Your voice and your microphone are only half the story. To successfully bring an audiobook project to life, you’ll also need an audio interface, high-fidelity headphones, and a digital audio workstation (DAW) for your home recording studio. Building off of Gearing Up For Audiobook Production Part 1, our second post in this two-part series will help you choose these often overlooked, yet equally essential, pieces in your recording kit.
Your Mic Needs a Powerhouse
If there’s one thing we’ve all taken away from high school science class, it’s that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Well, think of the audio interface as the powerhouse of your microphone. It serves as a power supply for condenser microphones and makes it possible to connect them to your computer for audiobook recording. Additionally, an audio interface will offer microphone preamplifiers, direct instrument inputs, digital converters, metering, headphone distribution, and digital signal processing (DSP).
When you’re choosing the right audio interface for your home studio, go for efficiency and simplicity. The most important feature to consider is connectivity: is your audio interface compatible with your computer ports? Macs and PCs will have different ports, from Thunderbolt to USB C and USB 3, to older versions like FireWire and USB 2.0. For the best sound and least latency, we recommend finding an interface that will connect to your computer port without an adapter. (If you can’t find an interface to match, this might just be another good reason to upgrade your computer.)
In addition to computer compatibility, an audio interface should also have at least a single microphone input jack, a gain knob, and headphone level control. Most interfaces will have additional features and dials, and some even come packaged with a DAW and additional editing tools; however, more isn’t always better, as more add-ons will increase the learning curve and could lead to reliability issues.
These are the audio interfaces we recommend for new and veteran audiobook producers:
Find these product recommendations and more on our Audio Interfaces Amazon Idea List.
Hear Yourself Loud and Clear
When it comes to audiobook recording and production, we recommend you use wired, over-the-ear headphones. We hear you, new Producers: why buy a new pair of headphones when your computer speakers or the earbuds that came with your new smartphone will do just fine? While these audio options are good for casual listening, they won’t capture all of the nuances in your voice and your recording. For instance, a small Bluetooth speaker in a large room might make it hard for you to hear a small variation in room tone. Or crackly earbuds could mask sibilance in your voice that may turn listeners off.
The right studio headphones will paint a clear and honest picture of your sound. They’ll also help you hear errors in your production and check that your audio meets our Submission Requirements. That’s why wired, over-ear headphones are best. Wireless/Bluetooth headphones should not be used as they can introduce interference and audio latency. Forego the extra $$$ and don’t shell out for noise cancelling or bass boosting features either, which could distort the true frequencies in your voice. Instead, ensure that your new ‘phones render highs, mids, and bass equally. You’ll also want to check that the ear pads, the part of the headphones that go over your ears, are comfortable enough to wear for marathon recording and mastering sessions.
These headphones are best suited for narrating and recording your audiobook. The closed-back design means that the sound drivers and ear cups are covered on the outside, minimizing sound leakage as you record and offering natural sound isolation.
If you can only buy one pair of headphones, we recommend one of the following:
Find these product recommendations and more on our Closed-Back Headphones Amazon Idea List.
Open- and Semi-Open- Back Headphones
For more experienced audiobook producers and studio professionals, we suggest investing in a second pair of headphones to use exclusively for editing and mastering. Open-back and semi-open headphones are ideal for this, as their design faithfully renders a range of frequencies. Unlike closed-back headphones, these models leave the back sides of the ear cups uncovered, which boosts audio quality, but also has more sound leakage which makes them less-than-ideal for recording.
Find these product recommendations and more on our Semi-Open-Back Headphones Amazon Idea List.
DAW Things Considered
So you’ve got a great voice, a microphone, a pair of headphones, an audio interface, a computer, and a soundproof booth to record in. Yet none of the pieces of this puzzle will fit together until you have a digital audio workstation, or DAW for short. This type of software makes it possible to record, edit, and master your audiobook files.
Choosing a DAW
Most of us have used image editing software like Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, or even Instagram Filters. DAWs are like the audio equivalent—they can augment the original content that you captured and fine tune the details. Like image editing software, there is a wide array of options, from free and simple programs to expensive workhorses built for the pros.
Since most DAWs are geared toward music production, more features and tools don’t necessarily mean one DAW is better than another for audiobook production. The best DAW will complement your work style and help you get professional quality sound without over-processing. (You don’t want your audiobook to sound like the audio equivalent of a bad Photoshop edit). The worst DAW will take too long to figure out and eat away at your productivity.
This free program allows you to record and edit audio with basic functions. Our QA team likes Audacity’s noise reduction feature (used sparingly): Audacity will let you record up to five minutes of your ambient room sound and can tune it out of your recording. This DAW can also remove tonality in your voice, depending on your frequency and use.
For producers just wetting their toes in audiobook production and even seasoned studio pros, we recommend REAPER. Of all the popular DAWs, it strikes the right balance between essential features, customization options, and budget. It costs $60 to use the discounted license, and you can try and evaluate the DAW for free for a 60-day period. To learn more about using REAPER to edit and master your production, check out our Don’t Fear the REAPER blog post.
Sound Forge is used by Audible’s in-house audio engineers. It is a comprehensive digital audio suite, capable of producing high-quality end-to-end audio book productions. It comes included with iZotope Ozone 9 Elements (a mastering plugin) and RX 7 Elements (an audio restoration and repair plugin), both of which are powerful tools for audiobook production.
We would be remiss not to include this feature-loaded DAW on our list. Despite its name, Adobe Audition is your perfect partner at all stages of your production, from auditions to mastering. We especially love its noise reduction feature, but with great power comes great responsibility (and a high learning curve since each feature needs to be manually configured). For these reasons, we recommend this DAW to highly experienced studio pros. At $20.99 a month, it won’t break the bank, but the month-to-month will add up when you’re charting a years-long career in audiobook production.
ACX Audio Lab
Our free audio analysis tool is a DAW’s best friend. Use Audio Lab to get instant feedback on your sound at any and every stage of the production process, from calibrating new equipment to submitting auditions and checkpoints. To get started, upload your finished audio files and see how they measure up against ACX’s Audio Submission Requirements with metrics like RMS, peak levels, bit rate, and more. Then, use a DAW like the ones listed below to fix any errors in your production.
We’re mentioning this free Mac OS program here only to say this: don’t record, don’t edit, and don’t master your audiobook production with this software (please and thank you). Garage Band is made specifically for music production and lacks the appropriate tools used for editing and mastering in voice over. Voice over production can be done, but this platform is not conducive to punch-and-roll recording nor the surgical editing required for audiobook production.
That’s enough gear talk for now! We hope Part I and this Part II of our “Gearing Up For Audiobook Production” series have answered your questions about buying the right studio equipment for your narration career, whether you’re new to ACX or an AAP (Audible Approved Producer).
There’s just one small caveat: getting the right gear is only half the challenge. Now it’s up to you to take the reins and learn to use it wisely. Don’t worry—we won’t send you off alone. Check out 30 Minutes to a Better Sound by ACX University and George The Tech for even more gear chat and production pointers. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for tips and inspiration on narration, performance, editing, and mastering.