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Using Audacity 2.1.3 for Audio Books is a BAD IDEA!

This is the forum for discussing the requirements concerning the ACX as well as other on-line publishers. This forum also covers voice over procedures.
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Dana
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Using Audacity 2.1.3 for Audio Books is a BAD IDEA!

Post: # 318Post Dana
Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:26 am

There is a tremendous difference between Podcasting and narrating audio books. With Podcasting you can pretty well do as you please unless you follow the AES recommend standards which are a -20 to -16LUFS with a -1dbTP and a max of 4dbs for the LRA. (Loudness Range). If you plan on recording audio to submit to the ACX, their requirements are mandatory and if you can not meet them, they will not except your audio.

Their requirements are between a -23db and -18db using the RMS (Root Mean Squared) measuring system with a -3dbTP max and your noise floor can not exceed -60dbs. The people who use Audacity seem to be having a hard time meeting these requirements. For some it has taken close to a year! In my opinion, it is more the fault of the software than the people doing the recording.

The largest factor is the that Audacity CAN NOT read the ASIO file that is supplied with Professional USB Audio Interfaces, you cannot review their stock filters/effects/plugins in real time and they are a 32 bit program. Regardless of how much RAM you have on your computer, Audacity can only use between 2 & 4 gigs MAX.

If you think my comments are a “Dig or Slant” towards Audacity, you are 100% incorrect. If you are new to Audio Book Recording then my goal is to give you solid advice. If you are a seasoned Narrator, you already know this. If you choose this profession to put food on your table then you need to embrace the Professionalism that will be associated with your decision. In 2017, anyone can spend less then $400.00 to create a Professional Recording Environment for the spoken word. 15 years ago, this would have cost you thousands of dollars!

In Podcasting, the number one question I receive the most is: “How can I make money Podcasting?” It is like any other business that makes money. It takes hard work, sacrifice, blood sweat and often tears! It takes education as well as the proper tools to get the job done in a professional manner. The sad truth in Podcasting is that only 3 to 4% will ever make it to that level of being able to make it their full time profession. In the Audio Book Industry a experience Narrator can make between $60.00 and $450.00 PER FINISHED HOUR!

So why is this a big deal? When you open Audacity and select your Condenser mic, (this is what most recommend), not only are you opening yourself up to picking up more background noise but now you will also pick up any noise coming through your sound card as well as that is how your mic input signal will be applied to Audacity during your recording. I recommend using dynamic mics for most home studio recordings.

When you add the fact that your noise floor must be a max of -60dbs to meet the ACX requirements, this only complicates the issue. When you open a Professional DAW such as Reaper, this program does recognize the ASIO file that is supplied with most USB Interfaces! This makes it so much easier to meet the ACX requirements.

When I use my little ATR 2100 mic straight into my PC, I have to raise the input level to 100% to peak at Audacity’s Official Recommendations of a -6dbs. When I do my noise floor goes through the roof. All throughout the Official Audacity Forum you will see where they recommend your input level close to or dead on a -6dbs. This advice IS NOT followed by any other Professional DAW Distributors, USB Audio Interface Manufacturer, Recording or Sound Engineer! The best signal to noise ratio you can achieve for digital audio is between a -12 and -18dbs.

This quote was taken from the "Massive Mastering" website. They are extremely well respected throughout Engineering, Mixing and Mastering circles.
So – You have a microphone and a preamp going into a converter or sound card. Those converters are calibrated at LINE LEVEL. In most cases, over the last several years, most I’ve seen are calibrated to -18dBFS = line level (or 0dBVU). In other words, if you run a steady signal (a sustained note on a keyboard for instance) through a preamp and turn up the preamp gain until the VU meter reads 0dBVU, at the converter (and on the active track in whatever program you’re using the record), it will read -18dBFS (or -18dBFS(RMS) — full scale, but measured over time).

