The Rapid Elearning Blog

Good audio is critical to your elearning success.  You might be a great instructional designer and create the most engaging courses possible.  But it all falls apart if the audio quality in your course is not very good.

In an earlier post we looked at when it makes sense to consider paying for professional narration.  If you have the money, this is a viable option.  However, many of you are like Old Mother Hubbard and your cupboard is bare.  If you do have a limited budget (or you want to do the narration yourself) then here are some tips to help you do the best job possible.

Today we’ll look at the microphone and recording environment.  And in a follow up post, we’ll explore ways to get the best sounding narration.

1.  Invest in a good quality microphone

When it comes to microphones, you typically get what you pay for.  A good mic is going to give you good audio quality.  This isn’t to say that you can’t make do with an inexpensive microphone.  I’ve worked for plenty of organizations that had no money and forced me to buy my microphones at an unnamed electrical store.  For the most part, they worked fine, especially if you follow some of the tips below.

But the truth is that when you compare the acceptable low-quality audio with similar narration recorded with a better microphone, there is a noticeable difference.  The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot to get a decent microphone for recording narration.  I’ve had success with a Plantronics headset and my Samson desktop mic.  I think the Blue Snowball mic looks cool and it has also gotten very good reviews from those I know who use it.

Personally, I prefer a desktop mic because it gives me more control over the audio quality.  Plus, I find it kind of gross sharing a headset mic if I have to record someone else.  But that’s just me.  Some of you grew up in the 60’s and probably don’t mind sharing mics. :)

mics

When choosing a microphone, your best bet is to go with a unidirectional mic.  It records sound from one direction.  This is great for recording narration because it only picks up the sound coming from the narrator, so you won’t get a lot of the ambient noise.

I just recently purchased the Samson Go Mic (in the picture below).  I love it.  The audio quality is great.  It only costs about $50 and it had a three way recording switch so I can record omni- or uni-directional.  It’s definitely worth the price.

Samson Go Mic

Here’s a test I did of the Go Mic.  And here are a couple of demos that show the difference between a headset and desktop mic.

2.  Maintain a consistent environment.

In an ideal world, you have a recording studio where you can control all of the sound.  But since it’s hard to get your boss to fork over $5 for a stock image, you might not convince him to provide the money for a recording studio.  In that case, you’re going to have to get creative when you record.

The more you control the recording environment the better quality audio you can record.  One key is to develop a consistent routine for recording.  It never fails that you’ll have to do retakes at a different time.  By maintaining a consistent environment and procedures you’re better able to match the audio quality.

  • Try to use the same room and maintain the same settings on your computer and the microphone set up.
  • If you’re using a desktop microphone, use a mic stand and measure the recording distance so that the next time you record you have the same set up.
  • Use a screen to help prevent the popping p’s that plague so many amateur recording sessions.  You can even make your own in no time and little cost.

screen

3.  Get rid of as much of the ambient noise as you can

Unless you’re a member of Quiet Riot, you want to get rid of the noise.  There’s very rarely a time when there is complete silence.  This will be very apparent as you listen to your recording and start pick up all sorts of noise.  In fact, there are some organizations that actually pipe in “white noise” to make it easier to concentrate and be less distracted by surrounding conversations.

In either case, you want to get rid of the noise you have control over.

  • Unplug office machines.  Turn off fans and air conditioners.
  • Place your microphone away from your computer.  You might not realize it, but your computer makes a lot of fan noise (not cheers as in celebration of you, but the actual fan that keeps the PC cooled).

oldguy

  • Tell everyone around you to be quiet.  Put signs on the door.  Hire an airplane with one of those banners to fly by your office telling people to keep it down.  Do whatever you have to do to get rid of the noise.  If that doesn’t work, consider the Hume technique.  It’s based on actor Theodore Hume’s approach to quieting the recording environment.  It’s a subtle, yet effective approach.  It definitely gets the point across.

4.  Dampen the sound

In a recording studio, the walls are designed to absorb the sound waves.  You can do something similar.  In addition to sucking the life from your bones, cubicle walls are designed to absorb sound.  In fact, I’m generally pleased with my audio recordings and I just record it in my home office which has a small cubicle set up.

We once converted a storage closet into a makeshift recording room.  We placed rails on the walls and hung some blankets from them.  This also came in handy in case we were stuck in the building overnight.

I also know some people that built a portable studio using a PVC pip frame and curtains.  They could quickly assemble the frame and then hung the curtains to it using shower curtain rings.

sound booth

Another trick is to make a portable sound booth like the image above.  Of course, you could always buy a Porta-Booth if you’re not comfortable with your knife handling skills.

Keep in mind, you’re building rapid elearning courses and not producing sound for a Hollywood production so you don’t need to be an audio expert.  But you should learn a enough about audio and how to record to do a good job.  This blog post is a good start, but it’s just the beginning.

Next week week we’ll look at how to do your own narration.  In the mean time, what are some other tips about microphones and the recording environment?  Also, what books or other resources would you recommend for those who wanted to learn more?  Feel free to share them by clicking on the comments link.


Tidbits:

  • I’m at the ASTD 2009 International Conference & Exposition this week.  If you happen to be at the conference, swing by the booth and say hello.  I’ll be doing some demos and can help you with some of those nagging rapid elearning challenges.
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146 responses to “4 Simple Tips for Recording High-Quality Audio”

A book I find very useful is:
The Voice Actor’s Guide to Home Recording
Jeffrey P. Fisher and Harlan Hogan
C2005 by Thomson Course technology PTR
ISBN: 1-93114-043-X

It has extensive guidance on mics, amplifiers, environment, technique, etc.

Jim

June 2nd, 2009

Great advice!
Opening one or two cardboard A4 files behind the PC, so that you have mic, PC, folders going backwards reduces echo too.
I reduce “popping” by turning my head away from the mic to the right, and then speaking the “P” word out of the left-hand side of my mouth. Looks strange, but very effective for me.
Bruce

I recorded voice overs for the first time last week using a headset microphone and while it was a good quality headset the recording varied over time due to different microphone positioning.

When researching the best microphones – I kept coming across the Samson and Blue Snowball mics you mentioned in your post. I think I will end up going with the snowball for it’s awesome looks :)

In my research I came across a post by @retrogrrl “Audio Recording Tips” that I highly recommend.

