Temporary Sound Booth or Better Equipment?

Hello, first post here.

I host my own podcast and for the most part, have had decent quality audio but nothing near professional which is to be expected. However, as I become more serious, or want to be taken more serious, I am looking for solutions to have good quality audio. Recently, I have upgraded to a mixer from my XLR to 3.5 to PC setup which is great and I think a step in the right direction. However, after making this upgrade, I am noticing a lot of reverb and I’m not sure why and how to eliminate it. Here’s an idea of my setup:

I have a real cheap Condenser Cardioid mic setup - TONOR package from Amazon ($35USD)
Behringer 802 is my mixer and I use XLR and phantom power.
That’s plugged directly into my PC from the main out.
I record my mic in a full left pan so I can run a mix minus for skype calls - I’m not sure this affects sound quality so I figured I’d mention it.
I record in the loft of my house, so a decent sized un-treated room, and I sit at a corner desk facing the corner.

I purchased a set of cheaper Dynamic Cardioid mics for guests and I’ve tried using one of those instead but have similar results in tests. I’ve also done tests where I turn around in my chair and face the open room as well as putting a heavy comforter over my head and around the mic as a makeshift sound booth. The sound booth test seemed to help some with the reverb so I was wondering if building my own sound booth would be worth the cost and hassle. I’ve seen a number of people build removable booths made from PVC pipes and moving blankets. Basically, I was thinking about building one around my desk in the corner that covers above me, behind me, and to the sides of me.

I also saw some videos of people stacking beach towels, framing them, and hanging them on the wall as sound dampening. I could do this to the walls in front of and to the sides of me in the corner of the room but I’m not sure that would help.

Or maybe I just need to spend the money on a decent mic but dropping $300 on a mic for a podcast that I make zero income from is a tough decision. If my mic seems to be the weakest link in my chain, what would be a good upgrade that wouldn’t break the bank?

I appreciate anyone who was able to make it through all my ramblings and random thoughts and can provide some feedback. I appreciate what Mike is doing and I am learning a lot. I’m not sure if this belongs in Home Studio or Audio Equipment - It’s more of a “help this noob out in general” question. I can provide a link to an audio clip I recorded to show what I am dealing with.

~ Dan

The keyword here is solutions.
Define the problem(s) first.
Do you need soundproofing or acoustic treatment or both?
Start by recording a 10 second roomtone. Eliminate any bleeding first then fix hum, RF A/C fans, Mechanical noises one by one. Make a new roomtone then add diffusion and or absorption treatment.
Slap your hands to check the level of echo decay time.

The best sound quality will always come from a condenser mic over a dynamic mic. The way they’re made just makes they’ll have a richer and warmer sound. But with that a caveat. there are condenser mics that will sound nowhere near as good as dynamic mics so it depends on which mic you have.

In an untreated room you’re likely going to be better off with a dynamic mic. The downside of condenser mics is that while they provide a better sound they also pick up a lot more of the room reflections too which dynamics tend to not do so much.

One suggestion I’d make is to get an audio interface to process the analogue to digital conversion of your audio. Take the output of your mixer through this audio interface which will then get your audio into your computer in the cleanest way possible and eradicate the possible noise of using a mic or line in socket on your soundcard. Some soundcards are better than others but an audio interface like the Scarlet 2i2 is the way to go to get your audio into the computer. Unless you want to upgrade your mixer to a USB mixer? In that case the Signature 12 MTK would give you full control of your inputs and outputs as each channel on the mixer is assignable as an input or output within the computer. There are cheaper USB options that don’t split the channels and will take your mixer into the computer but I’d strongly recommend against going straight in via the soundcard of the computer.

The other thing to consider may be relocating your desk. Corners are notoriously bad because of reflections. When you record the mic picks up your voice straight away as it enters the mic but an amount of that also disperses around the room. In an untreated room that reflects off hard surfaces like walls and windows and eventually makes it way back to the mic with a delay hence the reverb you’re hearing. Recording tight in a corner means you’re giving the sound an easy path to reverb back quickly in many directions. Try and move to the middle of the wall as you’re not going to get those close corner reflections making such an effect.

