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Old April 30th, 2020, 03:08 PM   #1
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Need guidance on quality and equipment

I read the faqs, and guess this might be an open ended question, but I am looking for some way to make an informed decision, other than wasting money.

I am new to recording voice. I have two books I want to convert to audio books and I actually prefer my own voice to the actors I can afford.

Currently using i7 dell xps lap top (totally silent) and blue snowball usb microphone+ click guard. I use Audacity to record / edit / adjust. (Computer software geek by trade)

I have constructed a recording ‘booth’ out of acoustic foam and I have just about achieved a reasonable quality, but if it was perfect I wouldn’t be posting.

I have invested in voice training, both live and an online course. Part of the online course suggests using a professional recorder (EG Marantz PD 6xx style).

The online tutor suggests a recorder will give better quality / ease of use / ambient noise.

As this is non-profit activity I am loath to spend unnecessary, but I do want the best quality I can sensibly achieve.

My issues with current set up are:
Still sensitive to ambient noise (EG rain or wife clatter)
Would prefer a ‘deader’ sound (Trying hard with Equaliser, but failing)
Spit clicks (I know – my problem (medication induced), doubt tech can fix that, but if anybody has a better suggestion than editing them out one at a time, I'm open to learn.)

The question.

I can afford a Tascam DR40X without too much grief. BUT I have no knowledge that will let me make a balanced/ educated decision on this. Hence, I have trawled the internet seeking help – and landed here.

Will I achieve a better quality from the Tascam?

Would I achieve better quality from something more expensive?

What tech specs are the things I should be looking for/ considering? I am only going to be recording one person speaking.

Thanks for reading this far
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Old April 30th, 2020, 04:07 PM   #2
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Just my two cents, but it sounds like your problems are more external to the recording equipment than the equipment itself. The difference in the recorder quality and your laptop will probably be minor compared to your sound-control problems. A "better" recorder won't do a thing for ambient noise, both systems will record what is there. You have to control your ambience first. As to ease of use, Audacity is as easy as it gets and is a remarkable piece of kit, particularly for the price (free). It does have a good noise reduction effect which will remove, not rain and voices, but the minor electronic hiss you may experience from USB connections and other low-level background nasties.

Isolating your "studio" --- a closet with a bunch of clothing hanging about is amazingly effective, if uncomfortable. The thick padded blankets movers use for furniture are cheaply available on this side of the pond and people often use them for isolation as well. I think you are talking about an environment without reverb from the surroundings as the "deader" sound you seek, this is one approach to eliminating that. It also goes to the external interference noise problem, it's apparent that your work area is not well sound-deadened.

A "pop filter," which is usually a fabric covered hoop placed between your mike and voice will help somewhat with "plosives" as will speaking not directly into, but across the mike at a bit of an angle.

Once you get your environment working, you can see how satisfied you are with your current recording setup. FWIW I've done voice-over with a setup much like yours for cable tv public service spots, and the result was entirely satisfactory. As an aside, stay off the equalizer until you are sure what you're doing, usually that does more harm than good, and it won't fix reverb. Best wishes!
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Old April 30th, 2020, 04:18 PM   #3
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Recording directly to your computer should sound good with basic recording skills and pro quality:
1. mic
2. preamp (most integrated sound card's preamps suck)
3. A/D converter (same as above)
4. environment (no extraneous noise and acoustically dead)
5. TALENT (if none exists, the above items won't help)

The DR-40 should sound decent along with items 1, 4 and 5.
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Old April 30th, 2020, 06:48 PM   #4
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

You will get a variety of advice in this forum, it will not be entirely uniform, but it will mostly be quite good. In some cases you can discard the outliers and interpolate the rest.

I started working as a broadcast engineer over 50 years ago (OMG can that be right?) and have been involved with broadcast and/or audio since then. I am presently retired (i.e. not paid) but have been serving as a volunteer at the local NPR/PBS station for the past eight years. (I do announcing, train volunteer announcers, and do recording and production; the union won't let me do any engineering duties.) A lot has changed (broadcasters now have an IT department, but no longer have vacuum tubes) but the basics still hold true.

There is a difference between soundproofing (isolation from outside noises) and acoustic treatment (reduction and control of reflections from the desired source, e.g. your voice). This is an important distinction.