THIS IS WHERE YOUR GEAR IS DESIGNED TO RUN. This is where it’s spec’d at. You will have a decent amount of headroom, the lowest distortion, the best signal to noise ratio, etc., etc., etc. around this level or lower. Some gear – usually very high-quality stuff, has a good amount of usable headroom above this level. A lot of “budget friendly” gear does not. So all of this advice is *more* important if you’re using “okay” gear at the input. EVEN YOUR DIGITAL CONVERTERS are ANALOG components up to the converter itself. They don’t want to be “beat up” all the time either.
Audacity users must be in the -6db range as their program IS NOT a Professional DAW. I understand that they are free and many people use them, but this has nothing to do with recording Professional Audio for the ACX. Not only will this input level likely give you sub-par recording results, but is extremely hard to keep this range for beginners without peaking your audio. Once you go red, (Peak/Clip your Audio) your dead! Your recording is trash! The HIGHER the input level the LOUDER the noise floor. This is mathematics and will NEVER change!

THIS STATEMENT IS REPEATED THROUGHOUT THE AUDACITY OFFICIAL FORUM!

“You will most likely fail the ACX requirements for Over Processing”.

I will say this the best way I can without coming across as being conceded or condescending. You can follow my advice and excel instantly or spend weeks or months listening to two admins with over 70,000 replies trying to make you jump through EVERY hoop instead of simply telling you the truth by saying “you need to use a professional program”.

Audacity is like the Beta Max machine invented in 1975 when video playback was first invented for home use. Once VCRs came on the scene, Beta Max went the way of the dodos and when movies came out on CD’s, VCR’s met the same fate. Now, how do you listen to your music? 8 Track Players, Cassette Players, CDs or the most recently, Smart Phones. Most would reply CD’s or Smart Phones.

There’s a reason for that, it’s called progress. These two admins are still giving out the same advice they were giving years ago. It did not work back then and it does not come close to working in 2017. The Audio Industry has left Audacity behind as Audacity has failed to keep up with the ever changing Audio Engineering Requirements. It’s just that simple!

1. Question asked by new member. May 3rd, 2017. “Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX. Hi, I need some help from the experienced people here on how to improve what I’m doing to get the best sound I can with what I’ve got. I’ve been recording on this setup for many other things, and I generally have my gain set much higher but I recently backed it down because someone said that the reason I’m having to do so much noise cancellation is because I had my gain set way too high. But when I don’t set them high, then my input is so low and I end up raising everything with the Normalization that my room noise goes bananas, so I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place and I’m not really fixing the problems, I’m just masking them.

Response from Forum Staff Member with Audacity. That’s too low. The fuzzy recommendation is to hit Audacity so the multi-colored display just starts turning colors, first yellow and then orange. The meter will turn angry orange and then red if you get too loud. In numbers, you are shooting for peaks at -6dB.

My comment: When they advise their members to raise their input limit in a “Out of Studio” location, they are failing to tell them this will also raise their noise floor and it WILL NOT pass the ACX requirements. Now they are forced to over process their audio using noise reduction which in turn will also cause them to most likely fail the ACX requirements.

2. Question asked by new member. March 2016. “Recording Levels. Hi everyone, I’m new to Audacity and I’ve been fiddling with the acx plug in that allows you to check if it passes. Without fail, I always seem to be just missing the RMS check. I’m always anywhere from 26-32. Is there any way to just set all the levels I need before I start recording so it just meets all the specifications I need? When I turn up the gain I pass the RMS but fail the noise floor check”.

Response from Forum Staff Member from Audacity. “From above, overload produces permanent distortion, so, much better to go low volume and fix it later”.

My comment. This advice is not only incorrect, it will cause you to FAIL the ACX requirements due to over processing. This advice is in direct conflict with “Record Properly & Master Lightly”. Professional DAWs are used to enhance audio quality while allowing you to fix minor problems. It is not a “magic box” for correcting audio that was not recorded properly.

3. Question asked by member. Reducing Noise Floor. March 2016. “I’m recording narration for video tutorials and elearnings, and I’d like to move into audiobooks/narration. To improve my quality, I need to eliminate the background noise. If I set my mixer to 0 gain and the Audacity recording level to 1.00, then the background noise level (noise floor?) is around -30. I can drop the recording level down to 0.20, which limits the noise to -45 or -40, and still allows my vocals to peak at about -6. With Noise Removal I can get background noise to -48. This is working in my office with a home-made sound booth under a thick blanket. Is there anything else I can do to lower the background noise? Is it better to drop Audacity’s recording level and keep the mixer at 0, or should I cut the level on the mixer too”?

