getting home audiobook recording up to snuff

Hey there! I’m hoping you guys can provide some guidance in my quest to record an ACX-acceptable audiobook of my completed sci-fi/horror novel.

My recording setup is about as primitive as it gets: I have a Snowball mic on a stand with pop screen, hooked up by USB to an old laptop running Audacity 2.0.5 (I’ll be updating it before I record anything else). Since I live in an apartment, I record in the bathroom, with the laptop on the other side of the door.

The microphone is inside a cardboard box facing me; the two attached samples were made with either a blanket laid over myself and the box to isolate us, or the blanket tucked in behind the microphone to absorb cardboard echoes. (I’m thinking both would be ideal, but at that moment, I couldn’t find a second throw blanket.) I’m recording with my mouth about an inch from the pop screen, which is in turn about an inch from the microphone, which is set to one-directional. I’m reading the book on my iPhone, which I accidentally bumped against the pop screen a few times in one of the samples.

I did zero post-processing; if the recording setup itself is completely broken, I know I need to fix that first. (Besides, I’m still not sure what most of the buttons do in Audacity.) I’m very DIY-oriented and can build whatever mic box you recommend, but don’t have the funds, room, or long-term need for a full-blown home studio.

Thanks for checking out this post, and please let me know what you think!

You are warned that a very common problem is somebody reads an entire audiobook and then, when it fails compliance, tries to “clean it up” in post production. ACX actively discourages use of clean up tools. They rarely get clean enough.

You can get the most bang for the posting by not helping us. Posting a partially patched sound clip is entertaining, but not helpful. If you have to do this again, I posted a simple formula for test clips.

We need a minute to listen to the clips.

There is a simple test process so you can do this yourself, but I don’t have that in page format yet. The ACX Audiobook standards are basically broadcast radio. So if you can make one, you can typically make the other and no, they’re not magic; but they can be difficult to achieve in home recording.


In My Opinion, you have a good story-telling voice, so now we just have to get it into sound file format.

There is only the shortest possible silent stretch at 2 seconds and it’s not enough to analyze background noise very well.

Everything else seems OK, but can you please post a sound clip according to that formula? Everybody fails background noise, so that’s a big deal.


Oh, yes, I definitely want to avoid getting the entire 8+ hours recorded and then finding out that it’s not up to standards!

Sorry I didn’t see the formula link earlier; it and the hyperlinked guides are very helpful! Attached is a sample made to those specifications; the recording setup is the same, except that this time I found a bathrobe to use as an isolating cover, so the blanket was used for box padding. (I read from The Hobbit because it was the closest book to hand at that moment, and I’ve been on a bit of a Tolkien kick lately.)

Thanks so much for taking a look at this; I have my fingers crossed that my setup might produce acceptable results, after all!

Entertainment quality is last in the list and that one can be a little subjective. The first struggle is to produce sound files that ACX isn’t going to laugh at. Actually, there’s no laughter. The ACX automated testing will bounce it first.

I use furniture moving pads.


One more before I pull the sound files down. Picture how cripple you’re going to be presenting into a cardboard box for 8 hours. One poster made significant modifications to their apartment to avoid that problem once they figured how uncomfortable it was going to be.

Ian turned his broom closet into a studio. Since we’re coming into the summer months (I assume you are, too) where are you going to get your cooling from? Our joke is Ian has to come out of his closet every so often and gasp for air.

Oh, and he’s using a Snowball.


Your furniture pads reminded me that I have at least two mattress pads that I could rig up and probably end up sounding like I’m on a space station. But you’re exactly right about comfort; I’ve only used this bathroom setup for minutes at a time and am not sure how I’ll handle it for long (two hours at a time max, I hope) stretches. Then again, since it’s just for this one book, and since I tend to associate suffering with progress – if I can get acceptable audio with this setup, I’ll go with it, maybe while wearing a bikini.

Good to know someone has found success with a Snowball!

OK, I can make that pass without too much work.

You don’t need to make a production out of breathing. The very short intake of breath before you start speaking normally is enough. Sometimes we don’t even need that.

I can publish How I Got There in a bit, but can you suppress echoes a little bit more? A cardioid microphone records you and everything behind you. So if you do come up with another duvet or blanket, that may be a good place to put it. Tape it to the wall?

As we throw specifications around, it’s good to know what they are.

Peak. In any one segment or clip, the highest any sound peak is allowed to get is -3dB. Maximum volume is 0dB.

