Which software is best for audio recording

7 tips for beginners for a successful audio recording

The hardware has been purchased and the software installed - and yet the audio recording sounds like a tin can in the surf? Not an isolated case, because almost all budding screencasters and podcasters first fight against noise, pops, reverb or distortion and lose a lot of nerve until the quality is finally right. The well-known general recommendations range from singing in the shower to sound recording under the covers. If that's too uncomfortable for you, we'll reveal seven recording tips that really bring something ...

Basic rules: Optimize the input signal

First of all: All of the tips presented here are about improving the input signal. Strictly speaking, with the help of subsequent processing by the audio software, the signal can no longer be optimized, but only manipulated. Ideally, you don't even touch Audacity's noise removal function.

The quality of the audio signal, however, depends on many factors, for example the microphone used, the room acoustics, the distance to the microphone, a pop filter and the level control.

The difference between a non-optimized recording environment and an optimized recording environment sounds something like the following example (all sound recordings were recorded with the Samson G-Track USB microphone, the differences can be heard most clearly through headphones):

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Tip 1: the room selection

The room acoustics are decisive for the sound quality and the disadvantage is usually those who live the most beautifully: old building palaces with high ceilings, wooden floorboards, reduced furnishings and large windows ensure a lot of reverberation and give every audio recording the unmistakable tin box character. On the other hand, mouse boxes from the 1950s with carpet and dust are ideal. The first measure is to test the acoustics of all rooms with small speaking inserts, whereby you can also tinker with a few criteria:

  • Size of the room (usually small rooms are better),
  • Location (street or courtyard) and possible sources of noise,
  • Carpet (good), wooden floor (medium) or stone floor (bad),
  • Heavily or less heavily furnished,
  • Number of windows and the possibility of suspension (preferably with heavy curtains)

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Tip 2: Quiet please!

Once a suitable room has been found, all artificial sources of interference should be identified and, if possible, minimized:

  • Close all doors and windows.
  • Put all unnecessary electronic devices off or a sufficient distance away. These include mobile devices, televisions, telephones, aquariums, splash fountains, bird cages, neon tubes and other exotic ...
  • Put down laptop or PC speakers (including external ones).
  • Establish a distance between the microphone and laptop / PC, e.g. to minimize vibrations and noise from the fan. If you don't have a separate table for the laptop, you can place it on insulating material if necessary.
  • Choose the right time for the recording (no rush hour, noise from neighbors, etc.).

After these basic measures, we need some tools to further optimize the reception conditions.

Tip 3: Pop protection for the microphone

Pop sounds are created by plosives (explosive sounds) such as p, b, k, t, g and can be avoided quite easily with a pop protection. A pop protection is nothing more than a fabric that is stretched in front of the microphone and absorbs the air pressure of the plosives. You can build a pop protection yourself with a few nylons plus an embroidery frame (here are instructions). However, the DIY variant should only marginally undercut the price for a new purchase despite the cult factor (new price starts at around 15 euros).

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Tip 4: microphone spider

Microphone spiders or “shock mounts” are suspensions for the microphone, which absorb vibrations and the resulting noise. Good examples of such vibrations are the laptop fan, typing on the laptop keyboard, steps on a wooden floor, etc. The problem with shock mounts: They are not cheap in individual cases and vary in construction from micro to micro, so you can tell from the manufacturer is dependent. A microphone spider can therefore cost 40 to 50 euros (e.g. Samson), other manufacturers are content with 20-25 euros, in rare cases even less than 20 euros. For screencasters with manual dexterity, a self-made shock mount may also be an option (just google for DIY shock mount).

I cannot judge whether the investment in a new microphone spider is worthwhile, as I don't (yet) use a spider myself. However, many of the annoying vibrations should already have been minimized by the other tips.

Tip 5: DIY recording studio

Now to my favorite tip: The Do-It-Yourself recording studio, as it has already been presented on YouTube. In many cases, a DIY studio can bring a significant increase in quality, especially if you are at a disadvantage with an old building. The box helps to dampen the reverb in poor room conditions.

