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.

iMovie

3. Select Export via Quicktime and choose Sound to AIFF.

iMovie

Save exported file as…

4. Drag and drop the audio into the Levelator. Let it do its thing.

Desktop

5. Drag and drop the cleaned audio file back into iMovie and align it with the clip if need be.

Desktop

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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