Microphone and Background Noise

I’m trying to record narration for a video project I’m compiling, however, upon play back of recorded audio, a definite “hiss” sound can be heard. Do different types of microphones handle this better, or is it something I’ll just have to deal with?

      • Kinda hard to say, just from that… but basically, a better mic would help, a better recording device would help and a quieter place with better acoustics to record in would help. And you can filter out much of the hiss, but it takes a bit of the content with it on the way out and it is best to not have the hiss there in the first place.
        1-What type of recording device are you using?
        2-What type of microphone (electret<dynamic) and how much did the microphone cost?
        3-Is there any background noise in the room you are recording in?
        4-If there is background noise while you are recording: on the recording, can you hear other background noises or just the one hiss?

you can get free sound editors which can reduce noise
(along with all manner of other wonderful effects !)

try this one

…also, are you sure the noise is actually in the recording
and not being created by the playback device (soundcard,
amp or whatever) ?

I can assure you that when I record narrations using a Neumann U87 A microphone, going into a Tube Tech preamp, and then to an Apogee A/D converter at a 24-bit/96k, there is very little hiss. So the answer is, no, you don’t have to live with this.

I have to say I’m quite fond of this setup. Also, I’m quite fond of the fact that I didn’t have to pay for it.

Better equipment = better sound & less hiss, but within reason. If you’re recording into a 16 bit SoundBlaster ISA card, then an AKG C12 will sound noisy (Reference: the C12 is a $5000 microphone). If you’re using a cheesy PC mic - get something better.

What are you using (what mic, what recording device, what interfaces between mic and recording device) and how much would you be willing to spend?

Regardless of equipment:

Pay attention to your recording environment to make sure that hiss isn’t actually ambient room noise (like A/C or Heating, a fan, etc)

Try to get you record level as hot as possible without distortion - Use whatever meters you have in your software and hardware to see what’s going on. When you record hot, you basically push the noise floor down - you’re getting more intentional sound into your medium, leaving less room for noise.

Check your setup to see if noise is bleeding from other sources or if you’re percieving it from other sources. On my Soundcard, the “line in” is extremely noisy - so I mute it if I’m listening to something played back.

You can buy software to clean noise, but if you have the opportunity to actually re-do something better, it’s going to be faster and the result will be better. Noise Reduction software - the good stuff, costs as much as an /excellent/ rig capable of recording clean, sharp voice-overs would. This software is intended more for situations where the sound is “locked”, like say recovering old vinyl.

I’m currently using a Radio Shack microphone. I’m recording with the program ‘Pinnacle Studio 8’. Using another piece of software to edit the clips is out of the question as it’d be far to complicated to move 100+ sound clips from pre-recorded files on the video timeline. As for how much I’m willing to spend? Not too much, this is just a small business and I’m not looking for perfection. As is, the “hiss” sound isn’t too bad. I was just asking if there were any other decent cheap microphones. Thanks for the help.

From what you’re saying it sounds like you’re running the RadioShack microphone straight into your soundcard, so your soundcard could be part of the problem.

RadioShack makes a couple of different types of Microphones - some that are the PC-Mic style - little white-plastic dealies with an 1/8" jack that plugs right into the soundcard. If this is what you’re using then Yes, a better microphone will give you a better sound. You can get any number of decent mics (meaning: big step up from that) for less than $100 - mics that will not pick up everything in the room and be more responsive close up.

Any “real” microphone uses an XLR connector - looks kinda like a barrel with three pins in it - though some high-impedance microphones use a 1/4" connector. If your RadioShack mic is of the better sort, it probably has the 1/4", and I’d guess you’re using some kind of adapter to plug it into your soundcard. Correct me if I’m wrong, of course)

If you decided that it’s worth it to spend /some/ money, I’d go to Musician’s Friend and pick up a dynamic microphone of some kind in the $50 - $100 range, and pick up an M-Audio MobilePre USB - $150. You plug the mic into the M-Audio device, and it does the actual conversion of the mic signal to digital, and then passes that info down the USB cable into your PC (or Mac). M-Audio makes pretty clean gear, so you won’t be introducing hiss that way, and you’ll get varying degrees of improvement from a new mic - depending on what you’re starting from.

