Getting Perfect Audio for Home Recording and Live Streaming
In my last article, we talked about upgrading your live streaming quality by using a DSLR as a webcam. However, the audio in a stream is just as important as the video quality. Let’s discuss everything you need to know to improve live stream audio quality.
First, consider the background noise from everything that surrounds you: the traffic outside your window, your dog with a squeaky toy, your desktop computer fans; any background noise can decrease the clarity of your audio. Choose a quiet space and turn off anything non-essential that’s creating sound.
Echo is especially common in home offices as sound travels unobstructed and bounces off the walls. A quick way to test your space for echo is to snap your fingers and see if you can hear a distinct second snap. Reduce echo by hanging thick blankets on the walls, or around your recording area. I recommend these moving blankets as they are thick, plain, and very cheap.
If you plan on live streaming or recording videos long-term, you can opt for a cleaner look with foam acoustic panels. In addition to reducing echo, there’s an entire art form using foam panels to decorate a room. Adhere the acoustic panels to cardboard squares and use 3M velcro command strips to attach them to the wall.
Choosing A Microphone
Your in-camera microphone sucks, It’s not entirely your camera’s fault, the biggest issue with the in-camera mic is that it’s far from your face.
This leads to a low signal-to-noise ratio, meaning the ambient noise is loud in relation to your voice. In the same way you can learly hear someone whisper directly into your ear, proximity plays a massive role in the clarity and quality of audio.
A Shotgun Mic (3.5mm), 2 Lavalier mics, An XLR Shotgun Mic, and a Dynamic microphone
Since you can’t change that microphone’s position, we’ll have to choose another mic. There are lavalier, shotgun, condenser, and dynamic mics. These microphones can have any of seven different polar patterns, which control the direction(s) that they are most sensitive to sound.
A lav mic is a small microphone clipped to your clothing. They typically have a 3.5mm connection to plug directly into a camera. This same connector can be used with a wireless kit, allowing the user to move freely.
While they may not have the same audio quality as a larger dynamic or condenser microphone, lav mics are the best solution if you will be moving a significant distance in your videos or live stream.
Moving short distances simply requires a long 3.5mm extension cable, however, if you are walking about a room, you’ll appreciate the freedom of having a wireless kit to transmit the audio back to your camera.
Unlike the in-camera microphone, shotgun mics are designed to focus on a tight area of sound and reject ambient noise from the sides. There are plenty of options that plug directly into your camera, and you can use a 3.5mm extension cable to get the microphone closer to you for improved audio quality.
The benefit of using a shotgun microphone is that you can position them to be outside of your video. The negative is that their tight pickup pattern requires you to maintain a specific position.
Condenser microphones require phantom power to function. They are most known for having a natural sound, and a strong audio signal that allows you to position them a short distance from your face. Often you can keep them distant enough to be out of frame in a tight video shot, though that will decrease the signal-to-noise ratio.
Dynamic mics are known for their excellent ambient noise rejection. Unlike condenser mics they do not require phantom power. Their warm and rich sound is synonymous with radio broadcasters and podcasts.
Dynamic microphones have what’s called a “proximity effect”, where using the mic extremely close results in the trademark sound. They also have a weaker signal and require high gain or additional equipment to get appropriate live streaming volume.
If you choose a dynamic mic, it will definitely be visible in your live stream as you’re forced to “eat the mic” to get the best sound.
Microphones can have any of seven different polar patterns, which control the direction(s) that they are most sensitive to sound. If you are in a quiet and echo-free space, you have significant freedom in the microphone’s polar pattern. If you are trying to reject ambient sound, choose a more narrow polar pattern.
USB or XLR
3.5mm microphones are designed to plug directly into a camera or wireless kit and are most common on a small shotgun and lavalier mics. High-end shotgun microphones typically use XLR to be compatible with portable recorders for location filming. Condenser and dynamic mics exist with both USB and XLR connections.
A USB connection provides simplicity. Connect the microphone, install drivers, and you’re ready to record. They are typically more limited in sound quality having a lower bit depth (the dynamic range of sound).
XLR microphones instead offer more accurate audio quality, but require the use of an audio interface when live streaming. This added quality gives you finer levels of control. To put it in photography terms, USB mics are jpegs in auto, XLR mics are raw files in manual.
Lastly there are some microphone disciplines to maintain good audio throughout your live stream.
- Minimize the distance between you and the mic. This leads to less gain and lower presence of ambient noise.
- Keep your position relative to the mic the same, and try to maintain a consistent speaking volume.
- Don’t overdo your gain. If your gain is too high you will get clipped audio, which sounds terrible life and can’t be recovered in post-production.
- For dynamic mics with proximity effect, use a pop filter to prevent “plosives”, consonant sounds that push air directly into the mic.
This is a ton of information to take in for the seemingly simple task of recording your voice. To sum it up; If you are moving a lot (cooking) in your live streams, get a lav mic. If you are moving a large distance (walking throughout a room), get a wireless lav mic.
If you want your microphone to be invisible, get a shotgun. If you want the best sound quality, opt for a condenser or dynamic mic. And if you are competing with a noisy environment, choose a dynamic microphone.
Mic discipline and a quiet environment go a long way towards improving your audio quality for videos and live streaming. If you’ve quickly found the gear that’s right for you and wants to level up even further, check out VSTs for using effects to modify your live sound.
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