Got Your Ears On, Good Buddy? – Week 48

For several weeks, I have been trying to improve the sound quality in my Cone of Silence. You may remember the abortive effort to get some professional advice, which did not provide anything helpful. In my continuing exploration of GFTB, I found their forum for a home studio test.

This process is available only to members, but if any useful info was provided, then it would be worth the cost of a few months of membership by itself. I perused the forum and found that the moderator, Rob Bee, appeared to be very knowledgeable, responsive, and patient with Voice over Workers like me trying to find their way in this new journey.

GFTB provides a PDF document describing what you should do for them to get a good idea of your production quality. Basically, three steps:

  1. One minute of silence,
  2. A short piece of narration,
  3. A few hand claps.

I have experience in all those areas, so I proceed with my first sound test. My setup for this first test included my EV RE20, a Simply Sound SS1 pre-amp, and a Scarlett 2i2 interface as the hardware chain. Rob felt the SS1 might be creating some hiss, so I removed that from the chain, turned up the volume on the 2i2 to compensate, and redid it.

A forewarning: this is raw audio, unedited, with no processing. This is the kind of audio you never want a prospective client to hear, with all the breathing, moving around, possible hiss or rumble, and poor narrative performance that results from no editing, no high or low pass filters, no noise gate or limiter or normalization, and unrehearsed reading!

russellnewton_studiotest2-withoutss1

The evaluation? Fairly low noise floor, less hiss, but some pesky reflections again in the boxiness range! My first battle with boxiness was the impetus for the Cone of Silence and the moving blankets, and that made a big difference at the time, but as things progress, other factors come in to play, or come back into play.

I did some research on acoustic treatment, which I won’t summarize hear but may in a subsequent post, and decided I would try several things that would hopefully help and still be fairly budget friendly. That, after all, is the crux of the matter, is it not? Anyone can get a fantastic technical environment for a couple thousand dollars! How about for $150?

For my setup, I addressed five areas:

  1. The greatest surface area, and thus the most expensive to treat, are what I will call the non-critical walls, the sides of the Cone. I bought two sound dampening blankets on eBay, which are much heavier and thus more effective than the moving blankets.
  2. The front and back walls except for the middle third – that is, the area around mouth level when I am recording. For these sections, I doubled up the moving blankets to get better absorption. This is not optimal, but it was affordable.
  3. Arguably the most critical areas, the middle third of the front and back walls, I covered with Auralex Wedgies. Got these on eBay, too.
  4. The corners, which is where low frequency sound waves can pile up. I installed several bass traps of my own making that in my Cone were sufficient for now.
  5. The ceiling I wanted to cover with Owens Corning 703 but as local availability was a factor, I went with Rockwool. This was from Home Depot.

The result? From Mr. Bees at GFTB, this was likely as good as I would get it considering the chain and the environment.

Below is a short audio segment from my progress in applying the acoustic treatments. Listen to this amazingly boring audio file critically, specifically noting the difference through each click.

russellnewton_studiotest clicks

If you can’t hear any substantial difference as the clicks progress, then you are destined for trouble in your Voice over Work career. Are you listening with real headphones? If not, then try that or get some – if you are editing and mastering your own audio with earbuds or speakers, then it is time to get better equipment.

Again, I won’t go into specifics here in the technical side of things, but each click is taken from a test recording done between each step above, and you can hear the sound changing, most importantly with the reflections after the click getting shorter and shorter.

The point? If you haven’t done this for yourself, or if you can’t tell what is happening here, then you have some work to do. Don’t despair, but don’t ignore it either! You need to find someone to give you direction, and you need to train your own ear to hear these things in your own recording.

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