Category Archives: Audio

How to Extract Audio from a Flash Video

Although we all love watching video webinars, sometimes you just want to listen to the audio when you are away from your computer – maybe when you are driving or exercising or just relaxing outdoors.

You can’t add an FLV file to an MP3 player – but you can extract the audio from a webinar and convert the sound to an MP3 that can be played on an iPod or any other MP3 player.

This short video will show you how:

A Bad Microphone Means A Bad Video – Getting Started in Video Part 3

A Good Lavalier Microphone

A Good Lavalier Microphone

New videographers often overlook one crucial piece of equipment – the microphone.

And no wonder they do. It’s almost impossible to find a decent camcorder for sale for less than $1,000.00 with an external mic jack. Newer camcorders have built-in stereo microphones instead, which promise great sound. But the microphone on your camcorder is probably omni-directional, which means it will pick up room noises to the side and back of what you are filming. It is subject to vibration and humming from other components and cables on your camcorder. And it can pick up the noise of the camcorder motor as it turns the tape.

For clean, bright sound, you cannot rely on a built-in microphone.

WHICH MIC IS THE RIGHT MIC?

Experienced videographers often have a bag full of microphones. One may be perfectly suited to a particular situation, but a poor choice in any other video.

Consumer camcorders usually have microphone mini-plugs – similar to the plug on your iPod’s headphones, for instance. More expensive camcorders will have XLR plugs. XLR cables can carry sound better, over longer distances, and high end mics will always use XLR jacks. If you want to use an XLR microphone and your camcorder is equipped with a mini-jack, you will need something like the Beachtek XLR Adapters

A lavalier, or clip on, microphone is perfect for how to videos and product demonstrations where there is just one person speaking. A reasonably good lavalier, like the Audio Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone costs about $30.00.

If you want a wireless microphone, your choices are more limited, unless you have a very large budget. An excellent wireless microphone is a serious investment.

But, if you can control the environment, the AZDEN WMS-PRO Lavaliere System with Hand-Held Microphone for under $165.00 comes with a transmitter, a handheld microphone, and a lavalier mic. It gives good results up to about 50 feet. This system is a good compromise between quality and cost. (However, note: you can use the lavalier or the handheld mic – you cannot use both at the same time.)

Many videographers looking for a wireless solution try Bluetooth microphones. They are almost always disappointed, despite the hefty price tag. I’d recommend that you steer clear of Bluetooth microphones for camcorders.

The handheld microphone is useful for “man in the street” interviews. Of course, if you truly are filming “in the street,” dangling cords can be hazardous unless you have a crew to keep track of them. The AZDEN WMS-PRO Lavaliere System with Hand-Held Microphone might be a good budget choice. But if you plan on doing a lot of outdoor filming, think about a boom mic instead.

A boom microphone is simply a shotgun microphone mounted on a long pole (known as a boom pole). Someone holds the microphone above the speaker, out of frame. If you are shooting outside, you’ll want to cover the mic with a wind shield. These are those big, fuzzy covers, sometimes called a “dead cat.”

The Rode VideoMic Directional Shotgun Mic w/Mount makes both an excellent boom microphone and a camera mounted shotgun mic. It comes with a shock mount that snaps into your camcorder’s hotshoe. The microphone should run about $165.00.

You can add the Rode DeadCat for anther $50.00.

A good boom pole needs to be light, well balanced, and expandable. If you want one for the Rode Videomic, take a look at the Rode Microphones Mini Boompole for about $115.00

If you are planning to use a boom mic, look for package deals. The microphone, dead cat, and pole can often be purchased together at a discounted price.

DO YOU NEED ALL THIS RIGHT AWAY?

As you can see, a collection of microphones for all occasions can become expensive. Luckily, you probably won’t need more than a wired, lavalier microphone to start making your own How To or product demonstration videos.

As usual, the key to finding the right mic is planning. Know your audience and know your project before you shop.

