Most engineers know that vocalists love to eat the microphone. So, to keep the level under control he grabs his handy-dandy compressor/limiter to smooth it out. Unfortunately this creates an expansion problem. The limiter works on the lower tonality of the voice and with the gain so high the sibilance is now boosted to a level that overdrives equipment. This does not sound natural. To keep the vocal under control, a high quality de-esser is needed in the recording chain (while recording the vocal) with the use of the compressor/limiter.
Originally when a vocal was recorded to analog tape, the sibilance would distort the tape. Now with digital recording the problem has NOT gone away. It sounds like all the equipment in the chain is distorting.
High-end preamps will also help in reducing this problem. Remember you’re as good as the weakest link in the chain. Cheap boards and Ad converters do not help the cause.
George Graves is a mastering engineer at the Lacquer Channel in Toronto, ON.