Thanks Tom, look forward to the next post!

I had a bit of budget and invested in a reflexion filter
http://www.seelectronics.com/rf.html

About £160 did a great job recording teachers in a weird building.
Hooked it to an old drum stand of my kids but it worked OK on the desktop as well

Great post Tom! Thank you.
Laughed till I cried over the 60′s, mic sharing comment.
For you younger kids, you had to be there… ;]
Thanks for making my morning a little lighter!

I run Win XP and have had nothing but trouble with the Samson USB mic’s. The recording volume is way too low and they pick up alot of white noise. Recently we’ve had excellent success with the SHURE SM58 ($90) and an M-Audio Profire 610 audio interface.

My question for Tom or anyone else is in reference to the portable sound booth picture, any tips on how to keep an 8 page script in front of you while your face is planted in a foam box? We’ve been using something similar, but I find it extremely exhausting for the arms to hold up a script around a foam box for sometimes hours. Just curious if anyone has found a solution????

I have a snowflake microphone and it’s very nice. Heavier than I would’ve thought. It does require a sound box or something similar or else you sound echoey.

Our audio recordings sound great UNTIL we publish the file in Articulate. Does anyone know how to use audio files with Articulate so they don’t sound like you’re talking in a tin can when published???

June 2nd, 2009

I would always recommend you go for the best mic you can afford, a good mic will reject more background and have less self noise.
In the reasonable bracket the Rode Podcaster is very good for its price and compares well to audio technica units I have at twice the cost. If you going to be doing it all the time Neumann are the best mics available today, they save me lots of time cleaning up audio.
If you want consistent level try using a pop shield as you can position yourself against it more easily than trying to figure out where you were last recording.
If you really need consistent audio something like Adobe Soundbooth lets you set items at the same perceived volume which can be useful if you record one item in multiple sessions.

Thanks for the article. I am using our trainig storage closet and my laptops built in mic (Sony Vaio). I have been very satisfied with the results. I might try to build a small sound both to see if that makes a difference. I have had to insert corrections on a couple of recordings and I can really relate to the “consistent approach” recommendation. You can barely tell the difference from the original and the insert. Thanks again.

Great Tips! I am using a $15 headset that actually does a good job as long as I keep the settings consistent like you mentioned. However, like Bruce I have to tilt my head a little to avoid the popping P’s. If I don’t speak straight into the Mic it works just fine but this post has inspired me to look into some higher end mics.

Thanks for the post Tom. I’ve been using a digital recording device called the Zoom H2 and getting great results. The Zoom H2 has some amazing features for working with all kinds of recordings, and I’ve found it to be particularly great working with Articulate. It is a digital recorder that can be preset to record in a variety of .wav and .mp3 formats for those of us who like to pre-record and import narration and soundtracks. But it also serves as a fine USB microphone that does a splendid job of live recording. And it has some great bonus features: it comes with a windscreen, mic stand adapter and cables, it can record in 4-track surround sound, and for those musicians among us, it is a guitar tuner and metronome as well. I highly recommend it and it comes in at around $150.

I recently bought a mic and recording software from Andrea electronics and an extremely pleased at the quality and cost. Andrea has designed their mic for voice-recognition and it is very good. The software allows user configuration as far as sampling and quality. Some other folks at my company were using large, clumsy and much more expensive “studio” equipment with no better results.

Very cool article!

I recommend the new Snowflake by Blue to use in the Port-a-booth or self made “box”. The lower design fits nicely inside.

The best quality for educational narratives are clear, engaging/sincere and with no distrations of poor quality. So, it may be also important to highlight the need for hydration and mouth health to reduce that sticky mouth noise that really can distract the listener in a gross way. Sticky mouth? Clean it with the bite of a green apple.

Also…excellent posture and breath support helps to maintain a steady volume so learners don’t have to strain to hear the end of a sentence because the narrator ran out of breath..

plosives/overaspiration (popping p’s & b’s) – These can be reduced by SMILING to stretch the mouth while speaking. Also, many people use like to emphasize words with more air to send a stronger message…and it is a very ineffective and “freshman” error in voicing. You can place a finger or and outstretched hand of fingers in between you and the microphone if plosives are a HUGE problem and this deflects the air nicely

sibilances/fricative sounds with s and f – For the esses, tongue placement and air control really helps. I recommend a practice session in front of the mic to determine your particular placement necessary to reduce the loud HISS of an “S”. My findings are a flatter looser tongue toward the front teeth works best for me. For F sounds…lighter touch from the teeth to the tongue give the best results.

If I think of more, I’ll be sure to follow with another post.

Thanks again for the great article!

June 2nd, 2009

One thing I noticed helped reduce hiss is separating your cords from each other. Keep your microphone cord away from your power cord.

Great post! And just on time.
I am currently creating videocasts where I incorporate, film and screencast and we are struggling with the sound quality, specially with the screencast sound.
Could you give us a few tips on how to improve the sound when it comes from a powerpoint presentation instead of narration?
Thanks for your help!

June 2nd, 2009

Hello!

I have a strange question.

Please forgive me, but as I am not english native speaking, nor an audio specialist, I didn´t understand:

“Use a screen to help prevent the popping p’s that plague so many amateur recording sessions.”

What means “Popping p´s” ?

Sorry to bother you with this “child” question.

——————-
Paulo Roberto
Sao Paulo – BRAZIL

June 2nd, 2009

I didn’t get nearly as involved with my pop-filter – I just used a hanger and electrical tape!

http://www.mlcpreview.ca/misc/portable_mic_booth.jpg

PS: I’ve since purchased a retail pop filter, but only because I sometimes record with SME’s, and I didn’t think it was polite to have them speak through my wife’s nylons …

:^)

June 2nd, 2009

Thanks for both your tips and the suggestions made in the community comments. I like the foam porta-booth idea. I have used 2 small sofa pillows to create a wedge surround for my mic successfully. But I especially wanted to mention the free software, Audacity, which is a wonderful little audio editor. It has a function to remove the ambient noise for a very clean audio result. It exports from and imports to Articulate nicely, and has a number of other useful editing functions.

June 2nd, 2009

Another note … a friend of mine who owns a recording studio recommended that if you’re using a unidirectional condenser mic, it’s the ambient noise coming from BEHIND your head that’s more important to diffuse, rather than the sound behind the mic.

