microphones

The never ending quest for quality audio: What microphones do you recommend?

What microphone(s) do you recommend?

microphonesWell…?  Yes! That’s a question for you.  What microphones do you use when you create your screencast, web video or e-Learning projects?  And, would you recommend it?

Quality audio is a never ending quest isn’t it?  The topic of recommended microphones comes up fairly regularly.  It came up again recently in this LinkedIn thread. (Note: Login might be required.)

For my part, I often switch-off between…

  • Blue Microphone’s Yeti (desktop USB condenser microphone)
  • Samson CO1U (also a desktop USB condenser mic)
  • Audio-Technica ATR3350 (a wired lapel mic which you see me using in a lot of my “picture-in-picture” + screencast videos)
  • A $35 Plantronics headset with boom mic (I can’t even find a link to it anymore because they’ve probably stopped making whatever model this is that I have)

And now I’m waiting for a Shure FP Wireless pack.  (FP5 is the receiver. FP1 is the transmitter.  And it comes with a WL 183 Lavalier microphone.)

Why all the different microphones?

How to Even Out Sound Levels In Your Audio/Video Project

How Uneven Audio Happens In Your Projects

Sometimes, when you’re putting together an e-Learning project or even a simple  audio/video blog post, you end up with funky sounding audio levels.  Some parts of your clip seem louder, while others sound softer.  You may have seen this happen, too, when you conduct an audio interview with one or more people who are each at different distances from the microphone.  The folks who are closest to the microphone sound louder than those who are further away.  This is a leveling problem.

audio file that could use leveling

One way to fix this problem is to tweak your audio clips with an audio editor like Audacity (free), SoundForge (not free), Soundtrack Pro (even more not free), or something similar.  You would basically highlight the sections you want to make louder (or softer) and then use the Amplify effect in your audio editor to nudge it up (or down) in an attempt to “level out” the entire clip.  The thing is, that could be a lot of tweaking if you have a lot of interaction in your interview or if you’re compiling a lot of different audio files into the same project.  That’s where a free software tool called Levelator can help do the heavy lifting for you.

What Is Levelator?

Levelator is free software (available for Windows and Macintosh) that automagically adjusts the audio levels within your audio file for variations between one speaker and the next.  It’s like magic… only real.

In the video above you can see a before and after comparison of an audio file that I use to demonstrate Levelator.  Take a look.  I think you’ll be impressed.  (If not because of the ease with which this free software tool can help level your audio, then I’m certain you’ll be impressed with my rendition of “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers….”  😉

What Are the Best Microphones to Record Narration?

The question below came up in the Articulate Storyline forum.

Question - best mics

It’s a question I get a lot — many of you have asked the same question, as well.  So, I thought I’d share my answer with you below.  Make sure to see the reference links at the bottom.  There’s also a pretty useful primer produced by Andre Costa about getting good audio quality.  I think you’ll find it useful.

The Answer

Hi Luis,

I’ve used the Samson condenser mic you referenced.  It’s good. I’ve also used Blue’s Yeti microphone.  Both are very good.  If I had my druthers — and assuming your recording environment is relatively “clean” of ambient sounds — I’d opt for Blue’s Yeti, with the pop filter you mentioned.

The thing is, they’re so good that they will also record any ambient sounds in your recording environment. In fact, I now only use the condenser mics when I’m recording from my home office where my environment is better controlled than my business office — where there are a/c vents and non-padded / hollow walls.   It’s very noticeable.

Interestingly, when I record audio from my business office, I get better audio quality when I record using a plain ‘ol Plantronics headset with a boom mic and then follow that up with a little noise and bass filter processing using Audacity software (free). (Related reference:  How to Remove Background Noise From Your Screencast Audio.)

The Bottom Line

If you’re environment is clean of ambient sounds, I’d go with either of the condenser mics mentioned above. (Depending on your budget.) But, if you have limited control over your audio environment, I’d opt instead for a good headset / boom mic.  

“The Boom” headset mic is one I’m shopping for now.  It’s a bit pricey, but seems to be getting good reviews and is one a friend has recommended.

Also, I thought you might also find this funny, yet informative tutorial that was produced by Andre Costa about sound quality and microphone selection.