Realtors say "location, location, location." For soundproofing, architects say "mass, mass, mass ... and isolation."

Build a 10'x10'x8' studio with 8" concrete slab floor, 8" concrete block (with cores filled) walls, a concrete ceiling (dock plank or more). If your wife is chatting on the other side of the wall, little or none of her voice will get into your room. The mass of the structure (with all openings sealed) will stop the airborne sound transmission. If the slab floor extends out beyond your block walls, and your wife is walking around on that same slab with high-heel shoes, you will hear the footsteps inside your room; the continuous concrete will allow structure-borne sound transmission. (Solve that by adding some resilient underlayment, covered by carpeting, on your wife's side of the wall. It would be difficult to solve with floor treatment inside your room; once the floor in your studio is vibrating, you need to isolate the slab from the interior of the studio, which is a BIG challenge.) If enough rain is hitting the top side of the dock plank, it will make that concrete vibrate, which will transmit some of the rain noise into your studio. To solve that either construct an acoustically isolated roof a few feet above the docks plank, or else construct an acoustically isolated high-mass ceiling inside your studio. In summary, to stop ingress of unwanted sounds, you need a continuous sealed barrier of sufficient mass AND you need to avoid making that barrier vibrate. Now the room is "soundproof" and quiet.

(And remember to seal carefully. An 1/8" gap around the perimeter of the floor is 480" long, so that amounts to 60 sq.in. or a 6"x10" hole. That can let a lot of sound leak into the room! Admittedly this is an over-simplification; it's not a hole, it's an 1/8" wide slot which will introduce additional attenuation. But will still allow a lot of sound into your studio.)

Assume it's a calm, sunny day, and your wife is barefoot. You start recording your voice tracks inside such a studio. The sound quality will be terrible. You'll have a huge amount of reflected sound from every surface: walls, ceiling, floor. The room is too "live." Now you treat the inside of the studio as follows. Add some carpet to the floor. Hang a lot of moving blankets from the walls (or, better yet, use something that has properly engineered acoustic properties so you can get the desired absorption at all frequencies). Add some acoustic ceiling panels in a grid (the quick and dirty solution) and probably put several inches or more of rock wool above the panels, to help absorb the sound that gets through the panels, before it reflects off the dock plank and comes back down through the panels. Now you have a room that is "dead" with proper acoustical properties.

Two entirely different concepts! Don't get them confused.

Of course sometimes you use sheet rock instead of concrete. Sometimes you use homasote. Sometimes you use resilient channel. But a few blankets or layers of foam will not stop the rain noise or your wife's voice ... at best the unwanted sound will be slightly attenuated. Details matter. There are books about these details.

Mr. Reineke knows his stuff, you can trust his advice! The DR-40 is a decent recorder. But the integral mics are no better than the Blue Snowball you're using now. (I use my DR-40 with a variety of external mics; they are hot enough to get by with the DR-40 preamp; otherwise I'd need to add that to my kit.) Besides, you should record your book (or any voice) in mono, so that rules out using the DR-40's integral stereo mics. No point in getting that or any other recorder at this early point in time.

I also agree that you will not get rid of room reflections ("liveness") or the rain or your wife by using EQ. Unless your voice or your mic is deficient, you should be able to get an acceptable recording without EQ ... then use EQ only sparingly, if at all, to slightly sweeten the sound.

I would hold off on buying any new recorder or mic at this point in time. Solve your acoustical problems first. If you have more specific questions, just ask!

P.S.: "Click guard"? There is such a thing as a pop filter, but pops (blasts of air, usually when pronouncing plosives) and clicks (originating inside the mouth, maybe including lip smacks, etc.) are entirely different things. As the mic gets closer and the voice gets quieter and more intimate, mouth noises will become more troublesome. If that's what you mean by "click" then I'd guess that's more of a voice coaching issue.

Last edited by Greg Miller; April 30th, 2020 at 08:00 PM.
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Old May 1st, 2020, 09:13 AM   #5
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

I think that answers perfectly.
Yes, pop filter is what I have, a fabric guard in front of the mike.

I am not totally ‘displeased’ with the current quality, but when the tutorial says this is wrong, I had to question what I was doing. However, I couldn’t see how to make a rational decision.

