I’ve been exploring the idea of adding audio versions of some of my blog posts to this site. Would that be of interest to anyone? I’m also interested in conducting interviews that I could turn into a podcast. So, I’ve done some research into what it would take to create high-quality audio presentations, and I’m writing to share what I’ve learned.
There are a couple parts to making a high-fidelity audio recordings including, a microphone, a recording space, a recording device, and an audio editing suite. I’ll quickly run through each of these parts.
Microphones & Recording Devices
I started with the microphone because its the thing that senses audio input and I thought that it would have the biggest impact on sound quality. This turned out not to be the case and I discovered that it is possible to create a decent sounding recordings with a fairly inexpensive microphone, or even the microphone in your computer. Because microphones work in conjunction with recording devices I’ll talk about them together. Here are the three most common configurations I came across:
- PORTABLE DIGITAL RECORDER – This is probably the simplest and most convenient option because it’s portable, and can be plugged into your computer to record directly into your editing suite. The downside is that the built-in microphones are not as good as stand-alone microphones and tend to pick up noise from the device itself.
- PORTABLE DIGITAL RECORDERÂ + MICROPHONE – Same as above plus a higher quality stand-alone microphone. The downside is that you now have two things to carry, and you’ve spent more money. I should note that you can buy an inexpensive converter that will allow you to use the stand-alone mic directly with your computer as well.
- USB MICROPHONE + COMPUTERÂ – This may be your cheapest option while offering the best sound quality. I’m assuming you already have a computer because you’ll need that to edit the audio, no matter which option you pursue. The downside is that it’s less portable, and you can only use the microphone with a computer.
There are other configurations that are common if, for exampleÂ you need to use multiple microphones, which usually requires some sort of mixer. However, in order to record podcasts and interviews, these should suffice. I spoke to many people, and read many online reviews, before choosing a unit to test in each category. These represent high quality instruments at a reasonable price. In other words, there are cheaper and more expensive options, but these offer exceptional value for the money. For some perspective, you can find solid stand-alone microphones starting at around $100. I won’t go into detailed reviews here as this information is readily available online.
I decided to go with a USB microphone because sound quality was my first priority and I wanted to put extra money towards that. I also assumed that I’d always have my computer with me when I was recording. The benefit of having the computer is that you can quickly do test playbacks to adjust levels and manage room sound. As a nice added feature, the USB microphone also has an 1/8″ monitor jack on the side so you can plug in headphones and monitor the sound while your record.
In the case that I might want to record interviews with people on the street I thought I’d pick up one of these microphones for $15 which works with the free digital recording application I have for my iPhone. If you’re really on a budget, you could try using this alone. It’s supposedly better than using the built-in microphone in your computer (and is attached to a solid state device which produces less noise itself). That said, given the right recording space it is possible to make decent recording with just your computer.
The Recording Space
The space in which you record will have a greater impact on sound quality than a choice between any of the above microphones (except maybe the built-in computer microphone and the $15 one). I tested them all in a furnished office as well as in a completely sound damped room (i.e. no reflected sound or outside noise). What I noticed was that recording in a proper room makes the worst microphone I tested sound better than the best one in the un-damped office. At the same time, the best microphone still sounded significantly better in an apples-to-apples comparison in each space.
Part of the reason I selected the USB microphone was because I knew that I’d want to find a good room to record in. If I could do that, I could probably bring my computer as well. Plus, if I ever mix in interviews from the street with the $15 microphone, they’ll sound more authentic!
The Editing Suite
I don’t have too much to say here other than that I’ve used two programs and they are indistinguishable from a sound quality perspective. They are Audacity and Garage Band. Audacity happens to be free, and has a great support community that makes all sort of plug-ins and filters, so I’d recommend starting with that.
Ok, that’s it for now. I’ll add more information here once I get some additional experience recording.