Capturing clear audio is essential to creating an accurate final transcript whether you are a digital reporter, voice writer, or stenographer. Court reporters are expected to produce flawless recordings, so you must understand how sound functions and establish diligent habits to resolve bad audio in the moment and to prevent it from happening in the future.
Along with being attentive and responsive, choosing the right equipment for the room and constantly monitoring the recording and adjusting the volume or gain will ensure a successful job every time.
Choosing the Right Microphone
There are hundreds of microphones on the market, and each style has a specific purpose for different situations. You do not need to spend $1,000 on equipment these days, but quality does matter more than any other factor, and price is often an indicator of quality. Lisa Dees, chief product officer for VoiceScript, notes that some cheaper microphones will produce an echo, the output will be hollow like it is coming from a tin can, and you will not sound like yourself.
“There are several options under $100 that will give you a true quality recording, especially if you are sitting at home behind a computer,” Dees advises. “But, you get what you pay for. Quality is key. If you don’t do your research, then you risk getting bad audio. It is just as simple as that.”
When considering which microphone to use, Dees recommends keeping the following in mind:
- Gooseneck: These flexible mics are adjustable to get it perfectly positioned for in-person proceedings. However, they are heavy, which makes them difficult for traveling between locations.
- Boundary: These low-profile mics are the easiest to transport, but they pick up every pen tap and paper shuffle. For best results, raise it up off the table with a box or set it on a mouse pad for the rubber backing to absorb unwanted sounds.
- Lavalier: Worn on a shirt, these mics are the best for picking up the speaker’s voice, but many people dislike wearing them or walk away with them after the proceeding. The Bluetooth versions also quickly lose power.
- Ball: This traditional mic offers the best quality, especially when it sits in a stand. It can be large and heavy, which impacts portability.
The microphone’s pickup pattern is also crucial. An omnidirectional mic captures sound 360 degrees around the mic, which is great if you have an attorney walking around a podium. It is not ideal if you are covering a deposition with attorneys and witnesses sitting next to each other. Instead, each speaker should have their own cardioid mic, which picks up sound in the front and rejects noise fully in the back and some on the side. You will need the support of multichannel recording software like Reporter Studio PRO to capture each person on their own channel.
Continuously Monitoring Audio Quality
Dees describes confidence monitoring as “the last line of defense to protect yourself from bad audio. It is critical and necessary because it is how you know what the transcriber is going to hear. It also tells you the appropriate adjustments you need to make to your microphones to capture the best audio that you can.”
It is not enough to simply check your microphones before the proceeding begins. Your voice in a quiet room will sound much different than a room full of people. Sound changes as the proceeding progresses with environmental elements, such as air conditioning vents, and participants moving around, shuffling papers, and speaking at different frequencies.
Throughout the entire proceeding, you must keep testing the quality of the captured audio and making adjustments based on their voices, not yours. This process of continuously observing the live audio being recorded by the software is called confidence monitoring. It is not periodically checking the audio to ensure it is still working. You should listen to the slightly delayed audio through a pair of earbuds rather than noise-canceling headphones, which gives the illusion of better sound quality that prevents you from detecting poor audio.
If you fail to identify unusable audio in the moment, then your chance to correct the issue is gone forever. There may be times when you can make quick adjustments to the settings behind the scenes, or you may need to politely stop the proceeding. Always ask the speaker to repeat what they have said if it isn’t captured.
Adjusting the Audio Correctly
When inaudible audio occurs, you need to know how to make the necessary adjustments to fix the issue depending on who is speaking, the distance, and the background noise. Microphone placement is an important factor. The best capture occurs when mics are placed 8-16 inches away from the person speaking.
The most common mistake court reporters make is failing to understand the difference between volume and gain. “Most people believe that more is better, but that is not accurate when you are making adjustments on a microphone,” Dees explains. “Boosting an overmodulated or too loud audio file will not make it clearer, especially if you need to dampen static, room noise, an echo, hum, or two indistinct pitches. Understanding if it is a pitch or volume problem changes how you manipulate the audio to improve the capture for the best record.”
Volume is the power of the output of sound and determines the loudness coming out of headphones or speakers. Turning up the volume does not help with muffling background noises or amplifying a soft-spoken person. In contrast, gain is the energy added to sound to increase the loudness of volume.
Dees describes gain as a forcefield around the microphone, and as it increases, that forcefield grows like a balloon. For the best audio quality, you want that balloon to expand just beyond the speaker’s head. When you apply too much gain, then the microphone will pick up all the unwanted background noise.
“You are going to tune your reporter ear, as you are adjusting the gain, to get just the speaker and a little beyond and then stop,” she advises.
Your computer’s sound card and speakers can also impact the quality of playbacks. Bass boost is bad for transcription work because it muffles voices. Also, while an audio amplifier can add extra electrical charge to the signal, it can also introduce overmodulation. It will not change the tone, correct pitch, or help with audio clean up.
When capturing a recording via Zoom, make sure each participant turns off the “Automatically Adjust Microphone Volume” option in the Audio Settings and switches the Suppress Background Noise option from Auto to Medium. While these settings can be helpful for muting an unwanted sneeze, it can also filter out quick Yes/No answers and objections when two people are talking over each other. The Microphone Volume slider bar should also be set between 80-90% to reduce overmodulation.
Preventing bad audio demonstrates your professionalism and commitment as a court reporter. If you need assistance with choosing the right equipment for the job, then our VoiceScript Support team is available to point you in the right direction.
Simply reach out on our Contact Us page to connect with our helpful and knowledgeable experts. Additionally, if you are working with poorly recorded audio, our latest transcript production tool, AutoScript, excels at cleaning up the quality of the original recording. Your first three files are free to try!