With computers, I can use numbers to make decisions. Disk speed ram access time cpu clock etc.
Looking at the audio gear, I was lost amongst the spec sheets but not seeing anything that said I would get a great improvement and the cost of the gear goes up fairly dramatically, especially just to capture speech.

More time fixing me and a bit more spent on the room will pay dividends. Fixing wife to be less noisy might take a little time. In honesty, outside of lock down I have the house to myself most of the time. And rain, hell I am in England it doesn’t rain that much … honest.

I had come to the same conclusion regarding the equaliser, I managed to waste a lot of time and just screw up what I had. Tweaking the bass and treble actually did a lot more for me. The downside of audacity is that the tweaks are destructive, so it is difficult to ‘play’ and find a good effect.

The only issue I have with you guys is that you stopped me buying a new gadget! And I am fairly certain new gadgets are pretty essential either side of the pond.

Serious thanks for taking the time to reply.
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Old May 1st, 2020, 09:21 AM   #6
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Miller View Post
...There is a difference between soundproofing (isolation from outside noises) and acoustic treatment (reduction and control of reflections from the desired source, e.g. your voice). This is an important distinction...

Realtors say "location, location, location." For soundproofing, architects say "mass, mass, mass ... and isolation...

I also agree that you will not get rid of room reflections ("liveness") or the rain or your wife by using EQ. Unless your voice or your mic is deficient, you should be able to get an acceptable recording without EQ ... then use EQ only sparingly, if at all, to slightly sweeten the sound...

I would hold off on buying any new recorder or mic at this point in time. Solve your acoustical problems first....
I also claim a long list of credits and experience in sound for broadcast, production co., agency, and home studio recording. Most recently I was the owner’s rep for a studio remodel in which I recommended and we received the services of a professional engineer who specializes in acoustics. It’s now a wonderful production and learning environment.

I quite agree with the posts above, and wanted to highlight some of Greg Miller’s thoughts. So much that passes as training and tutorials is about how to buy gear, and what gear is newer and better than the gear you have. “Expertise” now seems to be about social media marketing skills and equipment reviews.

When operated correctly, an adequate mic and recorder in the right place will always outperform the best gear in the wrong place. You have adequate gear.

The internet suggests that sticking some acoustic foam on the walls solves acoustic problems. Well, it does help with mid and high frequency reflections. Rigid fiberglass or rock wool board with no facing absorbs reflections from low to high, and, helps with isolation. It helps with isolation because it has mass, or at least it has more mass than foam, which is light as a feather.

From there you go to more mass, more walls, more insulation, sealing doors, double doors, boarding up windows, etc.

There’s a lot of radio announcers working out of bedroom closets in these days of pandemic. The clothes are absorbtive of sound (way better than foam), closets are usually on interior walls, away from common living areas, and the bedroom door can be closed.

And/or, record at a time that the house is quiet.

Try the closet!

P.S. You are listening with good headphones as you record? That’s how to learn to tame mouth sounds like clicking and breathing, as well as catching other performance issues.
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Old May 1st, 2020, 10:34 AM   #7
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Seth:

Your comment about headphones is of the utmost importance. I have heard some absolutely terrible headphones lately ... I am almost tempted to name them here to prevent anyone else from trying this brand.

Instead, I'll recommend what I think are the best bang for the buck: Sennheiser HD280 Pro. Very good sound, and good isolation, for around $100.00. My favorite for at least the past 20 years.

Eric:

If you want to buy a new gadget, get a set of HD280 Pro phones. You won't regret it.

I like a mic 3" to 6" from my mouth, roughly 45º off to the side of the front-back axis of my head. I aim the mic roughly at the middle of my mouth. But my mouth is NOT aimed at the mic ... that greatly reduces plosive pops. A cardioid mic is very sensitive to working distance: a decrease in distance will cause an increase in low frequencies. Pick a mic position that works for you, and then stick with it on every take. I'm working with volunteer announcers who are recording at home now, using anything from a $9.00 Philips voice recorder (well, it's a $99.00 recorder, but I found a great close-out sale) to a $200.00 USB mic. These same suggestions apply to everyone.

