Whether you’re starting a podcast, YouTube channel, or stream, audio quality is key. No one wants to listen to messy audio, and you want to make sure you’re heard loud and clear. And there’s a lot you can do to improve your audio quality, even if you’re dealing with limited space or budget.
Update, 9/28/21: Checked content for accuracy. Updated pricing for Adobe Audition and Alitu, added links for Audacity alternatives.
First off, your microphone must be set up properly. The microphone should be close to your mouth so you can comfortably speak into it without needing to raise your voice. This also aids in ensuring that the microphone is picking up your voice above any background noise, which will come in handy when it comes time to edit your recording.
While your microphone may have come with a small stand that can sit on your desk, you should invest in a proper microphone arm for a couple of reasons. The most obvious benefit of a mic arm is that they are adjustable, so you can set it up to come directly to your mouth. The other main benefit is shock absorption—if your microphone is resting on your desk any vibrations will transfer through the stand and sound terrible on the recording.
A shock mount can also be useful for this, but you’ll need to find one built with your microphone’s size in mind. Same with mic arms, as some microphones have unique connectors that a mic arm will have to be designed for. Many microphone manufacturers produce their own accessories, so that’s usually your best bet when it comes to arms and mounts.
Another piece of equipment you can buy for your microphone is a pop filter. These serve a simple but important purpose: They filter out plosives. Plosives are the result of fast-moving air making contact with the microphone, and they’re a blemish on any recording. Anytime you say a word with the letter “P” in it, you’re liking producing a plosive. You can hear the difference a pop filter makes for yourself in this great video by YouTuber FrenchToast Phillip.
Some microphones will have custom pop filters made for them by the manufacturer, which is especially important if your microphone has a unique shape. Otherwise, there are tons of general pop filters out there that will work with any microphone.
Aokeo Professional Microphone Pop Filter Mask Shield For Blue Yeti and Any Other Microphone, Mic Dual Layered Wind Pop Screen With A Flexible 360° Gooseneck Clip Stabilizing Arm
Filter out plosives with this cheap and simple pop filter.
Even when your microphone is perfectly set up, echo is something you’ll likely always wrestle with. Echo causes your recordings to sound messy and unprofessional, and in especially bad cases can make it difficult to understand what you’re saying. This is where acoustic foam comes in—it’s designed to absorb any echo to provide clearer recordings (and also block out external noises from coming in).
Numerous options are available when it comes to acoustic foam, from simple square panels to more complex shapes (like corner pieces). You don’t need to cover every inch of your walls in acoustic foam, but having a few panels in front, behind, and to the side of your recording area goes a long way.
You can find panels in every shape, size, and color that you could ever need, but one thing you should be aware of is the thickness of the foam. The thicker the foam is, the more effective it will be at absorbing echo and blocking out external noise. However, thicker foam is significantly more expensive than thin foam.
You might need a certain thickness of foam, depending on your situation. If the room you’re recording in is large and empty with a lot of external noise, you might need foam in the three- to four-inch-thick range. On the other hand, if you’re recording somewhere quiet in a small room with a lot of furniture, then you can probably get away with one-inch-thick foam.
Siless 24 Pack Acoustic Panels 1 X 12 X 12 Inches - Acoustic Foam - Studio Foam Wedges - High Density Panels - Soundproof Wedges - Charcoal
Some standard one-inch-thick acoustic panels to get started with.
You can also buy an isolation shield designed to sit on your desk and surround your microphone. These shields are covered in acoustic foam and do a great job isolating your voice. If you don’t want to hang up anything on your walls, this is a quick and non-permanent option to rid your recordings of echo.
The downside to isolation shields is that it can be difficult to see around the shield while recording. That’s fine if you’re recording a voiceover and can have the script and notes on your phone, but if you’re streaming or podcasting and need to be able to see everything on your computer screen it can be troublesome.
Foam thickness is just as important here, and thicker isolation shields will cost more than wall panels of the same thickness would. This is definitely a situation where you’re paying more for convenience (assuming the shield won’t get in the way of what you need to do).
Monoprice Microphone Stand, Desktop Adjustable (602650)
This can sit on your desk and surrounds your microphone in one-inch-thick foam to isolate your voice.
If you want to save some money or want panels in a specific shape, you can actually create your own acoustic panels if you’re willing to put in the work. YouTube channel DIY Perks has a great video on this, which shows the process for creating your own panels and how to choose the best materials. They also have a more budget-friendly version if you want something simpler and cheaper.
After your room and microphone are set up perfectly, post-production editing is still necessary for improving your recordings. And there are many tools for this, whether you need to edit out pauses, balance the volume, or remove background noise.
- Audacity (Windows/Mac, Free): Audacity is perfect for beginners: It’s completely free, open-source (which means anyone can adjust the source code to add in new features), and is powerful enough to be worth investing time into learning. You can record your audio within the program itself, then edit it however you see fit. The UI is a bit clunky, but there’s a wealth of tutorials online on how to use the program properly. Quick Note: due to some controversy over the software, you should only use it at your own discretion; if you’re no longer comfortable with that, here are the best Audacity alternatives.
- Adobe Audition (Windows/Mac, $20.99/month): Audition is Adobe’s high-end professional audio editor designed for voiceovers, podcasts, music, and more. It’s an extremely powerful audio editor, but it comes with the tradeoff of being more difficult to learn. If you have ambitious plans and want to dive in deep right off the bat, then Audition is a great choice. Audition is also available in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite (which includes all of Adobe’s programs) for $52.99 a month.
- GarageBand (Mac/iOS, Free): For Mac and iOS users, GarageBand will be a familiar name. This is Apple’s free audio editing app that’s mostly designed for music production but can work for voice recordings as well. It’s a relatively simple editor, but it works well for what it is. Apple also has Logic Pro X, which is a high-end audio editor with a lot more tools and features, though it costs $199.99.
- Sodaphonic(Web, Free): This is a web-based audio editor and it’s a great option if you can’t don’t want to (or can’t) install a more traditional editor onto your system. You can cut and add effects to your audio, along with recording your audio directly on the website. The features aren’t as deep as the other programs mentioned, but for simple projects, it can definitely work.
- Alitu(Web, $32/month): Alitu is a bit different from the rest of the programs here. Instead of giving you tools to fine-tune your audio, Alitu aims to do all the work for you. After you give Alitu your recorded audio tracks, it will balance out audio, remove background noise, and make sure you’re heard loud and clear. Alitu is designed for podcasting and has multiple publishing features centered around that, but you can still download the edited audio as normal files if you want to do something else with it. Alitu costs $32 a month, or $320 a year.
Voice recordings are more complicated than just talking into a microphone. But you can achieve great audio quality even if you’re limited to a small bedroom. And once you finish your makeshift studio, your recordings are sure to sound better than ever before.