So joking around, we came up with the idea of a “foam-brero” … an acoustic foam sombrero that you wear while recording narrations. HA.

Haven’t designed or tried yet, but it’s on my to-do list sometime.

Using a boom stand with the mic facing downward is also effective for reducing the plosive p’s and b’s. Position the mic so that it is above your mouth and slightly to the side. This way the air released goes under the mic and not directly into it.

Like Kat says, make sure you take a nice deep breath before you speak, but take that breath off to the side a bit so that you don’t get a big whooshing breath sound on your recording that you’ll have to edit out later.

As far a mic’s go, I love my AT2020 USB. It’s under $100 and has been great with a wide variety of voice types in our studio.

We purchased the Plantronics mic and it works sufficiently IF I place the mic in front of my nose and not my mouth. Of course, if your nose whistles, you may be out of luck! :-) Any opinions on setting the volumes on the mic or in Articulate? I always set mine at maximum but I’m not sure if that is a good idea or not.

Great tips! Thanks Tom and everyone else. I am going to try out some of these.

I’ve read about Audacity previously. Is it really easy to use for a total audio amateur?

And…does anyone have a suggestion for getting rid of mouse clicks (other than using the touchpad). I’ve tried gloves unsuccessfully.

When will someone invent the silent mouse…

While I know you often have to re record segments, I do my best to record the entire audio in one file at one sitting. Then separate it out into audio to go with the slides.

I also found a program called Levelator from the Conversations Network. It is great if you have an audio with two people and one was closer to the microphone. It will bring the two closer to the same level, much easier than using your audio editor to try to adjust the one louder person.

I use Audacity and am always learning something new.

June 2nd, 2009

I have found the perfect recording studio in my home: a nice walk-in closet full of clothes. I have just enough room for a folding chair and a card table, with my laptop and my Samson microphone. Works great, at least until the cat wants feeding and starts meowing at the door.

June 2nd, 2009

I would like to hear about recommendations for recording software. My brother records his own music and uses ProTools, but it works best on a Mac (it says PC compatible, but his experience has been very shaky) and I don’t have several hundred dollars to shell out for software and a Mac, then compatible hardware. I don’t mind investing a little if for nothing else than to get away from the basic Windows recording software. Perhaps open source software (does anyone have experience with Audacity: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ ???) so I can allocate more to quality hardware?

Great idea of making a portable sound booth. At times, I will have someone else do the recording, like the SME. I always preferred that they record in my office, which was good for recording. At times it was not convenient and had to go to the SME location. A portable sound booth will probably be a help. Especially for those downtown offices with outside street noise getting through.

Another great post. Thanks Tom.

June 2nd, 2009

I use a Plantronics headset, and it works well for the price and convenience. One addition I made though, I went to the local airport because I found a small foam filter there for the headset microphones used by pilots. I wrapped this around the headset mic with a small rubber band and I usually place the mic below my mouth level and it helped reduce the pops and noise pretty well.

[...] Tom Kuhlmann (Rapid eLearning Blog) provides some excellent basic pointers for recording high quality audio. [...]

Here is a good blog on the subject . My biggest issue is the sound clean up by WavePad or Audacity. The free versions seem to cause what I call computer noise, and they drive me nuts. Looking into Adobe’s Soundbooth and Audition.

Thanks!

http://retrogrrl.blogspot.com/2008/06/audio-recording-tips.html

Ditto on Audacity. It’s a great, free program.

For a mic, I found this one at Radio Shack. It had many online recommendations, and it’s under $50. My tests have shown that it’s a very good cardioid voice-over mic for the low end price range:

Radio Shack Technology Plus
Super-Cardioid Vocal Microphone
Model No. 33-128

I bought my desktop stand at Radio Shack, too.

I’ve taken two voice-over talent workshops and attend my coach’s workouts. Use your favorite search engine to find voice coaches in your area. Or, take a Radio/TV/Film class at your local two-year college to learn the “acting” aspect of voice overs.

We’ve found that it’s better for breathing and on the diaphram to stand up for narrations and editing in Audacity. You’d need a boom mic and a music stand for your copy. But, if reading the narration in Presenter, then, of course, that won’t work. ;-)

http://www.Voice123.com/jenisecook (My demos)

June 2nd, 2009

As usual, thanks for such a great post Tom! These are really simple tips but make for vast improvements in recording. Nothing ruins a great course like crummy audio. I had figured out some of these things over the years after obtaining less than stellar results. But now I really want to build my own Port-a-Booth! Or perhaps get my hands on Shane’s foam-brero. :)

In addition to Audacity, Wavepad is another great (free!)recording/editing program for narrations. It has filters for minimizing the pesky popping p’s too.

June 2nd, 2009

Excellent… as usual. A timely post as I am putting together some casts and voiceovers right now… Think I’ll make a sound box

June 2nd, 2009

Great tips as always. Thanks Tom!
One point I don’t think anyone has mentioned is ergonomics. We did some very intensive e-learning last year for a firm-wide software rollout and I got dreadful OOS (RSI) from leaning into a desktop stand.
Now I’ve sorted it out with an adjustable floor stand (sitting on the desk behind my PC and pointing down) it’s a lot more comfortable.
I think it’s really important not to neglect this side of it.

June 2nd, 2009

Great post, I just wish I would have had this information when I started recording. I have played with several microphones and I do have a favorite from Radio Shack. It was already in our equipment when I started so I have no idea how much it cost. I recently began using a pop filter to get rid of those P’s and B’s and it does work great. I purchased it at Muscian’s Friend online for around $15 and it saves me a lot of editing time on my audio clips. I am looking forward to the next post. Keep them coming!

Great ideas Tom. I ordered the mike and materials to make a sound booth. Anyone have ideas on a good camcorder to produce video clips for your elearning?

I’m a longtime Snowball owner/user and was always happy with my results, but in a recent mic test I found it to sound inferior to some offerings from MXL:

http://www.equixotic.com/2009/03/18/microphone-review-marshall-mxl-studio-1-usb-usb008-and-usb009/

(And have previous posts on narration recording as well, if you’re interested)

I’m now an MXL USB.009 fan. More expensive. Money well spent.

I’ve also heard good things about Samsons.

I personally have never heard great results from a headset mic – from myself or others. For me, a desktop mic and pop filter are mandatory.

