How to Set Up Your Recording Environment for Better Audio Quality

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How to Set Up Your Recording Environment for Better Audio Quality

Nearly 41% of the world’s population will have internet access by 2018 (81% in the developed world). At the same time, the number of smartphone users will balloon to 2.53 billion.

 

These hundreds of millions of users will, of course, want access to their favorite entertainment sources online – music, movies, and most importantly for us, online radio.

Over 65M Americans used online radio every month in 2017, tuning in for over 14 hours of programming each week.

 

By hosting your own radio station, you can carve a slice of this enormous – and growing – audience pie.

Before you top the charts with your online radio station, however, you need to create an environment that’s conducive to recording.

In this article, I’ll share some essential tips for setting up your recording environment for better quality.

 

1. Choose the Right Microphone

This goes without saying – the quality of your microphone will impact the quality of your recordings.

 

Broadly speaking, you have three options when it comes to picking a microphone:

  • Built-in microphone: With this option, you’ll use the microphone built into your laptop or smartphone. The quality, as you can imagine, is poor and not recommended for any sort of serious pursuit.
  • USB microphone: A USB microphone connects to your computer’s USB port and works instantly. It does not require any external power. USB microphones offer a good balance between convenience, cost, and quality.

 

  • External microphone: Most external microphones require external power via an audio interface (called “phantom power”). This audio interface (such as Focusrite Scarlett Solo) then plugs into your computer. External microphones offer the best quality but also require a higher upfront investment.

 

Good-quality USB microphones start at $100+. With external microphones, you might have to budget separately for the microphone (starting at $100) and the external audio interface (another $100).

 

For most radio station hosts, a USB microphone will suffice.

Within external and USB microphones, you also have the choice between dynamic and condenser microphones.

  • Dynamic microphones have moving coils that produce sound via electromagnetic induction. This makes them exceptionally rugged but impacts the accuracy. Most dynamic microphones don’t necessarily require phantom power. Shure SM58 is a good example of this microphone type.

 

  • Condenser microphones have built-in condensers for producing sound. The condensers (or ‘capacitors’) can be highly sensitive. This gives you more accurate sound but also impacts durability. Condenser microphones always require phantom power. Audio Technica AT2035 is a good example of this microphone-type.

 

There really is no “right” choice between condenser or dynamic microphones. If you plan on moving about, you’ll definitely want the ruggedness of dynamic microphones.

However, if you’re doing very fine vocal work (say, recording someone singing), the warmth and accuracy of a condenser microphone will serve you better.

Evaluate your own requirements before making a choice.

Bottomline: Avoid in-built microphones. Choose from USB or external microphones. Pick dynamic microphones if durability is more important than accuracy.

 

2. Use the Right Microphone Accessories

 

Before you can jump in and start recording, you need a few accessories for your microphone.

At the very least, you should have:

  • A pop-filter: This is a simple mesh screen that fits in front of your microphone and prevents unwanted pops and noises. “Plosives” – the windy sound created when speaking ‘P’ or ‘B’ – can become very prominent without this filter.
  • A microphone stand: A good microphone is sensitive enough to capture any minor shakes and movements. A stand adds stability to your recording environment. Pick a tabletop stand since you’ll likely be recording sitting down.
  • Cables: Unless you’re using a USB microphone, you’ll need to use XLR cables to connect your microphone to your audio interface. Pick a high-quality cable with sufficient insulation and quality copper shielding.

 

3. Use the Right Positioning for Your Microphone

 

Unless you’re in a studio environment, it can be tricky to get the right placement and positioning for your microphone. Minus sound proofing treatment, every room is subject to sound reflections. Even with substantial EQing, these reflections will get recorded along with the audio, muddying up your mix.

So how can you use better placement for your microphone?

Start by figuring out what room or area within the room has the best acoustics. The easiest way to do this is to clap sharply and listen for echoes. I like to go around the room, clapping loudly near the corners and noticing the reflections.

You ideally want to pick a corner where the reflections are minimum. Avoid the center of the room since standing waves are the strongest here and will add an unpleasant ambiance to your sound.

Once you’ve figured out the least reflective corner of the room, try using some simple soundproofing on the nearest reflective surfaces (walls or doors). Soundproofing foam is the best choice but if you can’t afford that, even hanging a thick blanket on the wall can help.

4. Master Microphone Techniques

 

Microphones don’t record uniformly. What frequencies get emphasized – bass, mids or trebles – depends on how far/close you are to the microphone.

Broadly speaking, in most microphones:

  • Being very close to the microphone (5-15cm) will emphasize bass frequencies.
  • A distance of 15cm-30cm will emphasize mid frequencies.
  • A distance over 30cm will record a thinner sound with more treble.

“Microphone technique” refers to the speaker’s ability to use this fact to his/her advantage.

You’ll want to change your distance from the microphone depending on what you’re recording. In a part where you want more bass, pull the microphone closer. If you’re speaking normally, a neutral distance between 15-30 cm would work best. If you’re recording someone singing, use a distance of 30cm or more.

This might seem insignificant but it can impact how “professional” your final mix sounds.

 

5. Master EQing, Reverb and Compression

 

If you’ve ever used a professional audio recording tool such as Ableton or Logic Pro, you would know that there are dozens of audio effects you can use – Erosion, Saturator, Overdrive, etc.

Vouscast SHOUTcast, Icecast, Video Streaming Servers image1 How to Set Up Your Recording Environment for Better Audio Quality Production  Vouscast streaming radio Ryan Harrell recording professional audio production

The most important of all these effects, however, remains the trio of EQ, Reverb and Compressor.

 

If you want your recordings to sound more professional, you’ll need to master these three effects.

 

Unfortunately, there is no “right” way to use these effects; your choices will depend on your own voice and what kind of effect you want on the audience. As a general rule of the thumb, follow these tips:

 

  • Cut out the low-end from the mix using EQ and amplify the high-end frequencies (>6k Hz) using a shelf filter.
    Vouscast SHOUTcast, Icecast, Video Streaming Servers image2 How to Set Up Your Recording Environment for Better Audio Quality Production  Vouscast streaming radio Ryan Harrell recording professional audio production
  • Use a compressor with a fast attack/response time if you’re recording spoken word. Essentially, the faster the sound changes, the more you’ll want the attack/response time to change as well.

 

  • Be conservative with reverb. Recordings drenched in reverb might sound good, but you lose a lot of clarity in the process.

 

  • Try adding a simple delay in conjunction with a light reverb to add space to the recording. Again, don’t overdo lest you lose clarity.

 

  • Use a noise gate to cut out unwanted frequencies. Be careful that you don’t see the gate so high that you also end up cutting out some actual sound.

 

Use these effects in your recording before you go live. It will make a world of difference in the quality of the output.

 

Conclusion

 

Audio recording is a complex art. Some seemingly minor things can have a drastic impact on the quality of your sound.

While there is no guaranteed way to get perfect sound – a lot will depend on your recording room, equipment and vocal quality – the above tips will help you get started. Follow them to see a marked improvement in your recording quality.

Once you have the recording environment set up, use Vouscast.com to start your own radio station and broadcast yourself to the world.

 

Ryan Harrell contributed this article. He is a B2B marketer turned musician and blogger. He helps musicians pick the right equipment market their music better at MIDINation.

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