Not all recorders offer control of the recording level. Find out if yours does and learn how to use it. You will need to know where the meter is as it will show how strong the sound is, and there will be a facility to adjust it.
If the level is too high, the recording will distort. If it is too low, you will not be able to hear the sound clearly and you will have lots of background noise and hiss when you turn up the volume.
As someone speaks, the levels will vary considerably. Look at where the sound peaks (i.e. reaches its highest level on the meter). Going higher than zero will result in distortion, so try to get the level near to the top of the meter without it going over and peaking. Any peaking is normally indicated by a red light.
It is advisable to ask a few questions out loud and do a test recording first so that you can check and set the level.
Some recorders have fixed input levels – high and low, which will adjust the level of the sound reaching the microphone. If your input levels are turned up but the signal (level) is too low, you can move the microphone closer or if necessary ask them to speak louder. The same applies in reverse if a sound is too loud, as you can move the microphone further away, however remember that this will mean that the microphone more background and 'room' noise.
To produce a good sound that is undistorted, your most important considerations should be how you work with your microphone and the room acoustics of your location.
- Find the recording meter on your device or software
- Run through what you are about to record
- Set the input level of your device so that the signal (level of the sound) is strong but not peaking
- Make a test recording
- Listen back to your recording and adjust the levels and/or microphone position accordingly.
Mono or stereo?
Think about the purpose of your recording. Recording in mono will take up half the amount of space on your computer. Professional recordings are done in stereo, but use up more memory. Memory can be an issue if you are planning to store your sound files on your computer or smartphone or place them on a server.
Think carefully about where you will be when recording, and about how you can limit background noise. Recording inside is usually preferable to recording outside.
Consider the room you are recording in, and its size.
Consider the room you are recording in, and its size.
- Big rooms with tall ceilings can cause an echo. If you cannot avoid recording in larger rooms, record to one side of the room.
- Avoid the corners of rooms as it can sound muffled and have more emphasis on low frequencies.
- Do not record too close to bare walls, as you will pick up reflected sound.
- Sound waves reflect from hard surfaces, causing echoes. These are absorbed by soft surfaces, so carpets, soft furnishings and closing the curtains all help to reduce this issue.
- The ideal room is small, with a low ceiling.
Think about sources of unwanted sound. Sound travels by vibration and a microphone placed on a table may pick up vibrations caused elsewhere in the room, or in a nearby room. This can be reduced in the following ways.
- By putting the microphone on something soft. Use either a soft cloth or an insulating layer such as some plastic foam on which to stand the microphone.
- By putting soft felt under the table legs if you do not have carpet.
- Use a desktop microphone stand. However, always ensure that the central pole of the stand is not touching the table, as this will pickup any vibrations. The same issue applies to stands that are floor-standing, as any noises travelling along the floor such as footsteps, will be picked up by the microphone.
Be aware of background sounds - phones that might ring, clocks ticking, air conditioning, fridges and freezers. Consider the following:
- Limit extra noises by recording in a quiet place.
- Put mobile phones on silent or turn them off as even a vibrating phone can generate a noticeable noise, especially if it is on a hard surface.
- Televisions, computers and electronic devices will cause a hum.
- Sometimes fluorescent lighting can cause interference.
- Do not put your microphone near an overhead projector.
- If you are recording onto your computer or laptop, make sure the microphone is not too close to the computer or it will pick up system running sounds, like fans, hum, static etc.
How to get a good sound
- Try to exclude any unwanted sounds and focus in on the sound you are trying to capture.
- If you are interviewing someone, your microphone should be equally spaced between yourself and the person you are interviewing to ensure even sound levels. Maintain the same distance from the microphone throughout your interview and speak across the microphone. Point it at the person speaking, as this will place more emphasis on their answers and not your questions.
- Try not to put the microphone too close to someone's mouth as this can sometimes cause distortion and popping sounds. Ideally, a microphone should be around 30cm from the person speaking. Keep it slightly to one side of the speaker's mouth and slightly below.
- If you get too far away from the microphone you run the risk of picking up more background sounds than you want.
- Sometimes when someone speaks you may pick up the wind of their breath as they are speaking. To cut this kind of sound down, you will need a microphone windshield. Putting some foam around the head of the microphone can work very well.
- Do not hold a microphone in your hand unless it is specifically designed for this. To prevent the cord from knocking against the microphone while you are holding it, wind the cord round your hand or the bottom of the microphone. Do not play with the cord while you are recording but keep it as still as possible. It can be tiring holding a microphone, so it is a good idea to rest your arm on a steady surface if you can. Also, do not grip the microphone too hard or your hand will get tired. Try not to move the microphone around in your hand as any sounds you make will be picked up.
- Remove any jewellery and be aware of zips and buttons as they can cause unnecessary noise.
- Keep your microphone cables away from other cables that are in use as this can cause interference.