That’s what /I/ would do. Either way, go to a book store and see if you can find any books on Home recording that have information that seems useful - specifically about Noise and about Mic technique and levels. $15 - $20 is worth it if you’re concerned about the sound that goes with your video. And even if you don’t buy any gear, play around with some of the things I (and others) mentioned: play with your levels and get them hot, make sure that your recording environment doesn’t have a lot of extra noise. And the free noise reduction software mentioned by PJD is certainly worth a shot, particularly because it’s free!

Thanks for all that Misery. To answer your question, my microphone is plugged directly into the sound card on the back of my machine (at least I think it’s the sound card, there’s a designated slot for microphone.) One more question, what does “hot” mean in this context: “play with your levels and get them hot”?

No prob -

“Hot” means to try and get your levels as loud as possible without distorting. If Pinacle has some kind of input meter, you’re in good shape - just play with your recording levels (see below) until your highest levels are almost at the top - and the clip light (on the same meter) isn’t lit too often. If you don’t have an input meter then experiment - it’ll be tougher but you can do it.

I’m guessing you’ve got windows? if not, then maybe someone can pipe in with the Mac equivalent.

To get at your recording levels, you open up your Audio settings (double-click on the speaker icon in the system tray, or if you don’t see that go to Control-panel,Sounds and Multimedia, and select "show volume control on the taskbar)

You should see something that looks like a basic mixer, with sliders for Volume Control, Wave, CD, Line, etc. These are the /output/ - changing the “mic” level only changes the volume that you hear, not what the computer records. To get to the recording levels you go to Options->Properties, and select the “recording” radio button. The window will change, but you should see controls for at least “line in” and “mic” . Play with the Mic slider to increase or decrease the level, and refer to that input meter, if you’ve got it!

We had to do the same thing for my company: try to get good sound quality as cheap as possible. I’ll give you an overview of what I did and hopefully you can lift some useful info.

The mic you use is very important. You’ll get nothing but frustration from the cheap “computer” microphones. Luckily I had a mic at home from my old music days. I used a Shure SM57. This is a good mic for two reasons; first that is fairly inexpensive but was designed for pretty good sound quality, and second it is a directional mic meaning it picks up sound from only directly in front of the mic and not from all other angles. This helps keep ambient noise down. Since this is an actual microphone with an XLR connector, you’ll need to pick up a converter to go from XLR jack to 1/4" jack. I plugged directly into the mic jack on a laptop to record the audio.

Once you have that set up you need to record the sound. Professional spoken voice recording studios are small, with no air movement, and zero echo. So you should do the same and record in a quite, sound-dampened room with as little ambient noise as possible. We recorded in a walk in closet so the clothes would deaden any echo. We turned off the furnace to lower ambient noise, and put the laptop we were using to record on a pillow and blocked the fan exit to further quite the environs (note: don’t let you laptop over heat). Really try to get the room as quite as possible, because it is amazing what a good mic can pick up. Next, you want to stand when recording, because you sound better, and stand about 8 to 12 inches from the mic so you don’t get alot of popping when saying “p’s” and “t’s” and to avoid your breath hitting the mic too much. And you do want to keep the recording as “hot” as possible, which means have the level on your Mic up as high as possible in the Windows Volume Control without getting feedback. Windows has a tool to help you set your audio levels. It’s in the Control Panel under Sound and Audio Devices. In the Sound and Audio devices look for a “Test Hardware” button and then play with your mic setting so that your level is in the high-yellow, but not red. So, then record the tracks you need.

Now, all that being said you’re going to have hiss. It’s hard for pro’s to not get hiss, so you’ll have to go onto the “post-production” phase to get rid of it. But, it’s much easier to deal with and results are better in a better final track if you have a clean input recording. There are quite a few free sound editors out there that can help you clean the track. I used Sound Forge 6, which is a very good package, but pricey, that I borrowed from a friend. It does a great job in taking the hiss down. Some other tips, is that you don’t want to take the hiss completely out, because it will actually sound weird to your audience. It’s a hard aural transition to go from the complete absense of sound on a track to speaking. Just bring it down low enough that it is not distracting.

Good luck.

On Preview I see that Misery has covered the “hot” topic… so, what he said.