Technical Terms for Audiobook Narrators
This is less of an article and more of a place for me to store all the technical terms that audiobook narrators need to understand for life and also for our articles. This is a living document, so as we encounter ideas or words that may be confusing to the beginner, I'll be dropping them in here for reference. Any comments or questions? Let me know and I'll add them in.
OH! and it will be sorted alphabetically for easy searching.
When you record audio that is too loud, it results in some of the audio being lost. This results in a very particular sound (It's hard to describe. Kind of... fuzzy sounding?). This sound will become more recognizable as you record, as you will definitely do it either by accident or on purpose at some point.
While everyone who records audio has and will cause their mic to clip, just know that any take where you do clip is unusable and will need redoing.
Condenser and dynamic refer to the way the microphone turns the noise hitting the diaphragm into electronic signals.
In condenser mics, the diaphragm is placed next to a charged metal plate, and the movement of the diaphragm is picked up by the changes to the charges on the plate.
In dynamic mics, the diaphragm is instead attached to a moving piece of metal. When the metal moves within an electric coil, it creates an electronic signal that your audio interface can translate for your computer to understand.
Decibels are the unit we use to measure how loud a sound is.
In your software, everything will be recorded in the negative decibels, with 0dB being the point at which the audio begins clipping. For your speech, you should be recording between -25dB and -12dB, with no sound going above -3dB.
For self-noise, you ideally want the sound the mic makes to be quieter than 16-19 dB-A (See self-noise section for details), as this allows you to achieve the ACX minimum standard.
You're not crazy, this is also the name of a very important bodily organ that we use a lot while recording. While named similarly, this is the part of the microphone that picks up the sound. As you speak, sing, or otherwise produce noise, the diaphragm vibrates. The mic then turns that vibration into an electronic signal and sends that signal down to the recording device.
The reason your voice and mine sound different (Even if we both have masculine vocal chords), is because all of the parts of our body that are responsible for producing sound act a little bit differently than other peoples. The combination of vibrations all throughout our throat, chest, and sinuses allows us to make the word "goat" sound different than "cheese".
Any individual sound can be broken can be broken down into vibrations. The speed at which those vibrations move the air around them is referred to as frequency. Vibrations that move fast are called high frequency sounds, vibrations that move slow are low frequency sounds, with a spectrum of sounds in between. When you are speaking, your voice is actually a combination of these different vibrations over that spectrum, which is what makes the words and noises you make different from each other.
The frequency response refers to the way the microphone picks up sound. Since humans primarily make noise in the 85 to 255 Hz range, mics want to be able to pick up everything above 50 Hz. Additionally, you don't want the mic to change any of the frequencies too much, as that will cause you to sound different than you actually do (this is a bad thing, minus a few not-beginner-friendly exceptions).
When we talked about condenser microphones earlier, you may have noticed that the diaphragm was paired with a charged metal plate. In order to charge this plate, the mic needs to be supplied with power. This requires you to plug your mic into an audio interface via an XLR cable and turn on phantom power.
Note: Dynamic mics do not require phantom power.
This is the direction the mic picks up sound.
Omni-directional polar patterns pick up sound in all directions, much like the vocal mics that singers use in a crowded bar at an open mic night, or the tiny ones filmographers will pin on your shirt.
Uni-directional polar patterns pick up sound in one direction (It's not perfect, but when compared to omni-directional, it's night and day). Uni-directional can further be broken down into cardioid, super-cardioid, and hyper-cardioid.
All of the cardioids have the same thing in common, a heart-shaped sound detection region. The differences are how narrow an area of air they measure for sound. Super-cardioid measures a smaller area than cardioid, and hyper-cardioid measures and even smaller section than super.
Pre-amplifiers, or pre-amps, are the electronic components that are used to make the signal coming out of the diaphragm louder. These will generally be present in your audio interface or the body of your USB mic, as they turn up the sounds you make to a level where your recording software can hear you over the general electronic hum of the mic itself.
This is the noise that the mic makes on its own. All of the electronic components that make the mic sound nice can add noise to the system. Generally speaking, this is a more common issue with cheaper mics and a less common issue on more expensive ones. When people talk about self-noise, they generally refer to it is in dB-A. The A stands for A-weighting, a method by which we mimic human perception.
For our purposes, anything below 18 dB-A is going to be sufficient for the average studio recording.
A shock mount is a piece of hardware that suspends the microphone in some number of rubberized brackets, stopping vibrations in the floor or on your desk from traveling up your mic stand into the diaphragm of the mic.
When you see the words XLR and USB, this refers to the way that the microphone connects to your computer.
XLR refers to a specific cable type (pictured here), which is used to connect the mic to an audio interface.
USB refers to the computer connection, as USB mics have built-in pre-amps and a chip that converts the sound to your computer's language so it can be connected directly to the mic, no additional interface required.