RMS. Fancy for Loudness. That can be between -23dB and -18dB. This one is a little fuzzy. If you’re a woman with a thin-wispy voice it can be a problem to hit. You seem to be OK.

Noise. This kills people. You don’t conform with your raw clip, but your noise is “desirable” rain in the trees “shshshshshsh” and relatively easy to manage. No higher than -60dB.

So those are the three things that the ACX automated testing looks for before a human ever bothers to deal with you.

Have you been through the ACX guidelines (if that’s who you’re planning on using) to make sure you understand clearly how they want you to present the work? We pushed the last reader up to successfully submitting work only to fall apart because she put the wrong number of seconds of silence in her clips.


We can’t do anything about silly goofs. No filter for that. Sorry.

I assume you’re in Audacity 2.1.0 for all this. The tools and filters in 2.1.0 are a significant improvement over the old versions.

Do you have any way to post long clips? The forum will not allow you to get very long at all and I’m a dot-com, so there’s no limit for me. Email will only allow you to post up to about 25MB of work.

I pushed you immediately to WAV format. That’s a good file format to use for archive of the work. You can make a WAV into anything else whenever you want, but MP3 is not good with post production. Yes, I know ACX requires posting in MP3.


So if you do come up with another duvet or blanket, that may be a good place to put it. Tape it to the wall?

Be sure you make it so you can’t use the bathroom any more.


Dueling postings is an entertaining feature of the forum. Refresh your browser every so often to make sure I didn’t post anything you didn’t see.

I tend to associate suffering with progress

Because we all know you give your very best performances when you’re in pain. Just to read that back to you.

I don’t know that mattress pads are a good idea. Mine are made out of cotton and thin quilt batting. If I throw one into the air it takes a second to come down. Neither is shipping and packing foam. You need something heavier like carpeting or those moving quilts. If someone threw one at you and you weren’t expecting it, it might knock you over.

People do make special foam blocks and panels that work very well and don’t weigh a ton. You can tell you have the right thing because you need a mortgage to buy a box of it. They know what they have.

You can do it with bath towels, clothespins and Wonder Bread tie wraps. Heavy bath towels do OK, if you can get enough of them together.

Hang your heavy winter jackets and coats in the bathroom.


I think I’ve come up with a setup that eliminates the echoes and provides more comfort: I moved three feet to the right, into the bathtub/shower stall. Using duvets, layered towels, and my heaviest mattress pad, I insulated all four sides of the inside and closed the glass door, with the laptop on the outside. I’m wondering if I need to somehow pad the stall’s vinyl-wrapped plywood ceiling, as well.

Inside, I have a stool with the microphone, and a comfortable chair. I can’t see it getting much comfier than that on my budget, short of squeezing in a recliner.

I’ve looked through the ACX performance guidelines before and will definitely be giving them a last look-over before I start the big recording. I just updated to Audacity 2.1.0, so we’re good to go.

Attached is a sample per your previous specifications; if you want something longer, just let me know how much. As far as uploading very large files, I run a server at home and can host them there, link them here.

Thanks again for taking a listen; I’m starting to have real hope that this will work!

I just noticed a strange donking sound as I read, which I initially thought might have been my knee against the stool. I recorded this second sample while being careful not to move, but I can still hear it. It almost sounds like the bass/verbal fry in my voice getting warbled by the mic. Is that something that just needs to be filtered out, or is it something in my recording setup that needs fixing?

I can’t listen right this second. There is one soundproofing rule that says no shiny parallel surfaces. If working on the ceiling is hard, soundproof the floor.

Note the moving pad and carpeting on the floor.


I wasn’t expecting to find different problems, but you have sibilance. Your “s” sounds are piercing. “Squeaking” is enough to drill holes. I wonder why I didn’t pick up on this before. Maybe you didn’t hit any s words in the dialog.

You also have motor noises like maybe a fridge or air handler? How do you have the microphone mounted? The Snowball I used had a little desk stand and it could pick up vibrations from the desk very easily.

There is a sibilance (SSS) filter, but I need to look it up. I don’t think it’s part of the normal Audacity toolset. I can get rid of the motor noise, too, but it would be nice if I didn’t have to.

You scared me with the voice distortion complaint. I don’t hear it. Past the above problems, I could believe the voice sounds exactly like you.


