Setting Up a Portable Studio for Voice Over Recording

Recording voiceovers and editing audio for the training that I develop is a service that I provide for my customers.  When I first started, many eons ago, my knowledge of audio recording and editing was minimal.  The first time I was asked to record and edit audio for an elearning course, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. That is, until I recorded the audio and listened to my recording – the background noise along with hissing & pops were very pronounced. So I had to take my little knowledge of audio editing and try to clean up the audio.  It was a huge feat, but I learned a lot in the process.  Thankfully, I have friends in high-places with some serious audio skills who were willing to share their knowledge with me.

Now, we all know that the best audio is recorded in a professional airtight sound booth, however, building a sound booth in my home is extremely cost prohibitive.  So what are the alternatives? Believe it or not, the alternatives weren’t even close to the cost of a professional booth and the results aren’t too shabby.

Microphone Check

First, I invested in a good microphone.  My first mic was a $40 audio-technica ATR25 Stereo Microphone, it was an affordable condenser mic. However, the audio I recorded with it had to be heavily edited as it picked up sounds from all over the room.  Following the advice of my friend (the pro), I started researching better quality microphones – because in her words – “the quality of your sound relies heavily on the quality of your equipment. ”

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After a bit of research and confirmation from the pro, I invested in a $99 multi-pattern condenser mic – the Samson C03U with an SP01 shock mount (the shock mount is an additional cost). Unlike my first mic, the Samson C03U is a USB mic with three pickup patterns, which makes is well worth the money:

  • Hyper Cardioid – most widely used in studios for recording and live sound – it picks up sound directly in front of the mic and it rejects sounds from the back and sides.
  • Omni-directional – this setting picks up sound from all directions. This mode is great if you are trying to pick up sounds from group performance or you want to include ambient sounds in your recording.
  • Bi-directional – this mode picks up the sound directly in front and back of the mic.  It can be used for voice over recording but you might want to consider using a baffle (a baffle is basically a piece of foam you place behind the mic with it.

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Click to listen to audio recorded on the Samson C03U microphone

Settings: Hyper Cardioid, 0dB, High Pass Filter On

The Samson C03U also has a switch pad where you can control the input sensitive between 0dB which bypasses the pad and there is no effect on the sound and -10dB which sets the input sensitivity to be lowered by 10dB. This basically means the the recording will not be as loud.  It also offers a hi-pass filter and low-cut filter that is used to eliminate unwanted low-frequency – like the hissing and rumbling most mics pick up.

You may not need all the features that my mic has, maybe you just want a good cardioid mic which is the best to record voiceovers and podcasts, here’s a list of other great mics:

POP & HISS

I also invested in a $5 pop-filter to help reduce the popping Ps and hissing Ss when recording.  My first pop filter was homemade – I used a small embroidery hoop and some tights. You really don’t have to buy the pop-filter, you also use a metal clothes hanger and pantyhose – just bend the hanger into a roundish shape and pull the pantyhose over the hanger.  I recommend using the thicker hoses for the your homemade pop filter.

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Click to listen to audio recorded on the Samson C03U mic with pop filter

Settings: Hyper Cardioid, 0dB, High Pass Filter On

Software

The mic and pop filter are your main tools, your sound recordings will be much improved with these two tools.  Software is another important component as you need the software to recorded and edit your audio. I use Audacity  along with some added plug-ins, specifically LAME to export my audio as MP3 and Noise Gate and NotchFilter to cleanup my audio.  I sometime will use Garageband on my mac which has some great editing tools as well.

audacity

These aren’t the only software audio recorder/editors, however, Audacity is free.  You can purchase an editor such as SoundBooth or Adobe Premier which are also great audio editors.

Portable Sound Booth

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we all know that the best sound is recorded in a soundbooth. However, the cost of building out a room as a professional studio is expensive.  But, I have an extremely low-cost solution.  I built my own portable sound booth!  It sits right on my desk or if I’m feeling extremely anti-social, in my recording closet (my husband’s closet where I’ll sit to record when I have a full house).

My portable sound booth is nothing more than a $6 fabric cube with four pieces of acoustic foam.

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Believe it or not, this cube works beautifully.  I have once piece of foam placed in the back of the cube and one on the top and two on the sides.  The bottom does not have a piece of foam.  I place my mic in the box of the box pointed right in front of me. I’ve found that I can sit in my office at about 6 inches from the mic, with my pop filter positioned in front of the mic and get some good quality audio.

    Click to listen to audio recorded in the portable sound booth without a pop filter Settings: Hyper Cardioid, 0dB, High Pass Filter On

Click to listen to audio recorded in the portable sound booth with a pop filter Settings: Hyper Cardioid, 0dB, High Pass Filter On

I didn’t do any clean up on any off the audio files recorded for this post.  They are straight records in Audacity, exported as MP3 files. You can still hear my pug snoring even with the portable sound booth because she makes her nest right under my desk.  However, the TV was also blaring during my portable sound booth recording sessions.

The audio recorded in the sound booth works great for elearning audio because the ambient noise and hissing from the equipment itself is greatly reduced.  When you published your elearning there is also a certain amount of distortion added the audio so the deader the surroundings of the audio sound the better.

I’ve been recording my audio with my portable sound booth and pop filter and getting great results.  My investment paid off and I didn’t have to build a recording studio.

In my next post, I’ll share some tips on Cleaning Up Your Audio Files.

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