How to Balance Podcast Audio Levels

One of the most important aspects of mastering a podcast is making sure you have balanced volume levels across your panel of hosts and sound effects. There are several ways you can ensure your podcast will be balanced, and some of these methods are as easy as dragging and dropping your audio into an app!

For a longtime editor, podcaster, and podcast listener like myself, listening to a podcast that has unbalanced audio levels is an infuriating experience, particularly when it’s from a big company who should have their act together.

Your listeners are in a countless number of settings when they press play: In the house, in the car, outdoors, and gosh knows where else, so it’s important that the audio levels will be balanced and loud enough for playback in an infinite number of settings. Unbalanced levels will frustrate the listener, and they may decide they shouldn’t listen any longer.

Balancing A Podcast’s Audio Levels

At the Source

The best way to solve audio problems is by preventing them from happening during the recording process. There are a variety of tools out there to fix issues that you didn’t see coming, but they aren’t perfect substitutes for a great recording studio. So, keep in mind the following while recording:

  1. Stay close to the microphone (one or two inches away) at all times. Not only will this help keep your voice level balanced, but it’ll also reduce the amount of echo and background noise.
  2. Remain the same distance from the microphone the entire time. Don’t back away from the microphone, look off to the side, etc when speaking.
  3. Project! You’re not having a secret conversation under the covers with your BFF. This is a podcast, and while you can’t see the audience in front of you, and you should speak like there’s a need to push your voice into a wide space. Too often panelists will be speaking into their microphone like they’re not speaking to a group of people, and it’s bad for the recording.

In Post-Production

I have used a few tools in recent years to manage audio leveling, but the one that I am currently happiest with is Auphonic. This one replaced the now defunct Levelator for Mac in my workflow.

Auphonic’s simple desktop app lets you drag and drop audio files into a window, and with a press of a button they’ll start leveling the audio for you. I run each of my panelists’ audio files through Auphonic before getting started. You can also run Auphonic on your final edit.

Auphonic says that their app’s balancing algorithm is constantly improving thanks to continuously analyzing new data. The app lets you set the target loudness and can also apply high pass filtering and noise / hum reduction to give your audio files a bit of a cleaning. The aggressiveness of the noise reduction can be tweaked in the app’s settings.

Though the recommended target loudness for podcasts is -16 LUFS, I set the output for my files to -20 LUFS. I find -16 to be a bit too loud for the editing process, and -20 handles breaths better.

Over a couple years of using Auphonic there’s been one ongoing issue: If your audio file has a lot of background noise, or someone’s softly speaking, it can sometimes turn the audio up way too loud, causing it to sound bad.

I’ve also had some issues with how it handles breathing. In many cases I’ve felt that it’ll turn intakes of air up too loud, though in recent months I think they have improved their handling of that situation.

This version of Auphonic is also good for when everyone is on a single audio file and you need to do some overall balancing. However, it is NOT good for when you’re balancing multiple mics in the same room. For that, use Auphonic’s Multitrack Processor (The catch here is that all audio files must be in sync before you pop them in).

Regardless of how you’re using Auphonic, I highly recommend you first do some noise removal using Adobe Audition and iZotope RX7. This’ll help reduce the chances of background noises being unintentionally leveled in Auphonic. The app has a tendency to raise background noise despite having built in noise removal tools.

Auphonic costs $89 and is well worth your investment. Generally I’ve been very happy with the leveling it does, and it helps improve the sound quality of my podcasts.

Other Post-Production Options

If you don’t want to buy another app and you’re already using professional audio editing software, chances are there’s something available to you at no extra charge. Adobe Audition includes a “Speech Volume Leveler” tool that I’ve used in the past, though I haven’t found it to be as effective as Auphonic. When using the Audition tool, be sure to use the “Careful” preset, as the other settings can be too aggressive in turning hosts up and down.

Following the above steps should solve the most common leveling issues that happen during the recording process, but you’ll still need to maintain a good ear for mixing. Monitor the meters as you’re editing and make sure that each of the hosts, as well as the music and sound effects, are hitting your desired loudness. Continuously monitor if anyone is sounding louder than the others, and if they are, turn them down (Each editing app has a different way of doing this, so I won’t get into specifics here).

Leveling can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth your efforts in order to keep listeners happy. If you need help editing your podcast or improving the sound quality, consider getting in touch with me for a consulting session.