What you need for the DIY recording studio:

  • Sound-insulating foam (absorber), e.g. Basotect, available from online shops.
  • A box, if possible made of sound-absorbing material such as felt or other textiles.

The Basotect can be cut to size very easily with a sharp knife. Then you line the inner walls of the box, if necessary double. The box can also be placed on a Basotect plate, as can the PC to dampen the vibrations of the fan.

For the box I have two 3 cm thick Basotect plates and a Wenko felt box (e.g. at Amazon) used. The box can be dismantled and folded up, so it is portable to a certain extent. The felt box was preceded by an experiment with a plastic box, which, however, produced a dull, perky sound - so you should try a textile box. Experiments with the absorber material are unfortunately quite expensive, otherwise you could still test Basotect panels with different sound properties or sound-absorbing bitumen panels. Further material tips are welcome in the comments.

Everyone can see for themselves the positive effect of the box:

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You can also see the box in action in the screencast via Camtasia and Audacity.

The disadvantage of the box: When recording live, the microphone is usually placed on the table just in front of the camera's field of view. The bulky sound box then either comes into view, or the microphone has to be placed so far away that the advantages of the box no longer outweigh the disadvantages of the distance to the microphone. However, if you opt for a separate video recording with audio dubbing, you will do well with the recording studio.

Tip 6: distance to the microphone

The distance to the microphone has a decisive influence on the sound characteristics, so you should test different distances before each recording and then decide on a constant distance for all recordings of a cast. For example, tests with 5, 10 and 20 cm are useful:

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If you measure the distance with your hands (fingers spread, hand widths, etc.), you can ensure a uniform tone character even in situations without a centimeter measure.

Just to be on the safe side: Of course, you should also talk about the right direction in your microphone, which in turn depends on what kind of microphone is in use ...

Tip 7: the right level

With my own microphone, the Samson G-Track, there have been numerous reports of a very loud background noise in the network. In fact, I also had to experiment a lot until the wrong level was finally discovered as a source of error.

The rule of thumb for modulation is: The input signal should be recorded as loud as possible and as quietly as necessary. As quietly as necessary means that no overdrive should occur even with loud places and that a tolerance range upwards should therefore be left free. The optimal recording is at 0 db, in practice you should “level” yourself with the volume variations between -6 and 0 db. Anything above 0 db is clipped and tends to sound distorted.

With some USB microphones such as the G-Track, you can regulate the signal strength on the microphone yourself. In this case, too, you should send the signal to the PC as powerfully as possible without it being overdriven (with the G-Track, the setting of “Mic” to approx. 75% - 85%, depending on the recording situation and the distance to the microphone, has proven itself ). Most of the time, however, the control is done via the audio software. In some cases the screencast software already offers automatic control (e.g. Camtasia). Otherwise, the db display with scale and colored marking helps to level the signal in a meaningful way:

When using Windows 7, noise can also be caused by the onboard microphone. If problems arise, you should right-click on the loudspeaker symbol in the system tray to control the recording devices and, if necessary, mute the devices that are not being used via the properties. If necessary, a few experiments with different settings and combinations will also lead to the goal.

According to the pattern shown above, the noise level during the recordings should be reduced to a tolerable level. However, a certain basic noise cannot be completely avoided with microphones in the “hobby price range”. The same applies here: if you want to get the last 10 percent out of quality, you have to invest 90%. Whether this is worthwhile depends entirely on the goal of the pod or screencast.

Special "Screencasting for Beginners"

This article is part of a comprehensive screencasting special.

Sebastian has lived his job as an editor, product owner and web developer for 20 years. With Trendschau Digital he supports small companies and specialist authors in web-based publishing with the open source CMS Typemill. Among other things, he operates cmsstash.de, a specialist publication on the subject of content management systems, with the system.