I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the A.V. Club, I am not an audio geek, and I do not hunt swap meets for vinyl records because they sound “warmer”. I have however recorded myself in a variety of embarrassingly unprofessional ways, and would like to share my findings. I will focus on the recording of the spoken word only. This article is progressive. Each step below will improve your final product, but you should only choose the steps that are practical for your situation.
You will get the most from this post if you wear headphones.
Step 1: Check your Gain
Make sure your microphone’s “gain” (sound input) is set relatively “hot” (high sound input). It is always possible to “attenuate” your recording (turn down the volume), but “amplifying” your recording (turning up the volume) will increase system and background noise.
Under my Mac’s sound settings, I have set the “input” level at about 4/5th. You can record “hotter” than this as long as your recording doesn’t start to distort. When actively recording, if the input meter moves into red, your gain is set too high, and there will be distortion in your final product.
Using these settings, here is what the internal microphone on my computer sounds like.
All samples will use the following text:
“I am testing my microphone to verify that my voice is detected. If my microphone is properly connected and turned on, the recording meter will show movement”.
Step 2: Set Your Sample Rate & Bit Depth
I am not even going to try to explain sample rate and bit depth. For more information on this subject read the Wikipedia entry on signal processing.
When I record myself teaching, I like to set the sampling rate to at least 44100 Hz and the bit depth to 16-bit (or 24-bit). These are the settings for CD quality sound. I often use the free program Audacity to record audio, as it is easy to set these quality levels in its preference panel. Audacity is free, open-sourced, and works on both the MAC and PC platforms.
22,050 Hz Sample Rate
At this lower sample rate, notice that my voice is a little tinny and metallic sounding
44100 Hz Sample Rate
The metallic quality is no longer present.
Step 3: Buy a Decent USB Microphone
Let’s face it, the microphones that come pre-installed in our computers and laptops are only good for skyping. The most important step you can take in improving sound quality is to buy a microphone.
Using the settings above, here is what the AT2020 microphone sounds like.
With the AT2020, I would also suggest getting a floor mic stand as the included desktop stand is unstable and weak. I often unconsciously shake my leg when recording so the desktop stand is particularly problematic. The “On Stage Stands MS7701” tripod boom stand is functional, unobtrusive, cheap ($25), and compatible with most microphones (including the AT2020).
Step 4: Position
In this example, I recorded the first half of the text at 1 inch and the second half at the suggested 6 inches.
Step 5: Pop Filter
I use a Stedman PS101 Metal Pop Filter.
Step 6: Reflection Filter
I use an Auray RF-5P-B reflection filter. It is a little pricey but will work with the microphone and stand suggested above.
Wrapping it up
In this last recording, you can hear each of the above clips back to back.
The first clip uses the internal computer mic, the second uses an external USB mic, the third adds a pop filter, and the last adds the reflection filter.