Looking to improve audio quality? Smart move.
I started working with podcasts because I was an avid podcast listener. I would be listening to a conversation, hanging on every word, and then it would happen …
The guest would bump his mic at the exact moment when he said the one thing I wanted to hear, and I’d miss out.
Our content should connect and engage, not frustrate and push away.
Since I run a podcast production company, I’ve learned that most people think any sound problem can be repaired with the simple twist of a knob. If only that were so.
Do you know how to avoid the most common audio production pitfalls that distract your listeners from their favorite podcast topics?
Read on to discover how your podcast can stand out from the majority of the audio content available on the web.
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Quality audio defined
Audio quality can be as subjective as Picasso’s art in a museum. One person says it’s brilliant … the next walks away scratching their head.
Let’s start with what quality audio is not.
You can tell audio needs to be improved when you hear:
- Room reflections (echoes from the recording room)
- Microphone handling, bumping sounds
- Other foreign sounds: animals, lawnmowers, keyboard clicks, etc.
- “Plosives” (the explosive sound consonants make when spoken into a microphone)
- Extreme audio processing (audio effects that create an unnatural sound)
On the other hand, quality audio can be defined in one word: natural.
Quality audio sounds as if you’re talking around a kitchen table or with a client in your office. Your sound should be a “welcome mat” that invites the listener in for what feels like a face-to-face conversation.
How to record high-quality audio
How do you accomplish that? How do you improve audio quality? Here are 10 tips that will help you produce the “welcome mat” experience.
1. Value your listeners
Podcasts and blogs are similar.
In the same way that good website design helps attract and keep blog readers, quality audio attracts and keeps listeners around.
Quality audio isn’t about making you sound good, it’s about engaging your audience — just like good about me pages.
2. Invest in the right microphone
You knew this one was coming.
Microphones are the most important element of quality audio, but podcasters don’t need fancy, expensive ones.
If you record a monologue or interview-style podcast in an office or room in a home, a dynamic microphone is what you need. Other microphones work, but they can require more resources to coax out good sound.
Want some recommendations? My favorites are:
- Audio-Technica 2100: a great USB microphone at an amazing price
- RE20: the most popular microphone for radio for decades
The microphones listed above will produce good sound, but remember that choosing a microphone to improve audio quality is mostly about personality and taste. You need to ask yourself if the microphone is right for you, your voice, and your brand.
One way to answer the “which is best for me” question is to book a session at a professional recording studio and try out a variety of microphones. Take those recordings and get some feedback.
Between the engineer at the studio and your friends and family, you should be able to find a clear winner. Also, keep your target audience in mind. Does the microphone help communicate who you are? Does it match the tone your audience needs to hear?
Here are a couple guidelines about microphones to avoid:
- The headset microphone that came with your smartphone. While those are great for appearing live on Facebook, they’re not ideal for podcasting.
- A condenser microphone. They’re made for the acoustics in big, fancy, recording studios. Unless you’re planning to build a recording booth in your garage, leave these microphones in the store.
3. Use a microphone stand
Some podcasters like to record with the microphone in their hands. Unless holding the mic is absolutely necessary, avoid that technique.
Another common microphone-stand mistake is connecting it to a surface your hands or feet easily touch. If it’s a desk-mount stand, try connecting it to a nearby piece of furniture that’s not touching the desk. Or, if it’s a floor-mount stand, make sure the feet rest on carpet or padding.
Otherwise, the small movements you make during recording can transfer up the stand and into the microphone, which produces distracting sounds.
4. Find a great place to record
Before you start to figure out how to get the best audio quality from your mic, you need to find a great place to record. This item alone is a quick win for good sound.
Before you record, double-check that your room doesn’t reflect your voice back into the microphone. Carpet, furniture, wall decorations, and non-parallel walls all help calm the reflections. Trying a smaller room, or even a closet, is often easier than acoustically treating your current recording space.
You should also keep outside noises to a minimum. Common offenders are:
- Phones and other electronics
- Open windows
5. Speak near the microphone
Even though you’re looking to improve audio quality, nearly everyone shies away from the microphone. Don’t.
Even a slight distance from a mic makes you sound like you’re in a cave.
