Recording an audio book on a laptop

by Anthony Cook
(Kunghur, NSW, Australia)

I want to make an audio book. I have a Samson Q1U USB mic and I just plugged it into my 4 year-old Macbook Pro, fired up GarageBand, and started talking.

The result is pretty hideous. There's a loud hiss (more of a hisshh actually) throughout and a lot of extraneous sounds, like two wall clocks ticking stentoriously and thunderous page rustling.

I also found after a few tries that the background hisshh becomes a bzzzz, no wait, a BZZZZ, if the power cord is plugged into the Macbook at the time.

Is there some (cheap) gear I can buy which will magically stop the background hisshh/BZZZZ and allow me to keep the wall clocks in the same neighbourhood and occasionally rustle the page as I turn it? I tried sticking bits of blutac in my ears but that only worked while I was recording.

GarageBand lets me cut and splice the track to get rid of noises I make between speakings. (It also cuts out the signal for one speaker if I try to plug the mic in after I've booted up GB.)

I should add that I took the first step in quality improvement last week by offing the rooster which was regularly punctuating my recording attempts with his crowing.

Don't feel responsible for needless poultricide if you can't help me, he'd had it coming for the last three years. A circuit in my lower brain just snapped last Thursday and he now awaits me in the afterlife, honing his spurs.

--- Answer
Well, Anthony, roosters generally are not a good combo with recording. Getting rid of the noises at the source is a good first step.

That said, the two other similar noises you speak of are the clocks and page rustling. I'm sorry to inform you that there are no gadgets to plug in that magically remove clock noise. That is just tedious work. Don't kill the clocks, but maybe "corral" them in another room. The page rustling? Well, you know how to take care of that (make sure the page turn is in silence, so you can cut it out).

I like your idea of covering the ears to take care of the sound. I should try it sometime.

I guess another way to look at things is this: think like a microphone. Where is the sound coming from? From there you can try to get rid of it.

The hiss can be any number of things. First the easy ones: sounds in the room, like a fan, air conditioner, heater, fridge, or any number of other gadgets. Unplug or otherwise silence them.

Then there are the hard ones. I would guess that some of the hiss you hear is coming from the microphone's self noise. All mics have a self noise, which is the sound it makes when the circuitry is working. Even if you record total silence, which is hard, the mic will generate some noise. A cheaper mic will make more noise than a good quality one. That is what I would guess some of the problem is. You might consider another mic, like the AT 2020.
Audio Technica AT 2020

Now, for the BZZZZ. That is probably caused by a problem in the grounding in the electrical signal. Is the electrical circuit properly grounded? Try plugging your setup in a different circuit in the house (try a different room), or even another house. Is the BZZZ still there? I would guess it will change.

If you cannot get it to go away, you may need to look at getting some method of cleaning the power up, which is another piece of gear and expense. Sorry, but that's kind of the long and short.

Or you could just record without the cord plugged in.

I hope this helps. Comments are below.

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