Also, ALWAYS save the original recording: "Me-chapter03-RAW.wav" Give the file read-only attributes so you can't accidentally alter it. Then as you diddle with various settings, take copious notes and save each iteration with a new name: "Me-chapter03-v27.wav"

ALWAYS save in .wav format. If you're going to make a large number of changes, consider saving in 32-bit. (However that's a minor detail compared to what has been said before this.)

There are countless small suggestions, now that the big basics have been addressed. Use gasketing around doors and windows. Single-pane glass is *very* transparent to sound; if you're stuck with this, screw some sheet rock (or at least homasote) over the entire window, frame, and trim. Be sure appliance motors aren't running. Etc. etc. etc.

If you post audio samples here, people may hear specific issues and will help you with appropriate comments.

Best of luck!
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Old May 1st, 2020, 11:10 AM   #8
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

I had to smile on this one - I've got three pairs of Shure SE215 in ears and really like them, so I bought a pair of 425's Shure say how good they are, and the dual drivers give better reproduction - I hate them!

Headphones are very personal, much more so than speaker. I remember fondly over the years Sennheiser HD25 - loved them, and the 280s which sounded very neutral and not tiring, and I really like DT100s I've tried other Sennheisers and Beyers, like the 'better' DT150s, but I stick to the ones I know.
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Old May 1st, 2020, 11:42 AM   #9
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
I've got three pairs of Shure SE215 in ears
Because ...? You have three pairs of ears? ;-)

My phones are on and off much too often ... I'm afraid I'll never try "real" IEMs.

Senny recently discontinued the HD202, which was a fantastic bargain for $20.00. Pretty much a universal jock earphone, disposable when the wire finally gives out. We have yet to find anything that sounds nearly that good for nearly that low a price.

And I'm still looking for replacement pads for my HD40s!
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Old May 1st, 2020, 12:12 PM   #10
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Eric,

In all things audio, be it simple or complex I teach people to think in terms of signal flow. Your voice is moving through a "system" like water flows trough pipes. From your mouth to the eventual binary code it becomes it gets manipulated along the way. Always know where it is going and what is happening along the way.

In your case the part I don't like is the USB mic. I can't speak for your model but I avoid them in general. With USB mics your not only dependent on the quality of the mic, they have their own codec built in. So the first two steps of your signal flow is dependant on a cheap mic. 1. Your voice hits the mic in the analog world (critical step). 2. The cheap mic then converts it into the digital world (critical step). No matter how many concrete bunkers you build or how thick your egg crates are all that money is wasted if the first two things your signal hits is weak. All good recording start with a good mic. Then that level of quality needs to be maintained as the signal flows. You will only be as good as the weakest link.

Welcome to the forum. You are already talking to some very knowedagle people.

Kind Regards,

Steve
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Old May 1st, 2020, 02:16 PM   #11
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Eric is trying to get his nice clean voice to "flow" through a small tank already contaminated with outside noise from the rain and miscellaneous household clattering. Then it hits the walls of the tank and reflections form (remember the ripple tank experiments in physics class?). A different mic won't uncontaminate his voice from all that pollution.

It's true that there are some terrible USB mics. The specific mic Eric is using (the Blue Snowball) has a reasonably good reputation for voice recording, podcasts, etc. It's not a mic you'd use for a feature film, but Eric is doing two low-budget audiobooks. I suspect the transducer, preamp, and A>D converter are in the same ballpark as something like the DR-40 that has been discussed. Steven, have you heard bad comments specifically about the Blue Snowball?

A better mic & pre might give him incrementally better recording of his voice ... AND a more accurate recording of the ambient noise and room reflections. I do not see that as a net gain. I think in terms of the ratio between wanted signal and unwanted signal. Based on Eric's initial comments, I think most of his unwanted signal is acoustic in nature, not contributed by his mic per se.

Eric has already told us he has problems with noise and room acoustics. He has not said he's displeased with the mic. I think it's reasonable for him to tackle problems he's aware of, before spending money on theoretical problems that he hasn't observed.

In a $50,000 room, a $5,000 mic & pre makes sense. Eric is probably in a <$500 room right now. Based on his question and description, I think it makes more sense to first spend a little more money on the environment. Then, when that audible pollution is gone, we can better evaluate the sound of the mic & electronics.

Eric could always post a sample recording and let us evaluate what we hear. Although then this forum will probably experience its share of noise pollution, too.

