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Getting Set Up 

 June 1, 2020

By  QJ

Welcome to my…

‘Up Your Audio to Awesome’

I’m QJ, the High-Quality Sound Guy.

From my early days of tape recording myself playing the piano, through twenty years in the music business – first as a musician, then as sound engineer and record producer (followed by ten years writing and producing radio commercials and jingles and speech-based corporate communications) – there really is very little I don’t know about sound recording, music, acoustics, studios, and broadcasting, audio technology and – most importantly – the human voice.

These days, I help speakers, consultants, and experts like you, who use your voice to communicate through live performance, live streaming, video conferencing and the like, to produce very high quality sound for your audience – whatever the medium.

Because quality online audio has never been so important, and plays such a critical role in our digital lives, I’m applying my life-long passion for music, sound and technology to this state-of-the-art service.

A new website has been created – jam-packed with hints, tips, human and tech advice – to help you get the very best sound from your voice direct to the listener’s ear.

Welcome to Awesome Audio!

Getting Set Up

The start point for the transmission of all sound is ‘the source of the sound’.

In other words, the sound source, which in this context is ‘your voice’.

And our job here is to capture your voice authentically, beautifully – you could say ‘to perfection’.

Your voice has no distortion, it’s just you speaking. And whilst we want your listener to enjoy what you say, we also want them to enjoy The Sound of Your Voice.

We don’t want to add distortion or other distracting sounds or interference when you speak to your audience.

So how do we do this?

The Microphone

In a nutshell, and for the best possible results, the microphone you use only wants to ‘hear’ your voice.

Anything else that it picks up will compromise the ultimate quality you transmit to you audience.

Here’s how to approach that…

1 – Other sounds

Sometimes we can speak and there’s silence around us. This is perfect. But sometimes, there are other noises around us and this doesn’t want to be ‘heard’ by the microphone you use.

The best and only way to optimise this situation is for the mic to be as close to your mouth (without being too close) as possible.

Too close is when you get ‘popping’ and this can usually be minimized with a pop shield.

I always aim for 2-3 inches from mic to mouth.

Then, if there are other sounds around you, they will appear proportionately quieter to the mic – although they won’t disappear completely.

This is because volume is a quotient of distance. The further away a sound source, the quieter it becomes (and the more likely your microphone will pick up unwanted extraneous sound).

1 b – Polar Pattern of the mic

Microphones don’t pick up sound from all around unless they are omni-directional.

If you’re in the jungle and want to capture the sounds from all around you, then omni-directional will be best at that.

But most of the time we want the mic to capture sounds coming from one direction only.

These are known as uni-directional or ‘cardioid’ (heart-shaped pick up area), or for an even tighter angle of pickup, we’d go for a ‘hyper-cardioid’.

In the case of being able to get close to what you want the mic to pick up and having background noises that you want to eliminate or at least reduce to as low a level as possible, you’d go for a hyper-cardioid mic.

2 – The room acoustics of the room you are in

(as opposed to sound insulation, or soundproofing, which is a completely different thing).

Like all good recording and broadcast studios, the room you use should be as ‘dead’ as possible. ‘Dead’ means not having sounds bouncing around the room, primarily from flat reflective walls, but also from all the objects (or lack of object within the room).

These reflected sounds (of your voice when you’re speaking, in this instance) bounce back into the microphone (albeit at a much lower level than your actual voice) and create an ambient effect. In a huge room, like in a church, this sounds like reverberation. But even in smaller rooms, the size of the room can often be ‘heard’ by how many of these reflections the listener can detect.

Most of this ‘ambience’ to the lay person just sounds like colouration or muddiness or brightness that masks quality and sometimes intelligibility.

Making a room dead, can be problematic, but is sometimes very easy. Broadly speaking it depends on how many surfaces are flat and reflect sound very well, and how many surfaces are ‘acoustically absorbent’ (like carpets, rugs, and most soft furnishings.

So if you have a very acoustically reflective room with flat unpadded surfaces, it’s going to improve your sound if you increase the number of surfaces with ‘dead’ sound absorbent materials.

Thick towels, pieces of carpet and the like will work to a degree, but the best solution is to buy a few acoustic tiles, which are very thick and very absorbent.

3 – Soundproofing

Soundproofing is a vast subject, very complex, and for most of us, expensive, often involving the need for structural changes to the building.

This is because ‘mass’ i.e. thick brick walls, are needed to stop the transmission of sound from one area to another, especially bass frequencies.

So we would need to look into that in much more detail if you want to find out more about sound proofing. But nothing is impossible, subject to your budget!

4 – Electronic solutions to the removal, elimination or reduction of unwanted sound

There are electronic ways of removing some unwanted sounds from an already captured or recorded signal.

A noise-gate is a device that switches the signal off once it falls below a certain level.

And with voices, as on a phone, where the voice is quite a bit louder than the background sounds, the gate will be set to kick-in at a threshold just below the volume of the voice.

A lot – if not all – smartphones have some form of gating in their circuitry to make this happen.

But for the lay person, this is again a complex subject, and if you’re setting up a ‘audio studio’ situation complete with mic that will pick up everything, then putting a noise-gate in line (which could be part of a mixer or maybe a separate device) will be able to remove sounds below a pre-set threshold.

As with Soundproofing, we would need to investigate that in much more detail if you are interested in electronic solutions.

Wrap-up

These are the basics to keep in mind when planning what to do and what to use.

Please comment below, if there are specific issues you’d like me to address for you, and I will respond within a reasonable timeframe.

If you’d like to be on my mailing list, then enter your details on the website.

And you can also join my Facebook Group by CLICKING HERE

Thanks for reading this. I hope it helps.

QJ

QJ


I'm QJ, and here to help singers, speakers, musicians, podcasters, and vlogers UP their online (and live) sound to 'HIGH'.

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  • A good intro, thank you QJ. Given that distance from the mic is so important, how do you suggest speakers approach this? Delivering online, most will be focusing on looking down the lens and delivering their content. So we might not be checking our distance from the mic and we might not want the mic to appear on camera (though some don’t mind). Are there mics that work better from a short distance, say a foot? And what’s the best way to set them up so they’re as close as possible? I wouldn’t mind the mic appearing, but I’ll need a clear view of my monitor so I can manage slides, gallery view, breakout rooms etc.

    • The best solution for your situation, Ben is a hypercardioid mic aimed accurately at your mouth from about a foot away. I can recommend mics by Sennheiser, Audio-Tech­nica & Beyer­dy­namic. All 3 manufacturers have a long-established track record. You would probably pay around £150 and get an excellent mic for that money. Bear in mind that any mic that needs phantom power, would need to get that power from its own internal battery, or from a mixer or separate phantom power supply.

      • I’ve been looking into the Shure SM7b as there’s lots of noise about it (the draw of social proof😉). But clearly that needs to be fairly close to your mouth. I don’t mind having a mic on camera, but it could get in the way of the screen and interaction. I found this video helpful in explaining the different kinds, though – https://youtu.be/BevPn_HhTaE

        • The Shure IS a great mic, no doubt. And I think it looks great. Very distinctive.
          Clearly the best position for whatever mic you choose, given a) you want it as close to your mouth as possible, and b) you want it either not to show at all in the frame, or you only want to show as little as possible, is above your head. This setup (you wouldn't use the pop-shield shown) is perfect.

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