ACX audiobook: hiss / whine from my laptop's wheezy fan

Even paid-for software is not curing the whine: can still hear intermittently breaking through e.g. on “pockmarked” …

I’ve been using a Blue Yeti to record. I’m working in a tiny cupboard with a duvet hanging on the back of the rail, a towel on the desk, with clothes either side of me, towels on the cupboard doors and a curtain hanging over the top. The only space I can think of to put the laptop is on the floor and use my Nexus to read the text. I’ll try and throw you a photo later when I setup. Really worried now, I’ve done about 80% of the book and they’re expecting it done soon. Should I even bother going on with this book at this point? I feel like I shot myself in the foot, but the pain is only now kicking in - hard.

Should I even bother going on with this book at this point?

My opinion is no. ACX has rejected your work and it’s a good bet we know why.

I was just now thinking about this as the sun came up. You were reading the work on the computer screen, right? You can totally do that, but not with a noisy computer. One of the early ACX instructional videos has a well-behaved Macbbook right there by the microphone. Those guys only make noise when they’re stressed.

That picture of the conference room with the blanket on the table? That’s my MacBook on the left recording a broadcast radio presentation. Successfully.

I don’t know anybody complaining about your voice, echoes or room noise. That part worked fine.

Koz

I know my reading voice can be rather low, but what if you’re voicing a character that is incredibly soft spoken? Would you have to normalise those parts?

Thanks for all your advice and help, even if it’s left me rather blue.

Also, as promised…

Would you have to normalise those parts?

All parts have to come up to loudness (RMS) specifications. Everything should be mastered. ACX needs chapters and sections to match.

You get various theatrical types through acting. Right about here is the split between radio drama and audiobook reading. It’s possible to get aside reading and parenthetical expression with pitch change and/or microphone spacing. Not ordinary volume change.

I should not have to reach over and turn my car player up to hear you through the course of the story, or mess with the player volume while hiking in headphones.

The ACX goal is to sound like someone telling a story over cups of tea. If someone wants to tell you a secret in real life, they also lean forward so the volume doesn’t change.


You hit the jackpot. I can’t think of any solutions to help. The recording space isn’t big enough to do sound deadening tricks, you’re using a USB microphone so there are electrical restrictions, and you have no dollars.

The noisy computer is pretty serious.

Somewhere on the back burner is experiments in making theatrical recordings with a cellphone, but early experiments are not encouraging.

Koz

The pictures didn’t come through. JPG files work OK, and some others. JPGs are pretty universal.

The forum will not accept everything. There are restrictions on picture formats, sound formats and file sizes. Nothing over 2MB.

Nothing we do for voice quality is going to clear the noise problem.

Koz

Yes, but.

The youtube shower artist doesn’t have a whiny laptop in there with him with no other option. He also doesn’t have laptop noise expected to get worse over time. The tests so far have been with the laptop on its best behavior.

a duvet hanging on the back of the rail, a towel on the desk, with clothes either side of me, towels…

The poster does have sound absorbing material in there and I can hear no evidence of echo, reverb or slap. I think the studio is fine (your ears may disagree, void where prohibited, licensed drivers only).

There is no “Go out and buy…” No money.

We keep reverting back to getting rid of the fan by whatever method.

I suppose there is the “midnight guerrilla” technique. Hit the dumpster behind the carpeting store after they close and get enough remnants to make a fuzzy tent for the laptop on the floor. Don’t cut off the cooling air supply, and you may have to stop recording if the fan picks up speed.

Koz

I don’t know if this makes much difference, but how does it sound with the microphone blocked in between two pillows? Can you still make out the whine of the laptop? I think the noise floor is better (?), but the ACX check tells me the RMS levels are ‘less than -23dB’. That seems to go away after applying RMS Normalise, limiter etc.

That seems to go away after applying RMS Normalise, limiter etc.

That’s what mastering does. You can’t announce directly into ACX—or you can’t do it more than once.

Apply the tools in order. They affect each other. The Equalizer pre-conditions the sound so the other two, RMS Normalize and Limiter, work right.

You may have hit it. The whine is so far down in volume that it’s not obvious even after mastering. This is you.



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See? Two limits and one range. Peak has to come in quieter than -3dB, and noise has to come in quieter than -60dB. RMS or loudness has to be between -18dB and-23dB. Everything is exactly correct—after mastering.

I remember from up the thread you’re doing all these tests with the laptop in good behavior. What happens when it gets warm and the fans pick up steam?


