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Struggling to fix poor quality audio

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Neil Anderson
Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 7, 2017 at 10:21:42 am

I'd really appreciate some help with the audio quality in my videos, it sounds synthetic. I've been trying to fix it and it's driving me nuts. I'm really struggling because I'm a beginner.

I'm using:
Shure SM7B microphone.
DBX 286S Preprocessor.
FocusRite 2i2 USB interface.
That goes into my laptop where I'm using Camtasia 8 to record videos.

I'm using the same hardware as these guys:












But my videos sound like this:







I've set the software to record at 44.1 KHz in Camtasia and the FocusRite ASIO Control Panel (44.1KHz is the recommended setting for Camtasia, it doesn't handle 48 KHz well).

I'm not seeing any clipping being reported on the DBX, FocusRight or Camtasia, the maximum level being recorded goes up to about -3 Db.

I'm in a recording booth with pretty much zero background noise.

I've tried on another laptop and with Camtasia 9. I've also tried at 48 KHz in Adobe Audition. I've tried enabling process bypass on the DBX. The quality is the same.

What can I do to get better audio quality? I'd really appreciate any help. Thanks!
Neil


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Richard Crowley
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 7, 2017 at 3:24:50 pm
Last Edited By Richard Crowley on Dec 7, 2017 at 3:47:19 pm

tl;dr Back off, use a different mic.

The typical problem with amateur YouTube video production quality is that the sound is terrible. People rely on a distant microphone in a camcorder, web cam or laptop and they record in a space with lots of reflections and reverberation. OTOH, there are people who almost go overboard in the other direction. There must be a dozen YT videos out there recommending high-end broadcast microphones and processors, etc. You are not the first to come to this (or a similar forum) after having watched one of those YT videos.

Note that there are YT producers with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of views who use nothing for their audio except the little 89 cent mic built into the camcorder 4 feet away.

When I listened to your example video, my only "complaint" was that you sound almost uncomfortably close to the microphone. The two most popular large-diaphragm dynamic microphones for voice pickup are probably the Shure SM7 and the Electrovoice RE-20 (and variations). One major difference between them is that the Shure SM7 has a proximity effect while the EV RE-20 was designed deliberately to NOT have proximity effect. Proximity effect can be heard as a notable increase in bass frequencies when you get closer to the microphone.

There is a place for both of those styles of microphone. News/talk radio stations, and especially those who have guests into the studio typically favor the EV RE-20 because it doesn't change quality depending on the distance between the mouth and the microphone. OTOH, entertainment, "DJ" operations with "Joe Radio" disk-jockey announcers often use precedence effect to enhance the low-end of their voice and to vary the distance to produce special effects, etc.

Your "presenting symptom" (as they say in the medical biz) is that it "sounds synthetic". That is a pretty subjective thing as we don't know what YOU think is "synthetic"? Can you cite examples of YT videos that have an audio quality closer to what you seek?

You say that you are recording in "a recording booth with pretty much zero background noise" but then you also have the kind of processing the people use when they are operating in less than ideal places trying to get rid of background noise. You also appear to be using the microphone rather close which enhances the proximity effect.

My first observation was that your audio was nice and quiet, perhaps almost "too quiet". And that there was a significant low-frequency "hump", a combination of your baritone voice and the proximity effect of the SM7B. Note that the combination of the particular microphone and your voice, and the acoustic conditions of your recording environment will have likely a more noticeable effect on the audio than all that processing power.

The sampling rate, the software and the computer are unlikely to have any effect on this, as you have demonstrated. And the fact that it sounds the same with the DBX processing switched off means that the proximity effect of the microphone is a prime suspect here. What happens if you "back-off" from the microphone and use it at a more comfortable distance? If your recording space is really quiet, then you don't really need the relative insensitivity of dynamic mics to reduce pickup of ambient noise. And you don't need to work the mic so close to increase the signal-to-noise ratio because it is probably fine already. Perhaps a little "room tone" would make the sound more "natural" so that it doesn't sound like you are speaking from an an-echoic chamber.

If possible, you could also try using a different mic (like an RE-20) which may be more suitable for your voice. Many voice talent have come to know which microphones fit better with their voice. One problem with many of those YT videos is that they demonstrate what the guy making the video has found works well for him, but that doesn't mean that it works well for everyone. People have different situations. You have an ideal, noise-free environment, so all that processing to eliminate noise is something you don't really need. Everyone has a different voice, so it should not be surprising that one microphone will not be ideal for everyone. You didn't mention whether you have tried any other microphone?

Feel free to experiment with things. Especially mic placement (to the side vs. "head-on") and distance could make a very significant difference in what you are hearing.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Recording audio without metering and monitoring is exactly like framing and focusing without looking at the viewfinder.


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Chris Wright
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 7, 2017 at 3:47:41 pm

good post above. also, it may be beneficial to check your frequency waveform. there might be some hidden lows freqs around 200hz and below that might be creating a low hum feedback effect similar to resonance. they would be obvious as sharp peaks in an otherwise flat waveform.


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Neil Anderson
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 7, 2017 at 5:45:45 pm

Thanks Chris. There's an '80Hz High-Pass' button on the DBX that filters out low frequencies, I never thought to use it before because all the how to videos I've seen say not to.

Here's the frequency analysis when I'm sitting in silence with the High-Pass turned off (not filtering):



And here's the frequency analysis with it turned on:



Could you be on to something there? There's a big spike at the lowest frequency when I don't enable the High-Pass button.

