What is Room Tone?

Room tone is the recorded audio when no dialog is spoken. It is not the same as pure silence. It is the “empty” audio at the start or end of a track or the spaces between narration.

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

Producers need to have a sample of clean room tone for when conditions are less than ideal, which is often. Maybe there is an air show, your neighbors are hosting a quinceanera, or you’re stuck working on the 4th of July during the fireworks…who knows? 

Tip: Have a separate audio file saved with at least two minutes of clean room tone. That way, if you ever need it, you’ll have it. 

How to Get Clean Room Tone

The quality of your room tone is somewhat limited by your recording conditions. To reduce any unwanted noise, try to remove as many sources of noise as possible before starting production: remove fans, turn off the heat or AC, and don’t record during rush hour. 

For more information on preparing your recording space, you can read about How to Set up a Recording Space.

Audio can be tweaked in mastering, meaning limiters, filters, compression, or equalizers are applied. More on that later. Unfortunately there is no one quick fix, you will have to find what works best for you.

How to Record Room Tone

  • Step 1

    To make room tone, simply turn on your microphone and exit the recording space. You don't want to stay in the recording area because the microphone will pick up every tiny movement you make.

  • Step 2

    Let the recording run for a few minutes so you have a lot of material to choose from.

  • Step 3

    Cut out any noises from when you left and returned to the space, as well as any notable irregularities.

  • Step 4

    Switch the waveform views and repeat Step 3. If you were using a linear view, switch to dB view, or to the spectrogram.

In the linear wave form, a few noises are visible. Then in the dB view, they become even clearer. But in the spectogram, you can spot even the subtle frequency changes. Look at all three when cleaning up your room tone for the best results.
  • Step 5

    Save your new track as “Clean Room Tone” and enjoy.

Add the clean room tone to your track when and where you need “silence,” perhaps between the chapter number and title, or between paragraphs, or wherever. You can also use it to punch out particularly loud breaths.

Mastering Room Tone

If your room tone is too loud, consider adding a filter during mastering. 

  • To limit low frequencies you can add a high pass filter to limit low frequency sounds (yes, that seems counter intuitive, but think of it as stopping the low frequencies and letting the high ones “pass”). They are analog devices that reduce by a given amount, usually 60-100Hz. There are many types of high-pass filters. One recommended for recording narrative audio is a Filter Curve EQ (aka a Low Roll Off) filter. 
  • High frequencies are typically managed the old fashioned way, by adding sound treatment to your space. Audio foam, wool rugs, on even hung blankets can help distort and absorb high frequencies.  
  • Noise Reduction is a targeted high pass filter to reduce room tone. It uses a selection of audio to attenuate specific sections in the audio that match that profile. It is a great tool to reduce the room tone between the narration. Here is a helpful Noise Reduction Video Tutorial (for Audacity).
  • A Noise Gate is another specific type of filter. It attenuates any signals that fall below a set frequency threshold but leaves everything above that ceiling untouched. You can read more about noise gates, here.

In Conclusion

Room tone is not supposed to be utter silence. In actuality, having total silence in your track can make it sound inhuman, computerized, and downright weird. So it’s a good idea to know how to adjust your room tone if you have to, just don’t get carried away.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission or compensation if you click through and/or make a purchase. The opinions and recommendations expressed here are my own. 

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The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent.’

― Alfred Brendel

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