When it comes to professional audio recording, equipment is important. The first thing that comes to mind is of course the microphone, the mixing board, amplifiers, computers, etc. But what is equally important for professional audio recording is the sound booth itself: Good sound isolation and room tone is just as critical to good audio quality as a high-end microphone.
The sound booth provides a protective environment that prevents any ambient sound from reaching the microphone. A good sound booth will absorb all the sounds going on around the booth: conversations between the audio engineer and a client sitting in on the session, the hum of computers and of course the blaring horn of a fire engine roaring by.
It may not seem obvious, but no two sound booths actually sound alike. Sound quality will also vary depending on how many people are in the booth, what kind of microphone is used and where it is positioned and pointed. And believe it or not the size of the talent, and whether they are sitting or standing in relation to the microphone will also influence the quality of a professional audio recording. To that end, an experienced audio engineer will always record “room tone” for every session that can be inserted into pauses and silence between sentences, preferably while the talent is still in the booth.
With the advent of computer-based audio recording, so-called home studios have proliferated in recent years. Voice-over actors have converted unused closets into sound booths and can record their own sessions. Predictably, the audio quality—and the room tone—varies considerably with each arrangement, as does the degree of sound isolation. Some of the ambient noises we have heard in home studio recordings include clanking pipes, hissing radiators, chirping birds, babies crying, doors closing, overhead footsteps, computer fans, squeeky chairs, helicopters and of course honking cars, ambulances and fire trucks—not exactly the kinds of sounds you want to sweeten your audio track.
For professional audio recording, InterNation uses a high-end Industrial Acoustics sound booth. It’s a 5,000 lb booth made out of steel, lead, double-paned glass and thick, heavy rubber gaskets on the door and door frame. It locks out every extraneous noise, including the sound of the air conditioner that keeps the voice-over talent cool no matter what the outside temperature is. It is also equipped with a video monitor for lock-to-picture recording so talent can see the video for which they are recording the voice track to ensure exact synchronization of words and images.
And this is perhaps the biggest advantage of a professional audio recording solution. Doing such lock-to-picture recording is invariably a two person job: the audio engineer controls the recording equipment and video feed while talent can focus exclusively on giving a good performance. Expecting the voice-talent to function the engineer in lock-to-picture workflow is not a realistic multitasking expectation.
While so-called home studio are less expensive that professional audio recording studios and make sense for low budget projects, there are a few drawbacks. For example, if you’re recording in several different languages with different voice-over talent, the audio recording quality will vary between the various talent and not be consistent across all languages. Also, the contributions and feedback of the audio engineer to the talent should not be underestimated: Audio engineers have excellent ears and are highly skilled at detecting recording defects. In effect, they are a valuable quality assurance insurance policy.
For more information about professional audio recording, please visit our Voice-over and Audio Recording Best Practices guide.