Zoom has become the the go-to video conferencing solution during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a variety of factors including ease, flexible feature set, and the fact that millions of people around the globe are working, studying, or staying in touch with friends… from home.
While several companies including Zencastr, Squadcast, and Cleanfeed have launched online services designed for podcasters who want to record interviews or conversations with people in remote locations, some folks are more comfortable using Zoom.
The good news is that while Zoom doesn’t necessarily have all of the features of those podcast-specific solutions, the company has rolled out a set of updates that improves your chances of making high-quality audio recordings.
If you’re planning to record an interview or conversation over Zoom that you plan to use for a podcast, radio story, or archival purposes, here are some steps you can take to get the best possible audio quality.
Wear headphones and use a good mic (if possible)
The first and most important thing to do no matter what internet service you’re using to record an interview is to put on your headphones and ask your guest to do the same. This will reduce the changes of audio from the speakers bleeding into the microphone and requiring Zoom to work too hard at eliminating this audio “bleed,” which can cut down on digital artifacts in the audio.
It also helps you hear any potential problems as you’re recording.
The second step is to use the best possible microphone. If you have a USB microphone or headset, plug it in before you star the recording session. If you do not, then get as close as you comfortably can to your laptop or webcam microphone – think about the amount of space between your mouth and a phone when you’re holding it to your ear. That might not be comfortable to replicate with a laptop, but putting your mouth near the mic will help you and your guest sound more “present.”
If you do not have a USB microphone, the Samson Q2U and Audio Technica ATR2100 are two popular options, and for good reason. The two microphones are virtually identical and both sell for under $100 and sound very good.
Adjust your Zoom settings
1. Make sure you’ve updated to the latest version of Zoom. Earlier versions don’t have all the following features.
2. When setting up your meeting, hover your mouse near the top of the screen and you should see a “turn on original sound option.” Click that.
3. Near the bottom, click the up arrow by the microphone icon and choose the Audio Settings option.
4. First, make sure that the correct microphone and speaker are selected — if you have a USB microphone, try tapping it to see if the “Output Level” volume meter moves. If not, then Zoom may be using your built-in laptop mic, so try changing the microphone input from the drop-down menu until you find the correct mic.
Next, try unchecking the box that say “Automatically adjust microphone volume” and changing the “Suppress background noise” option from “Auto to “low.” If things sound awful, you can revert those options.
5. Click the Advanced option at the bottom of the screen, and on the following screen:
- Make sure the “show in-meeting option to enable original sound” is checked. If not, then the earlier step may not be available.
- Check the box that says “disable echo cancellation.”
- Check the box for “high fidelity music mode.”
6. Go back to the Settings main screen, and click the Recording option. Check the box that says “Record a separate audio file for each participant who speaks.
Now when you start a recording in Zoom, it should give you the highest possible audio quality and it will save each speaker’s voice on a separate audio track. When the recording session ends, Zoom will open a folder on your computer with:
- Video recording
- Audio recording with both voices mixed together
- A folder with audio recordings for each person who spoke during the call saved as a separate audio file
That last one will let you import each voice as a separate track into a digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools, Audition, Reaper, or Audacity for editing, and you won’t have to deal with people’s voices overlapping each other on the same track. You can mute the person who’s not speaking, or shift the timing so it doesn’t sound like two or more people were speaking at once.
The other steps mentioned above should help you get high-quality audio, while step six helps you get a clean copy of each voice.
Zoom will probably compress the audio to MP4 format, which isn’t ideal. But for voice-only audio tracks, MP4 audio usually sounds fine. Just keep in mind that this is a compressed audio format, so it’s a good idea to convert from MP4 to WAV before doing any editing and only compress to MP3 or another format when you’re finished editing. That way you’re minimizing the amount of times you need to decompress and recompress the audio.
7. When it’s time to record the interview, ask your guest to also click the “original sound” box atop their screen at the start of the interview, and also ask them to wear headphones during the interview. Note that sometimes this can cause problems where one or both of you will hear a digital echo of your own voice after you talk. If that happens, you can try adjusting various settings, but the quickest/easiest way to make it stop is to disable “original sound,” which may result in a lower-quality audio recording, but it’ll be far less distracting.
8. Make sure to choose the “Record on this Computer” option rather than “Record to the cloud” if you want to make sure that each participant’s voice is saved on a different file.
If you’re using a free Zoom account, you won’t see the Record to Cloud option anyway. Paid Zoom users can choose this option to save the video and text chat to Zoom’s servers, allowing you to view it in a web browser or download it to your computer. But cloud recordings do not save separate audio files for each participant, even if you’ve enabled that feature in Step 6.
If you have a paid Zoom, account, that’s all you need to do. If you’re using a free version of Zoom and you’re interviewing more than two people, then don’t forget that you’ll need to stop and restart your session every 40 minutes.
It’s also a good idea to run through everything listed above in a test with a friend, colleague or family member before recording your first interview in order to familiarize yourself with the process.
I also highly recommend making a backup audio recording using another method in case anything goes wrong with Zoom. For example, you can use a voice memo app on a smartphone placed close to your mouth to have a secondary recording, and ask your guest to do the same and then send you the audio file after the interview is completed. Or you can use Audacity or another audio recording program on your computer to make a local recording of your voice at the same time as you’re using Zoom, and ask your guest to do the same.