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Best eLearning Voice Over Recording Tips

Best eLearning Voice Over Recording Tips

Today we are going to go over the best eLearning voice over recording tips covering these three areas: acoustics, equipment, and EQ processing. We will especially keep in mind how to handle longer programs over a half an hour in length. With such modules, one would want to use lower bit audio (64 kbps or lower) in Captivate or Articulate, etc. All the tips discussed here will guarantee great sounding eLearning voice overs whether you have output .mp3 audio at 128 kbps or 56 kbps.

Always start with acoustics

A good acoustic environment is essential for eLearning voice over recording. With few exceptions, there is no music or sound effects hiding the background noise and reverberant sound that cut into the intelligibility of the narrator’s voice. You need clear sound with no distractions. Being able to hear the size of the room or a faint rumble or hiss, is distracting over a long program, or even after a few minutes.

My studio is acoustically treated with acoustic panels from GIK Acoustics and professional sound blankets from Vocal Booth to go. I record in a large office, not a booth. Booths can be fine, but I think they sound ‘tubby’.  The microphones are over ten feet away from any windows or other hard surfaces. I even have carpeting covering my desk. My mics are kept away from the computer screen to minimize ‘early reflections’ of sound which can be just as annoying as larger room reverberations. The HVAC goes into shutdown mode before I record. Last but not least, I stay well hydrated and make sure I’ve eaten to avoid mouth noises and stomach rumbles!

Equipment for eLearning Voice Over: Simple and Clear

Recording equipment has improved a lot in the past decade. The new microphones and audio interfaces are excellent. There’s no need for a very expensive microphone for eLearning voice over recording. In fact many of the ‘go-to’ studio microphones for commercials and film pick up too much of the room noise. I use a Rode NT1, Rode NTG3 and a Rode Procaster, for example. The NT1 is a condenser mic that has extremely low self noise. Any self noise under 14dBA is great, but this one is down to 4.5 dBA. It also has a very tight polar pattern, so it doesn’t pick up as much noise off to the sides – just the voice. The NTG3 has a tighter polar pattern and has a very big sound, which is appropriate for some projects. The Procaster is a dynamic mic which rejects even more room noise.

A high quality dynamic microphone like the Procaster, Heil PR40, RE320, or Shure SM7b can be a great choice for eLearning voice over. However, make sure you have a very clean preamp that can handle the high gain levels required by a dynamic microphone. Also be sure to use proper mic technique to avoid plosive sounds/popped “P”s. Speaking of preamps, many of today’s audio interfaces have very clean and powerful built-in microphone preamps at much more affordable prices than ever before. Expensive outboard boutique preamps will only provide diminishing returns towards a great sound for eLearning. They will only introduce more noise into the signal chain. And you definitely want to avoid preamps with the noise of tubes, or noticeable transformers that ‘color’ the sound with flattering harmonics. Those are great for trailers and commercials. We are focused on the best eLearning voice over recording Tips.

EQ Processing for eLearning

Recently an eLearning voice over client I’ve worked with for over twelve years sent me a link to one of their finished eLearning modules.  I had never watched their modules before. I was very impressed by the presentation, and the audio sounded great. However, the .mp3 output audio didn’t represent the quality of the eLearning voice over recording .wav. The high end frequencies had that swirly, artifact-laden effect one hears often with low resolution audio of 64 kbps .mp3s.

I immediately asked them if the audio was 56 kbps. Indeed it was. I suggested that I process the .wav files I sent them going forward with EQ to pull down the unnecessary frequencies. Basically, at such low resolution, you don’t need frequencies below 100 Hz, and you don’t need frequencies above 10 kHz for the voice to sound intelligible, clear, and full. Otherwise, it’s like trying to fit too many ingredients into a small pot: you wind up with the “swirliness” instead of flavors being blended nicely together. High and low frequencies will stand out in a granular way, instead of sounding smooth. In other words, less is more when rendering to low-resolution .mp3. Here are the settings I use for processing EQ for eLearning voice overs:

  • -18 dB to -24 dB per octave HPF (High Pass Filter/Low Cut Roll-Off) at 100 Hz.
  •  -12 to 18 dB per octave LPF (Low Cut Filter/ High Cut Roll-Off) at 10 kHz.
Compare and contrast: EQ vs. no EQ for Elearning voice over

Here is a visual capture of the EQ settings from my editing software:

eLearning EQ processing

Listen here to an eLearning voice over recording without the EQ, output to 56 kbps:

Compare that to the same voice over with my HPF and LPF EQ settings, output to 56 kbps:

As you can hear, taming the high and low ends makes for a better mp3 for Articulate and Captivate, etc. Be sure to apply the EQ before/during the rendering of the .wav file before importing and down-converting to lower resolution .mp3s.

