Sound Treatment Of Your Podcasting Space
Jeffrey K. Holbrook, Co Host, The WV Podcast
Most podcasting information available today advocates the use of dynamic microphones. These are the types commonly used on stage for performance. As I approached podcasting I wondered why this was. I grew up singing with a family band for over 20 years, and realized that indeed we did use dynamic microphones on stage, but every time we went to the recording studio, we were given condenser mics. A condenser microphone has a much more rich tone and in a sound treated enviroment, is wonderful for recording the human voice. So why not use them for podcasting? The main reason is podcasters are not expected to learn or do any sound treatment of the actual space the show is recorded in.
The limited frequency and pickup pattern of dynamics allows them to have less chance of stray noise, and with a condenser, you get what comes into the space. This being said, a dynamic microphone can’t magically stop an echo in the room. Again this is why so many podcasts have that “down in a barrel” sound. While “Sound Proof” is a myth, “Sound Treatment” will make an incredible difference in the quality of your sound, no matter what mic you choose.
Sound Deflection can be achieved by creating uneven surfaces that break up stray sound waves. This prevents them from coming back to your microphone a fraction of a second later creating that reverb or echo effect heard in a lot of podcasts. Book cases with uneven depths of books on the shelves, and various other uneven surfaces can help greatly in this area. Try decorations and furniture of various types to break up the pattern of flat surfaces.
The other point is Sound Absorbing materials. When sound strikes them it is actually absorbed, preventing the bounce of the wave. Again, this makes a dramatic improvement in the sound, since only what you actually say strikes the mic, making for a clean recording. Couches and carpeting help in this regard.
While you can spend a lot of money on acoustics, when starting a podcast, simple and cheap is best for most of us. I took my time and spent around $100 total. Here is my initial setup:
I used the “room within a room” concept. A corner of a storage room in my basement was cordoned off with simple moving blankets. The 9 foot by 8 foot space is inside of the room, still allowing for the storage I need of the Christmas tree and decorations, etc. I put the CPU with the fan outside of the recording space to minimize stray noise. Within the booth I use a moving blanket for a tablecloth on the table I have as my workspace. The keyboard, monitors, speakers, mixer, and condenser microphone with shockmount are what I have here. There is a simple piece of carpeting on the floor, more moving blankets on the walls, and the “eggcrate foam” bed toppers in front of me against the shelving in the center of the room, and another piece suspended 6 inches from the ceiling.
I hear no television, voices or walking from other places in the house. The only sound invasion is if the furnace in the basement outside of the storage room turns on the high speed fan for wintertime use. That is easily remedied by turning the furnace off for the duration of the recording, then turning it back on before the family gets cold. This setup is wonderful in a secluded downstairs room that is never seen by others, but I guarantee my wife would never tolerate such a setup in the main house.
What to do? A walk in closet can have exactly the same effect if you can reserve a shelf for your gear. The clothing you already have functions the same way to deflect and absorb the stray waves. Something as simple as your mic on a desktop stand, and a portable digital recorder such as the Zoom H-5 that I own could make it quite portable to do the actual voice recording work. The ambient noise in the editing phase doesn’t matter since it is all internal to the computer. Of course, if your show is live or interview based, your computer definately needs to be in a sound treated area.
In a year or so, I will be moving my studio upstairs to a bedroom that is coming available. At that point, I plan to get some real live acoustic foam and other treatments to have a “real” studio. My plan is that the transition will transparent unless an improvement is detected by the tech types.
Bottom line: Get started with what you can get set up with to start building your audience. You would be surprised how many sound treating options you already have in your house and storage rooms that would cost you nothing. I am sure I could have avoided the $100 I spent by using blankets already around the house, but I opted for this because I had the cash at the time. I am pleased with the results, but your choices are your own. I only ask that you please consider sound treatment when you start your podcast. Remember, it’s not what your studio looks like, it’s what the audience HEARS!
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