2 questions re. settings for narration

Hi there -

I haven’t been narrating long…I’ve done 1 book and some samples, but I used an audio engineer for them. Obviously I want to be able to record from home. I have decent enough equipment from music hobbies (Macbook pro with Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones and a Zoom H4n used as audio interface, connected to Rode NT1-A mic on a stand with pop filter). Each time I read an audition of a book that sounds halfway decent, I don’t get to jump on recording the audition cause there’s still too much I need to understand re. settings.

  1. Is there a term for this thing that keeps happening to me, and if you recognize it, do you know what the solution is?: I’ll select the track after recording/editing, go to Effect then will play around a bit with bass and treble or EQ. Then I apply it and I might decide I don’t like it so much so I’ll try something different the next time hoping that the sound will improve with each action or will soon enough. The problem is that each time I make adjustments, the overall sound gets really distorted. E.g. if you messed around with your equalizer on your stereo at home and didn’t love the sound, you could just move the levels back to where they were and the sound would go back to being fine. Not so with Audacity, it seems. My audio engineer friend said he hates that about Audacity so I guess it doesn’t happen that way with the fancier software. I’m guessing had I remembered to undo whatever the last action was, I might not have experienced the problem, but I still don’t understand why it’s such an compacted, almost exponential problem and awful sound. I don’t know what the words are to accurately describe this problem in a sentence so I hope someone here gets it and can tell me!

  2. Relating to that, if I screw up the settings and want to bring them back to default, I haven’t noticed any default selection options within each effect box, nor an option that indicates what the settings were before I screwed it up. So I guess what I’d like to know is: with my equipment in mind, can you recommend what all the main setting numbers should/could be for narrating in particular, and for a female’s voice? My voice is medium pitch for females to slightly lower (I guess sorta alto for lack of a better word) so while a little more bass has proven to be nice for me for that fuller, richer, close-up sound, I don’t need a whole lot I assume. Not sure if I need more treble.

Thanks so much!

Hi Theresse

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy because it isn’t. All advice is given in terminology that “nerds” understand. I am not one and over the 6 months since I started I have somehow or other picked things up. Made mistakes and got frustrated as you will.

DO NOT TWIDDLE AND FIDDLE hoping you have done the right thing. My advice is to record from a consistent distance away from your (hopefully) condensor mike with a Behringer cheap interface. I have a piece of wood about 2 foot long (600mm) which I hold between my chin and pop screen before I start. This discipline will lessen any of the subsequent problems you might have.

Once I have recorded a piece I Normalise to about -4.6. Then equalise to a “voice” curve. I have “normal” because I am a man and “lady” if I have to do a female voice. The former has more of a base curve and the latter more of a treble curve. You need to play with these. Then I use the compressor which kinks at the top of the diagonal line and then normalise again.

Whatever you do ENSURE you have downloaded ACX Check double clicked on it so it appears in the ANALYSE column. There are 3 readings which if you have got it right will all say PASS. In any case write those numbers down. IMPORTANT!!! If the RMS says “EXCEEDS” then you go back to Normalise and you reduce, say, -4.6 to a lower number like -3.6. Seems illogical, but that is how it works. Repeat the process until you get PASS. If the top one PEAK says EXCEEDS. Then apply the LIMITER with SOFT limit and ACX Check again.

Until recently that worked well. They accepted 2 long novels from me on that basis. Listen to my 5 minute retail samples on Audible for Empire of the Black Angel and the Unto the Third and Fourth Generation. I record as Martin Hussingtree.

However, ACX changed things recently forcing the use of a LAME ENCODER. My third novel on the above basis has been rejected twice, although it complies with their stated specification. I have an ACTIVE QUERY on here which is being looked at by very helpful people as well as insisting ACX tell me what more I have to do to comply with their now confusing requirements.

No, you are NOT going mad, that’s just how it is. You can always reach me on narratorsuk@gmail.com if it turns you suicidal.

Good luck


Thank you! A lot of what you wrote is still greek to me actually, but I’m hoping I’ll understand it more as I continue experimenting. I try to be consistent with my distance from the mic, thank you. I use the Zoom h4n for my interface. Thanks for the email - I’ll keep that in mind!

Experimenting is good. I’ve spent all my life experimenting and messing around with sound :mrgreen:

There are advantages to using the h4n in stand alone mode (providing you record as WAV):

  1. No fan noise
  2. Convenience
  3. So long as you use a reasonable quality flash card, it is probably more reliable.

The very slight downside is that you need to transfer the recordings to the computer for editing. If you have a flash card reader (many laptops have them built in as standard), then transferring the recordings is very quick and easy - just insert the flash card, then drag and drop to copy the files to your hard drive.