Next thing to do is to consider sound treatment. Now you can buy acoustic tiles which will do the job but they’re not cheap. You won’t need to treat the whole space, just the bits giving rise to the largest reflection. Remember the sensitive side of the mic is the front where you speak into so if you treat behind and to the side of you that will stop a lot of reflections from bouncing back into the sensitive side of the mic but importantly treat behind you as it’s the reflections bouncing from behind that do the most damage as they are the ones hitting the sensitive side of the mic. By treating behind the mic and the sides where the voice dilutes out you’re catching those reflections and stopping them bouncing back to the back wall where they then become at their worst.

Also look at the desk. Make sure the mixer sits at a 15 degree angle and if possible get one of those large extended mousemats and place it over the hard “reflective” surface of the desk.

With regards sound treatment, you can make your own. Towels (you’d need many) inside a wooden frame can provide some form of acoustic treatment for you. Best bet would be to go to a second hand or charity shop and buy in bulk. Hang the towels within a wooden frame and for sake of keeping it looking good cover with some fabric. As I say you won’t need to cover the whole room, just work to identify the danger areas such as behind the mic, to the sides of the mic and most importantly behind the mic.

The other option is something like a Kaotica eyeball but that will have limited success. It protects the sides and rear of the mic which are the least sensitive side, you need to be incredibly close mic to get any benefit which makes looking at notes or copy a tricky issue but it does nothing to stop the reflections that miss the filter and hit the back and side walls from bouncing to the back wall and then back to the sensitive side of the mic.

Good luck, hope some of this helps you.

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Hi @GingerDan, welcome, thanks for making your first post!

Some really great suggestions from @The_Tone_Arranger and @markdenholm.

I’d certainly suggest an equipment upgrade in terms of microphone. It’s your best tool. This is the best place to spend some money.

A $12 USB condenser mic simply won’t compare to one that is $1000 or even one that is $100.

Best to sort the problems first before adding new gear. Then you’ll have a clean, consistent audio source to work with.

He’s working with guests.

Awesome awesome. Thank you for all the suggestions.

In regards to the 2i2 and USB input, I guess I’m learning as I go here. When I bought the mixer, I purposefully chose the non-usb option because I thought that would be better. I suppose I was wrong there. I’m going to stick with the Behringer Xenyx 802 for now unless I can determine it’s what’s causing major issues.

In regards to sound treating: It will be difficult to fully treat the room I record in but I could probably put some acoustic dampening on the major wall surfaces across the room from me. I’m guessing that the walls in the corner in front of me aren’t a major cause of reverb because they are behind the mic. Would they need treatment as well? I’ve attached pictures of the room I record in - A view of the desk and corner, from the desk looking back, and then one of the major wall behind and to the side of me. directly behind me are doorways and stairs so I can’t really treat those but maybe I can put up something on the large wall.

Regarding microphones: I really do think a better microphone is worth it but I’m having trouble deciding which to get. I’m looking for sub-$200 and I do prefer the Condenser over Dynamic. I know that the dynamic are better for untreated rooms but I am looking forward a little to when I may have the treatments up. I’m liking the Audio-thechnica series but the 3030 is out of my price range right now. Hows the 2020? I can get that for $99. Or maybe something else?

I will work with room noise recordings and see what I can do. I haven’t thought to just record room silence and then working directly with that.

Thank you,
~ Dan

An update here after trying some of the suggestions from The Tone Arranger:

I did a mic comparison with my Dynamic and Condenser and yes, the Dynamic had less noise to filter out. It sounds a little deeper and thicker. Maybe less of a range or clarity. I’m not sure of the correct terms but I’m okay with the quality so far so I switched to that.

