Make Your Video Sound Out

Skip the built-in microphones to get better audio quality.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

YouTube has helped act as the great leveler between large and small businesses when it comes to distributing thought leadership and viral marketing videos online. Anyone can start up a channel and upload a video for mass consumption, and these days it seems as if everyone is, with more than 20 hours of video reportedly being uploaded every minute to YouTube. But not all videos are created equally.

With the advent of cheaper and more powerful consumer video cameras, many improvised videos created by enterprising small businesses offer excellent visual results. Sound quality, however, is an entirely different story. One of the biggest mistakes amateurs make when producing videos for online consumption is sticking with the built-in microphone on the video camera. The results can vary, but they're usually bad: full of echoes, too-quiet voices, distracting background noise and garbled speech.

Businesses that want to put their best visuals forward would do well to better budget for the audio portion of the AV combo. This means picking up a video camera with a microphone output, and it may mean spending more on the microphone and necessary accoutrements than on the camera itself. We tested some of the options in various price ranges to show you why the results will be worth it.

Tools of the Trade
The following three setups were tested on a handheld Canon FS200 (retail price: $229). Video quality was great, as expected. And the audio offered by each mic combination, even the cheapest, far surpassed the built-in mic.

TOOL: Audio-Technica ATR3350 lavalier microphone
Retail price: $25
Review: This affordable condenser "lav" mic offers a lot of bang for the buck. Businesses that need only occasional AV recording will get a big boost in sound quality over the standard built-in mic. Our tests showed the mic performed reasonably well, filtering out background noise while picking up the speaker's voice from her lapel. The ATR3350 also picked up quite well the voices of two speakers if the second speaker stood near the one with the mic.

TOOL: Sony UWP-V1 lavalier microphone with wireless transmitter and diversity tuner
Retail price:
Review: More expensive than the Audio-Technica lav mic, this mic and wireless transmitter/receiver package offers slightly better sound quality without cumbersome cords. The mic itself did a better job filtering out background noise and allowed two speakers to be farther apart without sound quality suffering.

TOOL: Audio-Technica AT8010 small diaphragm condenser microphone with BeachTek DXA-2T camcorder adapter
Retail price: $217 for mic + $199 for adapter + $20 for microphone cable = $436
Review: This more professional setup offered the best sound quality of the three, with one caveat: The hand-held form factor meant that the user had to be more aware of where the mic was in relation to the speaker's mouth to get the best sound quality. The benefit of using the Beach-Tek adapter with a three-pin-type microphone such as this one is having access to a more professional array of microphones, the ability to plug in two microphones at the same time and improved control.

Listen Up!
Getting good audio requires not only the right technology, but also proper techniques. Steve Savanyu, director of educational services for sound equipment manufacturer Audio-Technica in Stow, Ohio, offers these tips for achieving the best possible audio from your impromptu marketing videos:

Think like a microphone. "Before you start to roll the tape or run the camera, listen quietly and make certain that there are no weird noises that you need to be aware of," Savanyu says. Amateurs tend to forget that microphones can't filter out noise the way a human ear can, he says.

Block background blare. "If there is a noise source that's coming from a certain direction, I will sometimes position my subject so that the noise source is behind him," he says. "The human body absorbs sound really well."

Eat the mic. "Little things will improve audio quality so much," Savanyu says. "One of them is getting the microphone as close to the sound source as possible."

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