How Better Audio May Improve Audience Engagement
A growing body of research suggests that hearing clearly improves learning, especially for students in a classroom setting. Classroom amplification systems were initially used to help students with hearing impairment, but research shows that it may help all children learn more effectively. A 2009 study by Pamela Millett of York University in Toronto compared reading outcomes from two 1st grade classrooms, one classroom using sound application and without. The researchers compared the number of students reading at grade level over the course of one school year and found a difference of 12% between the two groups.
“By improving signal to noise ratios (ie. the level of the teacher’s voice compared to the level of the background noise), clearer speech signals can be attained (Larsen & Blair, 2008). By raising the level of the speaker’s voice slightly above the background noise, his/her voice becomes easier to hear clearly.” (Millett, 2009)
How this might affect your audience
If clearer audio increases the engagement and attention of students classrooms, then what does this mean for music, podcasting, live streaming, or vlogging? There’s no clear-cut evidence proclaiming that better audio quality increases engagement. Yet consider our world filled with distractions and literally millions of accounts, videos other content available at our fingertips. With so many options, perhaps clearer audio could be the thing to keep your audience focused on your content. Let’s reiterate that the Millett study cited only showed a 12% difference in students reading at grade level. What if you could improve your the attention and engagement of your listeners by applying a few simple steps?
Improving audio quality for free
The reason for sound amplification in classrooms is to increase the level of the teachers voice relative to the background noise.
Just as in the Millet study, a great strategy is to increase attention by increasing the desired audio level relative to the background noise.
When addressing a microphone more than 12 inches away, your the desired sound begins to compete with acoustical reflections (room reverberation) and other ambient sounds in the environment. It might seem subtle, but the audio becomes more muddled and loses the clarity found in professional radio, cinema, and music productions. Simply moving closer to the microphone significantly increases the ratio of wanted to unwanted sounds (or signal-to-noise), typically offering the listener better intelligibility and easier listening experience. For vocal or music recording in any uncontrolled, non-studio environment stay as close to the microphone as possible. If you have the option, opt microphone with enough reach to comfortably remain close to your body, or use a lavaliere microphone for talent speaking on camera.
Improving audio quality inexpensively
With Instagram and YouTube stories become increasingly more popular alternatives to long-form content, audio production requires a greater degree of mobility and efficiency. Certain tools have emerged to allow flexible audio capture onto mobile devices. Portable devices like the iConnectivity iConnectAUDIO2+ allow users to plug XLR microphones directly into your mobile device or computer and broadcast from an external microphone. We haven’t tested this at the time of writing so can’t fully recommend this one, but similar options like the Apogee Duet and Izotope Spire Studio exist on the market. If you do long-form live streams from a fixed location, consider using an audio interface and an inexpensive lavaliere microphone for consistently clear audio.
Use dynamics processing
We strongly encourage using a compressor or other dynamics processing on your audio. This can be tricky to implement for an impromptu live stream, but for pre-produced audio content, dynamic range compression can be applied easily. Compressors are tools that reduce the differences between extreme loud and quiet parts of a recording. When used correctly, compressors create a psychoacoustic effect that makes the audio sound more “present”. Compressors can create better consistency between each syllable spoken in a vocal recording, offering clear, highly intelligible diction. They’re used almost universally on radio broadcasts, television, cinema, and popular music recording. They keep the audio clear, focused, and easy to comprehend, which means your audience can listen to your content with the least amount of effort to stay engaged.
Note: Dynamic range compression shouldn’t be confused with data compression, which decreases the amount of data used to represent a digital audio signal, and typically reduces sound quality as a result.
The goal here is to improve audience attention and engagement by a few percents through the use of simple audio recording techniques. If you have compelling content and a dedicated audience, you could likely get away with yelling into a broken microphone from 30 feet away. For those of you who value your message and seek to maximize listener attention and engagement, use these techniques to improve your audience’s listening experience. Your content is still the most important element of your message, but using the right recording methods makes it more easily digestible.