With an inexpensive PC microphone it’s easy to record your own podcasts, music, audio books or narration for videos. The results can sound great, but by taking a little time to edit and enhance them, you can bring them up to professional standards. Audacity is the perfect software for this; it’s powerful but surprisingly easy to use, and it’s completely free.
Audacity does an excellent job of cleaning up audio, but there are steps you can take to ensure you get the best possible recording quality in the first place. First, make sure the input volume is set appropriately by right-clicking the speaker icon in the System Tray, selecting ‘Recording devices > Microphone > Set up microphone’ and following the instructions.
1. Get Audacity and make a recording
Download and install Audacity, then launch it and take a look at the microphone and speaker settings just above the main empty window. Make sure these are set correctly (so you aren’t accidentally recording from your webcam rather than your USB microphone, for example). If you’re not sure which device is selected, click the area marked ‘Click to start monitoring’ and the input from the selected microphone will be shown as a green bar.
Click the red button or tap [Shift}+[R] to start recording. Try to keep a consistent distance from the microphone, and don’t worry if you trip over a word; pause for a second and say that part again. You can easily cut any mistakes afterwards. Once you’re done, click the rewind button, then click play to see how it sounds. It’s best to use headphones for this.
2. Remove noise and trim to size
If you notice some background noise in your recording (a hissing sound, for example), select a quiet part of the recording by clicking and dragging on a flat part of the blue waveform. Click ‘Effects > Noise reduction’, then click ‘Get noise profile’. Tap [Ctrl]+[A] to select your entire recording and click ‘Effects > Noise reduction’ again, then use the sliders and the preview button to adjust the strength of the effect. When you’re happy, click ‘OK’.
If there’s a pause at the start of your recording that you don’t want, click and drag to select this part of the waveform and tap [Delete]. You can also use this technique to remove any sections of audio where you made a mistake and had to repeat yourself. If you only want to keep a small part of the recording, select that section and click ‘Trim Audio’ beside the ‘Paste’ button.
3. Correct levels and clipping
Did you accidentally move away from your microphone while you were recording? If so some parts of the resulting audio might be louder than others. If that’s the case, tap [Ctrl]+[A] to select everything, then click ‘Effects > Levelling’ and experiment with the options, checking them with the ‘Preview’ button (the amount of levelling required will depend on your own recording).
If there’s a single particularly loud part of your recording, select it, then tap [Ctrl]+ repeatedly to zoom right in and isolate the specific waves that are causing it. Make sure you have just these waves selected then click ‘Effect > Amplify’ and reduce the volume by a few decibels. Use the ‘Preview’ button to check how it sounds before clicking ‘OK’. Tap [Ctrl]+[T] to zoom back out.
4. Tone down harsh 'S' sounds
Harsh ‘s’ sounds are a common problem in home audio recordings. Thankfully, there’s a free plugin for Audacity called Spitfish that can reduce them.
Download the ZIP archive, then extract it to Program Files (X86) > Audacity > Plugins. Return to Audacity, click ‘File > Export Audio’, save your audio in WAV format and then restart the program.
Re-open your audio file, selecting the option to make a copy in case something goes wrong and you need to undo your changes. Now select ‘Effects > Add/remove plugins > SPITFISH > Enable > OK’.
Tap [Ctrl]+[A], then click ‘Effect > Spitfish de-esser’ and experiment with the settings to tone down the sibilance. As before, the exact settings required will depend on your own recording.
5. Export your audio
Your audio should now sound much better. Tap ‘File > Export Audio’ and choose a file type. If you’re planning to edit it again later, or use it as a soundtrack for a video, it’s best to save it in WAV format to keep the quality as high as possible (as we did before).
If it’s finished and you’re ready to share it with others, save it in MP3 or WMA format; these lossy formats provide good compression to reduce file size, and are supported by almost all media players.