Simple Fixes For Poor Sound In Podcasts

With the growing popularity of low-cost podcasts comes a slew of mistakes that hamper the audio quality of the production. Many of these snafus occur because there is no skilled engineer behind the scenes. With a minimum of knowledge, they can easily be corrected.

Photo by Jonathan Farber.

Photo by Jonathan Farber.

One of the most basic errors in amateur podcasts is poor mic technique or using the wrong kind of microphone for the recording space. In offices, homes or other spaces that are not acoustically treated, high quality condenser microphones are usually the wrong choice.

Instead, use a dynamic microphone and work close to the mic. This is the key reason that mics like the Shure SM7B and Electro-Voice RE20 are so popular. They help mask bad room acoustics.

Speak within an inch or two of the mic. The resulting proximity effect will minimize thinness and give the voice a nice low-end boost. Being close to the mic also means the preamp level will not have to run as high, which can add noise to the signal.

Also — depending on the mic used — it might be wise to add an inline level boost attenuator to give a 12 to 20dB elevation to the level of the microphone’s signal. These attenuators are widely used with dynamic mics and are available from several manufacturers.

It’s important not to work too far away from the microphone in an untreated space. That is perhaps the major single reason for poor sound. One way to make close speaking easier is to use an articulating boom to bring the microphone as close as possible and easily adjust the speaker's position when needed.

Though human speech may seem easy to record, it is not. The voice is a dynamic sound source which can be a bit difficult to handle. When not running sound with an engineer, make sure the input VU meter is visible and the level control nearby. Keep an eye on the input level and adjust it to get optimal gain.

Avoid digital recording levels that are too hot. Clipping signals can be disastrous. During set-up for the recording, first do a test where you speak louder than normal into the microphone. See where you hit red and then lower the volume from that level. Leave yourself some breathing room.

When doing interviews with more than one microphone — even when the levels are set correctly — there may be level differences in the voices. This is when minor processing might be necessary to balance the sound levels.

Photo by Jason Rosewell.

Photo by Jason Rosewell.

First, use the “normalize” function separately on each voice’s channel. Try to get the different voices to the same amplitude. Next, depending on the recording, use light compression, a de-esser, EQ or a limiter. These, which can be found in a single channel strip or through plug-ins, can help balance and smooth out the sound with varying audio levels. Be cautious and use them all sparingly.

If you are using a DAW, the narration vocal preset in Apple’s Logic Pro and GarageBand’s voice library can help. Narration or podcast presets in other apps include voice levelers and noise removal effects. These can help. However, be careful not to alter the audio too drastically. It is best to keep use of all these tools at minimal levels.

Don't allow bleed from headphones to enter the microphone. This can happen when the headphone level is too loud. The easiest fix is to turn the headphone level down. Otherwise, make sure to use closed-back studio monitor headphones that fit tightly over the ears. Open-back headphones are great for listening to music, but they can leak sound in recording sessions.

Rode PSA1 microphone studio boom arm.

Rode PSA1 microphone studio boom arm.

Avoid plosives, which are the popping “P’s" and “B’s” that can ruin recordings. To get rid of these obnoxious sounds use a pop filter or windscreen with the microphone during recording. Also, use the high pass filter (or low-cut filter) to roll off the lowest frequencies that can help accentuate the plosive boom.

Also listen for loud clicks and pops on the final take. These can occur when the computer being used for recording is pushing too hard. To avoid this, close all apps not needed for the recording to give the computer as much headroom as possible. Over-taxing the computer’s processor and RAM can cause dropped samples that manifest as random clicks and pops.

Also, check settings to make sure the correct sample rate and clock source are selected for the computer and software. Make sure all these settings match those set in your DAW.

Creating podcasts is always sold to be easy. However, all the rules of audio engineering and physics still apply. To create broadcast quality audio requires tedious attention to detail at every step of the recording, editing and mixing process. Otherwise, your program will not sound as good as it can. 

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