Come to think of it, the refrigerator is behind me, on the other side of a wall. Other than that, the only thing I can imagine would make motor noises is if someone else in the building is running their bathroom fan or AC. Therefore, here’s a new sample, this time with my back to the other (padded) wall.

I made the sample longer, to make sure there’s a good representation of vocal sounds. I also tried aiming the mic more at my throat than my mouth, to try to reduce the sibilance.

I got one sample that was even quieter, but then my recording laptop’s fan came on. Since the fan is a fact of life, I made a new sample that included it, and sure enough, the background noise is quite a bit higher. If this is going to break us, I can check at my local Free Geek tomorrow and maybe come up with a longer mic cord, situate the laptop outside the bathroom entirely. We have a Chromebook in the household that runs silently, but I’ve never found any recording software I like on ChromeOS.

The Snowball is mounted on the default little stand, like on the left in this image. If there’s a much better stand to be had for cheap, please let me know.

I’m glad you don’t hear the donking. Maybe it’ll go away during regular post-processing.

EDIT!!! I just realized that I have a USB extension cord. I moved the laptop outside the bathroom and it still works. Will post a better sample momentarily.

Here is a new sample, with the laptop physically outside the bathroom. (I had my husband helping this time with hitting record and stop, but in the future, I’ll just edit out hitting record and then getting situated.)

I’ll just edit out hitting record and then getting situated.

Exactly correct. Technically, you’re supposed to watch the Audacity sound meters while you perform, but the Snowball is always slightly low, so that should take care of itself as long as you don’t decide to get expressive and theatrical.

We’ll hope it’s the fridge. You understand how this can drive you batty, right? The laptop noise is pretty simple (ACX tells us to take a break until the machine cools), but for some reason there’s additional low-level hum noise in Chapter 2, Chapter 4 and Chapter 8 of the book—but not the others.

There was a posting from someone complaining about noises in his semi-detached house, and over months of postings, the noises had a suspicious repetition rate. The neighbor had a large, powerful fridge backed up against the common wall.

Fold up a towel and stick it under the microphone stand, not enough for it to fall over.

I also tried aiming the mic more at my throat than my mouth, to try to reduce the sibilance.

OK, but they’re not supposed to do that no matter how they’re aimed. Just to cover the bases, you have the microphone set to cardioid (heart-shaped pattern), you are speaking into the logo and you’re using headphones and not speakers? Using neither is an option.


There are some more theatrical moments in this book (characters shouting at each other, shotgun blasts), but I’ll be extra careful while recording them and check the levels after.

Speaking of, what’s your suggestion re: shotgun blasts? They’re written as ‘BLAM’, but I think I’ll sound stupid shouting that into the mic. I don’t know how ACX feels about sound effects.

Unfortunately, letting the laptop cool isn’t an option; it’s a very old machine and barely keeps from overheating in the first place. I get maybe ten minutes of quiet after starting it from cold.

The difference between chapters had occurred to me, and has me a little worried, but I’m hoping that my setup will be good enough that I can master out any varying background noise. There’s absolutely no helping it, unless I want to add ‘pull fridge away from wall and unplug it for two hours’ to my setup checklist.

I have the Snowball set to ‘1’, or ‘activates cardioid capsule’. ‘2’ is ‘activates the cardioid capsule with a -10dB PAD’, and ‘3’ is omni. From everything I’ve read, ‘1’ is the best for vocals. I’ll make sure to speak directly into the logo from now on. I don’t wear headphones (at this point, they probably won’t reach) or speakers.

Here’s a new sample, with towels set between a few of the textbooks the mic is resting on. Sure enough, it looks like the noise level is a bit lower. Edit: Ah, wow, 2 MB file size? You weren’t kidding. Here it is on my local server.

Edit 2: I keep forgetting to mention, I think I found a minor bug that I don’t think wasn’t there in 2.0.5. When you hover over the ‘stop’ button, the hover-text lists the ‘stop’ keyboard command as simply ‘()’.

I wasn’t kidding about the test clip timing. Freeze for two seconds and talk for 8 or as much as they will allow you to post—in mono. Past the third second, additional Room Tone doesn’t do any good. The last clip had over four which is wasteful overkill and takes time away from your performance.

Ignore the theatrical gasp for air. I’m going to remove that from the instructions. Just start talking.

Also note that nobody’s complained about announcing style or theatrical presentation. I think once we stamp out the technical problems, you should be good to go.

Before you get all throw-uppy, see: Ian who has been at this for over a year.