I'm starting a new thing called Bad Audio Of The Day. I avoided doing this for a long time because I didn't want to say anything bad about anyone. But now I believe the lessons that can be learned outweigh the negative karma points.
So today, while watching the US Open Tennis Tournament, I watched in amazed dismay as a company, tennisdirect.com, who paid enough to place a commercial on The Tennis Channel during the US Open produced an ad with a truly terrible voice-over. This is not a slam on the voice-over talent (who was actually on-screen, not just a disembodied voice) at all. The problem is all about mic placement, recording space and audio processing.
So what was wrong with the audio? 2 things. First, it sounded hollow and "boxy," a sure sign of the effects of a bad room/recording space combined with the mic being too far away from the person's mouth. Great recording rooms are really hard to come by. Most of us have to record in a rectangular room with parallel surfaces and little, if, any acoustic treatment on the walls. That in-and-of itself does not preclude making a good recording. You just have to get a mic close (a matter of inches if possible) to the speaker's mouth, whether by using a clip-on lapel mic (lavalier) such as the Azden WMS-Pro, or a shotgun mic, such as an Azden Barrell shotgun mic, just out of frame. This will help negate the room sound.
The second thing that was wrong with the audio was that it was overly sibilant - meaning that the "S" and "F" sounds were accentuated. This is almost certainly caused by one of two things: boosting frequencies around 6-8 KHz with equalization (EQ), or applying too much compression effect to the voice. My money is on the latter. People often apply compression to vocal recordings to give them some punch and to even out the volume. But a very common side effect of too much compression on a voice is sibilance.
The most significant take-away from this is that. It doesn't matter how expensive the gear was. These mistakes would have produced bad audio even with top-notch, expensive microphones and interface hardware. Conversely, NOT making these mistakes could have yielded superior audio even if recorded with "budget" gear. This is another example of our motto - knowledge trumps gear.