Oh, and for the Mac users out there, GarageBand (free with your Mac) is a great app for narration recording.

Hi Tom,

You must have been reading my mind – last two days I’ve been looking for some good opinions on mics for podcasting that won’t break the bank. As a novice podcaster I’m sure I’m making all of the common mistakes (popping p’s and unstructured scripts anyone?), so looking forward to reading the next instalment.

Cheers,

Mark.

June 2nd, 2009

Great post again, Tom — yours is the one blog I *always* read.

Based on a lot of recording experience, I recommend the Rode Podcaster http://www.rodemic.com/microphone.php?product=Podcaster.
As Diana wrote, speak across (or under) the mic, and you won’t even need the pop filter. And I just love the headphone socket built in.

Pay attention to the earlier comments about posture — most VO professionals do short sessions standing, and long session on nothing lower than a bar stool so the hips are not fully folded. Keep the diaphragm ‘open’.

With a directional mic (like the Rode), there’s little/no point in putting the foam around the mic (unless you are much too close to a much too noisy computer). Shane is right — it’s the noise around/behind you that’s the problem, not stuff from behind the mic. So Tom’s right about controlling the environment, and Suzanne’s ‘closet recording’ solution is great for that. In the office, you may be able to find a small store room — ours came complete with rolls of fabric left over from something ancient that we could use to deaden reflections. Mattresses are good too, stood on end behind the person speaking.

Software: you can’t beat the price of Audacity, and it’s pretty good. Protools (I use the real one for top-end jobs, but there are lower cost versions) is definitely overkill and not for amateurs at all. Sound Forge, now published by Sony (after a corporate acquisition) is very good and not too hard to use — we have amateurs recording with that every week with only a few minute’s introduction. And on the Mac platform, I quite like Wave Editor http://www.audiofile-engineering.com/waveeditor/ which I also use weekly for editing recorded material into podcasts. And they give great support! But if you have a Mac and you want *simple*, just use GarageBand in it’s Podcast mode — easiest multi-channel mixing on the planet! :)

And on that multichannel note, I wouldn’t like to share mics either (and I *was* there in the 60s!). I vastly prefer laying different speakers/people separately (I’m referring to “laying tracks”, people!), giving each their own track, and trimming levels/editing later. Excellent control over amateur things like teeth clicking, throat clearing, coughing etc when the person stops talking, as well as compensating for level differences. Even if you have to do a conversation in real time, I would always try to give everyone their own mic, their own channel, and expect to clean up afterwards. Also makes it easy to drop in theme music, stings, and so on — as well as chopping up into segments for training content.

June 2nd, 2009

Sound Quality versus file size!
Anyone found the right balance between sound quality and file size. Are you saving as MP3? What quality do you use – stereo mono etc..
Thanks in anticipation
Pat

I started out with a no-name headset mic actually intended for voip phone usage. It was… OK.

Then I bought a Samson C03U (that’s a zero, not a letter O) USB mic, and now I have the deep, sexy resonance of a late-night FM DJ. I record in Audacity, which lets you edit out errant noises and the ever-present hiss. I love both of these tools.

I really think that the most important factors for sound quality are at the beginning and the end – the microphone and the headphones.

Something to note about the Samson mic. It has the driver built in that self loads onto your computer the first time you plug it in. Be careful to give it time to load everything – there are long pauses – before you jump in to use it, or it doesn’t all load. Then removing the drivers (so you can reinstall) is hard. An annoyance, but once it’s working well, it’s a beautiful mic.

Great info as always. I read somewhere that placing the mic to one side and talking past it was the way to go, we use this method and are happy with the results, ‘no Popping’.

Another thing to add for budget conscious is your end users may only have general computer quality speakers that don’t pick up all the noise you hear during production and also don’t pass on the quality of expensive mics.

I was looking to get a better mic and you have helped confirmed my choice.

June 2nd, 2009

Thanks for the great article on audio recording. I was surprised there was no reference to noise-reducing microphones. I used a Jabra USB headset with “Digital Signal Processing” and it does a good job of reducing ambient noise. A future article with a few tips on setting and maintaining consistent recording levels would be useful. In Vista, finding and using the recording level controls can be tricky, and it seems that Vista “remembers” the settings for each separate USB that you use.

[...] 4 Simple Tips for Recording High-Quality Audio | The Rapid eLearning Blog Good audio is critical to your elearning success. You might be a great instructional designer and create the most engaging courses possible. But it all falls apart if the audio quality in your course is not very good. (tags: Audio eLearning Podcasting) [...]

[...] here: 4 Simple Tips for Recording High-Quality Audio – The Rapid … Categories : [...]

Great article, and I will have to try out a few of the tricks in here. Dampening the sound is something I didn’t consider yet, but also something which might be hard to do if your microphone is on a Mic stand.

Still, I will have to check a few of these things out.

Regards,

Stefaan

@ Peter Westhorp:

Any thoughts on the SE Electronics USB2200A? Outrageously expensive (for the USB mic category anyway, cheap compared to “real mics” I’m sure), but I’m seduced by its retro vibe and higher-quality-audio implications (I need all the help I can get).

Someday I’ll figure out a way to justify buying one of these things…

I’d love to hear the thoughts of someone who’s tried both the MXL USB.009 (my current favorite) and the SE Electronics USB2200A…

Great comments and tips. I’ll work some of them into next week’s post.

@Paulo: the popping p’s are those consonant sounds that push a lot of air out

@Nicole: in the publish settings, you can change the compression and bit rate for your audio. You want to play around with the compression to find the right compromise between file size and audio quality.

@Shane: I like the “foam-brero.”

[...] is probably the best choice which is highly recommended by Articulate (here <-best and here and here). Second, among the desktops, the Snowball is probably the best choice with high recommendations [...]

While in theory a more expensive mic should equal better sound, I have had great luck with a $30 Logitech usb desktop mic. We have a $200 studio mic in out office and the college has an audio studio that has an $500 mic, but given equal environs and software, you can’t tell which is studio and which is Logitec. No, I don’t get any kickbacks for this statement.

An awesome post Tom, thanks for your inputs.

