Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

Does Recording in a Car Make For Better Quality Audio?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

June 1, 2008

Comments (12)

TextEdit Blog Article

Does a particular brand of word processor make people better writers? Can amateur videographers make a killer music video with a simple camera phone?

Probably not.

In short, it's not what you have, it's what you bring to the table as a professional that truly makes the difference.


Case in Point

Today, I'm making a point and am writing my article (the one you're presently reading) in a word processor called TextEdit, one of the most basic, no frills processors around. Generally I write directly in Movable Type for VOX Daily, but I think you'll notice right away that my skill to communicate and hopefully entertain has not been hindered by the fact that I'm using an inferior platform to get my point across.

Once this article has been finished and edited, I'll copy and paste it into my usual platform, and add pictures and links just as I would any other article. If I hadn't told you that I was going through this process, you likely wouldn't have noticed.


3 Good Examples

Pat Fraley, a voice over coach Hollywood, might record a podcast from his bunkhouse in Studio City and you wouldn't in the least bit suspect that he is recording anywhere other than a state of the art audio recording facility. Why is that? Because Pat is a master at what he does with his voice and editing skills regardless of the tools at his disposal.

Earlier on, I made a reference to video being shot on camera phones.

Mike Hodgkinson, a highly skilled music videographer shot an absolutely spectacular, premium-grade video for Rob Dickinson's 'Oceans' using a Nokia N93 camera phone to capture the footage. He had a boom which he attached the phone to while filming and even captured underwater footage. Typically these kinds of projects can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars to produce when all is said and done.

Another mainstream example is the cinematographic phenomenon that was The Blair Witch Project. Made for under $22,000, the film has grossed over $248 million since January of 2008 (Source: Wikipedia).

Note that all of the people mentioned working with lower tech or minimal budgets were absolute professionals.

They used what they had and were able to make blockbusters from basic materials.


Can Talent Be Faked?

It came to my attention recently that there was some peculiar advice given out by someone working at a competing website suggesting that people consider recording in their vehicles to cut down on background noise.

The quality control manager, at said site, suggested the following as a measure to cut down on noise in audio recordings:

"Recording while sitting in a car. You would be surprised how well it works. (Just make sure your local neighborhood watch is aware of what you are doing. ha! )"

There are a number of reasons not to record in a car (ambient and external noises such as keys jingling, other cars, people, birds, extreme weather, wind etc.), but those factors aside, recording in a car will not make an unskilled individual in the realm of audio engineering and editing a professional audio engineer and producer because the inside of their car is insulated thus functioning as a rudimentary sound booth.

That's like saying if you gave me, an untrained / unskilled painter the finest brushes, oil paints and a canvas that I could be the next Michelangelo or Rembrandt. While the passion may be there along with the right materials, mark my words, the skill is not!

Comments anyone?

Best wishes,

Stephanie

Related Topics: audio, booth, Hollywood, Movable Type, oceans, Pat Fraley, recording, TextEdit, the blair witch project, voice acting, YouTube


Comments


    But Stephanie did not answer the original question. Can recording in a car result in better audio quality than recording in an untreated room? I'm not talking about comparing my recordings to someone else's, but my recordings done in two different places. If I do not have an adequately soundproofed or sound treated area in my home to record in, will sitting in my car and recording improve the sound quality? Will it cut back on the reverb and echo? Will it sound cleaner?

    The answer to these questions is often YES. There is only so much you can do with post production to minimize background noise and poor recording quality. It is much better to have a higher quality recording to begin with. Modern autos are extremely well sound treated areas. If you do not have a well sound treated area in your home, recording in a car can give you improved sound quality.

    That said, the best option is to build a well treated sound area in your home. Recording in a car should be a last resort. It is a good solution when you are on the road, but far from ideal.

    Posted by:
    • Jerome Santucci
    • June 1, 2008 10:28 PM

      I recorded an early episode of my Tuning In With Wayne Henderson podcast (www.whpodcast.com) in my car, in order to get the automotive "ambience" on purpose. I had a really good quality headset mic plugged into my portable recorder, and recorded from putting the keys into the ignition, starting up my 2003 Mustang Mach-1, and recording while driving around. You could really hear the car keys, the rumble of the 305 horsepower, and various road noises. While the car was stopped, engine off, and IN MY QUIET GARAGE, I was able to get good silence.... but not out in the real world. I decided to call that podcast episode, the "Mach-Cast" episode.

      Cheers,

      Wayne

      Posted by:

        Hi Jerome and Wayne,

        Thank you for adding your thoughts.

        @Jerome - I appreciate your comments and acknowledge that cars could be a last resort when on the road and that recording in a car is certainly not ideal. I left the last bit up to our community to answer in order to carry the conversation on in another direction. I was using the three (well, plus the TextEdit example, 4) examples to illustrate the point that skill and how it is used makes the difference.

        I agree with you that to get the best possible audio, some people may need to resort to recording in their car... however, is using a car in lieu of a professional home recording studio acceptable for a professional voice actor? That's not the message the industry wants to send out to people getting started in voice acting nor to the public. Perhaps clients will take closer note of what kind of equipment a voice actor is using and where they record.

        Professional recording engineers such as yourself know that it's "Garbage In Garbage Out" so why be in a position where noises out of one's control could become ambient noises that overlap with your voice in the recording? That's a big risk to take. I'm with you on the well treated sound area!

        @Wayne - Interesting! I'll have to go listen to that podcast to hear the ambient sounds. In a quiet garage it could be possible to get clean sound but not everyone enjoys the luxury of a garage let alone a quiet one. Also, I'm certain that because you are a professional, you took more precautions when recording in your car that others would not have.

