Building a Better Acoustic Screen

After I resolved the issue of not having a monitor stand wide enough for my new laptop computer, I had to address the next item on my to-do list: building a proper acoustic screen to reduce extraneous noise when recording audio.  A major responsibility in my work is creating online training materials.  One part of this is recording the narration that accompanies the training.

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The condo unit I use as an office has concrete walls and ceilings and a tile floor.  From an acoustic perspective, the room is very “live”.  My previous arrangement was to use a stack of throw pillows, carefully balanced, to try and reduce the noise.  Not only was this prone to collapsing in the middle of a recording session, but it also didn’t do a very good job reducing the noise.

Over the past few months I had tried to source acoustic foam panels here in Bangkok, an elusive product that exists but nobody actually seems to sell.  Finally, after going to a high-end audio shop that I had been told would have the foam, an employee there told me to go to the Ban Mor district near Chinatown.  “That’s where everyone gets everything,” he explained.

Ban Mor is about two blocks of a small soi, or alley, located across from the Old Siam shopping center.  I go there all the time with Tawn but never realized we were literally across the street from the electronics district.  Going from shop to shop on the crowded street, I finally located a speaker store that sold sheets of acoustic foam.

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Truth be told, this foam isn’t the same high-density acoustic foam that I originally had in mind.  But it is dense enough to do the job and was not too expensive.  I brought the sheets home along with some plastic fiberboard then started constructing the acoustic screen.  The idea was to measure carefully so the the two panels would hinge closed with the foam fitting together like crocodile’s teeth.  This way, it folds up flat, allowing for compact storage when not in use.

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After about an hour’s work, I had everything fitting together neatly.  The noise reduction is much better than the pillows I was using before and I don’t have any problems with them collapsing mid-recording.  One more thing I did to improve the quality of the recordings was to purchase a better quality microphone. 

Previously, I was using basically any random microphone you could plug into your computer, just like the ones you might use to talk on Skype.  After some research, I settled on a Snowball USB microphone from Blue Microphones.  This condenser mic has both omnidirectional and cardioid modes and produces professional quality sound.  Pairing that with a pop screen and the acoustic screen and my recordings have improved many times over.

Another project checked off the list!

 

Sort of Frustrated

While Andy was here last month, I edited and posted the first video in my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series.  Since then I’ve shot video for another three segments, but I’m finding myself frustrated with the audio quality.  My camera, a Panasonic Lumix LX-3, takes fantastic looking pictures and video and is especially good in low-light settings.  But like most cameras with video functions, the built-in speakers leave something to be desired.

Most of the great eats in Bangkok are located in noisy places – crowded restaurants, street-side stalls, busy markets – and my camera’s microphone doesn’t distinguish my voice from the ambient noise from the background.

Exploring my options, I found a relatively inexpensive solution.  What I did not want to do is buy a full digital video camera.  That would be too bulky and I’m not willing to leave my Lumix behind because most of my blog content is photos, not video.  After some research, I settled on a Kodak Zi8.

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The Zi8 is a handheld high-definition video recorder, a simple point-and-shoot model along the lines of the Flip video camera.  It doesn’t have a lot of functions – zoom, different shooting modes, etc. – but it does have one feature I was most looking for: an external microphone jack.  Which leads me to my next purchase:

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A wireless lavalier microphone set from Azden.  This way I’ll be able to mic myself so even in the midst of a crowded environment you should be able to hear my voice distinct from the background noise.  Funnily enough, the microphone set is about half again as expensive ($150 vs. $100) as the camera.  I was initially hesitant to spend that much money, but after talking it over with Tawn he encouraged me to make the purchase as an investment in my blogging.

My cousins in LA will be bringing my purchases to Hawai’i next week where I’ll met them for another cousin’s wedding.  Perhaps the first test of all this will be on some local Kaua’i grinds.  Stay tuned!