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How To Use A Noise Gate? – The Best Applications!

Do you know that this is a very important tool in the audio recording world? As an aspiring audio engineer or music producer, merely understanding its various parameters and controls is just not enough. You need to learn more about how this device (or software) is applied in the audio industry. Hence, the vital question for today is – How to use a Noise Gate?

Today in this article, we will go through the various applications of the noise gate. Understand the recording processes that this audio tool is often involved in. Find out how the noise gate is used not only for technical audio engineering purposes, but also for creative output. Are you ready to continue learning? Of course you are! Then, let’s go!

The topics we will be covering today are:

  • Sound isolation
  • Creative applications
  • Live Sound

Sound Isolation

Drum Recording

Photo by Roadside Guitars / CC BY-SA 2.0

You will often see noise gates being employed during multi-track recording sessions. They have the primary function of minimising sound leakage from other sources into a microphone, other than the one the microphone was intended for. One prevalent example would be the miking up of a drum-kit.

It is common practice during multi-mic drum recordings, to have one microphone positioned to capture the snare drum sound and another to capture the kick drum sound. The signal produced by the snare’s mic, will consist of a louder snare signal, together with a softer kick drum signal (as a result of the kick drum, being further away from the snare’s microphone).

Here is where the noise gate comes into play. If the noise gate’s threshold level is set accurately, the snare drum’s signal can be isolated (no more soft kick drum signal). However, the release rate has to be very quick, in order to fully isolate the snare drum signal. This often results in the tail end of the snare sound to be ‘chopped off’.

Often times, this “chopped off” effect is not desirable in conventional multi-track productions. Hence, this issue is usually remedied by incorporating one or more (typically two) overhead microphones. The overheads are used to record the drum’s overall sound, thus acting as a general “audio glue” for all the other gated sources.

Live Recordings

Live Recording

Photo by Emmanuel L. Hernández / CC BY-SA 3.0

Noise gates are also utilised during a live recording’s editing process, as audio engineers find it very effective in removing background noise that is typically present between passages or pieces of dialogue. Engineers must often be very careful when setting the gates, as it should not be triggered by spurious noises such as when people are moving chairs.

There are instances where an optical microphone switch is used for vocal applications on stage. If somebody is standing closely in front of the microphone, an infra-red sensor will be triggered and the microphone will be switched on.

Creative Applications

Noise gates can be creatively used in music production. An example would be the “time-controlled” noise gating used on Phil Collins hit single “In the Air Tonight”. The well-known “gated reverb” effect heard on the drums, was created by Hugh Padgham (producer), in which the intense reverberation added to the drums does not decay naturally as it is cut off by the noise gate after a few milliseconds.

The same effect can be achieved by inserting a noise gate in between the path where the dry snare signal is sent to the reverb effects unit, and having the snare sound to be routed to the side chain of the gate unit. By setting the external side chain to be active on the gate unit, the gate will ‘cut off’ the dry snare signal when it has dropped below the threshold, and the reverb sound is left untouched.

Multi-latch Gating

David Bowie

David Bowie

Multi-latch gating is a technique invented by Jay Hodgson, and is very commonly used in classical music recordings for a long time. Producer Tony Visconti is often credited for using this technique on David Bowie’s “Heroes”. Bowie’s vocal performance was recorded in a large space, with three microphones placed 9 inches (23 cm), 20 feet (6.1 m), and 50 feet (15.2 m) away, respectively.

Each of the three microphones is applied with a different noise gate, so that the farther microphone was triggered only when Bowie reached the appropriate volume (due to the respective noise gate’s threshold setting), and each microphone was muted as the next one was triggered.

“Bowie’s performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard….The more Bowie shouts to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti’s multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks [dry audio being perceived as front and ambience pushing audio back in the mix]…” (quoted from Understanding Records by Jay Hodgson).

Trance Gating

Originally called envelope following, trance gating became prevalent in trance music (hence the name trance). It involves a gate being applied on a track additional to the one it is affecting, producing an amplitude profile (in the additional track) that closely follows the first track. Envelope following is useful in tightening sloppy performances and to create syncopated rhythms.

An example would be a synth pad that is playing whole notes, but is simultaneously keyed to a guitar or percussion part. To have a better idea of this technique, check out DJ Nexus’s “Journey Into Trance” (1:11), Le Chic’s “Everybody Dance”, and Diana Ross’s “Upside Down”.

