Gating for Podcasts

Riley Byrne, Owner, Podigy.co

02 November 2017

Gates serve a very specific purpose, and in the context of podcasting I often find that gates are unnecessary and can even be detrimental to the final product. Gates essentially only allow audio to pass through it if the incoming volume is above a predetermined threshold. For podcasting, the most obvious use is to mute tracks of people when they aren’t talking, reducing our room tone.

The way a gate works is very simple, and shares many characteristics with a compressor. We have a threshold that a signal must cross in order to open the gate and let audio through, as well as Attack and Release times, that determine how long it takes the gate to open once the audio crosses the threshold and close once it falls underneath, respectively. If you’re using Reaper, and are following along with our guides, you’ll also notice that ReaGate has a Pre-open slider, which will look ahead in the audio and open the gate before the audio crosses the threshold by the number of milliseconds specified. This is useful for speakers because oftentimes the beginnings of words are cut off by gates. Think of the word “threshold”. The “th” sound at the beginning is very quiet, and so running it through an improperly set gate may make it sound more like “reshold”. However, by setting a pre-open setting of a few milliseconds, you can ensure the gate opens for all of the beginnings of words. Similarly, the Hold function keeps the gate open after the audio has gone below the threshold for a certain amount of time to ensure the ends of words are not cut off by the gate.

Finally, on ReaGate there is a function called Hysteresis. In mathematics, hysteresis basically describes how the previous state of something can affect its current state. For example, two magnets that are pulled apart from each other may still be attracted to each other when they are an inch apart, but those same magnets may not attracted to each other at an inch apart if they started two inches apart. The same distance apart, but with different outcomes.

Hysteresis in gates work the same way. When you set a hysteresis level, you essentially set a “gate open” level and the threshold becomes a “gate close” level. This means that audio would have to cross the hysteresis level to open the gate, but it would remain open until it cross below the threshold setting, whereas audio that is above the threshold level but below hysteresis level would not open the gate at all.

This is a little confusing, but let’s think about it in terms of podcasters. I’ve worked on dozens of podcasts where the guest tends to get quieter the longer they talk, almost as if they are running out of steam. For this example let’s say someone starts off full of gusto and when they talk it averages around -6 dB, but by the end of their statement, their audio is around -20 dB. With a conventional gate, setting a threshold of -10 dB would mean that everything below -10 dB would be cut off by the gate, and we would lose half of our guest’s statement. But by setting a hysteresis level of -10 dB, and a threshold level of -21 dB, the whole statement would pass through the gate. The audio started off loud enough to open the gate by passing the hysteresis level of -10 dB, and stayed above the threshold level of -21 dB through the whole statement. However, if he started his speech at -12 dB, the gate wouldn’t open at all and none of the audio would be let through, even though the volume is above the “gate closed” threshold level. The same level of audio, but with different outcomes. Hysteresis: confusing but useful.

This all being said, I am not the biggest fan of gates in podcasts. The reason being that with the way podcasts are recorded (pretty poorly, all things considered),the signal to noise ratio is usually not wide enough to make effective use of gates. For instance, if a guest starts off talking close to the mic and then as the podcast goes on gets farther and farther away, all of a sudden the gate you initially set up is no longer working as effectively, because the volume changed. Moreover, a gate is not going to do much for bumps or other noises that typically need to be edited out. This is why in our Podcast Editing Guide we set up so many time saving techniques for editing out room tone completely. It takes more time overall, but at least you know that once you make an edit, it’ll stay edited. However, if you change up a setting midway through on your gate, there’s no way to know if it’ll work for everything you already edited without going back through a second time.

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