I used an audio engineer for them.

So that’s your desperation method. That puts you miles ahead of people staring at their brand new microphone never having recorded a thing in their lives.

That also satisfies half of the ACX submission testing, Human Quality Control. That’s the theatrical test. That leaves the technical tests. In brief, the sound should be loud enough, not too loud to avoid overload damage and have a quiet background. One last global recommendation, don’t do anything distracting.

Zoom H4n used as audio interface

That I would not do. Use the H4n as a stand-alone recorder and transfer the resulting sound files to the computer later for editing and production. When you transfer the files to the computer, make a safety copy so if the computer or Audacity does something really naughty, you don’t have to read it all again.

Recording to the H4n and not the computer avoids many computer problems and errors. “How come my recordings have clicks and pops in the sound?” “Why are my recordings changing volume by themselves?”



I used an audio engineer for them.

Who prepared the work for publication? Did your studio take care of that? Typically, the recording standards are slightly different from the submission standards. Somebody has to make up the difference before submission.


I haven’t noticed any default selection options within each effect box

Many do because we’re not the only people to have this problem. The Manual (instructions) has illustrations of the tools at default settings.


See Index on the left of that page.

Depending on the effect, Audacity creates UNDO by saving a copy of the whole show. When you UNDO something, you’re just stepping back through history one performance version at a time. That’s also why you can’t UNDO out of order.

It’s strongly recommended that you File > Export a WAV (Microsoft) 16-bit sound file of original work and copy it to a safe place. It’s a very new user mistake to keep writing corrections and edits to the one and only original sound file. One mistake anywhere and it could be the end of the world—no more sound file. Without the backup you could be all the way back to recording the work again.

As you go through editing, you could also Save a Project and then later, save another Project with a different time If something goes horribly wrong, you can open an earlier Project and keep editing. Projects do not save UNDO, though.


For most of the built-in effects, you can restore default settings by clicking: “Manage button > Factory Presets > Defaults”
One notable exception to this is the Noise Reduction effect, as this does not yet have a “Manage” button.

Thanks Steve - but what’s wrong with using the Zoom as an audio interface (is that the correct term? I’m primarily using it as a way to power the external condenser mic). I’d read several times that it makes overall better sound and so far, to my and my audio engineer’s ears, it indeed does. My external condenser mic produces a much better sound than the Zoom’s built-in mics. Or are you saying to use the Zoom with the external mic and no laptop are better sounding and a safer bet than using with the laptop? EVERYTHING I’d read and been tutored on -e.g. the advice of a teacher of a webinar sort of audio book narrating online class thingy I took - has said the most ‘professional’ home studio setup is to
do it this way. ??

Are you saying very few people who record from home use my method of Zoom (or similar) connected to both external mic and laptop (with headphones to laptop)? I’ve never noticed any pops and clicks, and if you save often, wouldn’t the whole process be easier that way? I like being able to see the tracks as I go but I guess that’s not absolutely necessary…but seriously is the way you’re suggesting I do it the main way everyone does it - using an SD card?! Thanks!

Re. the desperation method, it definitely helped me because it made it doable and finishable, and gave me the freedom and time to focus more on determining whether the experience of recording/narrating and final result was something I was good enough at to continue pursuing. It wouldn’t have been worth it to go through home recording hell only to decide I wasn’t talented enough, and an added benefit was that I had my first book done which really got the ball rolling (offers began to come in. Not many but one every two or three weeks). And of course any audio engineer is perfectly capable of fulfilling Audible’s recording requirements.

What do you mean by not doing anything distracting? For some reason I’m having the hardest time deciphering most of what you’re saying (or how
you say it?)! :laughing: But I want to understand!

Forgot to ask: aside from potential clicks, pops or volume changes, is better sound typically produced from one or the other i.e. external condenser mic to Zoom bs to Zoom then laptop?

The engineer read what ACX required ahead of time re. submission standards since I wanted him to know, and was simply experienced enough to know what a good speaking recording entails. He did it all - the recording of me, editing, post-production work and then sent me each file which I sent on to ACX. Had they had a problem with it he would have fixed that. He always had the raw recording available for me should I need it. Fulfilling ACX’s submission standards isn’t easy. I was able to do that on my own easily enough with one of my samples that I recorded from home. Unless I’m misunderstanding you.

Thank you!

Thank you.