How To Give Your Podcast an Instantly Professional Sound
Here's a podcast recording that demonstrates some unpleasant audio issues that are routinely faced by content creators
You can play the video above to see the basic recording setup used, or listen to the isolated audio below. We recommend using headphones so that you can hear the full extent of the problems in this file.
Creators like podcasters record a lot of “performance” content that is hard to replicate twice. So, what happens when you prepare as best you can, and record a great podcast, only to find that the audio is far from where it needs to be. Irredeemable disaster? Not necessarily.
Thankfully, there are a number of strategies that you can employ to salvage poor quality audio. In this article we’ll rescue this below-par podcast recording using some of the powerful tools in our’ ERA Bundle, and share with you a few tips on how you can do the same with your content.
When performing an audio repair job, it's helpful to break down the overall task into individual components, so let’s pinpoint a few things in the above recording that aren’t good enough.
Fortunately, in the scheme of bad audio, this isn’t an extreme case. Condenser mics do a good job with the human voice, so from an equipment standpoint there’s a solid foundation. It’s not an overly unpleasant recording to listen to, and doesn’t feature any distortion or clipping, but it is not in ideal shape, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there is a very audible hiss in the background, which is probably a combination of air ambience and the mic preamp. This type of background noise can be distracting for the listener, or lead to ear fatigue when they’ve been listening for too long.
Aside from this, there’s an over-abundance of mouth sounds, meaning we’re capturing unwanted detail in the podcast host’s voice. Because he was speaking a little too closely into the mic, you can hear a lot of sibilance, which combines with the room noise to make for a harsh recording. Thankfully, the use of a pop shield has meant we don’t have to deal with plosives.
A further problem with the recording is that there are some discrepancies in the volume levels. The host has done a good job of not moving around too much while he’s speaking, but the level is a bit low, and the inflections of his voice are causing it to sound a bit inconsistent. Finally, it could do with a good EQ, as there’s quite a bit of low-end and warmth missing.
Now that each of the problems in the recording are laid out clearly, let’s tackle them one at a time.
The best way to start off the repair process is to load up ERA Audio Clean-Up Assistant on the audio track in your DAW. Rather than switching back and forth between multiple plugins, you can house each of your tools in the same workspace by pulling them into one of the Clean-Up Assistant’s five slots.
Combining multiple plugins in a chain like this makes it easy to stay on top of the changes you’re making, and you can even save your work as a preset to load anytime you need it in the future.
- Removing the Hiss
The first thing we’re going to confront is the hiss. It’s probably the most audible problem with the recording, and will make a big difference once it’s gone. Now, wouldn’t it be handy if there was a plugin specifically designed to remove background noise? Well, there is! Noise Remover targets hisses, hums, and pretty much any unwanted artefact that’s muddying up your recording.
Loading the plugin onto the first slot in the Clean-Up Assistant, you can immediately hear that most of the hiss has been knocked off the recording. It’s not totally gone though, so we’ll turn the Processing knob up until it’s no longer audible. Cranking Noise Remover too high starts to impact the clarity of the podcast host’s voice; a balance point at 65% is just right.
We can choose the frequency band we want the plugin to target by applying one of the Focus filters. A hiss sound like the one in this recording is best targeted by a High-frequencies Focus, so we’ll switch it on instead of the default All-frequencies Focus.
There are extra controls on Noise Remover; for instance if the sound were buzzy, like a fluorescent light or an air conditioning unit, you could switch on the Hum/Buzz control. This audio example doesn’t have that kind of tonal character though, so after a quick A/B to compare the default setting with my changes, we’re ready to move on.
- Tackling Sibilance
Next up are the “ess” sounds that you can hear in the host’s voice. De-essing can sometimes require a light touch, but due to the poor recording quality in this case we’re going to push it a bit and really try and smooth out all that sibilance.
To start off we’ll load up De-Esser into the second slot on the Clean-Up Assistant, and bypass it a few times so that we can hear the initial effect it has had on the audio. It’s doing something, but not enough, so we’ll crank the processing knob all the way up to 88%. At this level you can really hear that the ear-piercing esses have been massaged out of the recording.
It’s worth noting here that we have the plugin on Normal mode, as it’s preferable to use the Broad setting to target really extreme sections of an audio track in isolation, rather than applying it to the whole thing.
- Balancing Volume Levels
So, we’ve removed the annoying background noise and smoothed out the sibilance in the speaker’s voice. The next step is to balance out the volume levels and make sure that everything is consistent.
Voice Leveler will do the trick here, so we’ll pop the plugin into the next spot in the chain. Because we’re not dealing with wildly contrasting peaks and troughs in the volume levels, we don’t need the plugin to do much work. With Voice Leveler at its default setting, we get an instant boost in the overall volume of the track.
Fortunately, the podcast host is not gasping for air in between sentences, so we don’t need to turn on Breath Control to specifically target any breaths that have been boosted too much. Flicking on the bypass, you can hear a drastic improvement from what we had before, so it’s time to move on.
- Improving Voice Clarity
As mentioned previously, the condenser mic is well suited for the job of recording the human voice. This model comes with an 80Hz low-cut filter, which was switched on during the podcast recording. This has thinned out the low end quite significantly, and if recording again, it would be a good idea to leave the in-built filter off and add one in a DAW afterwards with a slightly lower cut-off frequency. Hindsight is 20/20!
The audio is left sounding a bit thin and mid-rangey, and there’s only one tool for the job. Voice AutoEQ allows you to shape the tonal character of your sound, by boosting the frequencies that are lacking, or subtracting anything excessive.
The Tone Blending Triangle lets you blend between Body, Clarity and Air. The voice in this example needs more warmth, so we’ll leave the round cursor about halfway between the centre and the Body corner. You can play around with this to find the sweet spot in your own recordings.
With the Tone Blending Triangle set, and a noticeable addition of fullness and warmth, we can push the Intensity slider a little, to turn up the effect. We don’t want anything extreme here, but with the slider set to 6 you can really feel the voice thicken up. We can then A/B with the default plugin settings a couple of times to double check we’re not overegging the effect.
Well, that wasn’t so hard was it? The final result is a recording that has greater warmth and fullness, almost inaudible background noise, regulated volume levels, and no harsh sibilance.
We’ve succeeded in removing unwanted detail from the speaker’s voice and creating a balanced audio track that will be enjoyable to listen to for an extended period of time.
The average length of a podcast is around half an hour, so creating auditory comfort for the listener is paramount. Asking somebody to put your voice in their ears for that length of time and then serving up an unprofessional product is a surefire way to ward off a regular audience. Using the range of audio repair tools in the ERA Bundle, like we did in this example, will help you to optimize your recordings and create the best possible content you can.