You’ll want to nearly kiss it. Make it your friend, and it will make you friends as you build your audience with audio content marketing.
6. Set up a pop filter
The downside of speaking near the microphone is that it causes “plosives.”
“Plosives” are simply the air from consonant sounds disrupting the sensitive components of the microphone.
The pop filter, a screen that goes around or in front of a microphone, is a tried-and-true solution. Expensive or cheap, they’re all about the same.
7. Select an audio interface
Although many recommend using a mixing board, I’ve found that the never-ending knobs create more headaches than freedom.
The simplest solution is to plug your microphone into an audio interface, which converts your analogue microphone sound into digital, so your computer can understand it.
As a side note, even if you’re using the Audio-Technica 2100, it’s still a good idea to utilize an audio interface instead of the USB connection. It produces a much more detailed and clear sound.
My current audio interface favorites are:
8. Record separate tracks
Take advantage of multiple tracks to make sure every voice has its own separate recording.
With a two-person interview, it’s easy to pan the host to the left track and the guest to the right track. If your guest joins you via video chat, capturing a separate track of their local recording is helpful.
In the past, this was only possible if the guest was well-versed in audio or recording in a radio station. Thankfully, technology has advanced.
One of my favorite tools is Zencastr. It records via a web browser and uploads the best audio possible to your dropbox account.
9. Back up your recordings
Some people prefer to avoid a computer and record into a small recording device. I often do this myself, after having one too many recording sessions ruined by computer glitches.
I know of an author whose power went out while he was recording an audiobook. He lost four hours of recorded audio!
You can avoid that exact situation by recording into an external recorder. Or better yet, record into a computer for convenience and add an external recorder as a backup, just in case.
One of the fastest ways is to simply use an XLR splitter, which will split the signal into both the audio interface and the external recorder. If you have multiple sources, running an output from the interface into the recorder is a great way to use it as a secondary backup.
A couple external recorder favorites of mine are:
- Tascam DR-100mkIII
- Sound Devices MixPre-3
10. Edit and produce your content
While creating a good recording is the bulk of what’s involved in producing a podcast, quality editing and production wraps up the improve-audio-quality package.
If you have audio experience, go for it, but if you’re hesitant, grab someone who’s spent some time in the field. Even if you don’t hire a producer who specifically works with podcasts, their wisdom can help ensure you avoid expensive mistakes and end up with a quality product.
For those producing podcasts on their own, check out Auphonic. Auphonic has turned years of professional audio experience into an inexpensive piece of online software. Their specialty is leveling audio and removing background hiss and noise, an audio producer’s two most important jobs.
Bonus tip: loosen up
Before you record, have some fun: watch a cat video, laugh a little, do some vocal warm-ups.
Think about the person you’re aiming to help and the problem you can’t wait to solve for them, just as if you were writing copy.
Better recordings strengthen your message
Remember, audio equipment exists to enhance your message.
Who you are and what you have to say is invaluable … the gear is just a method of transporting the gold.
Enhancing audio FAQs
Looking for some quick tips about enhancing audio? Check out these frequently asked questions and answers that will help you improve audio quality right away.
How can I improve the quality of my voice?
Practice, practice, practice. If you record practice sessions of your podcast, you can write down three or more aspects of your voice that you want to improve, and then aim to resolve those issues.
Similarly, listen to your old podcast episodes for moments when your voice is weaker than you’d like it to be. Then, make sure you don’t make those same mistakes in the future.
Finally, slow down. The most important thing is that your voice is loud and clear, so that you listeners can connect with your message.
Which factors will increase the quality of audio?
The two best pieces of advice related to how to improve audio quality are:
- Investing in the right microphone
- Finding a great place to record
Your listeners will immediately benefit from those two improvements, since they’re important webinar guidelines as well.
How can I improve the sound quality of a recorded podcast?
Once you’ve recorded your podcast, you can improve some aspects of the sound quality in post-production.
First choose an audio interface, such as:
Then you’re free to adjust the volume and edit out mistakes accordingly.
For more advanced improvements, consider hiring a professional sound engineer.
How to get the best audio quality from my mic?
When you’re looking to improve audio quality, small changes to how you use your mic can make a big difference.
Remember these three simple rules:
- Use a microphone stand.