June 8th, 2009

Lessons learned (Using Samson USB mic and Audacity)
Use a microphone boom and speak standing up for better breathing and posture.
Use a pop screen unless you’re really consistent at plosive avoidance.
Record a few seconds of ambient noise at the beginning of each session to be used by the noise reduction feature.
Use the least aggressive noise reduction setting that you can get away with – don’t strive for complete silence between passages, because aggressive noise reduction will cause distortions.
Export as a high quality file (like .wav). Articulate will do the mp3 conversion for you, and meanwhile if you want to publish a high quality version (to CD, for example) then Articulate will have the high quality sound files available.

Great piece Tom!

[...] attention to what you’re doing and do the best job possible.  Last week, we looked at some basic tips to record high-quality audio.  Those tips leaned more on the technology.  Today we’ll look at what you can do to get [...]

June 9th, 2009

For Dana who wanted asked about a handy way of holding an 8-page script:

I use a music stand, not the fold-up kind, but the type you see at a symphony concert. They only cost about $40. We have an isolation booth so we don’t have to stick our face into a foam box, but it still might work. You do still have to turn pages, but I usually take a pause so any paper shuffling noise can be edited out.

http://www.musiciansfriend.com is a good site for purchasing music stands.

These tips are invaluable, but I would love to see a recommendation for a wireless USB mic. I would like to record SME’s as they present to a classroom, and it makes for a much better presentation when they need not wory about connecting wires. Can anyone recommend a reasonably priced wireless USB mic?

June 9th, 2009

To Dana Thomas on where to put the script. If you have to work around the sound box, be sure your font is large enough for the distance your script is away from you, but in either case, I use a stenographers stand, similar to a book stand, or stand for a piece of artwork. This allows your script to stand upright so that you can sit up straight and focus on your delivery of the narrative you are recording. Hope this helps.

I was getting too much bounce off of my hard walls. Acoustical foam for my hard walls would be a good purchase but the cost was a little more than I wanted. My past life experience in recording studios indicated it would be good. I ended up on the cheap and found a $10 foam mattress pad at Wal-Mart with the eggshell part facing me provided adequate relief from the hard walls. I was also able to form them behind me to reduce the ambient sound.

June 10th, 2009

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the tips. The following link ‘make a portable sound booth’ in the cuurrent blog is not an accessible link. Please advise.

Thanks and regards,

rashida

I would like to thank you for sharing your tips. You are putting very good effort into the stuff you post. Keep up the good work.

I use a Rode Podcaster and my levels are way too low. (inaudible). Mac OS X MacBookPro. 10.5. I’ve maxed out the system pref input levels, but I still can not record a voice track. I am trying to record into Garage Band. Thanks for any suggestions.

Thanks for tips, so usefull i am using Microsoft Lifechat LX 3000 for recording it is not bad.

I have a question u might know a little about or know sumone who knows..
I have my recording gear set up: a mic into a USB recording interface. I record and it records fine EXCEPT it records the audio slightly faster and more high pitched. So when i play it back my voice sounds higher and its out of time with the music (its too fast).

Its not a problem with the interface coz i used it on the Mac computers at school and it worked fine, it just seems to be with Windows computers.

Any ideas? or know who i could ask?

[...] is probably the best choice which is highly recommended by Articulate (here <-best and here and here). Second, among the desktops, the Snowball is probably the best choice with high recommendations [...]

@Sam: you might have to do some research but this is usually indicative of the audio playing at the wrong sample rate. What are you recording with?

what sampling rate would you recommend ?
thanks in advance

[...] and convert formats. Tom Kuhlmann, in his Rapid eLearning blog, has published some excellent hints here and here. Share and [...]

[...] and convert formats. Tom Kuhlmann, in his Rapid eLearning blog, has published some excellent hints here and [...]

Great article. We do voiceovers here in germany since a long time. Waht about ISDN ? We do a lot of APTX or MP3 codecs for Radio and TV here and therefore you have to invest in a good APTX michine and at leat 1 ISDN line. Many voice talents just have this and work the whole day with it.

Bis bald from Berlin

Uwe Engel

[...] 4 Simple Tips for Recording High-Quality Audio [...]

Very nice. You should use a real cabin or recording booth and not such a “reflektor shield” as shown before.

January 22nd, 2010

Hello All – could someone help, I am looking for a free reliable virus free recording programme I can download to my pc to record and edit speech and voiceover material. Something which is not too technical to operate but will give broadcast quality results. Also wonderings what microphone is best to use in a porta studio a dynamic or condenser mike. I have heard good reports on the Samson Q1U – please help.

@ R de Beer: try Audacity. I’ve used it quite a bit. Also, I use the Samson C01 for my demos and screencasts. I like it and it’s reasonably priced. You might like the newer Samson C03 since it has different pick patterns.

April 3rd, 2010

Hi all,
I do a lot of Voice-Over work and would just like to ‘sing the praises’ of the Blue Snowball mic. It is a superb piece of kit and, to be honest, I do not get any problem with the ‘P’ popping sound even though I choose not to use a filter or sound box of any description. Whilst I don’t get ‘popping’ I can from time to time get a back of the throat ‘clicking noise’ and the more that I try to control it, the worse it seems to get!

I find that the Blue Snowball mic works brilliantly with ‘Wavepad‘ (my preferred audio system) and I find that Wavepad can do a good job of cleaning up my audio files so that any ‘clicking’ noise is all but eradicated. Damned nuisance really, some people have a problem with ‘P’ popping, some people have a problem with ‘S”s, and I have a problem with throat ‘clicking’.

Good job I haven’t got all three as I doubt even Wavepad would clean that lot up. I use a lot of sound effects and music also and my Blue Snowball picks up the audio from these superbly well just by placing it in front of the computer speakers. It’s a brilliant ‘all-rounder’.

Mike

Hello!

Thanks for all your wonderful insights.

Thing is, my Samson CO3U USB mic produces a recurrent white noise. I’ve been told that the noise comes from the built-in preamp. Is there some equipment available to solve this problem? I really love how the mic makes my voice sound really warm and bright. But the noise becomes a problem whenever my client needs dry voice only reads.

More power!
Kaye

@Kaye: I’ve been using the Samson mic for a while and on multiple PCs. I’ve never experienced any white noise. If the noise does come from the mic I’d return it. But if you don’t, I’m sure there’s a way to filter it out.

You could run a noise removal filter during post production.

Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone looks pretty nice. Have anyone used this one to do voice over? Is this a better option comparing to Blue Snowball mic using Articular software?

