I’ve actually been recording a lot of videos over here at Scopique Central, but most of them are in various states of disarray. One reason is because my “production bay” is basically my desk in the basement, which isn’t a suitable environment for doing things like recording decent audio.
Audio is weird because when we’re talking about streaming and YouTube production I personally believe everyone puts their eggs in the visual basket and are OK with their audio so long as it doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the open end of tin can. Meanwhile, for podcasting, audio is the thing to worry about, as gaming psychologist Jamie Madigan shows us:
In my situation, my open-concept room means that even with a Yeti Blue mic and windsock, I get a lot of echo on account of the fact that I don’t have anything to absorb the sound that might be bouncing all around the room. In professional circles, you’ll sometimes see something like this:
These wall panels affect the sounds in the room so they aren’t being reflected back to the mic. I don’t know the science behind the whole thing but I instinctively understand what Dr. Madigan is saying by recording his podcast in his closet: talking in an open space sounds far different than talking in a walk in closet full of hanging clothes.
I can’t build myself a studio, but I can try and half-ass a solution. See, there are acoustic baffles available for stand-alone mics, called sound isolation shields:
This enclosure is like a small sound-room for just the mic, so any noise going in is either kicked around, or goes straight into the mic I said I don’t know the science don’t judge me.
Figuring that my setup was a little unique — my mic is hanging down from a reticulated boom arm attached to the desk like in Dr. Madigan’s image and not free-standing like in the image above — I decided to make my own isolation box and see how it works.
Step 1 – Cut a hole in the box…
The good news is that I’ve finally found a use for some of those Amazon boxes that seem to form the foundation of my house. Using a 10 x 3 box, I cut a small hole at one of the 3″ ends so I could fit the screw bolt from the shock absorber through there and attach the mic. I also needed a smaller hole next door so I could get the USB plug in there.
Once the screw fit through the hole, I re-mounted the mic to ensure the fit.
I took my resident fabric store expert (my daughter) to pick up some foam egg-crate sheets, but when we got there the store didn’t carry anything of the sort. The egg-crate or crenelated foam is apparently important because when the sound hits one of the dips or rises, it bounces off in other directions, leaving the only sound to reach the mic the sound that’s ejected directly at it.
That’s why this is version 1.0: I bought flat foam padding instead, the kind you’d use to repack a seat cushion.
As you can see, we are at 15 x 1 inches per sheet, so I needed to slice this panel up to fit in the box that I had selected. I ended up with 5 pieces.
Originally I had thought about using some spray adhesive to get the panels to stick to the box, but when I stuffed them all in there everything kind of wedged everything else, so no glue was needed.
With the panels in place, and the mic secured and plugged in, it’s time to see if there’s any difference in quality.
Step 2 – Nonsense Words
Here’s a sample of a recording without the box in place. This is just the mic, hanging freely from the boom.
Then, I tried a similar recording with the box in place.
So, what’s the verdict? I think that the no-box test has a noticeable hiss and hum when there’s no speaking going on, while the boxed version does not. That’s a plus. However, I did artificially boost the dB of the boxed version in post, because the recording was fainter than the no-box version. I think that’s a worthy trade-off, however, as I’ve tried to remove the background garbage using Audition with “meh” results.
Looking at the waveform of each test, the boxed version seems less “jagged” in many places indicating less pointless audio, and even with the dB boost the peaks are much less pronounced than the no-box version.
The thing is, there’s still that…I don’t know what to call it…in the boxed version. Maybe we’ll call it an “echo”, but I feel that it’s not the right term. Maybe it’s just too much bass? I don’t know, but at the end of the day I’m not completely happy with the results.
If I were to use this setup for live-streaming, I’d have to re-test my setup to ensure that the volume levels were appropriate because I did feel that I needed to artificially boost the recording for this test. And I think that when using SLOBS or another streaming app, my previous post on setting up audio for streaming does include noise gates which help alleviate some of that non-speaking background hiss, which seems to be the only benefit of the current baffle I have set up here.
I think that for version 2.0 I’m going to need that egg-crate foam and a larger box. I suspect that while the cushion foam is doing an OK job of insulating the mic from ambient noise, it’s not doing jack for the reason I want it: to make my voice buttery smooth when recorded.