Lots of people think it is hard, or at least expensive, to get professional sounding audio when recording in a home recording studio. A big part of my mission with Home Brew Audio is to show people that those things are not true.
I've been reading a lot of Q&As on the interwebs about how to record good, professional level audio on home computers. People usually ask questions to which there are no simple answers, such as "what is the best microphone to use?" or "which recording software is the best?"
I usually have to preface any answers to questions like that with "it depends on..."
But there is one question I believe DOES have a pretty straight-forward answer. If someone were to ask, "what is the single most important factor in making the difference between poor and pro-sounding audio?" I would give this answer - "Noise."
I'm not referring to barking dogs or TVs in the background (which I assume you already know is not usually desirable). Mainly I'm talking about two things:
The good news is that the fix for these is very low-tech and inexpensive. So you really can go from crappy audio to pro audio in many instances just by preventing these two problems. Here's how:
This is when something in the "audio chain" (everything between your voice and when the audio gets recorded) is too loud for the hardware. Oddly, this is more often a problem for folks with higher-end gear with more things that can go wrong.
The fix: test levels BEFORE you record and make sure you're not getting that fuzzed-out, unpleasant distorted audio sound. Ideally there should be meters showing you these levels. The key is to stay out of the red.
This is by far the most common issue, and by far the easiest to fix. If you're recording at home, you almost certainly have a less than ideal (my way of saying "bad") sounding room.
The fastest and cheapest (and best to my mind, especially if you're mainly recording voice narration) way to prevent this problem is simply to get close to the mic, as in like 5 inches or less.
This allows your voice to be center stage and the echos of your voice that have bounced off the walls to be mostly kicked-to-the-curb. The more distance there is between your lips and the mic, the more the echos take the center stage position and the more echo-y and far-away sounding your voice will sound in the recording.
By the way, I encourage you NOT to try to "fix" your room by plastering just any kind foam all over your walls. Yes, it is a good idea to try and absorb as much sound as possible to reduce that room noise. But you need the right kind of foam, designed specifically to absorb audio energy.
One great example of acoustic absorbing foam is Auralex Acoustics Sound Damping Products.
I created a mini-course called "6 Mostly Free Tips For Making Your Audio Sound Expensive," that talks you through more ways to prevent room noise.
So there you have it. This is one more example of our motto, knowledge trumps gear, in action. Basically you can move from bad or amateur-sounding audio to professional sounding audio by turning some knobs or sliding some sliders (avoiding distortion) and/or getting closer to the mic.
That's it! Give these remedies a try before you decide you absolutely need to spend a couple hundred bucks on a new mic or some other gear in order to sound professional.