Thanks! Neil


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Neil Anderson
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 7, 2017 at 5:10:17 pm

Thanks Richard, this is really helpful.

To give a little background to how the situation developed... I originally used an iRig Mic HD plugged directly into my laptop. Most 'how to' videos for beginners recommend either that or the Blue Yeti. The problem was I live in rural Thailand, the surfaces in the room are all ceramic or glass (it gets hot) and there's usually trucks or dogs barking outside. So I could only record in the middle of the night and it sounded like this:







I started making enough from online courses to do it semi-professionally. I wanted a setup that gave me 'perfect' (to me) audio going forward and that I could use in the daytime. So I reinvested a few thousand dollars into a locally built recording booth and the hardware detailed in the post. I wanted something that I could set up once and not have to worry about again, and not have to spend any time cleaning up audio in post production. I was hoping to get audio that sounds like this:







I wasn't able to test microphones because I had to get the hardware shipped to Thailand. There's loads of rice fields around here but not many microphone shops ☺ There is a place in Bangkok but it was much cheaper to get it shipped from the US. So I went with what was recommended in most of the videos, without going overboard on full on broadcasting gear.

I do realise that my audio now is way better than it was but I want it to sound 'perfect' so I can forget about it and move on with my work. I also realise that I'm saddled with my voice and I'm never going to sound like a DJ. It's just bugging me that my audio sounds a little unnatural or less 'clean' as compared to the one mentioned above. It's that low-frequency hump that I don't like, it sounds distorted to me.

I'll try experimenting with the microphone positioning. I'll probably stick with the SM7 because it's not really possible to test other microphones to find one I love. I'll get it as good as I can and then stop worrying about it. (If I get an overseas trip I'll try finding an AV store to test out others.)

Thanks very much for taking the time to write such a detailed reply. You've been super helpful and it's massively appreciated.

Thanks,
Neil


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Richard Crowley
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 7, 2017 at 5:54:35 pm
Last Edited By Richard Crowley on Dec 7, 2017 at 6:00:02 pm

Your "before" example sounds more "tonally balanced". I don't hear the proximity low-frequency "hump". But there are audible room reflections from bouncing off the hard walls. You almost "over-compensated" by creating a completely pristine an-echoic sound which starts sounding artificial or un-natural.

Note also that you appear to be using your SM7 much closer than the example which I believe is the major source of the distracting low-frequency hump. Notice this next example. Thy guy appears to be using the same microphone (Shure SM7) at a much greater distance than you seem be doing. It looks like it is almost at arm's length (probably not quite).







I really think that simply moving the microphone farther away (and maybe off-axis) has the possibility of killing both problems (unnaturally an-echoic ambiance, and mic proximity effect) with a single solution.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Recording audio without metering and monitoring is exactly like framing and focusing without looking at the viewfinder.


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Neil Anderson
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 7, 2017 at 8:34:04 pm

I've tried making a few tweaks.

This is the before you heard before:







And this is my lastest settings the after tweaks:







I've reversed the settings on the back of the SM7. I've turned the presence boost off and the bass roll-off on. I hadn't thought about this before.
On the DBX I've enabled the 80Hz High-Pass, turned the low frequency enhancer all the way to 0, the high frequency enhancer is at 3 (a third of the way round).

What do you think? Hopefully this is good now.
I think I have hearing fatigue from testing so many variations so I can't tell what's good or not anymore ☺

Thanks very much again,
Neil


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Chris Wright
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 8, 2017 at 12:27:04 am

that one doesn't sound too bad. its not rumbly as much. i think now your missing some high freqs, its all super low end. but you seem to have a much cleaner signal so you can probably fix the eq in post or if you have a mixer. probably 1khz and 2, and 4 play with those. maybe double check 180, 250, 500 hz. play with those. I think your on to something.


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Richard Crowley
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 8, 2017 at 5:20:06 am
Last Edited By Richard Crowley on Dec 8, 2017 at 5:32:50 am

It sounds like there is still a low-frequency "hump" in the frequency response.
Your "distance test" wasn't really valid as it was both "farther away" and "way off-axis".
Is it not possible to simply move the mic away from your mouth straight out?
It is possible that the SM7 is simply not a very good choice for your voice.

Remember also that you need a good quality monitoring system that you have confidence in. Else you don't really know what your audio "really" sounds like. You did not mention how you are listening to your audio?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Recording audio without metering and monitoring is exactly like framing and focusing without looking at the viewfinder.


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Neil Anderson
Re: Struggling to fix poor quality audio
on Dec 8, 2017 at 3:09:39 pm

I just did some more testing in the day time instead of the middle of the night so I could ask my son if it 'sounds like me' (he's 10). I was thinking I'm maybe just being paranoid and it sounds okay.

He said I 'sound like a robot' in the YouTube video above.

I tried using my iRig Mic HD USB mic instead of the Shure to verify it's the mic but it sounded pretty similar (plus a little background hiss because it's not going through the gate on the DBX).

Then I tried recording in Audition instead of Camtasia. I'm not sure what was up before but this sounds a lot better than Camtasia now:

11943_mictest01.mp3.zip

So I guess I need to learn Premiere Pro and Audition and completely change my workflow DOH!

Because I'll be using Audition anyway it's not going to add any time to the workflow to apply presets to the audio. Any final tips on that?

Thanks!
Neil


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