@Joy: I haven’t used the Blue Yeti mics. I use a Samson C01U and am very pleased with it. I actually just bought a Samson Go Mic via Amazon. It sounds great and it’s very portable. Plus the price is great.

Here’s a test of it. Samson GoMic

You may not believe it. Not only we placed our order of Samson C01U the same day we read your comments, we received it yesterday and played with it. We love it. It is simply to assemble, sounds great, packaged in a very nice box easy to store plus at reasonable price. Your blog is wonderful! I sure appreciate and value your advice + take it seriously :) . The Samson GoMic might be the next step.

These tips are awesome – I never realized there’s actually a “system” to record audio – I thought it’s just a mike and a recorder all I need, but it’s actually a real skill that must be developed. Thanks for making it easy!

I am trying to record high quality narration onto PowerPoint slides. The recording seems to develop a lag and then drops out portions of what I say. I have read elsewhere that the only way to fix this is to reinstall Windows.

It sounds like some of you are using Windows, are you having problems like this? Is there any other reliable solution other than reinstalling Windows?

@James: You shouldn’t have to reinstall Windows, but it’s hard to diagnose an audio issue via the blog. Try this PowerPoint site for more detailed help.

Try recording with another app and see if you run into the same issues. I’d use Audacity if you don’t have one. Then you can insert the audio rather than record using PowerPoint’s narration feature. In either case, the PowerPoint pros at the other site, can probably help you diagnose your issue.

Anyone have any tips on avoiding the page turning sound when recording? Will using the Porta-Booth clear up that problem?

May 19th, 2010

Thanks Tom, and everyone, for all the great tips.

@ Kat regarding the “page-turning sound”:
I learned early on to prepare a script ahead of time and make sure that the natural breaks in the script fall at the page breaks so I never have to turn a page while speaking. That way, I can edit out the sound without affecting the VO. Yes, it sometimes means a bit of “wasted” page space, and sometimes a bit of extra time laying out the script slide by slide. But well worth it to avoid the editing woes! (I prepare my slides in PPT with pretty intricate animations, record and edit the narration in Audacity, then sync the two slide by slide. I keep the breaks invisible to the learner by publishing multiple slides together into swf files by lesson or topic.)

From time to time I do get a gravelly or garbled sound in the VO; not sure where it comes from; any ideas, anyone?

[...] can find some additional tips in these posts on recording high quality audio and recording narration like a [...]

[...] that you can better control your environment. You can find some additional tips in these posts on recording high quality audio and recording narration like a [...]

August 23rd, 2010

your welcome -Tom.

Thanks so much for the article.
I was just about to start a recording campaign for promotional videos and this gave me some great ideas. I had never thought about or seen a portable sound booth!

Previously I had always just used the built in Mic for the MacBook Pro which is very nice but you still get that little bit of static type noise.

Hello Tom-

Well-written and some good pointers for those getting their feet wet in the world of “do-it-yourself” recording! Your four basic tips are indeed crucial to improving the quality of an audio recording.

In reading your article, I’m reminded of a “do-it-yourself” project I embarked on several years ago.

As a way to save money (or so I thought), I was determined to try my hand at remodeling the back section of a small home I was living in. Nothing major mind you; no load-bearing walls to deal with or concrete to pour, just a little framing and Sheetrock work I thought…easy, right?

I pulled out my trusty, mid-70s era “do-it-yourself” manual from Reader’s Digest and headed down to the neighborhood hardware store for mud, tape, nails and some friendly, hometown advice.

Later that month, still immersed in measuring, sawing, cursing, mudding, taping and cursing more, I was nearing finishing point and mostly fed-up with the experience.

I’d made somewhat of a mess of things. The new door/frame assembly was cockeyed in the framed area I’d installed it into, the seam lines at the join points in the Sheetrock were far from unnoticeable and my sense of pride was shattered when my then fiancée was less than overwhelmed with my handy-work.

Without much debate, we relinquished ourselves to hire a professional carpenter to come in and finish the job.

The man was a true diplomat in his critique of my work, though his underlying message was abundantly clear: kid, you’re in over your head.

I was indeed.

Had I finished the job, would I have been proud enough to bring my friends back to the room and boast about my “weekend warrior” carpentry skills?

Heck no.

As I recall, the bill to make things right was about $1200 for three days’ work. The end result was not only professional, it was “boast-worthy”.

Hopefully, this little story should underscore something of larger importance: even if you have the best of intentions and think you have the right tools, a professional performing their craft will produce markedly better results.

I know when to check my ego at the door. I know the difference between well-done and wannabe and I wish more people did.

I’d NEVER present this work to neighbors or friends (let alone potential consumers) as a representation of my “skills” and no way would I ever think to take a product to market that reflected such.

Voice talent “warriors” go into recording with the best of intentions. They think, “hey, I’ve got a good voice, a computer and a USB microphone, how hard can it be, right?”

Hmm.

I had a book, tool belt, saw and a hammer.

What I lacked was skill, experience and an undying passion for the work I was attempting.

As my left foot returns to the ground from the soapbox:

If you want to have fun with consumer-grade equipment and an untrained voice, go wild on YouTube or make your significant other an audio greeting card.

If you’re a company taking an e-Learning course to market, hire a professional voice talent with professional equipment. The reasonable investment you make will pay you back many times over and save you a mountain of frustration, money (yes, time is money) and embarrassment in the process.

The professionals are waiting at http://www.thewebvoice.com

Please follow this link for a related bit of wisdom concerning your company’s on hold and IVR messaging:

http://theearful.blogspot.com

Thank you for your time!

@ Janice

This may be a response a little late in coming since you wrote your question some months ago, but I ran into this thread again while ego-surfing and couldn’t help but try to give you some ideas on your random gravely or garbled sound.

I believe you may be describing what could be the result of latency. This is what happens when your memory cache gets overloaded and doesn’t keep up with recording.

This sometimes sounds like a warbled voice with a pitch change, it could also sometimes just sound like a squeak. The gravely sound may be when it slows more drastically.

The best way to correct this is to clear your cache, run only what programs you need to run during recording and disconnect from the internet.

You may want to verify your cache settings at this time to see how much your system is allowing to store and make adjustments accordingly as well as verify your start up sequence and check for any programs that run automatically that you may be able to remove from your start-up queue.

