Understanding Microphone Placement in Voice Recording

You could have the best room acoustics and the best microphone, but it won't matter if used incorrectly. Getting a good voice over recording for your podcasts, audiobooks or for a video narration relies on the microphone being used optimally.

The Goldilocks Zone 

One of the key factors in achieving a good raw audio recording is to get the microphone the optimum distance from the sound source (your mouth in this case). Too close or too far will detrimentally affect your recording. The distance has to be just right.

This article assumes that you have purchased a decent microphone for recording your voice and you have a suitable room for recording in. See our other articles on this subject.

Too Far

Sitting the microphone on a table a metre away from you is just not going to work. This is probably okay for recording a meeting, but it is not good enough if you are aiming for a quality result. Even 25cm will be too far. Voice over microphones are designed to be used in fairly close proximity. Positioning the microphone too far away will result in a thin weak sound that will probably be quite noisy when processed.

Too Close

Having the microphone too close to your mouth is just as bad. If you have it nearly touching your lips or less than 5cm, it will result in a distorted boomy sound prone to popping. This assumes you are talking at a normal speaking volume. There will be occasions when this will work, for example, if you are talking really quietly, however, for general speaking this will probably be too close. You may notice the word probably... Well it is not an exact science, the results will vary depending on the microphone and your voice.

Just Right

In my experience, just right is usually about 10-25cm between your mouth and the microphone. Again, this will vary and is a rule of thumb. You will need to try  it first and do a few test recordings to hear the result. Then adjust the distance according to what sounds right. Once you have a good instance, make a mental note of it as you will need to keep the same distance in order to keep consistency in your recordings.

The distance may also need to be varied during your recording depending on what you are reading or performing. If you are reading, it may suffice to stay at one distance, however, if you are performing characters or singing you will need to slightly increase your distance on loud sections and decrease it for quieter sections.

It will become easier with practice and being able to listen to yourself as you record will help too. However, only ever do this with headphones; playing the audio through any speakers will result in a poor recording because you will be recording your voice and the sound from the loudspeakers too.

Other Considerations

Popping

This is where a blast of air from your mouth causes a popping sound in the recording. Having the right distance between you and the microphone can help prevent this, however, you may also consider using a pop shield if this becomes a regular issue for you. Alternatively, you can try altering your position so that you are off-axis to the microphone. Put simply, on axis is where you are directly facing the microphone, off-axis is where you turn your head slightly so that you are not directly facing it. This can help prevent popping.

Gaps are okay

You don't need to worry about too many gaps. If you break the flow of the recording it can usually be fixed later when editing. It is better to have gaps that need removing than rushing or running out of breath mid-paragraph.

Breaths are okay

Breaths are more pronounced on a recording due to the proximity of the microphone. Typically you will need to remove breaths or have an audio editor remove them later as they can be distracting. To aid in editing, try to make a clear gap between the narration and the breath. Snatching breaths to try and keep the pace of the narration can make them more difficult to remove later.

The Room

Although this article is about microphone placement, we do have to mention room acoustics too as it is an important factor in achieving a good sound. Getting both these right will contribute to a quality recording. I recommend that you also read our article Where is the best place to record your voice at home?

Written by: Lee Pritchard
Edited by: Adam Barber

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