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Understanding Sound Recording Basics

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 11/5/2010

Here is a look at a few of the absolute basics that go into sound recording.

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    Back to the Basics

    Sound recording can really mean a number of different things depending on the context in which you are discussing it. Recording voices from a secure audio booth is much different than the field audio production that you would do along with video. When you are sound recording there are some basics that are going to be important around the simple nature of how the process goes, and some of these sound recording basics may also be specific to the types of situations you will be recording in.

    Here are some sound recording basics that you will need to know to get the kind of audio playback and tracks that you want for later audio mixing or use.

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    Understanding Decibels

    One of the most fundamental sound recording basics is how decibel readings work. Decibel indicates sound pressure levels and starts at a rate of pure silence of 0dB. Two people talking at a normal voice level will be around 60dB usually, and a deafening sound may be at something like 160dB. Your ears may just start to hurt when sound is somewhere between 130 and 135dB, and a quiet audio recording sound booth will be at 10dB in terms of ambient sound.

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    Cables

    Audio cables are some of the most important parts of the audio recording process and an important part of sound recording basics. The cable that should be used most often for audio recording, especially in the field, will be what is called a balanced cable. This will be a cable with a "tip, ring, sleeve" plug that will avoid much of the interference from the outside. There are going to be two conductors that are twisted around each other, one negative and the other positive.

    Unbalanced cables, which are very common for cheap cords and musical equipment, are going to be a single conductor and will take in interference. This interference can take the form of electromagnetic induction or radio interference, and if this happens you may need to switch over to a balanced cable.

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    Microphones

    Right from the start, you need to know what kind of microphones to use to record your audio otherwise you are not going to get the kind of recording that you are looking for. Having a basic understanding of this should be considered one of the sound recording basics, at least so you can choose.

    Dynamic microphones are not especially sensitive, but they are relatively stable and are going to be decent when there are high decibel readings. A condenser, or capacitor, microphone has dual electrodes that hold an electrical charge. It is going to work in similar ways to the dynamic microphone except that it is going to be more sensitive and less durable.

    Microphones can also be broken down into how they pick up sound. The way that the microphone picks up this audio is called a polar pattern, and it refers to how the microphone picks up and reflects audio at various degrees and positions to it from the audio source. A cardiod microphone is considered relatively unidirectional and it has a ninety degree pick up pattern. This is going to be good for live performances so that the microphone will not pick up too much of the ambient sound. An omni microphone has a full 360 pickup pattern and picks up sound from all over the place. You can use this microphone from a number of angles.

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    Alignment Tone

    Alignment tone is always a sound recording basic element as it is used as a basic reference level when the audio recording is being implemented. It can also help align the equipment that is all being used in a chain for the audio recording. You can find problems in the workflow and you can also check all of your equipment with the alignment tone to make sure that it is picking up sound the way it is supposed to.