Best equipment to use with Audacity

I want to make audiobooks for the blind. What equipment with approximate costs works best with Audacity, ie., MS Windows, Mac OS, Linux, etc.? I intend to buy equipment based on comments made here.

I want to use a small tablet with head microphone to record the book wherever I want to do it. Then transfer the recording from the tablet to a home computer and use Audacity to clean up that recording. Finally, I want to post the finished audiobook on the net so others can listen. Eventually, I hope to make a cottage business.

If you are a voice actor, I am interested to know the entire system you are using to make your voice recording.

You used a naughty word there.

Whenever we see “help me clean up” in a posting, it usually means the poster has created a bleeding, basket case of a recording and is depending on us to turn it into a professional presentation in time to post it to the client at the end of the day.

I wish I was making that up.

I want to use a small tablet with head microphone to record the book wherever I want to do it.

But chance of that actually working is zero. When you make a recording, you are recording your voice and the environment. So as a practical matter, you can’t do it on the subway, metrobus or jet. Or almost anywhere other than a quiet studio. Most successful home readers have a corner of their house or office that sounds like a studio.

There was a recent event where a reader told us how she used a portable recorder to crank out audiobook readings wherever she happened to be—in the sense that she converted wherever she was into a studio. There was a theatrical show where she went into a hotel closet with heavy jackets and quilts for soundproofing…and locked herself in.

So no, I wouldn’t use a tablet. I’d use a small personal recorder. I’m currently using a small Olympus recorder that fits in my breast pocket. The headset is a nice idea, although I don’t know anybody who’s actually doing that. I did it that way once for a podcast experiment, but I was using a small sound mixer, two laptops, etc, etc. Not what you want.

I know you were hoping for us to whip out an equipment list and operating system and go home.

Nice idea, though.

ACX has instructional videos.

And Transom is strongly recommended as a read-through.


Probably not the best choice, but maybe you have some overriding reason why you wish to do that.
For portable recording, I’d usually suggest a a portable music recorder, such as:
Zoom H2N
Tascam DR-40
Tascam DR-05
Olympus LS-14
Zoom H1
Roland R-05
or similar.

These all have built-in mics that can do a respectable job provided that the recording environment is quiet and substantially free from echoes and reverberation.
Recordings made in noisy or reverberant environments always turn out bad, though there are usually ways to make it sound less bad - this is where we need to know details of what you want to do.

“Budget” is also a significant factor - (it is pointless suggesting a DPA microphone if your total budget is less than $1000).

To achieve the sound quality of commercial audiobooks requires recording in a silent, echo free space. “On location” recordings could certainly be included in an audiobook, but the main spoken text should be clear, high quality with no distracting noises present, and that requires a “studio” environment (which could be a quiet room in your home that has been appropriately set up for the purpose).

Did we scare you?

We don’t mean to suggest you can’t make perfectly entertaining field recordings. You certainly can, but you should manage your expectations. You will likely be producing a Field Recording, not a polished, produced AudioBook.

I entertained the idea of doing interviews at the airport and just have to stop to let the jets go over. That’s aggressive environment interviews.

That’s not trick photography and I’ve made several sound recordings there.

Don’t be seduced by Effect > Noise Reduction. You should forget the effect exists. It almost never does what people expect and to the extent that people need it.

The designers fudge by carefully defining “Noise.” Computer fan sound is “Noise” but dogs barking is not. Noise is not “Everything I Don’t Want.”


You have not scared me. LOL I have been looking up each of the recorders and reading reviews. The Olympus LS 14 seems good, which came from you, KOZ. I want something portable and hand-held, so I first thought of a tablet, but I needed to know other options. You and Steve have pointed me toward the recorder options.

I do have a room at the house that could be made over into a small, sound-effective studio. Filling the room with useful equipment will require experience and money, of course. Guidance and mentoring from ya’ll and others is desired and helpful as I am a newbie to this arena.

