As I covered in my tutorial on what is a noise gate, this is a useful tool to use on your vocals to remove background noise. At the same time, we don’t want to HEAR the noise gate doing its job, so here are the best noise gate settings for vocals.
Noise Gate Settings for Vocals
In this example, I’m using the FabFilter Pro-G which can be used as an expander as well as a gate.
Most noise gates have the same basic options for settings, so let’s go through them one by one to identify the best noise gate settings for vocals you should be using.
Threshold – This is the setting which will fluctuate depending on your vocal signal. The threshold on a noise gate for vocals should be set just below the quietest point in a vocal we want to catch.
Generally I find the sweet spot is above ambient room sounds but below breaths, meaning breaths won’t be excluded via the gate.
You might think a gate is a good method for cleaning up breaths in your vocals, but a fade is much more natural sounding.
As such, we want to set the threshold to be lower than the breaths in the vocal.
This should be high enough to still cut out room sounds like the hum of an air conditioner of computer fans.
Attack – The attack on a noise gate determines how quickly the gate opens after the signal crosses the threshold, allowing the sound to come through. We want to set this relatively fast on vocals.
1-3 ms is a relatively quick attack and a suitable setting for a vocal noise gate, opening the gate once the signal exceeds the threshold to allow the audio to be heard.
Hold – The hold setting on a noise gate dictates how long after the signal dips below the threshold that the gate remains open. You can integrate the hold into your settings or ignore it altogether, leaving it at zero, and focusing on the release, instead.
I find that using a bit of hold reduces that chattering or even swelling sound of the gate engaging/disengaging.
Aim for a hold time of 25ms for vocals.
Release – The release setting on a noise gate determines how quickly the gate closes after the hold time has lapsed. Think of it like the time it takes you to close a window. Are you slowly and smoothly pulling that window back down, or are you slamming it in one quick motion? This is a setting you’ll want to experiment with. Setting the release too short means you’ll get abrupt cutoffs of your audio. Setting it too long and you’ll hear the ambient noise crop up.
100ms is a good starting spot noise gate setting for vocals to where you won’t hear the gate shutting back down abruptly while still filtering out the noise quickly enough.
Lookahead – Aim for a lookahead time of 1-3ms. This helps the noise gate preserve the transients in your track.
Floor – Some noise gates have a “floor” setting. The floor is how much of that background, ambient signal you want to come through, even with the noise gate closed. While you might think this defeats the purpose, by working in a bit of the noise, this allows the noise gate to sound more natural overall as opposed to an all or nothing approach to completely removing the noise.
Ratio – Again, the Pro-G can be used as an expander or noise gate. If your noise gate has a ratio, remember that setting it to the max will make it work as such, completely eliminating sound below the threshold.
Unless you get perfect noise gate settings for vocals (which is difficult to do unless you’re meticulously automating it), you’ll want to mix back in a little floor noise.
On busier mixes, you will likely want to set this as low as possible as you won’t need to worry about the noise as much as there will always be other tracks covering it up.
On a sparser mix or in some genres which focus heavily on a vocal and a light accompaniment, you’ll need to work in some more floor, otherwise the difference between the noise gate turning on and off will be too stark.
Noise Gate Settings for Vocals Tips
- A noise gate can be effective in removing background noise from your vocals, but only with the right settings.
- Manually doing fades on breaths sounds more natural than using a gate.
- The best threshold setting for a noise gate for vocals is just above the ambient sound and just below the quietest breaths.
- 1-3ms is the best setting for attack for vocals on a noise gate as this engages the gate very quickly yet naturally after that threshold is met.
- The hold setting on a noise gate determines how long a gate remains fully open after the signal drops below the threshold. Set this around 25ms to reduce the chattering sound of the gate and get a more natural result.
- A release setting of 100ms is a good starting point for an average speed for closing the gate.
- Setting a lookahead of 1-3ms helps preserve the transients of your audio.
- The noise “floor” setting allows you to work in more or less ambient noise even when the gate is closed. This creates a more natural contrast between the two, making the gate more subtle when closed, opening, or closing.
- With busier mixes where there’s always something playing and masking the noise, you can afford to be more aggressive with the noise gate.
- Conversely, on sparser and quieter mixes, the noise gate settings for vocals should be more conservative as you aim for more of a compromise between the noise and your mix.