As far as page turning, at first I thought you were directing your comments at me, but realized you were not. I’m with you on preparing your scripts. However, if you happen to include a page turning or laptop clicking or bodily sound while recording, you can edit that out quite simply with just a little practice.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

October 13th, 2010

Hi:

I appreciate your post. I am a hypnotherapist, and record my sessions with clients for them to listen to for self-hypnosis. I am not satisfied with the sound. I don’t have the luxury of using a desk mic (there is no desk, i am standing next to the client) and laying the music separately from the voice track when recording a session. I am using Audacity, which does create two tracks, but I find that the voice track picks up a lot of the music track as background noise, as well as general white noice, and it is difficult to get a clear voice track balanced with a softer music track. Any suggestions for a novice-friendly program or equipment that will help when recording live in a session with a client?

Thanks!

Jennifer

@Jennifer I’m trying to figure out what you are doing to determine the best way to pitch in and help with your issue. You mention that you are recording in stereo for the music input. How is the music coming in? Is it being recorded with a separate mic, or channeled internally and recorded from there?

Also, would you be willing to upload a clip somewhere to hear a sampling to explore the issue? Obviously, you cannot include a client’s personal information, but can you upload something that would be safe for assessment?

If I can fix it, I can tell you what I did so you can replicate it for future use. However, the main goal is to see what can be done to prevent the issues. I would love to be of assistance to you if I can.

October 28th, 2010

Jennifer,

1. put the speaker(s) that music is coming out of further away from you and your client.

2. invest in headphones for you and your client so the music won’t bleed into your vocal mic.

3. visit homerecording.com. they have an excellent forum and reply quick to any questions and have an extensive archive.

Hope this helps!

Wow sweet tips. I know I learned at least 2/4 new tips. ;)

January 9th, 2011

My husband and I have been using the Soundkitz AE-F Reflection Filter http://www.soundkitz.com/Gargoyle%20Reflection%20Filter.htm that we got from ebay and I don’t think it was too much if I remember. We use it mostly for recording at our Church. It sounds really nice!

[...] Here are some technical tips for recording audio [...]

You should experiment with the distance of mic to mouth, being right up close can make it sound too bass heavy and also breathy, being a little further away can sound a lot more natural and will include a little bit of the ambience of the room which often helps it sound just a little more natural.

[...] Rapid e-learning blog gives four good tips for improving sound recordings. As a busy teacher I can manage four tips [...]

This is a great article! I have done lots of live recordings and Everything here is right on target.

It’s been years since I’ve been behind a mult-track mixing board. It’s nice to see there is still support for audio enthusiasts.

Thanks for sharing.

With a unidirectional micraphone, can you still record two people?

@Zac: yes…works best if they’re Siamese twins, but two people standing together works, too.

Actually, the unidirectional mic is designed to pick up the audio coming in from one direction. If you have two people on the same side with the mic between them and their mouths pointed in the direction of the mic, you can pick them up. But it’s probably not going to be ideal since you’ll also get a lot of ambient noise.

Many of the mics today, like the Samson Go Mic above have uni and bi directional switches. If you record two or more people, it’s worth the investment to get good sounding audio.

Great article. You cannot beat having a great mic and pre amp in a decent acoustic environment. You can find out more about music production here… http://www.musicmasters.co.uk

Cant wait for your next post. Thank yoU!

September 29th, 2011

I have noticed a lot of questions regarding which is the best Mic for the dollar, in my experience, the Blue Yeti is superb! I paid $99 on Amazon for mine and everything from no latency headphone monitoring to every known mic pattern is self contained in the Yeti, as well as headphone volume and gain, along with a desk top stand.

I have made side by side comparisons with a Neuman U87, a Sennheiser D421, Lawson L47 and Harlan Hogans MXL mic, and the Yeti, in the proper setting (room acoustics, pop filter and so on) beats them all. The Yeti is also strictly plug and play into your USB jack and records at a 16 bit 48k rate. I use Audacity, wish I would have had this in the 70′s when I started my career.

@David: agreed, the Yeti is a great value

It is best to hire a pro voice over for engaging effective e-learning. The recordings are done in a controled environment and the production quality will blow any amature recording away!
A full course can be narrated for as little as $100 to $600 for a very long course.
Try http://www.voices.com or http://www.DluxDigitalProductions.com

@Nicole: I’ve seen recent focus group studies that show people often prefer the “amateur” voice over. It really depends on the quality though.

Tom.
I agree that most people prefer a “natural” sounding voice over but not an amateur sounding recording.
No one wants to hear a noisy, popping, recording with a voice over that has no rhythm. My point is it is more cost effective to hire the right voice over person who is capable of providing a natural, realistic sounding performance than it is to purchase all the recording equipment needed to make an amateur recording work.
If you want your e-learning to be taken serious or you are selling your product to large companies poor sounding audio is a real deal breaker which really hurts after you have spent so much time getting the course right in articulate.

October 17th, 2011

Good advice, employing a good quality vocal pop filter is a recommended plan as they can be awkward to edit out afterwards. Also one of the worst things you can do to audio is distort it. So my advice is record at 24 bit and ensure you do not exceed -12dBFS on the input meter of your DAW. Also ensure there are no red lights appearing on your mic preamps.

Thank you so much for the info you have provided on how to get good quality voice recordings. I have a problem with mouth clicks.
No matter what I record or how I talk off mic i still get these annoying clicks that I wind up either lowering the volume on them or deleting. I have a windscreen on my SM-57 mic and a pop filter.
I record using Adobe Audition CS5.5. I’m very new at this, although I have worked in broadcasting for many years with American Forces Radio. I’m now trying my luck at doing voice promos and some imaging for a few Internet stations. I’m not at the point where I can charge for what I do, but hopefully later I will be able to do so. Right now I’m more concerned in polishing up my product. I watch a lot of videos on YouTube of voice over talent working very close to the mic and they get no clicks. What’s the secret. Thank you for your time. Really appreciated.

Ed

Hi Ed. There are different kinds of clicks with causes ranging from saliva to jaw clicking. Wanna post a few samples so we can hear what you got? http://community.articulate.com.

December 9th, 2011

I’ve read that article your article and learn more about quality recording more over i thank to the persons who share their practical experience through reviews. we are making karaoke tracks with adobe audition 1.5 & Behringer 1204fx mixer for live recording. The shure pg48 mic excellent with yamaha xg sound card

Great Advice buddy!!

i really enjoyed it and utilized it perfectly!

