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Thread: Sound editing for Voiceovers - Hardware or Software?

  1. Default Sound editing for Voiceovers - Hardware or Software?

    Unfortunatly as everything I do, and have done, is all self taught, mainly through trial and error, I have not got a great knowledge of the 'proper' way of doing things, and one area that's letting me down at the moment is the sound levels on the productions. Basically there would be a background video, various shots, various volumes to a degree, and then afterwards a Voiceover is put over the top. Obviously then, the volume of the video is lowered at the points where the VO is. unfortunately, at the moment, when its output, its never perfect, sometimes the background volume is too high, sometimes too low. Now at the moment I am just using the speaker output on the PC, with 2 speakers, simple, but is there either a) a better set up to use for the sound so I can hear it better, ie better sound card? better sound system etc, or is there a program that allows for better visual sound editing? It all makes sense in my head, sure its not when I write it down! thanks in advance

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Surrey, UK
    Blog Entries


    That's a big question, Wayne, and one which I'm not at all qualified to answer. But I've never let that stop me before so here's my 2p worth.

    Firstly - a couple of observations:
    1. It never ceases to amaze me how different the same soundtrack will sound, not only through different speakers, but also through the same speakers in different environments (and at different levels) so every mix is going to be a compromiise. This is why a reciord producer (if there is such athing nowadays) will play back through not only top quality studio monitors, but also more ordinary steroe speakers, a set of cheapies and headphones. However there are clearly some approaches that work better than others because a commercial DVD played back on my TV, a decent set of speakers, headphones or a PC, will sound more cosnistent than one of my own productions.#
    2. The amount of dynamic range the human ear can hear is tremendous - and also the brain has a lot to do with this. Take a wildlife documentary which starts with an ambient track which then driops as a voiceover comes in. it is staggering how little of the ambient is required for it still to be noticed and present in the listeners mind. On the other hand if you start without ambient - maybe the presenter is shown in a studio and then we cut to the wildlife footage whilst the narrator continues speaking, we would need a tad more volume on the ambient as it hasn't already been established in the viewer's (listener's) mind. One of the biggest problems I hear with amateur films is that the backing is not dropped enough during narration. Exactly the same goes for music.

    OK now some thoughts as to "how".
    Kit first.
    I've been corrected here before - I used to believe that mixing using headphones was a bad idea, but apparently there's nothing wrong with it. indeed, unless you have very good speakers at a volume which is probably going to result in your divorce, it's one of the best ways of picking up all the subtleties that might get missed. For example if you are including the breath's a narrator takes, it is very easy on speakers to miss that you have a harsh audio cut mid way through a breath in - and the you don't notive it until its played back in an auditorium of 50-200 silent people! So, definitely listen on headphones as well as speakers. Also a 100 set of cans will give you far better quality than a 100 se of speakers.
    But make sure you listen on speakers too. I have no room for anything other than PC speakers (also worth testing on) so I tend to burn off copies and play them on my TV/HC setup before "finishing" the work. But the Edirol (now CakeWalk) MA15's get a good press as general purpose audio monitors.

    Next, if you have narration or interivews, these are the most important audio elements when present so it is always worth adding a bit of compression. This will boost the overall "loudness" of that track whic is the most important (compression will boost the quieter sounds leaving the maximum volume as is - it decreases the dynamic range). You may wish to add a noise gate before this in the chain to kill off any unwanted quiet bits and prevent them being boosted - (you need to decide whether you're going to leave breating in or out at this stage). If there's any hum or hiss (and there usually is) you may wish to use EQ or Noise Reduction to reduce this.

    Now, with your music track, there are tricks you can do asided from just turning it up and down when the voiceover comes in.
    If you have something like SmartSound SonicFire Pro, or compose it yourself, make sure there is no stringent lead melody line occurring at the same time as the narration. SonicFire allows you to dial in and out various instruments or mixes at will.

    For both music and ambient, use a bit of EQ to reduce the frequencies which are similar to those of the human voice - you could do this for the duraion of the track or, if inclined just when the narration is active.

    Always ease volumes up and down. Unless you are doing it for effect avoid harsh cuts between one environment to another. I also rarely cut the visuals the the same time as the audio, preferring mainly J cuts bit also frequent L cuts (and even here they're rarely straight cuts but slight overlaps)

    Finally watch out for stuff being positioned incorrectly in the stereo field. i still occasionally see films where someone has sed an external mic which has only recorded on one side of the stereo field and we end up with a movie with all or one part of the sound panned hard right or hard left.

