What’s the best hardware to record an audio book?

December 17, 2013
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Hello, I’m from Cairo.

Thanks a lot for the lovely in-depth article which really helped me get a better understanding of the various techniques for recording audio books.

I’d like to ask about something related to the hardware required in making an audio book itself.

Please tell me what’s the best hardware that I may use to get good audio?

Thanks a lot.

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  1. Oron J
    December 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Mohamed, for the purposes of tech. specification, podcasting, recording and audio book and narration and commenting on videos are all the same - they entail one person sitting in front of a microphone and speaking (i.e. no need for stereo, limited frequency and dynamic range etc).

    • A pop filter is an excellent accessory, and a decent mount will of course help (though for such purposes it is not essential).
    • A portable booth, you need something of the sort, but you'll need to judge exactly what. What you need is a) separation from the outside environment (e.g. street noise, or noises within the flat) and b) reduction, but not elimination, of echos. You can get commercial portable booths or, if you have a studio, hang some sound absorbing materials on the wall.
    • Monitoring headphones - certainly! Again, these need to be decent and comfortable, but it's only your own voice you're listening to, so don't worry too much about the spec.
    • As I mentioned earlier, a top of the range microphone is not actually required, and neither XLR (with or without phantom power) will make a discernible difference to the recording. However, if you do use an anaglogue microphone, then obviously you some sort of computer interface, and a digital audio interface (USB or Firewire) is the obvious way to go. The interface should match your mic (e.g. XLR with phantom power for a mic. that requires it, USB or Firewire depending on the computer interface you're using).
      Beyond that, extra features will just get in the way. For example, a large multi-channel interface, or a mixer will not improve the recording at all (you have just one mic - nothing to mix down!) and will just make things unnecessarily big and complicated.
    • A digital recorder is an alternative to the microphone/interface approach; you don't need both. It is a very simple solution which has a lot going for it, but it assumes that your workflow is a) record b) transfer to computer and c) edit clip on computer. If this suits you, then great. However, for commenting on videos, I have a feeling that it will be easier to record directly onto the computer.
  2. Mohamed G
    December 19, 2013 at 1:58 am

    Really thanks a lot for your helpful reply.
    Actually I will use the audio equipment for the following purposes:-
    1) Podcasting.
    2) Audio Book.
    3) Narration and commenting on educational screen-casting video tutorials.
    So I am considering buying the required devices as a long term investment, so I did goggled a lot and to be brief, I've found most professional recommending the following:-
    - XLR dynamic microphone, with a pop filter and shock mount and boom arm or stand.
    - USB audio interface mixer.
    - Microphone preamp processor.
    - Digital recorder.
    - Monitoring headphone.
    - QTY of XLR cables, RCA ...etc.
    - Portable booth for isolating the sound quality.
    So please advise :)

  3. Oron J
    December 18, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    To be honest, the hardware requirements for recording an audio book are absolutely minimal. The human speaking voice has a limited useful range (consider that telphones have a bandwidth of only 4KHz!) and since the book is being read from a single well defined location near the mic, sensitivity, dynamic and frequency ranges are not important. Neither are particular directionality traits such as cardioid, omnidirectional etc important, although having a directional can help minimise extraneoues noises.

    The Heil PR-40 is complete overkill for the purpose. If you want it for other purposes such as recording music, then go ahead and get it, but if you are buying equipment specifically for the purpsoe of recording an audio book, here's what I would recommend (this also exceeds the requirements, but not by as much):
    - A Samson USB mic (there are several models, choose one on the basis of physical suitability to your setup, such as a desktop model, or one on a stand etc).
    - An alternative would be a decent digital recorder, such as any of the Zoom range (H1, H2 etc), the Tascam DR-05 or othes within a similar price range.

    Using a USB microphone will negate the need for a separate USB audio interface or mixer, and make the whole setup much simpler (and probably more reliable as well). Using a recorder is, well, simplicity itself. You record, you connect the recorder to the computer (or take out the memory card and plug it into the computer) and move the recording files across. You can then post-process your files which will consist mostly of "top and tailing" them (removing the unnecessary stuff at the beginning and end of the recording) and perhaps normalising the volume. If your recording sessions are long, you may also want to break the recording into smaller sections (e.g. chapters), but that's really all there is to it. It really is not that difficult.

    The one other thing is to find a good recording environment, free of noise and without too much echo (some podcasters use a "tent" made of heavy cloth to reduce the echo). Again, no need to go overboard with this. If you record in an unechoic chamber, the recording would sound like you're in an unechoic chamber and you'll need to add echo back in...

  4. Hovsep A
    December 17, 2013 at 11:17 am
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