Progress report, audio geekage edition

I didn't get much sleep last night, and it wasn't raining today (hard rain + metal roof = ambient noise nightmare), so I decided to take a crack at recording with the pop filter. It really does change things, and it took me a couple of readings before I found the best way to handle it.

If, like me, you're totally new to recording audio, it turns out that you have to fiddle a lot with something called input volume. That means the, um, volume of your, er, input--in this case, your microphone.

If you are old and gray like me, you probably made a few mix tapes back in the day. And since people still had a mix of vinyl records, cassette tapes, and CDs, the music for your mix tape came from a bunch of different sources. As a result, when you'd play your mix tape, some songs would be REALLY LOUD and others would be really quiet.

The problem, as I have discovered decades after being repeatedly baffled by this as a teenager, is one of input volume. If your input volume is too loud, you'll blow the ears out of the poor sod who bought your audiobook or downloaded your podcast. If it's too quiet, that poor sod will have to crank up the volume to hear it, and then they'll get their ears blown out when the next thing on their MP3 player comes on.

This is no way to treat a customer.

So, when you record, you set the input volume at a certain level. Well, duh, you're thinking, that sounds really simple. But it's not! The problem is that certain words will max out the volume of your recording even if everything else is normal, a phenomenon known as clipping.

You might think that clipping is caused by shouting, but you can make something clip, and clip mightily, without significantly increasing the volume of your delivery. For example, the first page of Trang contains the following passage:

And instead of a vacation, all he had gotten had been variations of the question, What, exactly--? What, exactly, was the Titan station for? What, exactly, could scientists do there that would ever justify its cost? What, exactly, was its purpose?

Now, with those lines, if you make "What, exactly," sharp--not shouting "WHAT, EXACTLY!!!" because that would be silly, but just using the snippy tone that someone would probably use if they were asking that kind of question--it clips like nobody's business. "What, exactly," becomes "WHat, exactly," and even "W[random distortion that is not at all pleasant to listen to]Hat, exactly."

The issue for me is that I have a quiet little voice and a tendency to mumble--people say things to me like, "Oh, I can understand you now that I've gotten the hang of lip-reading." I'm a little better about it at this point in my life, but still--my voice is soft. So I have to crank up the input volume (I'm assuming this is what the mellow-voiced NPR people do, because you can hear them fine), which means a lot more clipping.

The idea of the pop filter is to reduce the clipping, which it does. It also reduces your input volume--oops! So I had to crank it up to the absolute maximum, which meant that when I did clip, I clipped really badly--distortion noises and everything.

But I didn't clip very often, much less than I did without the filter. And I realized that, with the pop filter, it's actually pretty easy to modify the delivery of lines like "What, exactly," so that they don't clip at all.