Surface 3 in the sound booth: Silence is truly golden

A voice-over professional needs a mobile solution to use in a recording studio that is virtually silent. The Surface 3 could be just what he needs.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Jim Bratton -- Bratton Communication, LLC
If you've lived or worked in Houston during the last few decades, chances are you've heard Jim Bratton's voice. Whether in commercials, in the Ice Worlds video at the Burke Baker Planetarium, or in your company's training videos, Bratton's melodious voice has provided the voice track for thousands of works.

In addition to his golden voice, having an almost totally sound-proof sound booth in his office has contributed to his successful voice-over business for 30 years. His one-stop service allows him to turn client work around quickly.

Several steps are involved in this work, starting with the receipt of the client's session script in Microsoft Word format. Sessions can involve as little as a few minutes worth of voice work, or a few chapters of an audio book.

These sessions are recorded in a professional recording studio that Bratton has refined over the years. It has evolved into a state-of-the-art sound booth that eliminates background noise from entering the booth and getting picked up by his high-end microphone.

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This almost anechoic environment is required to deliver noise-free, pristine audio files to his clients. If any background noise creeps into the audio it must be carefully edited out. This editing can be the most time-consuming part of the voice-over work.

During the recording phase of the process, Bratton needs to take notes of anything that needs to be addressed later in the editing phase. It is virtually impossible to record a totally error-free audio track of the lengths produced, and rather than re-record an entire session, it is corrected (if possible) in the later editing phase.

As straightforward as this markup work sounds, a good solution has plagued Bratton for years. The problem is that in such an environment devoid of background noise, the slightest sound picked up by the sensitive microphone sticks out like a sore thumb.

Using a laptop in the booth during recording is a no-go for that reason. Even "silent" keyboards make too much noise, clicking a mouse or trackpad is even louder. Such noise creates a lot of extra work at this stage, so a solution that is even quieter is needed.

Bratton has tried to use tablets for such markup in the booth, starting with the Tablet PCs of old. These brought problems of their own, with the major one being fans in the devices. Tablet PCs were just laptops with a swivel screen and they all had fans. While some of us find laptop or tablet fan noise annoying, they are a huge problem for recorded voice-over audio. Bratton can spot a laptop fan cutting on and off by the effect it has on the recorded audio waveform, even before listening to it.

While the prolonged fan noise can be dealt with in editing, it is a long and painful process. Sometimes it is so bad that dumping the recording and doing it again from the beginning is the only option.

This led Bratton to try current tablets -- Windows, Android and the iPad -- with varying results. Android tablets with pen support only recently got a good version of Microsoft Word for marking up Word documents, but they don't play nice with his Windows-based audio software.

Pen support on the iPad is even worse with its touch screen prohibiting the use of active pens. It doesn't work with his Windows audio software, either.

That leaves Windows tablets, but the anemic performance of fanless devices he's tried in the past killed them off for his use.

The Surface 3 tablet might be the solution Bratton has been searching for. The Intel Atom x7 processor in the Surface 3 offers reasonable performance and is fanless, so using the Surface 3 in the recording booth will avoid the big problem he's faced for so long.

It is a full Windows PC so he will have complete Word markup capability and it is compatible with all of his professional audio software. He may even be able to do some light editing of recorded voice-over sessions, perhaps even record short copy on the Surface 3. This would let him make minor corrections to recorded audio away from the office. A true mobile solution for him all around.

On paper this looks like a full-featured solution for Bratton. But how well would the Surface 3 actually meet his unique requirements?

Bratton received his Surface 3 (128G) and has run extensive tests (and paying gigs, too) to see how it works in the recording studio. I sat down with him in his office to hear how well it is working out so far.

I could tell from the big grin on his face that it's a good solution for him. He detailed for me that everything is as good as he hoped.

The Surface 3 has been totally silent in the booth, and Bratton is thrilled. He can read his scripts in the studio, and mark them up with the pen. Nothing is left to chance with the tablet from Microsoft running the show.

Since it's a full Windows solution, he's able to use his professional audio software, unlike attempts with other tablets in the past. He has a recording studio in the Surface 3 and he couldn't be happier.

Speaking of a studio in a slate: Given his success in the booth with the Surface 3, he's experimenting with plugging his microphone in and recording short sessions away from the office. He has to deal with background noise, but he can do that with the pro version of Sound Forge he uses.

This has turned into a full mobile solution for Bratton, both in the booth and out. He can turn out voice-over work and edits quickly, no matter where he is.

As I was leaving Bratton to get back to his Surface, I asked him if he is using Snap View to put two apps onscreen side-by-side, eg Microsoft Word and LogMeIn that he uses to have clients listen in to dry runs in the booth. His reaction was priceless -- a big smile and a hurried "I've got to go."

Later that day I received a text from him: Turns out, Snap View works, too.

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