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How to improve your voice recording quality

If you're thinking of doing any voice over work from home, there's a few things you can do to make your audio sound better. If you haven't yet treated your space or don't need a pro set up (if you're podcasting for fun, for example), you can still enhance the quality with some easy to implement tricks. Well, they're not tricks really, but I couldn't think of how to end that sentence.

A man who is happy with his audio and a man who is not happy with his audio, sit at a table.

ONE

If you have background noise in your audio, you need to take a step backwards. And by that I mean get rid of it BEFORE you start.


Close windows, shut doors, turn your phone off, throw the fridge away, tell people to shut up.


Get under a duvet, build a pillow fort, line a cupboard with mattresses.


Whatever you do, it’s easier to stop background noise at source than it is to fix it later.


TWO

After recording voice, one of the first things you should do is EQ it. Something I apply to all my VO work IMMEDIATELY is called a high pass filter.


As the name suggests, it allows high frequencies to pass through but cuts off lower frequencies.


Make a cut around 80Hz to purge low frequencies - those which are lower than the human voice. You can do this in your audio editing software.


This picture shows exactly that, in Cubase.

A high pass filter EQ setting in Cubase


THREE

Voices are extremely dynamic so you're likely to have a file that has some loud parts and some quiet parts. To stop those parts being so obviously different, you need to compress it.

No, not with Winzip. You won’t be able to hear it at all then.


You’ll find the compressor in your audio editing software.


A compressor brings the louder parts closer to the quiet parts by squishing them down, giving you a more balanced waveform.


Think of it LIKE THIS, every now and THEN, a word comes out louder THAN the OTHERS. Insert a compressor and it makes those capitals into the same case as the rest of the sentence. But in audio form. Yes, that was a weird way to describe it, I agree.


To try an explain it a bit more clearly, these two images show the original voice recording and then the compressed voice recording. You can clearly see where the peaks have been tamed.

An uncompressed waveform in Cubase
A compressed waveform in Cubase

FOUR

Right. So you think the file is too quiet after compressing it? What you need to do now is normalize it to -1db.


Again, this is something you'll find in your audio editing software.


Normalizing audio boosts the lovely even sounding file from point THREE to a decent volume so you don’t have to strain to listen to it.


Here's the compressed waveform again and below it is the normalized version. It's the same audio, just louder.

A compressed waveform in Cubase
A normalized waveform in Cubase

FIVE POINT ONE

After normalizing you might start to hear room noise and other annoying things in the background.


You should have read point ONE. Tut, tut.....


FIVE POINT TWO

....or you can apply something called a gate. You'll find this in your audio editing software.


A gate stops any sound below a certain DB level coming through. Cars driving past, someone talking in the next room, a fart (depending on the intensity).


The first image below is some room noise/ambience, which is quiet but will intrude and affect the quality of the recording. The second picture shows the effect of applying the gate. No more room noise. MAGIC.


A waveform showing room noise/ambience in Cubase
A waveform after applying a gate in Cubase

It's worth noting, if your room is so loud you can hear it at the same time as the voice in your recording, a gate won't get rid of it.


SIX

If a gate is too heavy handed for you (it can be tricky getting the balance right), this is how to edit a voice recording.


Here is a short waveform of a voice.

A voice waveform in Cubase

This is the same clip but the ends have been trimmed. Depending on your software, it's usually a case of just dragging the ends in which removes the audio before and after the voice.

A voice waveform in Cubase

This is the same clip but the beginning has a fade in and the end has a fade out. If you don't fade in/out, you leave yourself open to a click or pop noise as the clip ends. Adding a short fade ensures smooth start and end points.

A voice waveform in Cubase with fades

This is the same clip but the noise/breath between the two parts has been removed. You cut it out, then add the fades as above. You can do this to get rid of coughs, mistakes, loud breaths, or anything else you don't want in the audio. If you record podcasts, you'll probably be doing this to cut down on your episode length, taking out long pauses, umms, ahhs, rambling speeches that add no value whatsoever.

A voice waveform in Cubase


THE END

There you have it, how to improve voice recording quality. This is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many other ways to tidy things up, but the points here should give you a nice start, rather than just having to use the audio straight out of the box.



If you'd like to talk tome about cleaning up audio or voice work, please do get in touch via the contact page.

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