Keep your early videos simple. Shoot inside, where you can control ambient noise. Have only one narrator, whether in front of or behind the camera. The more complicated the shoot gets, the less likely it is to be done. If you can avoid adding an extra person to handle the sound, at least in the beginning, you will finish more projects.

In Part 4, we’ll look at microphones for use in screencasting.

Plantronics USB Headset on Sale at Buy.com

Plantronics .Audio 510 USB Ultimate Performance Headset - New in Poly-Bag

Plantronics .Audio 510 USB Ultimate Performance Headset – New in Poly-Bag

If you use Skype or Camtasia, you’ve heard that a USB headset is better than an analog headset. You may have even heard side-by-side comparisons of the two. But you’ve put off buying a new headset.

Me too.

My old Logitech analog headset has served me well over the last few years. It is subject to popping P’s and B’s, but the audio is acceptable and I didn’t want to spend $50.00 for a new headset.

Earlier this week, I got a newsletter from Buy.com, touting the Plantronics Audio 510 on sale for only $16.99, with free shipping.

Plantronics is the brand recommended by Bill Myers, which is usually good enough for me. But the recent models featured a pair of analog mini-plugs with a USB adapter. I don’t know if that degrades the sound or not – but I wanted a true USB connection.

Like the one on the Audio 510.

So I jumped on the offer.

The headset arrived yesterday, and it is terrific. I’ve only had it for 24 hours, but I endorse it without reservation. The sound through the headphones is excellent, the microphone is sensitive without clipping, the windshield on the mic also seems to act as a pop filter, and the USB connection was recognized by my computers without a problem.

And, of course, the sound is noticeably better.

If you’ve been looking for a USB headset, this sale is worth checking out.

The link below this paragraph is an affiliate link. If you click the buy button, it will take you right to Buy.com and I’ll earn a couple of cents. If you’d prefer not to use an affiliate link, here is a direct link to the Buy.com order page, absolutely not affiliate commission or tracking involved. I’m not recommending this headset for the commission. I truly thought this was such a great deal, I wanted to share it:

Bare (non-affiliate) link:

http://www.buy.com/retail/usersearchresults.asp?querytype=home&qu=202592133&qxt=home&display=col

There’s no telling how long this sale will last – so if you want it, go now.

Affiliate link below:

Plantronics .Audio 510 USB Ultimate Performance Headset - New in Poly-Bag

Plantronics .Audio 510 USB Ultimate Performance Headset – New in Poly-Bag

Enter a zone of pure audio extravagance, where plush, supple comfort and bass-enriched resonance redefine the multimedia experience. The .Audio 510 USB is ideal for gaming, music, Internet talk, video conferencing, and voice applications. It features 40mm speakers that convey music and gaming with dynamic bass response.



 

Microphone Comparison

The Best Sounding Mics for Screencasting

The Best Sounding Mics for Screencasting


Betsey Weber and Matt Pierce of TechSmith (the makers of Camtasia) have done an excellent short comparison of several microphones for screencasting, including a lapel mic, freestanding USB mics, a headset, and even a webcam.

Matt reads the same short passage from Alice in Wonderland with each microphone. The entire screencast lasts less than two minutes, so it is very easy to keep the previous microphones’ sound in mind as the test progresses.

For anyone who has tried out different microphones, it will come as no surprise that the Samson C03U Multi-pattern Condenser Mic (direct to computer via USB) and the Audio Technica AT2020USB Condenser USB Microphone were the clear winners.

I wish they’d also been able to test the pricier, but universally praised, Rode Microphones Podcaster USB Microphone. But you can’t have everything, every time, and this short test is truly helpful.

Once you accept that sound is at least as important as visuals in your screen casts, these side by side, hearing is believing comparisons will narrow your mic choices right down. Cheap headsets that plug into your computer’s sound card just don’t get the job done.

If you are upgrading your microphone, don’t forget the desk (or floor) stand and pop filter. Together, they will only add another $30.00 or so to your purchase. If your budget permits, you might want to get a shockmount as well.

WordPress 2.7 Is Now Available

Information Sells Upgraded to WordPress 2-7

Information Sells Upgraded to WordPress 2-7

Oh boy! I just upgraded Information Sells to WordPress 2.7

So far so good.