Thanks for sharing!

[...] a ton of good info packed into those four sentences. But what does it mean? You should really read the article, which dives into the specifics of each of those four tips. Advertisement [...]

Thanks for the tips! I’m buying the Samson C01U as we speak! :) Seems like an amazing low budget USB mic!

March 10th, 2012

I have adl600 and firestudio tube can i get quality sound from them?, im new in music production.

March 11th, 2012

Let me set the record straight. None of the mics mentioned here are ‘real’ mics. ‘Real’ mics are analogue and have to converted to a digital signal. That’s why when its said that spend the best xlr mic you can afford and the signal chain overall(such as cables,pres,etc). You will need to buy an XLR mic and an audio interface along with a preamp for truly exceptional results. Yes you will have to break the bank for this. Unfortunately though, this is how ‘real’ audio recording is done. Not with usb. The problem is that usb mics are fixed digital and they get unusable when you want an upgrade. When you want to spend a better mic(which are all xlr) in the future, the usb mic you bought will thrown out the trash. Whereas if you buy a quality xlr mic instead of usb in the first place, money won’t be wasted and your gear will be keepers. (The more xlr mics you buy, you have more mics to record more things at the same time!) <- Something that can't be done with multiple usb mics. Also with an xlr mic, you can always improve your audio chain, whether thatll be buying a better preamp or digital interface.

Now, theres no point in buying all this expensive gear if you just want ok sound, but not a decent home studio! I just wanted to point out, start with the blue yeti or similar, if you think it sounds garbage and you want higher quality sound, experiment with recording techniques such as pop filters and sound isolation. If you're still not satisfied, you have to break the bank and buy the stuff I just mentioned, which is spending an xlr mic, an audio interface, or to raise the quality even further, a good separate preamp(optional, since interfaces have mediocre built in pres.)

[...] 4 Simple Tips for Recording High-Quality Audio Good audio is critical to your elearning success. You might be a great instructional designer and create the most engaging courses possible. But it all falls apart if the audio quality in your course is not very good. In an earlier post we looked at when it makes sense to consider paying for professional narration . If you have the money, this is a viable option. However, many of you are like Old Mother Hubbard and your cupboard is bare. [...]

Great post. The comment about how to handle an 8-page script and the suggestion of a music stand was a good one. If you have an iPad you can mount it on a stand so you don’t even have the shuffling of papers. I too like the Samson C03U USB Mic, but I prefer the AT2020. If you want to go whole hog and spring for the sound isolation booth without doing major construction try a ClearSonic MegaPack Sound Isolation Booth originally intended for drummers but works great for pure sound isolation in recording situations.

I have a problem in recording. I write with my stylus on my PC tablet. It makes sound similar to what comes on writing with a chalk on a traditional whiteboard. The sound is very low as such but my my mic captures it.
What solution can I use….plz help?

@Nitin: you can change the way you record. If you record with your PC mic then you’ll pick up the tapping. Use a omni-directional mic.

i am using external headset mic.
Should I use omni-directional mic or cardoid. Should I use headset ot desktop mic?

@Nitin: I’d recommend Cardioid. It will be a more focused sound. Omni could pick up some room reflections.

Desktop mic would probably be better. You could possibly pick up some movement in a handheld mic.

Brent

lol at the picture with ”do not disturb”
”old guy”

November 14th, 2012

I built a portable sound booth with PVC, canvas drop cloths and shower curtain hooks for around $50. I can assemble/disassemble in about 20 minutes.

[...] time we should have read 4 simple tips for recording audio. Maybe then it wouldn’t have taken us an hour to record two minutes of script. Share [...]

I record music in my bedroom. I’ve found that the rooms that have more furniture like beds, carpet, blankets etc… help keep the reverb down. You can check out my song at you tube channel 23Lebronson or I put a song supporting cancer awareness on my website at http://www.emthow.com.

I have a Samson C030, pop filter, and a traveling recording booth (as sugested here). I use Audacity for editing (noise removal, compression, and normalization), and everything turns out great except one issue. I sound congested in my recordings and I’m curious on how I can prevent that.

@Stephanie: cold medicine may help. :) It’s possible you are doing too much compression. Jump into the community and post a before and after example and ask for feedback. Some of the MVPs there are really good with audio.

February 28th, 2013

I don’t see that anyone ever addressed Janet McCorick’s question which now mirrors mine. Sometime studio work is just out of the question. Sometimes we just have to mic an SME when presenting to a live group and capture his speech with the PowerPoint to publish (in Articulate). Though far from ideal, it is just the most expedient and pragmatic solution for an internal audience. What mic would you recommend for this purpose?

@Jane: there’s a broad range of solutions depending on your budget. Years ago when I had $0 to spend, I found the cheap Realistic mics worked fine. However, you do get what you pay for. But if you have good, clear audio, it’ll probably sound fine for your courses.

I like my Samson mics. The C0U1 is around $60 and the C0U3 is still under $100. They’re good, decently priced mics. There are other good ones in the sub-$100 range.

Here are some tips on how to quickly convert your audio track into a course.

February 28th, 2013

Jane, I will recommend Blue microphones. I bought the “Snowball” and have had excellent results. IMO, the price was very reasonable for the quality. Here is a link to Amazon:

Agreed, the Blue mics are a very good option.

Thanks- these are great tips that were fun to read (you’re funny!) :)

March 13th, 2013

What a great conversation! I am looking to upgrade the mic that we use for audio recording. After doing my research (and reading this blog-thank you!), I am leaning towards the Snowball. However, while on Blue’s website, I came across their new product, Nessie. It seems pretty awesome, however, it will not be available until end of April/beginning of May. I’m debating on whether to just go with the Snowball so I can start using it ASAP, or if it would be worth it to wait & purchase the Nessie when it’s available. I would like to upgrade our mic sooner rather than later, however, I’m willing to wait for a great product.

I would be really interested to hear from anyone that’s currently using the Snowball and that has checked out Nessie.

Thanks!
Lisa

Thank you for the useful information. You really showed me that I used to make a lot of careless mistakes.

If you need affordable professional voice over work for your videos I can work with just about any budget. Fast turnaround time. Email me at rayzelleforrestyoung@gmail.com for samples if interested.

Thank you for the useful information. You give me best idea already.