Also a note: It’s possible to send ACX a test. This is very highly recommended if this is your first work. No, it’s not a good idea to finish the book and only then find that they hate it. This is a partial commentary and user post:

Koz

Good to hear there’s some improvement. I’ve done one final sample and parked the laptop on a table outside the cupboard. My microphone is still sandwiched with pillows. Any better or little difference?

I’m in the field, so that will need to wait until I get home.

parked the laptop on a table outside the cupboard.

That’s a pretty common solution. The only down side to that is not being able to see how loud you are.

Has the client heard samples of your work? That’s the other reason not to get through a whole book before you check.

Koz

They’re a new author to ACX and whenever I submitted a chapter they said they were happy with how things sounded. Being new to ACX myself as well, it’s been a hard learning process. I’ve been slow on deliverance because of a few reasons, one being new to narrating books, secondly being a bit of a perfectionist and thirdly trying to learn mastering on the fly.

trying to learn mastering on the fly.

We got actual mastering—producing a technically perfect product—down to three tools. As long as you announce well in a quiet room and nothing is broken, that will always produce an acceptable product.


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That’s a short form excerpt from the longer official instructions:

You do have to pay attention to Everything Else. I think I mentioned there have been postings from people who were rejected by ACX for putting the wrong number of seconds of silence around the chapters. I’m not making that up.

https://www.acx.com/help/acx-audio-submission-requirements/201456300

And it’s not “Silence,” it’s Room Tone. The sound your room makes when you’re not announcing or moving. That’s different from Audacity > Generate > Silence. Some readers keep a sound sample of their room tone as a file in case they have to add a little without the correction sounding funny. Being obsessive here is not the worst thing.

One or two notes about sound files. Export WAV sound files of original readings and keep them in a safe place. There’s just nothing like the computer going into the mud and taking your only copy of a chapter with it.

Even though ACX requires submission in MP3, it is very highly recommended you also Export a WAV copy of each chapter as your archive. You can’t fix an MP3 without causing sound damage, but you can fix a WAV.

Koz

The last posting is quieter. It’s also major fourth higher in pitch (four white piano keys). Are we experiencing a fan speed change with heat?

It doesn’t matter because the steady, gentle hissing of the microphone system is now relatively louder than the fan whine and they’re both very quiet. I mastered it and the result is very close to the first clip. I think either one will make it past at least the hardware tests (ACX Check), but if you have an obsessive choice, pick the last one.

Since you won’t be watching the screen, there’s another test you should do. Select View > Show Clipping. When you finish a reading, select the whole reading (Control-F).

If you see any red marks in the blue waves, then those are places where you got too loud and distorted the sound. They will need to be read again a little quieter. If you’re up to fancy editing, you can record that one whole sentence and try to patch up the chapter. It’s not fun.

Koz

One last try with re-arranging my setup, and if this doesn’t work, at least I can stick to smothering my mic with pillows. My laptop is parked outside the cupboard again, but put to the other side of the room and using another laptop (Chromebook) that’s synced to it to record. Any better, worse or no difference?

That sounds usable to me, but IMO needs de-clicking & a little noise-reduction …

I can’t identify any particular noise other than a gentle background hash. I applied the mastering tools and the clip easily came in passing the technical requirements. Noise is in the -70dB range with no Noise Reduction which should be fine.

The only thing left is theatrical tests. That’s where you get into sibilance, gasping, rhythm, meter and performance considerations.

In My Opinion, you leaned too hard on the second character in that clip and you got hard to understand. Also as a possible consideration, what are you going to do if you have three or more characters? Experienced actors do rip the story apart and plan how they’re going to vocalize each individual character.

One of the posters advanced a way to display the script that allowed markups such as underlines, circles around words, etc. I would be doing this on paper where I could use actual colored Sharpies, but if you’re on a “Device,” what are you going to do, if anything?

Koz

This was just a quick audio sample test, the real challenge is the book itself, which I have sorted out the main and minor character’s voices with coloured highlights. You’re right though, I was literally reading off my mobile of the current book I am personally reading right now. If you had heard my earlier readings (not sharing here), I read way too fast and sounded so monotonous . I don’t know how or when it suddenly clicked, but maybe after listening to myself so much I learnt to slow down and try and enjoy the text, and only speed up if there was an action scene.

I don’t know how or when it suddenly clicked, but maybe after listening to myself so much I learnt to slow down and try and enjoy the text, and only speed up if there was an action scene.

That’s all theatrical and between you, the client and ACX. Audacity doesn’t have an acting filter (frequently requested).

There is an effect that many new readers experience. They finish a book experienced performers and realize how bad the first few chapters were and go back and read them again. There’s a movie item here as well. Many people can act a scene. Trained actors can act it exactly the same way multiple times.

Koz