Adventures in Podcasting 3: a quick note on sound quality

No matter how amazing your content, if people can’t hear it properly, they won’t stick around. Listening to crackly podcasts recorded onto crappy inbuilt computer or camcorder mikes hurts the ears.

Furthermore, people often listen to podcasts in noisy conditions – in the car, on commuter trains – or on rubbish headphones.

Therefore, do all that is in your power to optimise the sound quality of your podcast.

As I mentioned before, record in high quality formats, like AIFF or WAV. Try to keep your volume levels consistent – nobody likes that thing when they’re watching a nice gentle afternoon film, then THE ADVERTS COME ON AT BLARING VOLUME.

So: during recording, keep an eye on the levels – in Answer Me This! this is Martin’s job, when he’s not too busy checking Tweetdeck or eating sweets. If you’re too quiet, come closer to the mike. If you are too loud – Oliver Louis Mann – back off the mike, especially if you are about to do something like a big laugh, or a theatrical bellow. And speak INTO the mike, not off to the side. And don’t speak too fast. And tuck your shirt in.

In post-production, I spend a tedious amount of time setting the volume automation on our vocal tracks (that is the yellow lines on this screengrab) so that the result is as loud as possible, without being so loud that the levels peak (that’s when the friendly green lights on the mixer turn angry red) because then the sound distorts. This is undesirable.

I also use plug-ins on Logic that I don’t really understand. I use a noise gate, to cut out some background noise, and a compressor, to make quiet noises louder; but I only use quite gentle versions of both, because if too heavily compressed, the edits will sound more obvious and clicky, and background noise becomes too amplified. The latter is a problem because we’re not recording in a sound-proofed studio, but in our living-room; we frequently have to stop whilst sirens and helicopters pass by outside, and even wait for the neighbours to stop copulating loudly on the other side of the wall.

Radio professionals don’t have to contend with that shit.

Next: the importance of editing. For the rest of the posts about podcasting, click here.

2 Comments to “Adventures in Podcasting 3: a quick note on sound quality”

  1. Yes, the volume level – that absolutely deserves to be in bold. Oddly, the worst experiences I’ve had with levels are actually podcasts produced by radio stations where they will occasionally throw in a jingle at three or four times the volume of the talking. I mean, so much louder that it actually makes me physically jump. One of them (Frank Skinner’s Absolute show) fixed it after a year, though it’s still often hard to hear Alun; the other (Jason Byrne’s on Phantom) still does it.

    So thanks for pointing that out to new podcasters. As a listener, it’s one of the most noticeable things. (And kudos on doing it better than radio stations; one would expect them to know better.)

  2. A friend just asked me on Twitter what’s the best MP3 rate to bounce the files into without too much audio loss. We do ours at a bit rate of 128kbps, sample rate 44.100kHz. Anything much below 128kbps will start sounding a bit distorted and unpleasant.

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