If you will indulge me, my back story is a number of people tell me my voice has a radio quality. It is deep like James Earl Jones and accented with the southern dialect. I am about 5 years from retirement and want something to continue doing. I have three grandsons, ages 11, 6, and 2. They always want me to read them stories or make up stories. My church uses my voice in various readings and theatre performances, thus I decided on the acronymed, monicker GWAV = God What A Voice. Reading and telling stories in a compelling way to others is enjoyable, relaxing and rewarding. So I hope to fill my twilight years making audiobooks and leaving a part of myself for the grandsons and their generations primarily and to others.

Your insights to help me accomplish this are richly appreciated. Please continue.

It is deep like James Earl Jones and accented with the southern dialect.

Y’all come. Y’ heah?

I have a friend like that. I can listen to him describe his trip to the mailbox, and back!

I know somebody else who is trying very hard to stamp out his southern drawl. I told him, “So, you’re trying to sound just like a couple hundred million other presenters out there? Just so I’m clear.”

My only other suggestion is try to make the environment match the presentation. Nothing like a presentation “from the catacombs” when you’re obviously standing alongside a freeway.

I went a slightly different direction. I have an Olympus WS-823 which will do both WAV file management and “Casual Recording.” It’s not $200 usd, either. A side issue is getting accustomed to what I can do with it if I wanted to trade up. Or even if I want to.

It will accept external microphones. I have a TP-7 (and TP-8) which will record both sides of a phone conversation. I haven’t tried them together, though. Recording a cellphone is always an adventure because of the radio interference.


I can’t address your questions about portable recorders but I think your desire to develop your voice is great. If others have told you that you have a great voice and you enjoy sharing it with others, go for it. You can become a voice artist and it will keep you busy in all the years to come. And I agree with Koz: don’t try to lose your southern accent. Two of the best voices on the planet are James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman, and I remember some Disney nature movies narrated by Rex Allen who had the coolest Oklahoma voice ever, well, until Reba came along. I recommend that you check out “Audiobooks for Indies” by Simon Whistler. It is aimed at authors who want to get their books into listenable form for sale on, which has 95 % of the audiobook market. It explains all about how authors and narrators use the ACX exchange to find each other, and how they negotiate contracts. This information you definitely need. The book also has a few chapters on how you can record yourself, and it has some equipment suggestions. Audacity is recommended.

I will put in my two cents here, even though I’m a newbie. I have just recorded a book of my own, which came out to five hours worth of recording. This is my first attempt at recording a book. I spent $100 for a condenser mic (Audio-Technica 2020) and $100 for an interface (Focusrite Scarlett Solo) and I get fabulous sound quality that makes my average voice sound good and a noise floor of -80 dB, which is excellent. I put up some acoustic foam in my home office and that’s it. The Scarlett solo also comes with five plug-ins (sound processing apps like reverb, compressor, etc.) which are high quality and worth several hundred dollars by themselves. I haven’t learned how to use those yet because I’m still editing out breath sounds and plosives. Anyway that’s a very cheap price for some very professional gear. Of course there are other interfaces that are very good too. Most of them cost a lot more. You also need good headphones. On one of the ACX tutorials they say that AKG K240 headphones (about $65)are the standard of the voiceover industry. You can spend a lot more than that on headphones, of course, and everybody has their own favorites.

I think Koz is right to be skeptical about getting audiobook quality with a portable recording setup. You could spend a lot of money on Olympus or Zoom handheld recorders and then find out that ACX rejects your efforts. They control the market and it’s their way or the highway. Have you listened to professionally narrated audiobooks? If you go to you can listen to a free sample of any book. Right under the cover picture is an arrow you can click to start the sample. In Whistler’s book he mentions two pro narrators, Steven Cooper and Sean Runette, so I searched for them and was very impressed. They have each done dozens of audiobooks. Check out some samples. That should inspire you.

