Best USB Mic Settings for Book Narration – Finding Your Voice to Record your Audio Books

I’m not sure I’ll make this a regular thing … but will try to share information that I wish I could have found from the beginning on the best USB mic settings for book narration. I’ll guess you want to be armed with as much information as possible before you start, and I’ll do my best to give any helpful information I discover over this long journey. I’ve spent hours and hours watching and listening and reading everything I can find, and I hope these posts will be useful. It would have been to me, and I’ll do my best to keep that in mind for others.

You’re invited to go on this journey with me and learn from my mistakes as well as your own.

I gave myself one month just to learn the settings and tune them to my voice. And that, at 10 to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
 I think I’m there and thought it might be nice for someone, even if it’s only one person, to find some useful information and face the challenge knowing … that it is a challenge! Like everything else out there, I’m sure someone knocked it out of the park on the first try. For me, I just have to work harder. 

I’m excited about my book LOOP and the performance I hope to bring to it. Do I wish I had someone like Morgan Freeman, maybe Brian Cranston, or maybe Colin Farrell, or Tim Roth. Of course, Dick Hill and Scott Brick are the “gods of book voices.” I love Maggie Gylanhall’s voice and she’s voiced beautiful work. I can hear entire passages with my friend Alice Krige in my head. There are 1000’s of people with better voices, more talent, and much more experience than me!

I’m learning at an exponential rate and will work until I have something worthwhile as that is who I am, but to be fair I had a theoretical headstart over many people.

One — I wrote the book. Not on narration, but the book I am narrating. That of course brings a lot of self-doubts and second-guessing (more like “second hundred” guessing!). So, good and bad, and more on that in a future post.

Two — I’m an actor. No one famous, but I’ve been at it a long time, and it’s slowly sinking in.

Third — I’m a director/screenwriter/filmmaker/editor/colorist/sound editor/ and everything else you can think of for film (including hair and make-up, set designer, DP, Foley artist, stunts, choreographer, blah blah blah. I can be found on IMDB just so you know I am not totally full of crap.

Sooo … what about these settings?

The first thing to know is there are no absolutes with this. Sorry, but I am sure you can spend a couple of years finding that out, or jump in head-first, wade in, and begin tuning the mic (or any other mic) to your voice, your project, and your environment.

That said, I can only guess you have something like the Blue Yeti microphone, maybe the Nano like I am using, or something very similar. I am sure I can give nearly anyone a head start that will make their journey and results that much better and realized that much quicker, but they’ll still have to put the work in.

The mic itself is pretty decent. Sensitive, very directional, good build quality. It can, and most likely will record every breath, lip licking, throat clearing, stomach growl, and fidget. 

Yeah, but is it good enough to record your voice for an audiobook? Mmmm… I’ve been in studios, used some amazing mics in amazing setups, finalized my post sound on two feature films in one of the world’s top film dubbing stages, and have some idea of what I am missing out on by choosing to do this in my bedroom with a 100 dollar USB mic and a mid-level laptop. I can promise you that steller work was done with mics and recording systems years before MacBooks and USB mics ever existed.

My thought process is along the lines of taking on the challenge and forcing myself to learn the possibilities, and if I can make this work, then when I am back in a proper studio with proper support, it will be that much easier as I’ll have amassed an accelerated amount of education on all things “audiobook recording.”

I also dream of solving the problems and learning enough, that I can do this work from a hotel in any part of the world I travel to.

Let me say now that it also includes me learning about my voice, how to speak, breathe, how much to “perform,” and act in this challenging format.

At 350 pages, we’re talking somewhere around 10 hours of engaging, consistent, and technically sound recording. Think ten or eleven albums without the band to hide any flaws!

The star of a 90-minute movie maybe speaks for 15 minutes throughout with a million distractions for the audience to fill in any gaps in the voice performance and the technicalities of the recording.

So, a few thoughts and a few settings to start, and I’ll get back to this again in the next post.

You probably already know to use the cardioid settings, not the Omni. Speak into the front of the mic, not the top. If the red light circling the front record button is on, you are not recording. It should be green.

You know you have to do what you can to treat your room. Everything that you are hoping to get away with and that won’t matter, has to be addressed, not ignored. Reflections, b.g. noise, fans, air conditioners, dogs barking, and babies crying.

The mic has headphone monitoring. Near-zero latency. Use it. I have spent more than a month, 10 hours per day testing the parameters of my recording settings, locking my “recipe” before I begin the book. And I can tell you, you are holding yourself back if you don’t. Both in terms of performance and the macro and micro issues that will affect your recording (and the perception of your writing, and narration, and the success of your book in finding and engaging an audience).

Normally I would be in Pro Tools. Here, I’m using Adobe Audition. I am not doing complex mastering or mixing (of course that is relative). I use Izotope RX for cleanup and have used it extensively to clean up and repair thousands of recordings of dialog, ambiances, and Foley for three feature films. My film ALTERED had over 13,000 sound edits on 150 tracks, 30 subs, and 7 output stems in Dolby Surround, and though not real-time like Dolby and Grassroots hardware tools, you can do amazing things with RX if you put in the time to learn it’s potential. In my case, I learned and got better with it over the years, and the software continues to improve. A “brilliant piece of kit” as my Brit friends might say.

The mic comes with an interesting software suite of tools that can be used as you record, and this is where some magic happens. I am a huge proponent of post-production and fight to create high-quality work from what most would consider very substandard materials. But over the years, I’ve found out how much better you can do if sound and pictures are captured at the best levels.

Okay, okay, what about these “fuczm” settings? 

