AUDIO TIPS: How to Record Voices


Chuck put together this list of Questions and Answers for the most common concerns about how to set levels for recording voices. You are likely to find many of your own questions answered here:

Q. How do I set the best recording levels for voices?

A—The recording level should be no lower than -12 and not louder than -3. Hovering around -6 is a good input level. If there are no dB indicators on your recording device, set your level at a distance of approximately two thirds up the LED or plasma read-out.

Q. How to set the best levels for my compressor?

A—If you use a compressor, be careful not to over-compress. Leave some head room on the recording. Soft compression is best with a 3:1 ratio (ie, 3 dB in, 1 dB out) There are 6 parameters in most compressors:1) The knee, which smoothes out the input level at the threshold; 2) The attack time in milliseconds at the input level; 3) The release time in milliseconds at the input level; 4) The ratio of how many dB are coming in and how many dB are going out. (Note: The compressor reacts to the input level); 5) The threshold in dB at which the compressor attenuates or clamps down on the input; and 6) The makeup gain to bring the output back up after you have lowered the output. Make sure the input level is hot enough to affect the compressor.

Q. How can I configure my recording device?

A.—First check the manual for your device. Generally, Capture Record @ 44.1 24bit mono WAV whenever possible. Mp3’s should be no less than 192Kbps, Mp3’s no less than mono 96Kbps. Most exchange servers have a limit of 10 MB for an Mp3 file, so you might need to use YouSendIt to send a larger Mp3 file.

Q. How do I know what sample rate and bit depth is best?

A— If you have plenty of drive space, go with a 44.1 sample rate and a 24 bit rate. Note: Recording at 44.1 24 bit mono eats up about 7Mb per minute. Recording at 44.1 16 bit mono eats up about 5Mb per minute

Q. Is it better to record at a lower level and then raise the level later?

A— The noise floor will come up if you normalize. It is best to do a test recording. Also, make sure you have good levels to start with. Once you find a good level, keep it. Don’t adjust during the recording process because it is not easy to remove digital distortion if the person suddenly gets louder or closer to the microphone. Make sure the -20 dB pad is not on when recording. The -20 dB pad reduces the input level -20dB and is normally used for very loud instruments. If you use a normalizer, set it at -3 to leave some head room.

Q. How can I create a good test recording?

A— First create a preliminary test recording, then listen to the playback of that recording in headphones. If you hear hums or buzzes, try to eliminate them before the final test recording. Also, when recording, don’t adjust the input signal after the recording has begun. Just live with your original level, or at least make your adjustments early in the recording process.

Q. Should I always record in the same place?

A.— Yes, it is preferable to always record in the same place, so your recordings are consistent.

Q. Should I always record with the same device and microphone?

A— Yes, and don’t have any electronic devices up and running nearby; they can create a hum or buzz sounds.

Q. Can I sample up a poor recording? Will it sound better?

A— Although it is possible to re-encode a low fi audio file up it will not make it sound any better. It will be the original sound quality at a higher sample rate.

Q.How to set up an ideal voice-over or remote recording?

A— The following suggestions will help to ensure an optimal recording:

  • Keep voice proximity to the microphone at approximately 5 to 8 inches
  • Keep voice at a constant distance from the microphone
  • Maintain the volume of the voice at a constant level
  • Pull the “P” and the “B’ sounds to avoid plosives
  • Use pop screen or get one if you need it
  • Keep voice up; try not to trail off at the end off sentences
  • Use a microphone stand whenever possible
  • Isolate the stand from the table with a cloth underneath it
  • Keep body movement to a minimum
  • Position script on a stand so you will not be shuffling the script
  • Close all doors and windows in the environment

  • Put on headphones while recording if possible
  • Listen back after the recording to check quality
  • Put your cell phone in silent mode

  • Q. How can I fix the most common audio problems and how can I recognize them?

    A— Below is a list of the most common audio recording problems that must be dealt with after the recording, as well as a brief explanation of potential ways to approach the problem.

  • High Frequency Hiss: Preview noise analysis with Learn feature in Xnoise. Compare input to output, and apply proper reduction at specific threshold. Alternatively, EQ above 10,000 Cycles -6 or -12 dB Too Close to Mic Use High pass filter to help reduce low end proximity effect and apply one or more XNoise passes; then re-EQ. Or try reducing the low frequencies.
  • Over-modulation: Apply gain reduction to create head room / EQ out the distortion
  • Distortion and Overload: Same as above.
  • Mic Knocks and Lavalliere Noise: These sounds cannot be removed, but they can be minimized. Reducing low frequency below 100KHz will help to minimize these knocks. The degree to which such sounds can be minimized will help to determine whether or not to use the file.
  • Volume Fluctuations: Apply Normalization. Apply Compression or create segments and adjust them so that the output level is uniform. Then consolidate and remove unused regions.
  • P Pops, Mic Blasts, and Thumps: Apply EQ high pass filter in Channel Insert, or EQ individual segments to reduce low frequencies.
  • Room Ambience, Echo: A Dynamics compressor with very slow release can help. Excessive Reverb and Sibilance Hi Resolution Filters; Vocal DeEsser.
  • Ringing Feedback: Loops EQ at offensive frequency band Low Gain or Too Much Gain Normalization or gain level adjustment after creating segments. 60 Hz AC Hum Use a Notch or bell to filter out problem frequency.
  • 90 Hz AC : Hum Same as above
  • Digital Over and Drop Outs: Do not use the program.
  • Spike Thump: Noise Create region boundary and apply EQ to roll off low end.
  • Phase Changes: This is usually a stereo issue, but can happen with mono files as well. On and Off Mic Normalize or bring up overall gain. Turn up the output of the Compressor.
  • DC Offset: Apply DC Offset correction.
  • Disrupted Line Input: Do not use the program.
  • Deficient Lows: Apply EQ to boost the low frequencies.

  • Q. How do I know what should be included in my “To Do” list so that my audio recording is more professional-sounding?

    A— Below is a list of techniques to incorporate into the editing process:

  • Remove “ums”
  • Remove ”ahs”
  • Remove lip smacks
  • Remove coughs
  • Breath reduction
  • Cross fade correction
  • Pronunciation correction grafting
  • Repair stuttering
  • Remove repeated words
  • Remove false starts
  • Remove or reduce clicks and pops
  • Reduce or remove plosives
  • Reduce podium knocks
  • Tighten up pacing of talk

  • Q. Should I record files at different encoding depths?

    A. No. When you record your files, they can be mono and one encoding depth…not multiple encoding depths. The files should meet the following CD standards: a 44.1 sample rate and 16bit. If you are encoding Mp3s check the preferences in your encoder. A good sounding Mp3 is going to be encoded at 192Kbps or higher.

    Q. How to fix that warble metallic or underwater sound in my audio files?

    A— Usually, it is caused by splitting the sample rate to a 22.5 sample rate and lower bit depths. Mp3’s can go as low as 8000Kbps and up to 320Kbs. Check to be sure your encoder settings are at 44.1KHz and that your Mp3’s are at least 96Kbps. If you are encoding your .WAV files to Mp3’s, be sure they are not set to these lower sample rates and bit depths. Any mono Mp3’s that are below 64Kbps start to sound grungy.

    Q. How many microphones should I use for Interviews and remote recordings?

    A— It's best to use two microphones for Interviews if you have two inputs on your recording device. Lavaliere mics are great for this. It's important that people keep body movement to minimum. With one mic you can pause and give the mic to the interviewee.