    I now leave it to the likes of TimA to tell em I'm doing it all wrong which is great as I will learn something

  3. #3


    What are you using to record the voice overs?
    The old saying with sound is - shit goes in, shit comes out.
    You need to nail your audio recording to get the best quality, trying to fix it in the edit simply won't ever work the way you want it, tweaking will help but it will never be perfect.

    Don't record voice overs using your laptop. Get a microphone or handheld audio recorder like a Zoom.
    The best environment to VO's without finding a studio is in a space that sounds 'dead', theres no echo basically. Some people put egg boxes all over the walls, or carpets, or big panels designed for deadening sound. If your on a budget the best place for you to use is in a quiet room under a duvet. Works just as well.
    you might already know all of this but I'm spitting it out anyway.

    have your headphones on when recording and listen for sounds, cars - trains - planes - people screaming. If you hear noise, stop and start again, take your time and get it right.
    Record audio around -12, don't peak too often, if you record audio too low you can always boost it, if you record audio to high then its wrecked.

    Outdoor - look at getting a directional mic which captures whatever sound you point it at the most. Or use common sense, get out of the wind, keep the mic facing away from loud noises and, again, monitor it on your headphones, if theres a loud or constant noise, stop, wait and start again.

    Finally, in the edit, as Tim mentioned, cut out all the ugly breath and lip noises.

    You'll then find mixing audio tracks underneath your VO easier - set your tracks all to the same level by using whatever audio monitoring comes with your edit suit, keep everything set around -12 and adjust accordingly using your ears if you have to.

    Without knowing what software your using no ones going to be able to be specific on exactly what to do. I use FCP7 and I have an audio monitor at the side of my timeline telling me where my levels are and comes with extra audio programs. Adobe Auditions is also useful if your on a PC, Audacity is (I think) a free piece of software. If you wan't to adjust sound externally just remember you'll have to sync it all back up if you start chopping it up!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    London, England


    Agree -12dB is a good set-point, although any audio will dance about this figure, it should only be momentary. Where I am less clear (and I think OP was asking this in fewer words), when the VO is on the o/p level should still be -12, so the other stuff has to go down - the Q is by how much?
    I am proposing some research into this as elderly folk have a different appreciation of that bugbear "background music" - this is applied to otherwise silent scenes, presumably to stop the cinema Projectionist from turning the Auditorium volume up, in the belief the audio track has died???

    Do others have any experience of sound for those with less than perfect hearing?

    BTW the objection of using headphones (my understanding) is that it artificially enhances the stereo image - By contrast, using speakers means that both ears receive both L&R audio.
    + I try to monitor my audio on a hi-fi system linked to a large TV, so I can check there isn't any LF "wind-noise" - but it is quite surprising how good rubbish PC speakers appear to be, obviously they do miss all the LF - but then I try to avoid wind-noise.

    Agree with other posters that OP needs to record VO "clean as possible" (my words), as it's easy enough to add reverb effects, if they are really needed later, once the whole audio is built.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Surrey, UK
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    Quote Originally Posted by vidmanners View Post
    BTW the objection of using headphones (my understanding) is that it artificially enhances the stereo image - By contrast, using speakers means that both ears receive both L&R audio.
    That's an interesting point. Perhaps what one really needs is a "switch" that enables the output master mix to be in "headphone mode", allowing a little of the left channel to go to the right cane and vice-versa. That ought to be easy to do. In fact it is so easy and obvious there must be a reason that manufacturers haven't included this option (as far as I'm aware).

  6. Default

    Yes, the VO is recorded well, at the correct levels and on a Zoom H4n recorder, which outside of a proper studio is probably as good as we need it to be. The video track is Motorsport, so the volumes change often, not one set volume, ie cars pass the camera closer at some points and in the distance at others, and the commentary being put over the top needs to be clear, meaning lowering the volume of the video. I agree with the first reply, it seems no matter what you listen to it on, when you finish it, it sounds different. obviously doing a copy and watching it on a TV / DVD player is an option, but I am doing around 1 - 2 hour long shows a week, so its a time issue more than anything there. I will have a look at the listening options and see how that goes. Is there a lazy option? like if I imported an entire audio track, and an entire VO track to a program, is there something that would lower one track when it detects a VO? or is that wishful thinking?

  7. #7


    I think the process you appear to want is called 'ducking'. Whilst more advanced audio app provide other options (e.g. using "sidechain compression"), ducking can be done (perhaps satisfactory for the OP's purpose) using a simple app like Audacity.
    This page describes it Auto Duck - Audacity Manual

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