The mic can record at 44K and 48K. Use 48K. Just a bit more precision. You’ll never hear it, but the computer will use it. That needs to be set in your recording software and the Blue Yeti Nano software – Blue Sherpa.

Make sure your hardware settings on the DAW are set to input/output with the Yeti mic.

I have what has been described as a soft, warm voice. I am speaking from about 6 inches away. I have a pop filter. You will need it, and the one I have seems good (and costs less than 10 bucks). No scientific frequency comparison against others, but it leaves a lot of color in my voice and cuts the air hitting the mic.

Haha – the name of my novel is LOOP. Without it, I can’t even get the word LOOP recorded without an overwhelming “plosive.” Roadblocks at word number one!

And if you somehow can speak without air coming out of your mouth, then you can toss the rest of the post and move on! Try to say the word TWISTED without a laser beam of air coming out of your mouth. Doesn’t matter how soft or low you say it …
I suggest recording a few lines, over and over and over again. Working your way through all the possible settings. Blue Sherpa has limiters, compressors, EQ, noise reduction, expanders and gates, de-essers, and a basic high-pass filter.

You may not know what each of these does, yet(i). But learn. How? The oracle of Google and the gurus of YouTube can take your knowledge as far as you can hope to learn, but that’s not the same as experience. Listening and challenging your ears and eyes and creativity. That is going to take time and more effort.

Give yourself a few lines – even a hundred words should be enough. It doesn’t have to make sense. You are testing the mic, the settings, and learning how best to speak for the mic and your project. Make sure you have a few words like TWISTED in there.

Some hard ‘s’s … words like “certainly sat in the snow for a long time with saws and hoes.” 

You need the fast, hard S sound of SNOW and the long, drawn-out ones in SAWS and HOES. You’ll need words like LOOP and PIGEONS and FLUTTERING, and ALIVE. Words like HIM and BEGINNINGS. FOUND and TIRED, and LINED. 
The Sherpa’s settings can do a fantastic job of cutting out background noise, mouth clicks, and lip-smacking sounds, and minimize your breath sounds for a start.

Eventually, you want to find the settings that minimize the whistling of hard s’s. If your software has spectral displays, it will be easy to start recognizing them even there. An explosion of energy between 4K and 10K. Low side for most men, and toward the higher side for many women. 

Noise gates open and close in milliseconds to keep the good and weed out the bad. We’ll get into some specifics later on as it relates to this microphone and software combination. What you’re listening for, are words like TIRED and LINED to sound like D’s – not T’s. It’s a balance. If it trails off too slow – (maybe over 200 milliseconds) you’ll hear the noise at the end of each word.  Not ideal. Too fast and the D has no “air” or becomes a T. Words like ALIVE become ALIFE.

You’ll need to record your test lines dozens of times, adjusting variables until you are getting maximum noise reduction, flattering EQ if any. No clipping, lots of dynamics, natural-sounding breaths, and pauses. You’ll also need to have a strong idea of where you’re going with your post-processing. There are some basic standards that you must hit to deliver on any of the major platforms. 

Your goal on the noise floor is below -60db, the RMS somewhere around -20db, and max levels at -3. You want a fairly consistent tone and volume, adjusted for performance. 

You want things to be as transparent as possible, or in other words, for no one to know you don’t sound exactly in real life like you do in your audiobook.

You’ll test speaking softly, and then with some volume. Test the difference between being 5 inches away or 6. What happens at 7? Or 8 or 9?

Speak fast, speak slow, speak normally. Speak at the slightly slower rate needed for audiobooks. Is the noise being cut out abruptly (enough to hear)? Or can you see the energy in the spectral display and waveforms decaying naturally? A word like LOOP ends with that hard P and should have a fractional bit of air around it. A word like HIM or ENDING should decay naturally and not have a buzzing sound (signs the compressor and gates are working at odds)

The Sherpa software is there to make up for not having the hardware or high-end fx and plugins inserted into the recording chain. My thoughts are, it can do an amazing job and I’ll share some of my discoveries.

Start with the presets. Record your test script (it doesn’t have to make sense, it has to test out the combinations of sounds we use to make speech possible).

I’ll share more, but you already have some homework to do. My exact settings will work best for me, but not you. I hope to help you find your voice.

Still, I have discovered a lot. I would say I have fairly experienced, extremely critical ears, and nearly 20 years of really trying to understand sound. I’m as excited by it as I am about visuals. I am not close to being great, but I have some understanding and can hear and understand things I thought were far beyond me and any possibilities.

Start with your test script, start with the presets. Same words, same setup, same delivery. Even at the same time of day. Record. Analyze. Record again. We’ll start whittling it down further in the next post.

I’m pretty sure these are the same steps you would need to take with a 10,000 dollar mic to take it to the furthest levels. Of course, then you probably have the rest of the setup, the studio, and most likely an engineer and maybe even a director to help. 

And then I’m guessing you would walk in, the engineer would make a couple of adjustments, and you’d be so happy at how great it sounds, you’d go forward. But without testing, and comparing and critical analysis, you’re really only hoping it’s the best.

More coming … and soon I’ll post some sound files!

Good luck to us all!

Kely McClung

It’s easy to find me on social media and of course more can be found on https://fuczm.com

https://www.bluemic.com/en-us/

https://www.acx.com

https://www.bluemic.com/en-us/products/sherpa/

https://www.facebook.com/WilliamKelyMcClung/

https://www.instagram.com/kelymcclung/

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0565955/

2 Comments

  1. Alice Krige

    Hello Kely,
    This is a wonderfully helpful article – thank you for taking the time and the trouble to share your knowledge in such an easily accessible way!

  2. Bruce Bisbey

    Cool bro. Looking forward to making the film. Awesome job.

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