At a variety of events I’ve been to recently, people have been shooting videos using handheld video cameras, usually inside their smartphones. These devices are wonderful – compact, good quality video recorders, even recording in 1080p. However, they all suffer from one major deficiency:
The sound is usually terrible. Why? Most smartphones simply have small, poor, or incorrectly aimed microphones that fail to record audio in nearly the same quality as the video. There are a number of ways to try to work around these limitations.
1. Get a better microphone setup. You can use a wireless lavalier mic or a shotgun mic to accomplish this.
2. Record audio separately. This is what I do most often if I’m doing an interview that really matters. I’ll use a Zoom H2 discreetly placed out of field of view and record audio on it, then sync it up later in the video. Effective, great quality, but has a moderate financial cost and a significant time cost.
3. For video shot on the fly or if you don’t want to shovel money at the problem, your best bet is to use Conversations Network’s Levelator. This very simple sound cleaning software takes an existing audio file and tries to clean it up, fixing volume disparities (a very common problem when the interviewer is talking much closer to the camera than the interview subject), and other audio oddities.
The Levelator is fantastic at cleaning up conversation. One caveat: the same tech that lets it clean up speaking also mangles music, so don’t use it on any musical files.
Here’s how to do it in iMovie very simply:
1. Arrange things and know which clips you want in your project (and for how long).
2. Select Detach Audio.
3. Select Export via Quicktime and choose Sound to AIFF.
4. Drag and drop the audio into the Levelator. Let it do its thing.
5. Drag and drop the cleaned audio file back into iMovie and align it with the clip if need be.
6. Delete the original audio clip (purple) and publish your movie.
Here’s an example of a clip of Steve Garfield and Ewan Spence before levelation:
Note the volume differences between Ewan and Steve.
And here’s the clip afterwards:
Ewan and Steve sound roughly the same, and you don’t need to crank the audio all the way up.
Special thanks to Steve Garfield and Ewan Spence for their comedic skills at Blogworld NYC.
Updated: Doug Kaye from the Conversation Network left some clarifications in the comments.
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Sound quality is a common pet peeve of mine. It’s a clear signal to the viewer of what kind of video they’re watching (professional/amateur). The lavalier mic is a great suggestion, any cheap ones that you might recommend?
I have one from Giant Squid that works well.
Spielberg himself has said that audio is two-thirds of a film. Anyway, what I do for interviews / speaking engagements is use a wired Shure MX185 into a TASCAM DR-100. If it’s a sit-down interview on camera, I can easily drop the TASCAM onto the floor; if I’m at a podium, it’s incredibly easy to conceal. I just make sure to always have a clear audio-video cue near the start of the engagement (snap of the finger, a smack on the table, what have you) to give me a clear starting point of where to sync up the audio. Granted, my solution cost me around $500, but since I use the TASCAM to record audio in plenty of other situations, and the lavalier was a needed replacement, I can roll with it as an investment that’s paid off a number of times.
Great article, as always, Chris.
Hi, Chris. Just to clarify re the Levelator: (1) It performs no equalization or noise reduction; (2) it doesn’t really perform compression, per se, but in some ways the effect is similar; and (3) it’s from The Conversations Network, not GigaVox. …doug
You can also use a bit of craft fur and double-sided tape over the microphone to prevent wind noise (as long as you don’t put tape over the mic inlets themselves) when recording outdoors. Started using it on my Griffin iTalk Pro for recording in the field for my podcast and you can definitely tell the difference (note the difference on the voiceovers between Programs 12 and 13 on the Shattering Your Small Cosmos™ podcast (http://www.shatteringyoursmallcosmos.com/search/label/Podcast); #12 used the iTalk with no covering; #13 used the craft fur). I did the same with my Kodak Zi6 shooting video from my scooter and it made a huge difference.