Enhance your microphone’s audio quality with these simple tipsMaria Vera
So, you’ve got yourself a microphone — perhaps for streaming, or recording YouTube videos, or maybe you’re going to try your hand at podcasting. You plug everything in, lean in close, and greet the world… and it sounds terrible. Unfortunately, this situation is all too common for new users. Microphones are tricky pieces of kit, and you need to take some care with how you set them up to ensure you get the best out of them.
Real pros use really expensive gear and dedicated studios to achieve a beautiful level of clarity. That said, even on a tiny budget there are a few things you can do — even with cheap microphones — to get most of the way there. This guide has a small collection of tips and tricks to help you get closer to that clean, professional sound.
Put it in its place
The location of your microphone matters. You want to be cleanly picking up your own dulcet tones, and not the harsh clicking of your new keyboard.
First, we need to establish what kind of microphone you have. Broadly speaking, there are two varieties: Front Address and Side Address.
With a front address microphone, you speak into the end of it — think along the lines of the microphones used by singers in classic rock. You’ll want it standing with the end pointed at your mouth. Microphones like out KLIM Talk and KLIM Voice are front-sided. Side address microphones pick up sound from the side of the head. It should be standing upright as you talk (or sing — we don’t judge!) to it. Headsets like KLIM Mantis, Puma or Impact remove some of the confusion for positioning. Microphones of that type are usually side-address, and the arm should place them easily in the best position for their use.
Picking the right pattern
The next thing to consider is the microphone’s recording pattern. Many microphones have several patterns to choose from, which change where the mic is focused. Common patterns include omnidirectional (unfocussed, so it picks up everything), bi-directional (used for interviews and similar situations, where you want to pick up one person on either side of the microphone), or cardioid (focused mostly on sound just in front of the microphone).
The KLIM Voice, KLIM Talk and KLIM Rhapsody are omnidirectional, otherwise if you were not pointing your mouth straight at them you couldn’t be heard. Omnidirectional microphones offer more flexibility. The precise distance the microphone should be from your mouth will depend on the model. Take a look at the manufacturer’s recommendations, but usually the microphone wants to be a few inches away. It’s worth experimenting a little to find the best placement for you.
Give a good foundation
How you mount your microphone makes a huge difference. If it comes with a stand, there will probably be at least a thin layer of foam on the bottom. The point of this is to provide isolation from the desk. Without some sort of damping, every bump, scrape and tap on your desk will make its way into your microphone — not to mention the vibration from your computer’s fans, and so on. Just put your ear against your desk with everything running and see just how much your mic will have to deal with.
At the very least, you’ll want to stand your microphone on a mousepad or something similar to give it a little extra shock absorption.
Some types of microphone come with an integrated stand — the KLIM Talk, KLIM Voice and KLIM Rhapsody are examples of this. They’re excellent choices if you’re on a budget, and great quality for the money. The Voice doubles as a phone stand, and the slender, flexible neck on the Talk and Rhapsody lets you adjust its position easily.
Dealing with pop
One of the least pleasant things about a cheap setup is the “plosives”.
Those are the harsh popping sounds that disrupt the microphone every time you say words like “pineapple” or “power”.
Thankfully, this is also one of the easiest and cheapest issues to deal with: get a pop shield. A pop shield is just a fine mesh that you place between your mouth and the microphone. It slows things down just enough that your microphone won’t overreact every time you say the letter “P”, without affecting the rest of the sound.
It’s worth spending a few bucks to get one with a reliable mount. Pop shields are pretty simple — you can improvise one with an old T-shirt if you have to.
Most of the cost is in the mounting. The very cheapest pop shields tend to be poorly made, annoying to fit, and will often sag down right as you’re trying to use them. Luckily with the KLIM Talk, KLIM Voice and KLIM Rhapsody you already get a pop filter, so there’s no need to worry!
Cutting out the background
Now we’ve figured out the location, we need to deal with all the background clutter.
There are many types of background noise that can creep into a microphone recording, but we’ll start with some obvious ones. Move any fans away from the microphone. In a perfect world, you’d be recording in perfectly still air — as this is more likely a bedroom or home office, we’re going to need to improvise. Get rid of any fans pointing at the mic. If it’s the middle of summer and you really can’t do without it, move it to the other end of the room, as far from the mic as you can get.
If you’re a fan of mechanical keyboards, but you don’t want to share that with your audience, then try moving the keyboard behind your microphone at the very least. If you’re particularly dedicated, swap loud clicky keys like blues for something subtler like browns, and maybe try fitting O-rings to stop the keys bottoming out.
Echoes are a common problem, especially in rooms with a lot of hard surfaces. Setting a room up as a proper recording studio is a hardcore engineering challenge, but there are a few easy things you can do without getting an audio engineer involved. If you have a hard floor, put down some rugs. Cover your windows with curtains — even netting will make a difference, and windows are especially problematic for echoes. If you’re happy to work in the dark, heavy black-out style curtains are best. Even if they aren’t shut, just their presence will help dampen unwanted noise.
Fill your room with soft furnishings. A sofa and some wall hangings can make an incredible difference to how a room sounds. Recording studio foam looks sharp, but really anything soft will make about the same amount of difference.
If you have the space for them, look into getting some bass traps to put into the corners of the room. These take up quite a bit of space, but can dramatically change the feel of the room.
Tweaking your settings
From here, most of the easy gains are found in using your software correctly, and having all your settings in good positions. Exactly what settings you’ll need to deal with are going to depend heavily on your personal setup, but there are three vital tips that apply:
Firstly, don’t just max everything out. Cranking the gain all the way up and calling it good is going to leave you sounding more like a teenage goth band han a smooth presenter.
Secondly, tweak one thing at a time. By only varying one setting at once, it’ll be much easier to pin down the effect you want. Changing everything at once is a fast route to frustration.
Finally, go slow. Make small adjustments to finely dial in your sound until you get to where you want to be.
These simple tips should help you take your first recordings up a notch. There’s a whole world of knowledge on this subject out there, and these tips are just the first step on a very long journey. These tips will help you to make the most of what you have, but there’s always more to improve. Enjoy the adventure!
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