going to fix it. Distortion to out of focus - fixable in theory but only if you can print money like the feds do.

I didn’t mean to imply the young man wasn’t teachable. Please accept my apology for any confusion.

We are all newbies - started recording just over a year and a half ago. We’re using my laptop connected to our very small and very basic sound board.

We are a small church and don’t have the budget for a newer or bigger sound system. Other than this problem, we’re doing okay for our size.

Thanks for the input!


maybe i inferred instead of your implying.
heart of gold not withstanding, many such folks do the best job of making schlemazzels out of us.

everybody was new once. some people want to learn.
some think they know everything. some want to experiment at the wrong times.

In a year and a half everyone should have figured out how to do the levels.

You dont need a lot of fancy gear. Just know how to use what you have correctly.

Many churches are small these days. Instead of having one every couple of blocks I wish some would merge and get to critical mass to be able to do things better.

We have a basic sound board that was donated by a dj. We use a wireless mike for one input. We output to a recorder in mp3 to ensure we dont run longer than a CD’s 79-80 minute limit.
A snake is permanently in place for the mikes. One for the stage and one for the piano. Ability to add a few more by plugging into the snakehead when needed. Second output to the power amp for sound reinforcemetn (not PA type).

Really not complicated as noted in the previous message.
Know how to power it all on/off correctly and check the settings versus a sheet that shows where everything should be. Then at most tweak one mike gain if someone else is louder/softer than the usual suspects (pastor and pianist).

I seriously suggest you all get a couple of basic books on this and read them.

Paid performers? Don’t know what church you go to. A few megachurches may pay, but most everything I have seen is free all around , sometimes even the pastor. National cathedral in DC has a paid choir. Most in the burbs are lucky to have a free choir. Many have none.

Yes and no. Live sound can be difficult for something like a Gloria Estefan tour set up with monitors, wireless mikes, multiple mikes, compression, eq, f/x, lighting, yada yada. But in a fixed setting like a church it is usually possible to set it up so that it is not that hard for basic audio. Mega churches with the full audio video lighting etc are more like a touring company.

We use a couple of volounteers. All they have to do is get the power on without blowing out the speakers. Check the faders and knobs to make sure the Koreans renting space didn’t change them the night before. Then just turn on the recorder. Optionally they may need to plug in another mike to the snakehead if there is a soloist. The asst pastor’s wife does it often and she is a nurse not an audio whiz.

<<<Paid performers? Don’t know what church you go to.>>>

“Or have higher stature…” Don’t cherry pick.

“Simple audio recordings” are usually nothing of the sort. Without basic audio chops, all sorts of things can go wrong. We will be walking into a training session this afternoon with a presenter, camcorder and a display monitor. This will be the third time someone has tried to record a simple lecture and we hope third time’s a charm. The first two capture sessions have been disasters for one reason or another – in one case, nobody could hear the presenter. That’s when they called me.

This is harder than it looks, particularly is nobody on the “crew” has any technical background.

Someone pointed me to a ministry presentation from, I think the Bahamas, and the whole hour was in clipping distortion. It was, in fact, better than nothing.


That’s the general idea :wink:

In case you missed it amongst the sudden flurry of posts, the post by billw58 has some very good practical tips. All but the very smallest mixer boards have a “gain” (sometimes called a “trim”) control, which is usually very close to where the microphones plug in. They then have a “fader” for controlling the output level for that sound channel - on mid-size and large mixer boards this is usually a slide fader, but on some small mixers it can be another rotary control. Getting the “Gain” level right is important as if the sound distorts at the begining of the signal chain it will be distorted all the way through to the final recording. If the gain is a lot too low, then the volume level on everything else will be pushed up to the max and you will struggle to get a strong enough signal out. When setting levels, start with everything at minimum (avoids blowing the speakers) then work from the source (the microphones) along the signal chain to the output, setting the levels carefully at each step.

can KIAs screw up - sure all the time
can naive people not see the pitfalls - of course
are bad recordings the norm with noobs - you betcha

but is basic recording that hard? absolutely not

are people idiots AND never RTFM - world is full of them

do big shows need a professional crew - absolutely
do little churches need more than a willing volounteer - nope
– not if he is willing to listen and learn and perhaps read a basic book

YMMV but that is my experience

and too low may be noisy. but choose some noise over distortion.
you can clean up noise somewhat. you cant really fix distortion.

I must respectfully disagree. No recording with clipping distortion is better than nothing. I would absolutely refuse to listen to it, even if getting paid to master it I would send it back with their check and just say no way.

My one exception would be for certain recordings that are about 2010 years old +5/- 15 years. For that I would make the effort to listen and capture a transcription.

Most teleprechears have decent audio. The ones that dont record themselves and often broadcast on some shortwave radio station.
Most commercial stations wont allow such bad programming even if paid.

Not on our cable anymore but there is one in the LA/Pasadena area that features 12-15 performers that has excellent audio. All using SM58s for each singer, drums, guitar, bongos, electric keyboard, and piano.

Not exactly what I was saying. Hopefully there is a “monitor” level control that controls the level sent to the speakers. By all means set it to minimum. Also set the trim control to minimum. But you need the channel and master faders at nominal positions in order to see when you’ve got the trim level right. Watch the meters and slowly turn up the trim control with someone speaking loudly. Then you can turn up the monitor control to set the loudness in the room.

Some mixers have a pre-fader clip light on each channel. You can use that to set the trim, but it can involve a bit of guesswork in determining how far to turn down the trim control after the clip light lights up.

But it seems the OP is not using a sound system, simply recording the proceedings - no speakers or eardrums to blow.

– Bill