Response from Senior Staff Member with Audacity with over 44,000 posts. “Check the level by speaking loudly into the mic (this is to set up for the maximum input level that will occur during the recording). Ensure that the level on the meters (on the mixer) never go above 0 dB. (It’s OK if the levels are a bit below). Then adjust the recording level on your computer so that the maximum peaks in the Audacity meter go up to about -6 dB”.

My comment: If you have to “raise” your voice to meet the proper input requirements, then you have already lost the battle. As a narrator you will be recording anywhere from 20 to 40 min at a time. Try this for yourself. Just start talking in a loud voice for 2 min and tell me how your throat feels. Not only will you lose your voice but your audio will sound UN-professional as well as UN natural.

The whole purpose of having good equipment is to be able to have your input signal between a -12db and -18dbs WHILE BEING ABLE to keep your noise floor @ -60dbs or lower. This person went the extra mile by using a homemade sound booth as well as covering it with a heavy blanket and they are still close to 50% off the mark!


Mixing & Mastering is Simple WHEN Your Recording Is Within The Specs! RECORD PROPERLY & MASTER LIGHTLY My Gear

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Dana
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Posts: 189
Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2018 6:39 am
Location: Virginia
Operating System: Windows 8 & 10.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW): Reaper, Hindenburg, Audacity.
Mics: Shure SM7b, SM 57 & 58, ATR 2100, AKG P120, AT Pro 70.
Digital Recorder: Tascam DR-40, Zoom H6.
Contact:
United States of America

Post: # 319Post Dana
Sun Nov 18, 2018 11:13 am

I received a comment from one of my other website concerning audio. They seemed a little skeptical about the article I wrote, concerning why using Audacity for audio books is a bad idea. This is what they wrote.
Re "Why using Audacity is a bad idea". I don't believe this is always true. We recommend, and many narrators who record for us do, use condenser or dynamic mics, and then a preamp with a built-in A/D converter, providing the computer with a digital (via USB) signal. The preamps are professional grade. Doing this also reduces the introduction of hum and other noise by the computer (most often a laptop these days).
We also recommend using dynamic over condenser mics, as it's literally like the difference between vinyl records and CD's. The dynamic mic is more forgiving for mouth noise (clicks, sibilants etc). My Sony condenser mics are excellent for musical recordings! -Silverton Audio/Silverton Agency
To be perfectly honest, they have a valid point concerning "I don't believe this is always true". I am sure that under the right conditions, anything is possible. However, the fact still remains that when you visit Audacitys' official forum for audio book productions, they are still giving the same false advice, they were giving 10 years ago. The rest of this persons comments, is echoed by me throughout this forum, concerning the use of specific types of microphones. I have stated many times that "Condenser Mics" are made for studios and if you are going to be using a home studio, you need to be using a dynamic mic, or spend your money for room treatment. This is the most recent question asked on Audacitys' forum, as well as the advice they were given.
RMS Normalize makes audio sound tinny. Post by Nicqui123 » Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:34 am.

Hello, I have narrated over a dozen books for ACX and only recently discovered the ACX check tool. What's interesting is it turns out the files I've submitted in the past didn't meet the RMS requirement, but were still approved! Anyways, I'm working on a new book now and have installed the ACX check plugin and the RMS Normalize plug in.

So, here's the problem: When I run the RMS Normalize plug in, it makes the audio sound tinny, like I'm in a metal box. For comparison sake, I tried different effects (Normalize, Amplify, Compression, Limiter) separately or in a sequence and I don't hear that tinniness. My raw file is super clean edit, recorded in a very quiet room. I'm running the Low Roll Off for Speech EQ before the RMS Normalize. Audio sounds fine after EQ, but tinny after RMS Normalize. Has anyone else had this problem? I tried Koz's sequence" AudioBook Processing Tool Notes found here: http://www.kozco.com/tech/audacity/audacity.html but the result is just shy of the RMS needed to pass ACX. Suggestions? Thanks. Nicole
Reply number 1.
The OP asked Has anyone else had this problem?

