Video Recording: Improving Sound Quality – Recording Techniques

This is part of a series of three articles on improving audio quality during video production while using consumer-grade equipment and software. This article focuses on what to do during the actual recording process; the other two articles are on:

  • Audio equipment (An introduction to five different audio-recording set-ups that can be used with camcorders to improve sound quality—this would be a good place to start.)
  • Noise removal during editing (an introduction to the software and techniques you can use to reduce or eliminate unwanted noise that’s already been recorded)

There several things to consider when recording audio:

1. Work towards a high signal to noise ratio

You should try to get more of the sound you want to hear (e.g., dialogue) and less of the sounds you don’t want to hear (e.g., camera hiss, wind sounds etc.). It is hard to get rid of background noise once it is recorded.

To get a good signal to noise ratio, you may need to record in a controllable environment and move the camera closer to the source.

If you have a visual display of audio input levels on your camcorder, you should make sure the the level never hits zero, which in digital recording is the point at which the signal distorts or clips. If you don’t have a visual display, then you just have to listen for the distortion.

In old analogue recording, it was important to record the audio at as high a level as possible (but without being so high as to get distortion). With digital recording, however, if you are going to edit it later, there is no need to push the envelope. It is quite common to record at -12 to -18 db and increase the audio levels later.

However, if you plan on NOT doing any editing afterward, you should record the audio the old-style way and try to get as much ‘signal’ as possible, getting as little noise as possible and all the while avoiding distortion.

2. Record in a controllable environment

You can avoid a unwanted sounds by doing your recording indoors with the windows closed and the air-conditioning off (a lot of footage in studio movies is shot on sound stages, which are specially constructed sound-proofed buildings). If you are outdoors, try to find as quiet a spot as possible. If you are working on a low budget video and don’t have extra audio recording equipment (e.g. microphones, digital audio recorders), you would want to avoid recording conversations in a noisy environment, so you may need to rewrite the script to reflect the limitations of the equipment.

3. Control the environment

If you are working in a room that is all hard surfaces, there will be a lot of sound bouncing around. You consider limiting that by hanging fabric from a walls or two so, so there is less reflection. Other times, you may want more reverb and a place with hard surfaces is best for that (which is some people like to sing in the shower).

4. Get close

No matter whether you are indoors or outdoors, the audio recording equipment should be close to the main sound source unless the sources is so loud that the audio would become distorted or unless you want to capture a lot of ambient sound. If you want to move the camera further away, this is where a microphone can come in handy; you can position the mic closer (and just off camera) or use a hidden clip-on mic, while positioning the camera further away.

One problem with moving the camera closer is that due to the distortion of camera lenses, people tend look better when the camera is zoomed in (e.g., 70-100 mm). Therefore, if you want to do that AND have good sound quality, you probably need to invest in some microphones.

5. Get your actors to control and project their voices

This doesn’t mean that the actors use booming, stagey voices. Rather,  the voice comes more from the chest (with support from the diaphragm) rather than from the throat and is directed more in the direction of the microphone. TheVoiceLady, Nancy Daniels,  has a commercial website ( and series of YouTube videos on this topic.

6. Record ambient background sound

Just leave your camera running for a few minutes to capture the ambient sound of the environment in which you are recording. If you are later editing a scene in a short film in which two actors are speaking, you will likely have several edits. At each edit point, there is a danger that the background sound will noticeably change, bringing unwanted attention to the edit. To cover this up or give you the chance to cut away from the visual depiction of the scene while still leaving the audio associated with the scene, you can add an additional track of ambient sound in the background when editing the video.

7. Make independent recordings of important audio events

Two people are talking angrily and one of them slams a door in the middle of a sentence. During the editing process, you want the slam to sound louder, but doing so would also affect the dialogue levels. You can solve this problem by re-recording important audio events. For example, after recording the scene, get another recording of just the sound of the slamming door. You can then add it to the scene while editing. Similarly, if someone walks into a room, you may want to get a separate recording of the footsteps. In studio-made movies, this job would be done after the video is shot by foley artists working in a foley studio ( As you probably don’t have the resources they have, you better re-record some of the audio events on the spot.

8. Know your camcorder

To make best use of your camcoder, you need to understand what it can (and in most cases) cannot do.

  • Does you camcorder allow you to adjust the audio input gain of your camcorder so that you control the strength of the audio signal?
  • Can you switch audio gain levels from automatic (which is good for situations in which the volume of the sounds being recorded is unpredictable) to manual (in which case, you would set an optimal level for recording)?
  • Does your camera have a visual display of audio gain levels (this is a helpful feature that lets you know if you are audio recording levels are too low or high)?
  • Where are your camcorder’s on-board microphones located (on the side or at the front) and how much sound do they pick up from the sides and back? You can do a simple test of rotating the camera in front of a someone talking at a steady volume.

9. Know your audio equipment and how to use it

Once you decide to start investing in equipment, you need to be aware of the functions, strengths and limitations so that can get the most out of your gear.  If you use a microphone, for example, you need to point it in the right direction: This may sound obvious, but it is still easy to get wrong. For example, if you are using a shotgun-style mic and point it straight-on at someone talking, you will not only pick up the actor’s voice, but you will also get any sound coming from behind the actor (even sounds from quite far away). Instead, the mic should be held high in the air and pointed at the actor at a downwards angle.

With different kinds of equipment you can get more flexibility. For example, instead of recording a concert with the camera’s onboard mic, you could use an XLR mic-to-camcorder audio adapter to connect your camcorder directly to the mixing panel at the venue.

To sum up, as long as you consider the limitations of the equipment you are working with, there is a lot that you can do to improve the audio quality of your video recordings. If you any questions or have some more suggestions, please leave a reply below.

Further Reading

  • Audio equipment (An introduction to five different audio-recording set-ups that can be used with camcorders to improve sound quality—this would be a good place to start.)
  • Noise removal during editing (an introduction to the software and techniques you can use to reduce or eliminate unwanted noise that’s already been recorded)

~ by longzijun


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