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Audio Recording Tips

High quality recordings will not only result in more accurate transcriptions – with fewer words tagged as inaudible – they may also turn around more quickly, and may even be less expensive, since high quality audio does not require the Difficult Audio upgrade.

Here are some tips for producing high quality recordings. A few are device specific, e.g., laptop, smartphone, or digital recorder, but we’ll start with the more general tips that may be applied to almost any device, environment, or situation.

boy yelling into mic

General Tips

  1. Make sure the speakers (participants, interviewers and interviewees, etc.) are not too far from the microphone. If possible, each speaker should have a dedicated microphone. If this isn’t possible, make sure that each speaker is equidistant from the single microphone. If one speaker is quieter, move the mic/device closer to that person. Make a several-second test recording, play it back, then adjust the mic/device distance. Repeat the test and playback as needed.
  2. Make sure the microphone is nearer to the speakers than to any source of background/foreground sounds, noises, adjacent conversations, etc.
  3. Turn off any equipment that’s adding sounds/noise to the recording environment. Close windows to keep outside sounds to a minimum.
  4. If the microphone or recording device is on a table, set it on something soft (an article of clothing, a piece of soft foam, etc.) to reduce noise that may travel through the table (e.g., someone kicks a table leg or drops something onto the table) and be picked up by the mic.

Common Indoor Background Sounds/Noises

When recording in indoor environments, e.g., homes, labs, classrooms, factories, warehouses, farm buildings, airport terminals, etc., you may encounter some of the following sources of background noise:

  • Background conversations (phone calls).
  • Barking dogs, playing children, etc.
  • TV, radio, electronic devices, Hi-Fi.
  • HVAC fans, kitchen/household appliances, running water, etc.
  • PA music or announcements.
  • Factory, lab, indoor farm equipment, etc.
  • Rustling paper.

Noises Specific to Restaurants, Cafes, Bars, Coffee Houses, etc.

noisy cafe Recordings made in restaurants and other eating establishments can be among the noisiest, and particularly challenging for transcription. Noise sources in these environments may include:

  • Espresso machines, blenders, ice machines, running water, etc.
  • Clinking glasses and dishes, etc.
  • Chairs and tables being moved.
  • Very intrusive background conversations and/or music.

Common Outdoor Background Sounds/Noises

barking dog Recordings made outdoors can be very unpredictable, with background noise sources such as:

  • Road noise, i.e., autos, motorcycles, trucks, buses, emergency vehicles.
  • Construction equipment.
  • Lawnmowers, leaf blowers, line trimmers, or other lawn care equipment.
  • Aircraft taking off, flying overhead/nearby, or landing.
  • Music, PA announcements in city shopping districts, outdoor malls, etc.
  • Playground sounds.
  • Conversation from people passing by.
  • Barking dogs, howling wolves.
  • Running water, e.g., loud streams, dams, etc.
  • Thunder and rain.
  • Fireworks.
  • Off-road farm equipment, off-road vehicles, e.g., ATVs, etc.
  • Racing cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, boats, etc.

Wind – Whether Caused by Nature Or Fans/Blowers

man in the wind

Reduce wind interference in your recording by using an appropriate windscreen. They’re available for most iPhone models (and other smartphones), handheld mics (some windscreens are specific to the model, others are somewhat universal), and built-in mics on digital recorders (usually available as part of an accessory kit).

What does background noise mean for your transcription?

It is obviously more difficult to transcribe a recording that contains foreground or background noise.

CastingWords offers an upgrade that you can add to any file that may present an extra challenge due to background noise (or other factors such as accented speakers, poor phone connections, etc.). The Difficult Audio upgrade, optional in most cases, goes entirely toward increasing the pay to our workers who handle the challenging material at every stage.

While our turnaround guarantees on 1 Day Expedited and 1 Week Express orders do not apply to files with difficult audio, adding the upgrade keeps everything moving along as smoothly as possible in any given case, often enabling us to deliver within the desired timeframe.

Device-Specific Tips


The main thing to watch here is keyboard clicks being picked up by the internal mic. Simply put, they’re very annoying. While the quality of the recorded voices might not be directly affected, typing noise may cause delays transcription completion, and void the turnaround guarantee. Another issu is that laptop mics are omnidirectional, meaning they pick up sound from all directions – background sounds as well as the speakers being recorded.


smartphone with headphones The main issue with smartphone recordings are the omnidirectional mic, and needing a windscreen if you’ll be recording outside.

Digital Recording Units

I only have personal experience with one digital recorder, the Zoom H1, which I wrote about extensively in a previous blog post: Digital Recorder, Smart Phone or Computer Recording?

External Mics

Whichever device you use for recording, you’ll obtain the best results by using a high-quality external mic. Choices include the affordable Shure SM57 or SM58 or a USB mic. If you’re using a SM57 (or one of its many clones), you’ll need a desktop mic stand. For a single mic, you’ll need the appropriate audio adapters/cables to plug it into the device (take the device along when you go to make a purchase). For multiple mics, you’ll need a microphone mixer. Most USB mics are one piece with a built-in stand. Here’s an article on using two USB mics with one device.