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An example of bad audio with an analysis of the problems - Sept 2017

From time to time we like to consider audio that didn't work out as well as it could have, describe what went wrong, and give tips on how to solve the problem(s).

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Here we have an example of speech that came from a video sound track. Take a listen...

I'm not going to identify the source because a) there are enough bad vibes on the internet already, and b) the company that produced this (or which it was produced for) is not an audio company so they would not be expected to have specialized expertise.

What we can hear in this short snippet are some good points...

  • The speech is perfectly intelligible
  • There is no popping nor breath blasting, which are common problems
  • The recording is not overly ambient for its purpose

So it gets the job done, tick. But there are significant problems...

  • A high level of background noise
  • The noise level seems to be modulated by the speech
  • The voice sound seems to be rather shrill, as a technical fault not a fault of the presenter
  • There is some distortion - check the word "then" just after the 27 second mark

Problem > Cure

So what is the cause of all this? And what is the cure?

Firstly the background noise. You can see in the still image that there are trees outside. In the video the branches are clearly waving as though in a strong wind. My guess therefore is that it is wind noise from outside that is being picked up.

The best way to resolve noise problems is to use a professional studio. However, in the age of inexpensively produced video this is not always appropriate for the purpose. A company that wants to shoot an instructional video on their own premises shouldn't be criticized for this. Shooting a TV commercial without the support of experienced audio and video personnel would however be a different matter.

To combat noise when not in a professional studio setting, there are a couple of easy options. First, go somewhere where the noise level is low. Second, point the microphone away from the noise. Third, if the noise comes and goes, shoot when there is no noise. Clearly, any of these tips would have helped here.

That the noise is modulated by the speech is a trickier problem to diagnose. My best guess would be that someone has (thankfully) noticed the noise, but after the video has been recorded. So they turn to a noise reduction plug-in. It has to be said that some of these plug-ins work amazingly well. But they are best used on low-level noise. With noise of a high level like this then there can indeed be noise modulation. This only draws more attention to the noise and in this case you don't have to be an audio pro to hear it.

I'm not sure about the shrillness of the sound either, or the distortion, but this reminds me of the sound of a very cheap microphone that doesn't really work properly. Or maybe one that is damaged, like a miniature mic used in theater that has become - as they say - 'sweated out' (I don't need to explain that, do I?). Shrill, distorted sound like this shouldn't really exist in 2017 and the answer is to simply to use a competently-designed microphone that is in good condition.

So to fix all of these problems, these steps would have been necessary...

  • To record in a quiet location, or when it wasn't so noisy
  • Not to expect a noise reduction plug-in to work miracles
  • Use a decent microphone that is in good condition

Job well done.

By David Mellor Wednesday September 20, 2017
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