Live Sound

Live Sound Drum Miking

Photo by Rodrigo Della Fávera / CC BY 2.0

In live concerts, noise gates are central in the drum miking process, especially for heavy metal shows. Individual drum and cymbal microphone channels will usually have noise gates applied to them, so that the signal will only come through when the affected drum or cymbal is being played. This greatly minimises “bleeding” between the drum mics.

We have come to the end of this article. Did you guys learn something valuable today? Well, I hope that all of you will now be able to effectively use noise gates in your productions!

Don’t forget to leave comments or questions below, and share this article with your friends!

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Farhan

When I'm not rocking out to great music, I'd prefer to be sleeping on a field on a windy day =)

10 Comments

  1. I’m just beginning to research ways to make better recordings of my music. I’ve come a long way since recording my piano recital rehearsals on my KMart $24 cassette recorder when I was a teenager (LOL!) – but I still need a great deal of help making my recordings sound more professional. Thanks so much for all the valuable information. Do you think noise gates are something a do-it-yourself-er should be using, or is this too advanced? I’m not sure if I should check more into noise gates or if that’s more for bands, live performances, etc.

    • Hi Debra!

      It is really cool to hear that you come from an era where cassette recorders were still actively used. Talk to enough young teenage musicians and engineers today, and you will come to realise that they have no clue of what analog recording is all about!

      As for using noise gates, it really depends on how much time you are willing to invest into learning about music production. Do you notice any problems with your current recordings, that you think might need a noise gate in order to fix? If no, then don’t stress about it too much.

      Using noise gates properly and effectively, does require some degree of experience and training. However, if you aspire to be a professional audio engineer, mixing and editing all kinds of music (both live and in the studio), then you definitely must learn to use a noise gate!

      Thanks a lot, and all the best!

  2. I love reading your blog because each time I do I learn more and more about the world of audio recording. I had no idea that so much went into it.

    I especially like the bit you included about the invention of multi-latch gating and how David Bowie’s producer was instrumental in bringing that technique into the limelight.

    • Hi Alec!

      There is just so much to learn about the world of audio/music production, and it is truly a life-long educational journey for me. I’m happy to know that you enjoyed reading this article, and I look forward to producing much more quality content in the future. So please do come back again!

      Thanks a bunch!

  3. such an informative article on audio education, music is such a powerful tool for the performer and the listener, music is a very important part of my everyday life. Not only because I enjoy music so much, but because I use it for therapy to maintain my mood. I never realized how complicated producing high quality music was until reading your article today, this article is a eye opener for me how much preparation must be taken in choosing the right audio equipment from a high quality really is.

    • Hey there!

      Yeah, all the many aspects of audio engineering used to give me massive headaches in the past. Heck, even now they still do! But only until you have a decent grasp of how the various audio tools work, can you then produce high quality audio/music projects.

      It brings me great joy, to know that you got something out of this article. Hopefully, the other content that are available on my site would inspire you as well. Thanks a lot for dropping by!

      Cheers!

  4. It’s surprising at times just how much technology is used when dealing with recording and live music that you are just not aware of that we just take for granted. You usually think you have your singing mics, instruments, and you simply sing and play.

    The amount of quality equipment and how it is used opens up a whole new world of technology and knowledge required to maximize what you hear.

    Excellent article to bring to light methods I was not even aware where performed.

    • Hello Travis!

      Glad to hear that you liked the article. I try my best to make inherently mundane and technical subjects, to be fun and more light-hearted.

      Cheers =)

  5. Hello, So I currently record music at home on my own computer with somewhat basic tools. I was curious though, what products you recommend. And are there any microphones that you have that you would recommend. I also produce music, but I don’t know much about the technology used for recording and you seem pretty savvy on this subject. Just wondering what you think I should use, I see you have a few different microphones on your products list but I’m not sure which would be best for mainly recording at home, not like a live recording.

    • Hi Nicholas!

      Thanks for dropping by. All of the microphones that I have reviewed are suitable for home recording. Yes. some of them like the SM58 and e609 are more popular for live use, however that does not mean that they can’t be used in a home studio. What do you normally record for your projects? If you are focusing more on vocal recordings, then the AKG C214 is ideal. You can also use it for acoustic guitar or drum overheads.

      I would also recommend the MD421 dynamic microphone for electric bass and electric guitar recordings. I think it gives you a punchy mid-range sound that I prefer, especially when recording electric guitars. You can also use it to record drums or other percussive instruments.

      The two microphones I just mentioned are my strong recommendations for a home studio production. Hope that helps!

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