- Speak near your microphone.
- Use a pop filter.
And there you have it! Try these audio tips today to start podcasting like pro.
Reader Comments (15)
Steven Jude says
The plosives were my major challenge until i got a pop filter. Thanks for sharing these tips.
Sonia Simone says
Toby’s recommendations were total gold for me in improving my recordings. He does incredible work! (Plus he’s super nice.) 🙂
Toby Lyles says
Such kind comments Sonia!
Steven, I appreciate that note about pop filters. Pop Filters are similar tiny homes, sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.
Freddy Junior says
These are great tips for new podcasters! 😉
I would say that some of the most important parts here would be having the right microphone (of high quality) and setting up your “studio” so to speak – in a quiet area where you can just relax and vent. You do need the right place to record your podcast shows.
You hit some great points and great advice!
Thanks for sharing!
David Lee King says
I’ll disagree with your thoughts on condenser microphones. Many podcasters use em with no issues. They are NOT made for fancy studios – they are just microphones that need phantom power. Your suggestion of using the Focusrite Scarlett as an audio interface handles that just fine.
Coaxing out good sound … again, this really isn’t an issue. Different mics do different things. Even the two you suggest will sound different, and you’ll have to do some different things (eq, placement, etc) to get good sound out of them. Condenser mics are no different.
Toby Lyles says
I love your passion for good sound. Regarding condenser microphones. I began recommending condenser microphones as well, they’re amazing. I’m simply pointing to the fact that because of the increased sensitivity, they more often pick up room reflections. I encourage the use of a condenser microphone, but remember the recording space plays a larger impact on the sound. After hundreds of recordings, I’ve landed on dynamic microphones because I want to give advice that a larger audience can quickly win with. If one is willing to invest in correcting their acoustic environment, I agree, there’s no substitute for a good large diaphragm condenser!
Very Useful & Plain writing.
Thanks for such an amazing tips.
I purchased a nice microphone recently. I wasn’t planning to get a mic stand, as I don’t mind holding the mic in my hand, but now I’m strongly considering it. Because I somehow didn’t consider the fact that my new mic would (of course) pick up every little movement I made. Many of the sounds are minor and/or fixable, but ideally they just shouldn’t be there at all.
A pop filter, on the other hand, is one thing I thought I’d need, but really don’t. I find that placing the mic to the side of my mouth — very close to my face, but just outside that stream of air — eliminates all the plosive “pops.”
Toby Lyles says
Congratulations on your new microphone! A microphone stand has the advantages you mentioned, as well as keeping a consistent distance from the sound source to the microphone. It sounds however, like you’ll enjoy the reduced editing time the most! The more streamlined the podcast process is, the more likely you’ll consistently podcast, and have energy to keep going …
I’m glad you’re finding the pop filter unnecessary. If your microphone position is communicating your message without a pop filter, you’re right to leave it off.
Brian Ruggiero says
Great stuff as always Toby! Especially that Zencastr tip.
Maybe another bonus tip could be…when it sounds bad, send it to the professional editor.
Toby Lyles says
That is an especially informed comment. Thanks Brian!
Rupesh Kumar says
Nice post, Toby. I am planning to start podcasting and this post will be a nice addition to my research. Microphone selection and kind of recording space are quite important.
I personally like Audio-Technica 2100 when it comes to microphone selection.
Thanks once again for this post.
Toby Lyles says
Excited to hear about you new endeavors Rupesh. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the Showrunner podcast. Jerod and Jonny give essential information on launching a podcast.
Rupesh kumar says
Sure…. I will check out Showrunner podcast.
Manish Kumar says
If you’re producing a podcast of your own, you’re likely a writer, journalist, or subject matter expert with great ideas and stories but working with a small budget. Poor audio quality can detract from the message that you’re trying to deliver, so it’s important to get great-sounding, compelling audio.
Relevant to optimizing how your voice sounds, one easy to find resource I highly recommend to anyone who’s serious about doing webinars/podcasts/videos online is “Vocal Power” by Roger Love. Roger is a famous voice coach who’s helped Tony Robbins, Eminem, and many more super star celebrities to tap into the voice that is perfect for them.
Thank you for all the suggestions here Toby!
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