The 2 things I hear most often in what I would scientifically call crappy audio are:
- Distortion, and
- Room noise
- Distortion – 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.
- Room Noise – 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 foam all over your walls. That can do more harm than good if you’re not an acoustician.
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.