The Sound

We evolved quite a bit when it comes to the sound, as well. I do think, however, that we haven’t reach the end of this story, since I still have some unresolved problems, but compared to our beginnings, it’s a world of difference.

Computer mic

Oh, no, don’t even think about it. Back away right now. Maybe the 2019 MBP16 would be able to produce passable sound quality, but I doubt that any microphone placed that far away and at table level would be very nice to listen to. Plus if you’re working on the same keyboard that has the microphones installed right next to it, it’s simply not possible that you won’t have mechanical interference.

But, I have to admit, I never gave it a try. There are limits.

Sennheiser headset

Our first attempt was with a Sennheiser USB headset I had lying around. It turned out to sound so-and-so, but it was totally unreliable. The mic made noises and dropped out. Probably because this was a very well used headset and I should never have expected it to function well. Even while working, it was extremely prone to pops (“plosive sounds”). I think it came with a foam head that I’ve lost long ago. That would explain it.

These used to be pretty good for Zoom and gaming. Not so much anymore. ‘Plosives galore.

Plantronics headset

Next try was a wireless Plantronics headset. The mic had a lot less plosives, but they were difficult to get rid of completely. Otherwise, the sound was pretty decent. Sadly, it didn’t last. At a certain point, it started to suddenly give extremely loud raw noise, with a total loss of speech, right in the middle of recordings. Since ScreenFlow has no way to monitor sound while recording, this only showed up during editing. After we lost two 45 minute recordings to this, we gave up on the Plantronics.

Pretty decent headset. As long as it doesn’t fail catastrophically.

There was no way to find out if this was a problem with the headset or the Bluetooth stack on MacOS. Or even ScreenFlow. I can’t imagine where to begin looking for the cause. Life is too short.

As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that Plantronics included their own USB receiver for the headset. I should have tested that, but didn’t think of it.

Olympus lapel mic and recorder

I have a couple of Olympus digital recorders VN-8700-PC, and their lapel mics. These are small condensor mics getting power from the recorder. The sound is surprisingly good. It’s easy to synchronize the sound track from the recorder with the video in ScreenFlow by having the presenter clap hands at the beginning of the recording. Also, since the recorder is digital, the synch is perfect even after an hour of recording, no drift at all.

The Olympus digital recorder with the Olympus condensor mic connected.

However, as Hania leans forward or leans back in the chair, the distance between the mouth and the mic changes. At the same time, both the volume of sound and the sound “color” changes because she’s sitting close to a wall, maybe a meter, and the wall reflections do color the sound.

Rode lapel mic to camera

When we got the Sony ZV-1 camera, I took the opportunity to get the Rode Smartlav lapel mic and an extension cord for it. This mic gets very good reviews, and I think it sounds better than the Olympus mic. Not that much better, which suprised me a bit, but still better. The problems with volume shifts and shifts in the “color” of the sound remains, however. Maybe it even got a bit worse, since the ZV-1 doesn’t have automatic recording levels; you have to select a fixed level. The Olympus recorders, however, seem to adjust the recording level. Or maybe I’m just imagining things.

Sound panels

It became unavoidable to think about sound dampening in the room. We have sheet rock walls and stone floors. The ceiling is somewhat porous, so that’s less of a problem.

The kind of stuff you’d normally glue to the walls.

Normally, you’d add acoustic absorbers to the walls, but that required gluing them onto the wall, and even if I don’t mind converting our living room to a studio, that is taking it a step too far.

So I went with sound panels, instead. These have better dampening characteristics than the foam absorbers, and they’re made to stand on the floor. They’re also more expensive, but on the other hand, they’re much easier to reuse in other configurations. Just try to rip those glued foam panels from the wallpaper…

ClearSonic panels.

I bought three of those, each one consisting of two of those panels hinged together.

The three panel pairs standing on the ground and resting against the walls.

I would get a better effect by raising the panels up a bit, since I think the part below the desk isn’t having any effect, but I’m happy with the effect they already have.

The sound seems better to me. Environmental noise is slightly reduced, and the variations from changing positions are less.

I installed these panels after the end of the Udemy course, so they’ll only contribute to the results from the next course. Hania is using them, however, for her fall lectures for the university here in Sweden, but those aren’t public.

Levels and compression

I still haven’t got the hang of how to correct the volume levels and how to effectively use the compression plugins that are available in ScreenFlow. The sound as it is, is pretty decent, but there are still noticeable volume changes. I’m planning on getting to the bottom of this when I have the new iMac, so there will be a part 2 to “The Sound” later.

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