I recorded an audio piece with 10 seconds of silence at the beginning and then the introduction to my episodes which has a decent discrepancy in volume - loud at first and then trails off at the end to a normal speaking voice. I noticed immediately that I have a consistent hiss so I applied a hiss reduction. Huge improvement. Then I noticed a low hum and the DeHummer worked perfectly. I was then left with essentially only my voice and it seems to work pretty well. I definitely need some practice with all the presets in Audition to enhance my voice but right now I have a minimal condenser applied and then I use a modified version of the Podcast setting in Essential Sound. After doing all that and matching loudness to -16 LUFS, it sounds pretty good. I do feel my S sounds are a bit piercing after matching loudness so I’m working on that. When I record, my initial levels are between -25 and -20 dB with the intro and loudest parts like laughing at -10dB.

I really appreciate the suggestions and help guiding me to a good quality sound.

~ Dan

This is so awesome @GingerDan. Keep us up to date and feel free to upload a few audio samples too!

If you can’t move the desk out the corner then you’ll likely need to treat the corners. Recording in a corner allows the sound to bounce in many directions quickly because it has that tight angle to bounce back off.

The back of the mic is the least sensitive side but it’s not sound hitting the back of the mic you need to worry about, it’s the sound that bounces off the walls behind the mic and then hits the wall behind the mic and returns.

I’d recommend treating behind and to the side of the desk if possible and behind you to try and minimise room reflections. You won’t need to treat the whole room to get acceptable sound but a bit of carefully placed treatment would definitely improve the room acoustics.

A better mic would hopefully also boost the quality of the sound too but one thing I would suggest is an interface. It’s the cleanest way of getting audio, either direct from a mic, via a mic processor or a mixer into the PC. That will improve quality.

The “S” sound you describe is known as sibilance. This can be a side effect of a cheaper mic but Audition can deal with that for you. Use the De-Esser until Effects / Amplitude and Compression to lessen the sibilance. Change the De-Esser to output sibilance only and then move the centre frequency up and down until you hear the piercing “S” sound. Then work on the bandwidth until you have all the “S” sound coming out. Once you’re happy with that untick output sibilance only and that sound you hated should be reduced/removed from your audio. If you’re using the de-esser use it early on in your processing so the sibilance is dealt with before you carry on to further process the audio.

Again a better quality mic usually (not always) will reduce sibilance.

This hiss could be coming from connecting via the Soundcard rather than an interface.

The low hum ideally you’d like to eradicate at source rather than using DeHummer which, while it does what it says, can also degrade the quality of your audio while doing it’s work. A better option (if you can’t eradicate the hum at source) to try ahead of de-hummer is trying to identify the frequency of the hum. If it’s loss try applying a bass roll off via the scientific filter (preset high pass) and set it around 80 - 100 hz. See if this improves the sound as it will only cut those frequencies leaving the rest of the audio untouched and in truth there’s very very rarely anything in the human voice below that 80-100hz range anyway so you’d be losing nothing of value by applying that high pass filter roll off.

Good luck

Thank you Mark. I am working on the sound panels for the corner walls. I found a place where you can print images onto beach towels. That way, I can make the panel look like art instead of just a block of towels hung on the wall.

I do use an interface, or mixer, to route my audio instead of plugging directly into the PC. I do wish I had purchased the USB version because I’m running into some issues right now (posted about mix minus in another forum), but the mixer has been great to have.

I will work more with the de-esser in audition. I tried it out a bit but it didn’t seem to do much. Probably user error. I’ll keep working at it.

I am almost certain that the hum is from the PC. I can’t do much about that - it’s as far away as possible. I do think I had it touching the desk and it may have been picking up vibrations. For the most part, the hum is gone. I’ve seen a lot of people use the dump the sub 100 idea. I’ll look into that.

~ Dan

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I created a sample recording of what my audio sounds like without any work in Audition. Then I worked out the background noise, applied a very small compressor, and finally applied my own variation of the Podcast template in Essential Sound. I get a quieter, almost muffled sound when I apply the reverb filter but I do like how it sounds with that on. If I increase the intensity of the Dynamics filter in the Clarity category, I get my ooomph, or volume, back but the sibilance gets pretty bad. I’ve settled for a middle of the ground solution. But, no hum, no hiss, and decent sounding voice audio from about $100 of equipment. Not too bad. Let me know what you think.

~ Dan