You're number one!

Something is broken. Normalize and RMS Normalize are cousins. They both change the volume of a clip and nothing else (Normalize can change DC level which is slippery because DC is a microphone defect and not sound). Normalize, in common with most tools in this group, does it by sensing peaks or tips of the blue waves. RMS Normalize, oddly enough, does it by sensing RMS or Volume. RMS and Volume don't track exactly. You can get into religious wars with defining volume, but RMS is a very specific electrical measurement, so it won. Steve designed RMS Normalize to meet the RMS requirement in ACX. Until then, you had to get there by running around the barn and guesswork with other tools. You should probably trash your existing RMS Normalze and pull down a fresh copy.

Are you following Audiobook Mastering 4? You are warned against mixing and matching effects in mastering. Mastering 4 may not look like much, it's only three tools, but they clean up after each other. The addition of compression, for one notable tool, can mean some of the cleanup won't get done, or it can create more damage than it clears. Also be advised that you can fake out ACX Check. ACX Check needs at least 3/4 second of clean, pure Room Tone (background noise) to accurately measure Noise. Most natural speech recordings don't have that. It's super critical to tell us what exactly failed. "It doesn't pass ACX Check" doesn't tell us enough. Mastering 4 will always give Peak and RMS exactly correct and the only variable is noise. There is no "It doesn't pass RMS." Koz. Forum Staff.
Reply number 2.
Post by Trebor » Wed Nov 07, 2018 2:40 pm

Nicqui123 wrote: ↑
Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:34 am
When I run the RMS Normalize plug in, it makes the audio sound tinny, like I'm in a metal box.

If RMS Normalize is making a big change in the volume, subjective perception of its equalization will change :
as the perceived frequency-content is volume-dependent. A psychoacoustic phenomenon.
This is why I preach the way I do concerning proper "Input" levels. This person is stating that if your levels are to low, bringing them up to where they need to be, WILL, have a direct impact on the quality of your audio. He is 100% correct! Just in case you are wondering, Psycho-acoustics is the scientific study of sound perception and audiology – how humans perceive various sounds. More specifically, it is the branch of science studying the psychological and physiological responses associated with sound (including noise, speech and music). It can be further categorized as a branch of psycho-physics. Psycho-acoustics received its name from a field within psychology—i.e., recognition science—which deals with all kinds of human perceptions. It is an interdisciplinary field of many areas, including psychology, acoustics, electronic engineering, physics, biology, physiology, and computer science.

Reply number 3.
by DVDdoug. Forum Crew. » Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:08 pm. RMS equalization alone can push the peaks over 0dB and you can get clipping (distortion). In fact, you are likely to get clipping if you normalize/adjust the RMS levels to meet ACX specs and you don't do anything else. (And it won't pass ACX if it's clipped.) But if you don't push the levels into clipping, normalization is simply a volume adjustment and it doesn't affect the character/quality of the sound.
So, all the Original Poster was trying to do, is follow their advice on what plugins Audacity tells you to use. Two of the forum staff are now giving conflicting answers. According to the OP, she has had no problem before submitting her files, and now she does. As of the date of this post, she has not returned to make another comment, on the thread she started. You can view the thread here.

As far as using a laptop for recording, I do it all the time with no problem whatsoever. In fact, it is one of the best ways to eliminate any electrical noise that every home/business has, concerning the power that is supplied by the local power company. Now, in the same breath, if your laptop or PC for that matter, was made back in the 80s or 90s and it has never been upgraded, or you have your hard-drive or memory maxed out, then you really can't expect to get professional results now, can you?

The last upgrade I did to my PC, was install a whisper quite fan in it. Now when all 4 processors kick in, you can barely hear it running. I have invited the person that sent me the above message, to join the community and give any advice they may feel goes, with the theme of our community. Also keep in mind that the majority of the mentioned article, was concerning the advice that Audacity gives to their members, concerning recording audio.
Mixing & Mastering is Simple WHEN Your Recording Is Within The Specs! RECORD PROPERLY & MASTER LIGHTLY My Gear

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