THE UPGRADE

I’ve been upgrading my plug ins conscientiously, as new versions are released. Sadish announced that all his themes are WP 2.7 ready. So, although I’d planned to wait at least a few seconds before upgrading, I jumped right in.

I used the Automatic Upgrade plug-in as I always do. The only problem I encountered was that, once I’d upgraded the database, WordPress dropped me back to the new WP 2.7 dashboard instead of the Automatic Upgrade Plug-in control panel. I had to manually re-activate all my plug-ins.

FIRST USE BUG REPORT

In Firefox 3, on a Windows XP notebook with a 1024×768 resolution monitor, the right hand side of the Add New Post window is covered by the Publish, Tags, and Categories windows. I’ve had to roll them up to write this post.  That’s pretty annoying, actually.

The Upload/Insert Media process isn’t as smooth as it was in WordPress 2.6, either. I had to manually adjust the size of the image 3 times before it fit correctly.

Maybe WordPress 2.7.1 will arrive tomorrow.

Bleeping #$!*

On one of the forums that I read regularly, someone asked if there was a way, using Audacity, to bleep out a swear word in an interview without otherwise editing the interview.

This isn’t a situation that comes up every day, but there are certainly times when you’ll want to bleep – rather than cut – a few seconds of audio. If you use Audacity, this is a quick fix, requiring only a few mouse clicks.

The short video below shows how it is done.

[flashvideo width=”640″ height=”493″ filename=”videos/bleep.flv” /]

Sound Effects

If you watch the credits at the end of a movie, you will see several mysterious job titles: Gaffer, Best Boy, Key Grip, Foley Artist… The names give no indication of the function, but you’d never bother watching more than 30 seconds of a film that didn’t employ these people. They are the lighting and sound technicians who bring film to life.

Most Hollywood films – whether they blast you with loud, sci-fi style special effects or stick to quiet dialog during long, peaceful walks on the beach – have almost all sound except dialog added after shooting. When someone opens the front door, walks up the stairs, flips a light switch, and flops onto the bed – the Foley Artist supplies the sound.

Your You Tube or DVD productions may lack a Hollywood budget, but they can still benefit from the addition of post-production sound effects. Perhaps a crucial interview suffers from a low level hiss in the background. You can use the Noise Filter in Audacity to roll off some sounds – but it is not always 100% successful. The addition of another background sound can mask the noise. A carefully chosen, quiet musical track, or even, if the interview was recorded outside, the sound of birds chirping can be effective without being annoying.

But the cost! Finding good quality, royalty-free audio tracks is expensive and time consuming. Digital Juice has three great Sound Effects collections that sell for $150.00 each, but it can be very had to justify that sort of expense for a one minute You Tube video. And many on line videographers and product developers simply do not need such large collections. Alternately, the internet offers dozens – hundreds – of sites with free, low quality WAV and MIDI sounds. Some are pirated, some have no license agreements (which could bite you later). Is bad better than nothing?

Where do you turn?

Sound Snap

Sound Snap was begun by professional sound technicians as a way to share high quality, royalty free sound effects. They are scrupulous about both the quality and the legality of the sounds on the site. Some of Sound Snap’s contributors have worked on films ranging from Batman Begins to Happy Feet. These are people who know how to record quality sound – and they want to share.

Sound Snap arranges sounds by category, for easy browsing. You can find everything from Animals to Exterior to Nature to Sci Fi to Music – and more. There are currently 16 different categories, each divided into sub-categories. You can also search by keyword. The downloads are available as either MP3 and WAV.

All you have to do is register, and this amazing library is available for immediate use.

Don’t let your video productions suffer from bad sound – become your own Foley artist and bring them to life. (And once you become obsessed with sounds, share your own recordings at Sound Snap.)

The Correct Position for A Headset Microphone

Headset microphones are used by many screencasters. They produce acceptable sound at a reasonable price – particularly USB microphones like the Jabra GN2000 USB Headset – and they leave your hands free for keyboarding. Unfortunately, you can often tell when a screencaster is wearing a headset by the background sounds.

