David Anderson runs a series of weekly challenges on the Elearning Heroes Articulate community blog. In one of his recent posts, he called on elearning designers to share their tips and tricks for producing quality audio:
while recording audio is simple, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to improving audio quality. That means that the most helpful audio tips are the tips that align with a user’s recording needs, experience, and environment.
At Microassist, we have certainly found that to be true. In this post (the first of two), we’ll focus on how we record our audio—what tools we use and the environment in which we record—and show you what our setup looks like. We’ll also discuss less conventional, but still effective ways to produce great audio. Prepare to be inspired!
Here is a look at our setup:
As you can see, it’s a fairly small (10 ft x 12 ft) sound booth. The carpet and acoustic panels on the walls help absorb extraneous noise.
This is the microphone we use. It’s an Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio Microphone, held securely in place with a shock mount. We’ve set up a pop filter in front of the microphone. This is a good idea for a number of reasons. Pop filters diminish the popping sound (hence the name) that often accompanies aspirated plosives—think the first P in “pop.” These filters also double as spit guards. There are salts in spit that can damage a microphone, so using a pop filter can help maximize your microphone’s lifespan.
The microphone is connected to a small preamplifier (a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB driver), which in turn is connected to the computer we use to record. Using the Focusrite preamp gives you more precise control over the microphone settings. For example, you can adjust the gain (or sensitivity) of the mic. Preamps are not necessary, but when configured properly, they can go a long way in making sure you’re getting the most out of your high-end mics.
You may have picked up on something at this point—this stuff is not cheap. A new Yeti Blue costs around $100 on Amazon. An AT2020 is $129. The cost of putting together a decent sound booth could run you well into the thousands. What if you don’t have that kind of money to spend? Additionally, what if you run into situations where you’ll need to produce recordings off-site?
We found ourselves in one of these situations recently, when we were building a course that called for narrations from teenagers who couldn’t come to the sound booth or during business hours. These recordings had to be done off-site, which meant we did not have access to our sound booth and the high-end recording equipment inside it. In another scenario, you may want to conduct an interview with someone, but you have to meet them where they are. As luck would have it, that place has neither a studio nor any professional recording equipment.
The USB alternatives of Yeti Blue and AT2020 can be used with a laptop as a portable solution. But this doesn’t address the cost issue.
Alternatives do exist. They will still yield quality recordings, and because of their compactness, they’re not as expensive as high-end equipment. An example is the Rosetta Stone USB headset ($29.99); I can confidently say that its sound quality is comparable to that of the Yeti or AT2020. If you want to avoid headsets, Samson Technologies has a Samson Go USB Condenser Microphone. This is probably the most portable solution available, especially for its price ($39). It can clip to your laptop or stand on your desk, and it even comes with a kit that makes it compatible with iPads. A slightly more expensive option—but a renowned and highly-rated one—is the Blue Snowball ($49), which we have used and it proved a suitable alternative.
If you can’t shell out a few thousand on a sound booth, no problem—a small closet should be a decent alternative. That’s right—you’ve had a fine sound booth at home all this time, and you didn’t even have to spend any extra money on it! Of course, you are not limited to a closet; any quiet room should do the trick. I find closets ideal, however, because there is less space for sound to travel in them, and they tend to be carpeted. This combination effectively eliminates unnecessary echo in the recording. For that reason, you may want to avoid recording in larger rooms with tile, linoleum, or wood flooring.
In the next blog post, I will talk about the actual recording process, as well as some of our favorite pre- and post-production tips.