There will be a steep learning curve with Audacity and you will also be learning about and their standards. Remember that most recording engineers work with music and their advice might not be applicable to voice. We are all very lucky that the Audacity forum has a sub-forum specifically for audiobook production. Use it! Koz and Steve and others are very helpful. ACX also has many tutorials and videos, and they will give you advice about your recordings for free. Just send them a two or three minute clip of your work in .WAV format, by using DropBox, and they’ll tell you if you pass their tests. If not they’ll give you some general guidance that is very useful, although they can’t serve as your one-on-one tutor. Good luck and let us know when you have created something we can download.

I get fabulous sound quality that makes my average voice sound good and a noise floor of -80 dB, which is excellent.

Also maybe unbelievable. -96dB is the maximum atomic vibration level noise floor possible. Hitting -80dB with a casual setup, while maybe doable, is highly suspect. I think you left the Windows Auto Noise Reduction running in your recordings. If it doesn’t “pump” and nobody catches it, you win.

You could spend a lot of money on Olympus or Zoom handheld recorders and then find out that ACX rejects your efforts.

Not necessarily, but to their credit, they will usually tell you why they’re rejecting your work. You get rejection notes.

Our involvement is usually limited to recording your voice. DO NOT record the whole book and then arrive on the forum with puppy dog eyes asking us to rescue the performance. We can usually tell you how to record it the next time so you won’t need the rescue. In particular, recording in a live room is deadly. We can’t take out echoes.

This will always sound like she recorded it in the kitchen. Or bathroom.

And even if you do make it past the ACX Automated Testing Robot, you could still fall apart at Human Quality Control. They have a failure they call “Overprocessing.” Yes, the show is technically perfect, but it sounds like a bad cellphone call.


Your comment about -80 dB being not credible scared me. I checked Control Panel/Sound/Audio Devices and clicked on every tab for playback and recording, making sure to check out properties where possible and I didn’t find any noise reduction options. I’m not going through a mic input jack. I’m running a condenser mic into a Focusrite interface. Once I finish some more editing I’ll post a ten second sample. Thanks for the warning.

It’s just that I use good equipment in several different configurations in a quiet room and I’ve never gotten better than -70s. Let’s say you’re getting 12dB lower noise than I am. Sound goes in half every 6dB. So that’s a significant change.

And again, that’s not to say you can’t do that, just that it’s unlikely. How are you measuring the noise? The contrast method or ACX Check? Both work.


I agree that -80 dB seems a bit low.

If you really are achieving -80 dB with the recording level turned up enough to get a good strong recording (peak level around -6 dB), then try holding a mechanical wristwatch about 10 cm from the microphone, then Normalize the “silent” recording to about -6 dB. Can you hear the watch ticking? With my setup and my watch, I can hear the ticking though it is almost buried below the background noise. When set up for voice recording, my gear / recording space has a noise floor of around -70 dB, and that is too high to get a clear recording of my wristwatch.

I’m using the contrast method. I leave silence at the beginning and end of each chapter and then I compare the speech to the silence and it routinely comes up -80 dB. The difference between speech and silence is around 32-36.

Thanks to Steve. I believe that I have not set my recording level high enough. I’m getting around -12 peaks when I’m recording. I was worried about clipping. Also I remember reading about gain staging a long time ago and I know it’s not usually a good idea to max out the input gain on any piece of equipment, so I set my interface at about the 75% mark (I guessed. The dial is not calibrated) and did the same in Windows, about .75. I didn’t want to go higher because I thought I would get more noise. I think that the way I did it is usable for this project, since I passed an ACX check, but in the future I suppose that I’ll record a bit hotter.
I like the wristwatch technique. I’ll try that.

And that is precisely why the ACX Robot tests for noise and peak distortion and overall volume. It doesn’t count if you have a terrific noise floor, but your show has to be boosted 15dB to be heard.

That’s also a good place for the ACX Check tool instead of Contrast. It gives you all three numbers in one swat.