Most people’s first instinct is to speak directly into the mic by placing it in front of the mouth. This results in the mic picking up breathing sounds and popping on letters like “p” and “b”. The correct position for the microphone is counter-intuitive. It should be beside or below your mouth – where it will be less likely to pick up exhalations.

In their newsletter today, B&H Photo & Video compares many different headsets, both wired and wireless. You can find a PDF of their comparison of three lower end (i.e., less expensive) models here

They also offer this advice on microphone type and placement:

The proper positioning of the microphone arm and boom is important in order to ensure a clear, consistent vocal delivery. The optimal placement of the mic is usually 1-2″ from the corner of the mouth. Positioning the mic directly in front of the mouth is not advisable, as plosive distortion and exaggerated bass response (called the proximity effect) will undoubtedly occur. We recommend using omnidirectional polar pattern head-worns for most applications. They are easy to use and provide excellent quality audio We have found that omni mics offered a surprising amount of ambient isolation, probably because of the close proximity of the mic to its source and the small size of the capsule. Omni’s tend to be much more forgiving off-axis in terms of signal pickup and exhibit little or no proximity effect compared to cardioids. Directional polar patterns are sometimes better suited for situations where there are loud monitors, extreme feedback or environmental noise.

Position the microphone to the side of your mouth

Position the microphone to the side of your mouth

Finding the Right Microphone for Interviews

B&H Photo’s newsletter recently featured an interesting, very detailed article on choosing the right microphone for interviews.

As we’ve written before, most consumer camcorders have an onboard microphone, but it should be avoided if sound quality is important. The onboard mic will pick up ambient sound (traffic, wind, dogs barking etc) as well as the sound of the camcorder’s motor.

A lavalier microphone is a good choice for a single narrator – but you’ll need extra equipment to get two lavalier mics to work with most camcorders. Indeed, finding a reasonably priced, consumer grade camcorder with a microphone jack is hard enough. Finding a built in method to plug in two microphones is fantasy.

A shotgun mic, like the Rode VideoMic, is one solution – but it is still susceptible to ambient noise in a busy location.

The preferred solution for most professionals is a handheld microphone. As B&H’s newsletter explains:

While the act of sticking a microphone in someone’s face may not be the most inconspicuous method for capturing the sound of their voice, it’s still a great tool because against adverse circumstances, handheld interview mics still attain better audio than other types of mics in this situation. The reason for this is that they tend to get closest to the sound source. Proximity plays a huge role in audio, and the closer your microphone is to the person’s voice, the better it will sound.

However, not all handheld mics are created equal. One that works for a stage performance by a musician will have different characteristics than one used by a lecturer on stage. An interview mic will be different than a lecturer’s mic.

If you are doing interviews, here’s what to look for:

  1. A long body. This improves reach and it gives you room to add an identifying flag to your mic
  2. An omnidirectional pick up pattern
  3. Check the connectors! Professional microphones frequently have XLR connectors. Your camcorder may have only a mini-jack input. Be sure the camcorder’s inputs and the microphone’s plug are compatible

How much can you expect to pay for a solid, handheld microphone? $80.00 on up. If you think you’ll use this microphone frequently, don’t stint on quaity – but don’t confuse price with value, either. The Shure SM63L is an excellent mid-level microphone.

You can find a very useful table listing handheld microphones and their prices, dimensions, and frequency responses in the B&H Photo and Video Newsletter

Better Quality Podcasts with Skype

The Conversations Network has posted a great tutorial on getting top quality audio podcasts using Skype. Take a look:

http://www.blogarithms.com/index.php/archives/2007/12/23/skype-for-interviews/

This tutorial will walk you through changes to both Skype and firewall default settings. There is a lot of detail, but it is very easy to follow.

The two most important steps to getting good audio are quite simple:

  1. Use a USB headset, rather than an analog one.
  2. Upgrade to the latest version of Skype, which has a greatly improved audio codec.