        Does anyone else have any suggestions for places NOT to record in? I think it's good to get those out in the open to help others who may be interested.

        Cheers,

        Stephanie

        Posted by:

          The car's not bad if you're on the road and have to record an audition. I certainly wouldn't use it for final audio unless there were no better choices.

          You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools.

          Posted by:

            The one place I wouldn't recommend recording in is a bathroom...terrible acoustics.(ha) I've never tried my car. Fortunately I have a nice isolation sound booth at home, and use my desktop port-a-booth while traveling. But sure, if I had to, I'd try the car. It makes sense and could help in a pinch, but it may be a bit cramped, and I'd imagine recording in a car is certainly not THE choice of choices.

            Thanks for listening... :)
            Bobbin Beam- Voice Actress

            Posted by:

              Hi Joe and Bobbin,

              Thank you for commenting. I value your opinions and contributions to the discussion :)

              I would also add that anywhere your posture is compromised is a bad spot to record as well. If you don't have room for proper breathing you're going nowhere fast. Hunching over collapses your rib cage and cuts off the precious air that you'll need to get through a phrase or lengthy passage.

              Stephanie

              Posted by:

                Hello Stephanie

                That was a very interesting piece. By the way, I am not a good painter, no matter what equipment you give me. I have noticed something this late Spring. With the extreme rise in gas prices, there seems to be fewer cars going by home studio, especially at night. I think that's when the joy riders are/were out. I live in a corner house, so I sometimes have to pause or do a retake when someone with little or no muffler drives by. If these prices continue to soar, we may end up with the quietest sessions in history!

                Warm regards,

                Chet

                Posted by:
                • Chet Kelley
                • June 2, 2008 11:50 AM

                  Two points to consider:

                  1) Posture. Depending how large and configurable your car is, I imagine a lot of us would find it difficult to sit up straight and have proper control of the diaphragm and vocal chords.

                  2) Temperature. In Southern California, working in your car isn't practical for most of the year due to heat. Of course air conditioning helps, but that defeats obtaining a noise-free environment.

                  Posted by:

                    Stephanie, there are a few things you need to remember with the originating statement.

                    The first is that the person who posted the information very quickly revealed themselves to be inexperienced when it comes to acoustical engineering. If they had been, they would have offered something more than the "record in your car" line.

                    Second, I'm willing to best that most "professional" home studios do not have the proper treatment. Some folks, like Bobbin Beam, took the time to do a bit of research, ask around and came up with a solution that fit her individual needs (a pre-fab soundbooth). Depending on size, and construction this could be advantageous, or it could take away from the sound. For this reason, I don't recommend people just going out and purchasing one without having tried several models, etc. More to the point, if you're setting up a home studio, I always recommend getting to know your local studios, their engineers, and getting one to pop by and help you determine what the best course of action is to deal with a room (a bottle of Glenlivet, used as incentive, seems to work best for me ;-) ). In a lot of cases, you'll find that it's less work than expected to get a good sound out of a room (and a lot more to turn it into a "professional" quality room).

                    Simple rule of thumb for me has always been to monitor the input of the mic, walk around, clapping my hands, reading copy, etc. You can do it without using a mic, but I like to use it because I'll be recording through a microphone and want to hear what it hears. For me, the biggest killer is usually reflection. If you hear an echo when you clap your hands in a room, you've got it. I've heard, and used other techniques, but that's the one that has yielded me the best results.

                    Unfortunately, what a lot of folks have a tendency to do is to go overkill with the foam, and other absorption product, completely deadening the room. That's just as bad as having reflection as it takes away a lot of the character from whatever you bring to a spot. In a lot of those cases, a little less absorption and a bit more diffusion is what's called for.

                    A great place to chat more about this is in the studio construction forums at www.gearsluz.com. The folks there are always willing to lend a hand and probably have more studio and recording knowledge in one forum, than any other place on the net (with the possible exception of Klaus Heyne's forums).

                    Finally, we have the comment about the car itself. Actually, if you treat it like any other recording space (don't introduce anything that makes noise, etc.), it's not a bad place if you can't find anything else. The interior of a car has more time spent dedicated to acoustical engineering than any other mass produced device on the planet. A side benefit is that it's not bad for recording. Mind you, it's not something I'd recommend as a standard, but yeah you can do it.

                    That said, if the examples that the original blog posting on TOS relating to this matter are accurate, a proper recording environment is probably the least of their worries.

                    YMMV

                    Posted by:

                      I think for me, posture would be the biggest issue in recording in a car. I do all my best recording standing up. I was resistant to that idea at first, but once I tried it, I have never sat down to record again. :)

                      Tom Conklin

                      Posted by:

                        Let me recommend the Harlan Hogan's Porta-Booth. It's a great solution when you are on the road!

                        I usually use it with a Centrance MicPort Pro which is a VERY small preamp. (Plugged directly or with a short right-angled XLR cable into my Neumann TLM-103 mic).

                        Again, far from ideal but good solution for hotel rooms, for example.

                        Posted by:

                          I tried recording in my car- it seemed like the chairs (upholstery?) and other parts of the car took out any "life" that was in my voice and there seemed to be no high or low at all. So it was mostly muffled sounding mid-tones. Definitely not an ideal place- for me at least. Perhaps in larger cars it would work better. After recording in multiple parts of my room I found the Garage worked the best, but then again my recordings needed some natural room echo. Having gone through this I say it's all about what you would like to achieve with the sound.

                          Posted by:

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