For even more tips on setting up your recordings for eLearning with a special look at room acoustics and furniture set-up, see “Creating the Perfect Home Studio for Beginners” by Carlos Trejos.

Thank you for listening and reading, and good luck with your eLearning projects!
All the best,
Lance Blair

Home Voice Over Studio Acoustics and Equipment

Home Voice Over Studio Acoustics and Equipment

Home Voice Over Studio Part One: The Set-Up

Let’s keep this simple: you want to set up a home voice over studio with a low noise floor. Also, how to do you re-create the quality audio sound you have at professional studios in your home environment? Studios have a high-end production signal chain from your voice, to the mic, to the equipment, to the software. Let’s try to to get as close as we can with no weak links in the chain. But the first step is the acoustics of the home studio. Without that, nothing else sounds good! I have written previously about what I use in my studio. Let’s get you up and running in your home voice over studio!

First Step: Choose your home recording area.

Find the quietest room in your house. A walk-in closet is good only if it’s truly large. Small closets sound boxy and boomy: the lower frequencies bounce around in a nasty way. Then, pick the corner of the room away from windows, doors, and any other noise.  Close off that area as much as possible with dividers or tall furniture covered with thick blankets and pillows, and put blankets or other absorbing material on the walls of that section. Full bookshelves are a fantastic sound absorber and refractor. If you can record in a corner of a room with bookshelves, choose that. Have carpet on the floor, and put carpet or blanket on the desktop you’ll be using there. Hard desk surfaces bounce sound right back at the mic in what is called ‘early reflections’. If you can somewhat close off and acoustically treat a 4′ x 6′ to 6′ x 8′ area in your room  you’ll be in great shape. Make sure you can access and turn off your home’s HVAC system temporarily when recording. For high quality affordable sound blankets that do the job properly, check out Vocal Booth to Go. And for acoustic panels and bass traps, consider the excellent GIK Acoustics.

Second Step: Choose Your Microphone

For a home voice over studio microphone, you need a Condenser (Not Dynamic) microphone that is either Supercardioid or Shotgun in regards to its microphone polar pattern. That way, the mic will be focused straight ahead on your voice, and not taking a wide shot of all the noise and sound reflections in your room. Think of it as normal lens vs. wide angle lens in a camera. You want the normal lens. For Shotgun microphones, quality choices range from the Audio Technica AT875R ($169) to the Rode NTG2 ($269), up to the industry standard Sennheiser MKH 416 ($1000). Non-shotgun condensers like the Shure Beta 27 and CAD E100S are more rare. But, there are good affordable choices like the Rode NT1 ($269) that are plain cardioid not supercardioid but sound more focused. For even less money I can highly recommend either the AKG P220 or AT 2035 (both around $135) which sound excellent, especially on female voices. None of these affordable choices have a very wide cardioid pattern.

Third Step: Pick your Audio Interface

So far, so good for your home voice over studio. Now you need an XLR cable to plug in your microphone to your Audio Interface. The Audio Interface will power your microphone with Phantom Power and will convert your analogue audio signal from the microphone into a digital signal which will then be recorded by your computer and recording software. I highly recommend Mogami Gold or Canare cables for your microphone, but whatever you can find that is decent quality will do the job. You will also need cables to plug in your speakers to the output of your audio interface. Usually 1/4″ jack cables are required.

Audio interfaces have come a long way in the past ten years. I still have the original Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 sitting in storage, and it’s a piece of junk compared to the newest Third Generation version, which I would recommend. Anything by PreSonus, MOTU, Focusrite, or Steinberg under or around $200 will be all you need for quality recordings. Just make sure it works well with your computer and computer inputs. Search for reviews on the particular audio interface that interests you.

Fourth Step: Speakers/Monitors and Headphones

Now it’s time for speakers/monitors and headphones. Mackie and PreSonus both make speakers that are good enough for checking mono voice over recordings for $100 a pair. If you want to spend more, Yamaha and KRK have good options. Headphones are crucial, especially for being able to set up your home voice over studio to make sure the sound is good. Here are the best options for $100 or slightly less:

Shure SHR440 : These are comfortable and very accurate.

Audio Technica ATH-M40x : They are very comfortable, but have a hyped bass response.

Sennheiser HD 280 PRO : These are not comfortable at first, and slightly heavier than the others; but they have extremely accurate sound.

Note that these are all closed-back headphones. This is very important. Opened-back headphones let the sound leak out, so the voice of your client will bleed into your microphone signal. You don’t want that!

Now you will have the acoustic environment and equipment you need to start making quality recordings in your home voice over studio. In the next post I will discus recording tips in your DAW recording software, with links to many valuable online tutorials for Audacity, Audition, and REAPER.

Good luck!