Recording an Audiobook

I’m contemplating recording audiobook versions of my five Cornish Detective novels.

I’m picking your brains for advice. I’ve been looking at microphones for sale. This evening, I opened a newsletter from Yanko Design (worth subscribing to) to see an article on an affordable microphone from Rode:

It’s pricier than the quoted $91. In rip-off Britain traders on eBay and Amazon are asking £109.99, but it looks easy to use and has good reviews.

I live at what used to be one of the noisiest places in Cornwall, during the day, at a petrol station on the flight path to Newquay Airport. In normal times, it’s very quiet after 7.00 p.m. These days it’s silent! I wouldn’t be disturbed by aeroplanes or passing vehicles. My room is compact at 18’ x 12’ with sloping ceilings, so I don’t think I’d need to build a recording booth. But, what do I know?

Will I need sound-absorbing material on the walls, a book stand, a microphone stand or a digital audio workstation to mix and edit?

What can you tell me?


It’s commonly said that we’re surprised by how our voice sounds when we hear it on the playback of a recording. Usually, it sounds higher than we think it does. This article discusses the problem:

The real reason the sound of your own voice makes you cringe

I’ve been told several times over the years, that I have an attractive talking and singing voice, which gives me a little confidence to narrate my books. At the moment, I’m researching microphones and such things as polar patterns. It looks like I need a cardioid pattern mic.

I remember reading advice that it’s best to slow down one’s narration, as it’s easy to gallop through a story.

For those of you who’ve created audiobooks, were you surprised by the sound of your voice? What about the dilemma of imitating foreign accents? I get the impression that extraneous noises can sometimes be edited out. But, what about the microphone’s sensitivity—can it pick up the sound of the narrator sipping water?

I know that book narration isn’t making a radio play, but have you ever included sound effects? Way back in the 1970s, I worked as a motorcycle dispatch rider. One of the regular clients was a Foley engineer who added sound effects to films and videos. Her recording studio could be a surprisingly messy place. I was shocked one day, when I arrived with a package, to find her slashing a pumpkin to pieces with a machete, the pulp flying everywhere. This was to simulate a stabbing scene in a horror film. I’ve never looked at pumpkins in the same way since!

I’ve also been investigating affordable video cameras. This assumes that I can bear the thought of appearing online.

Who knows where I’ll end up?

What about listening to your audiobook? Which headphones or earbuds do you favour?

I listen to music while writing. For years, I used cheap earbuds, favouring those that fitted into my ear canal, rather than models which perched in my ear as I found them uncomfortable, and they allowed too much sound leakage in and out.

Such budget plastic earbuds don’t last forever—one earbud fails—I’m a decent solderer, but the wires are finer than human hair and difficult to connect if you’re thinking of joining two working earbuds.

Frustrated by their short life, I decided to splash out a tenner on a pair of wooden earbuds. This sounded like a gimmick to me, but, to my astonishment, the sound quality was brilliant! Playing songs, I could hear notes I didn’t know existed with the cheap earbuds. They also have a long lead, which makes moving around easier. Best tenner I’ve ever spent.

ZIOFEN Premium Earphones – Wood Design – Noise-isolating Ear Buds – Storage Bag. | eBay

I like them a lot, but wonder if over-ear headphones would be better for creating audiobooks.

Do you have any recommendations?

After missing out on an eBay auction, I decided to bite the bullet and buy new. I investigated alternatives to the much-recommended Zoom H4N Pro Handy Recorder—it’s a brilliant device—but stretches my budget. I found good reviews of the Olympus LS-P4 Hi Res Audio Recorder, which an eBay trader was selling for £99.99…new, but in an opened box.
I bought it, along with the Rode NT-USB microphone for £105 and a clip-on suspension boom mic holder for £9.95 (reduced from £24.95).

Goodbye £214.94

I feel faint!

I’ll let you know how things go.

I’ve been watching the Booth Junkie videos on YouTube. He really knows his stuff and can explain things well.
Losing my virginity as a narrator is proving to be a costly business. I bought the Rode microphone and Olympus audio recorder under the misapprehension that I could use the former as an external mic for the latter. It turns out that I don’t need to. It is possible to attach an external mic to the recorder, but to do so with the Rode would need a strange lead with a 3.5 mm jack plug on one end and a mini USB plug on the other.

I’m happy with both bits of kit and have made test recordings with each of them. From advice, I read, it’s thought to be risky to record onto a laptop hard drive, as the fan noise will intrude. It hasn’t, so far, but the temperature in my flat reaches 90F/36C in summer, so it’s likely to.

As a way around this problem, I bought a cheap tablet. I intend to use it for reading the manuscript too, to avoid making scrolling noises with my laptop mouse or paper sounds from turning pages. The Ibowin 10.1” tablet is made in China and cost me £58.99. It’s the first tablet I’ve owned, and I was impressed with the quality of it. What didn’t impress me, is how damn difficult it is to connect to the internet using my GiffGaff dongle. The tablet uses the Android operating system and is designed to connect to Wi-Fi. I’m not alone in having difficulties—try Googling it. Apparently, there’s a way around the problem by ‘rooting’ the device, but this may not work and it voids the one-year warranty.

Feeling frustrated, I did more investigating and found that what I needed is a Mi-Fi router, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, into which I insert the GiffGaff SIM which will allow me to connect my tablet and the laptop and up to six other devices. I found a refurbished model on eBay for £18.99. I hope that it works.

My test recordings, which I did without any sound insulation, showed that the ambient noise was surprisingly high. I had a brainwave to make a portable recording booth. When I work, I rest my feet on a black plastic recycling box, which looked the right size. Then, I looked at YouTube to see that a Canadian chap had done just the same thing!

Back to eBay to buy spray adhesive (£5.40) and acoustic panels (£13.88) to line the box with. Experimenting (which is free!), I lined the box with pillows and cushions and made two recordings of the same chapter with the mic and with the Olympus audio recorder. The portable booth worked really well with no ambient noise and my voice sounded fuller and more bass.

This is a very good thing, as in the first recordings, I sounded like a cross between Stephen Fry being haughty and Kaa the snake from Disney’s version of The Jungle Book. I don’t think that sounding like a snobby hissing anaconda is desirable as a narrator. :rolleyes:

I’ll keep you posted on developments.

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