Last edited by Greg Miller; May 1st, 2020 at 02:54 PM.
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Old May 1st, 2020, 03:55 PM   #12
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Seriously? You'd take a listen to the file. That is more than I expected.

http://monkeyonmyshoulder.co.uk/wp/w...20/05/demo.wav

Not sure how to include the file, but this is a link to a completely raw including mouth pops sample.

My normal cycle would be to:

Edit through for mouth pops and stumbles and gaps. Mouth pops are inevitable, I am on meds that as a side effect give a dry mouth. Its either work in very small takes, or edit. I am opting to edit at the moment

Normalise, Noise reduce, compress, reduce bass and treble, amp + 3db

I've left the boxes ticked that say embed links, but I'm betting this is not going to happen. My settings say I cannot include attachments

Edit: The snowball was the best reviewed of the price range I was looking at. It is always trying to judge what gives the best effect.
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Old May 1st, 2020, 04:52 PM   #13
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Eric, thanks for providing the sample.

I do not hear anything even vaguely like a pop. A pop is a big burst of low frequency caused when some fast-moving air is expelled from your mouth and hits the mic (as opposed to minute air vibrations from sounds reaching the mic). If you want to hear pops, put the mic directly in front of your mouth, 3" or 4" away, then record something with a lot of plosives, like "Peter Piper picked ..." or something with a lot of leading "B" sounds. You can also get some heavy breath sounds from leading "T" consonants.

I hear a few small clicks, which might be mouth sounds (although I can't definitively identify them as such, because of the other room noise). e.g. ~1.95sec, ~8.97sec. There's a bit of weirdness ~10.3125 but I'm not sure whether that's a mouth noise. Are these examples of what you are calling "pops"? If so, I would disagree with that label.

You can find lots of advice about mouth noises. Avoid milk & dairy before recording. Stay well hydrated but avoid drinking immediately before recording. Etc. If you've had voice coaching, that would be a good resource for advice. I can suggest Biotene (brand) Moisturizing Mouth Spray; I learned about it from one of our volunteer announcers who had recently undergone chemo and said the spray helped with his dry mouth.

By far the biggest problem I hear is the very reflective room. What to do? Some folks advise recording in a closet, and you can try that if you like. Indeed, a lot of fabric will absorb much of the high frequencies. But unless the closet is huge, you may have issues with lower frequencies that penetrate the fabric, then reflect off the walls, creating numerous standing waves. I have heard some incredibly bizarre closet recordings.

By all means I recommend a lot of absorption in your room!

How big is the room?
What is the ceiling, wall, floor construction and coverings?
Where in the room were you located?
Where was the mic relative to your mouth?

I hear some other minor noise, some mains hum, etc. That stuff can be dealt with at a later stage. First get the desired audio (your voice) to sound decent (mainly reduce the undesired reflections). Then, later, deal with remaining background issues.

Just my two cents worth ... or is that tuppence?
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Old May 1st, 2020, 07:05 PM   #14
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

If I may suggest, the compression and eq-ing are probably not helping. What I hear most in your raw file that might help is a certain sibilance ("skin", etc) that is much like a hiss as the word is spoken. A good de-esser filter might be of help there.

Compression is often used in radio broadcasting to keep a certain overall level of amplitude, but the variances in intonation that make the spoken word interesting are often damaged in the process. You have a good voice, don't damage it by limiting your dynamic range.

You may be trying to eliminate the low frequency noise level and the sibilant harmonics with the eq, but eq needs a light hand or it interferes with the character of the voice. As I think all of us have agreed, you need to correct the audio ambience of your space first.

There are elaborate (i.e., expensive) solutions to this but I expect you need a fairly expedient solution, and absorbent surroundings, avoiding vibration pickup (traffic rumble, footsteps, rain) will have some positive effect. Don't go overboard with the effects, get a clean recording first. Again, my dos centavos.

In response to Greg's question, yes, this is a raw unedited file. My comments on the use of effects regards the OP's previous post on the effects he had been using, which may not be helping.

Last edited by Battle Vaughan; May 2nd, 2020 at 09:56 AM. Reason: addendum
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Old May 1st, 2020, 08:56 PM   #15
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Re: Need guidance on quality and equipment

Cheaper than sound treatment for an entire room, putting the mic inside an acoustic porta-booth might make all the difference.


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