Successfully Recording Your Lines At Home

3. PC/Laptop Settings

It won't make much sense for you to proceed with this part of the guide if you don't have your audio equipment yet. To check and adjust the settings for your microphone and speakers, they have to be plugged in to your computer, otherwise they won't be recognized. So, I will now assume that you have done your homework after reading Part 2, and have purchased and plugged in everything you need, and are now ready to go.

  • Sound settings in Windows

(1) Enter  your sound settings by clicking Start >> Control Panel >> Hardware and Sound >> Sound.

(2) When your microphone is plugged in, you will find it under the Recording tab. If it's not your default device yet, then select it (single click!) and choose Set Default.

(3) Windows might find more devices like a Line In, Stereo Mix or a Digital In, but these are not relevant for you.

(4) At the right side of the window, you will find a small blue level bar. Speak into your microphone now, and you can see what your current level is like.

(5) Now play around with your sitting position as you speak. Hold the mic far away and then as close as you can. The level bar will give you a hint about the optimal distance you may choose later for your recordings.

Note: If the overall level is very low for you, no matter how closely you put the mic, then don't worry now. It is true that if you never see more than two or three green bars, it will indeed be too low to record your voice properly. But fear not, there are of course options to increase the level (which I will discuss below).

(6) Now go and check Properties.

On the General tab, you can give your microphone a specific name or attach an icon if you want to. It can be useful, e.g., if you have both a headset for chatting and a microphone for recording plugged in. Giving different microphones different names or icons enables you later to identify them easily in the software with which you are recording.

Note: Once you are done with your settings and have clicked "Apply", they will be saved and are attached exclusively to the specific mic, even if you unplug it and use it months later.

(7) In the Controller Information you can see whether or not the soundcard of your home computer or laptop is run by Realtek High Definition Audio. If it's not, don't worry right now, for I will make you install the newest version soon, anyway!

The Jack Information tells you where exactly your microphone is plugged in right now. If your PC has microphone plugs both in the front and back, the Jack Information will tell you. (The laptop where the screenshot to the left was taken from obviously has its 3.5mm jack on the left panel.)

The Listen tab function is applicable for conference room presentations in front of an audience (you need speakers for that, of course), or if you want to monitor your own voice directly via headphones while you're recording. The latter is your choice, because headphones don't add to quality and can't tell you directly if your recorded takes are okay. Headphones have psychological properties, though, in blocking out the environment, and they leave you alone with your performance and the character you have to get into.

(8) Next click the Levels tab.

You can set your default microphone level right here. If your overall volume during the speaking test was very low (as described above), you might increase the level up to a recommended 100%. If your volume is still low after that, you might use the Microphone Boost slider and increase the level further by decibels. If you want to test it, click OK here and watch your level bar again, as described at the beginning.

Note: Especially when using audio interfaces and microphones which have their own volume controls (like most CAD models), the recommended Windows settings are those in the picture: full 100% level and no boost (0.00 dB) at all.

(9) Now we're approaching the most important part of your settings. Click the Enhancements tab.

It still makes me angry that most laptops have Noise Suppression enabled as default. This is no enhancement, it will mess up all your efforts, and you will sound like a 1950s vintage recording. Disable it immediately!

The Acoustic Echo Cancellation is even worse. Are you recording in your kitchen or bathroom with tiles on the floor and walls? Or in a staircase? If your livingroom causes an acoustic echo, why don't you change to your bedroom or wherever there is no echo at all? What's the point of making compromises all the time? You have to disable the function by all means, because it messes up big time all your efforts, by making your voice sound tinny and gargling. It's a sin to use it!

(10) As shown in the picture, just set Disable all sound effects and be done with the whole subject once and for all. There are no excuses.

Note: If you don't want to be asked for endless re-do's/re-takes by the producer or editor, follow the above as a rule. Please. 

(11) Last and not least, click the Advanced tab. Here you can select your sample rate and bit depth for the "shared mode", which means the general quality your soundcard will process everything microphone and speakers related. First, enable the functions "Allow applications to take exclusive control of this device" and "Give exclusive mode applications priority".

As to the sample rate, set it to 44100 or 96000 Hz. Don't go for 48000 Hz. Reasons will become clear later in this guide.

Now that you've gone through everything, click "Apply". Your settings are now saved exclusively to this microphone... and you are done.

Note: If you want, you can now take a look at the Speakers menu in the Sound section of your Control Panel, too. Double-click your speakers to enter the properties.

There is not much to say, except that you have to set "Disable all Sound Effects" there as well. The reason is simple: as long as you run your speakers with enabled effects, you will not be able to listen to your recordings and hear them in the same way your producer or editor will. Say goodbye to room effects, bass boosts etc., and stick to these default settings where you can. Don't trick or fool yourself.

  • Realtek HD Audio Manager

The Realtek HD Audio Manager is a useful application for in-built soundcards that comes with the Realtek HD Audio Codec Driver. With most laptop manufacturers, such as Acer, Dell and HP, it might already be pre-installed. Check your Control Panel if the Audio Manager is already there as clickable icon. (As you might have seen above, you will then also find its name everywhere in the Windows Sound settings. The reason is that the driver takes over all controls of your built-in soundcard.)

(12) If you don't have it installed already, then do it now. Even if you have, I recommend that you download the latest version from the Realtek website for free. The official name is "Realtek HD Audio Codec Driver". Download link. Click "Accept" and "Next" and follow further instructions. After installation, you will find the Audio Manager as a clickable icon in your Control Panel (as described above).

Now open the Realtek HD Audio Manager via your Control panel. It should look similar to the screenshot below.

(13) Start with the Microphone settings (your mic has to be plugged in for that!) and follow the items marked in red. I have to repeat how important it is to disable "Noise Suppression"and "Acoustic Echo Cancellation", because if any of these are enabled, they WILL decrease your sound quality to an unusable mess for the editor.

Now enter your Speakers settings (your speakers have to be plugged in for that!).

(14) In the Speaker Configuration, choose the kind of speaker system which is plugged in (e.g. "Stereo" or "2 / 2.1 Speakers"). Hit the Play button to do the speakers test accordingly. Enable "Front left and right", but disable "Virtual Surround" (if that option shows up for you).

(15) Enter Sound Effects to make sure that both "Environment" and "Equilizer" settings are set to "None". The "Loudness Equalization" has to be disabled by all means! Otherwise, you won't hear your own voice as recorded, but with effects. The editor, and any other person, would certainly hear it differently.

(16) Lastly, go to Default Format and set your speakers to at least "24 Bits, 44100Hz". For listening back properly to your stuff, I even recommend that you choose "24 Bits, 96000 Hz (Studio Quality)".

(17) The "OK" button is at the bottom right of the Audio Manager. Press it now to close the application.

(18) You are done.