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I am running an HP nx7400 laptop and using a Sennheiser headset which yields adewuate results for me. The advice I got from an Audio guy was to go with quality on the headset (microphone and earphones) as that is the most critical component for our uses outside a full recording studio. If you are interested, access my website on www.blutraining.co.za take the partners link and click on Andre Lombard. He is my voice artist and we recorded his verbal cv using the above configuration. If that is the quality that you want then spring for the decent headset (mine cost the equivalent of about 30 euros as well, so shop around, but Sennheiser is professional equipment so price is not necessarily an indicator of quality)
Don't use Captivate 2 or 3 built in audio recorder, it introduces the degradations you experience. We use Adobe Audition (now Soundbooth) to record and then simply import to the library. You could of course use any external recording program, just don't use the Captivate internal recorder and you will get pristine sound everytime.
To rerecord or add more to the recording simply right mouse click from the library and it will launch Audition. Mono 44.1khz, 700 or better kbps for voice recording will result in an excellent hiss free, no start or end click sound when you play. You must then find the recording after you have saved your edit in Audition and right click to update the new changes. It will update the file in the library and the slide together.
When saving your recording use a naming convention such as module 1,chapter 1,slide1 (M1_C1_S1) that way multiple slide 1 recordings will not confuse you in the library when there are multiple slide 1's from different chapters.
Having just acquired Sound Forge 9 and a Samson USB mic, our narration quality has been greatly improved. With a program like Sound forge (or probably Audition), you can create scripts to batch process your source files, for example to remove noise, add some midrange, or compress a bit, etc.
I have also found that saving the files as mono WAV files at 22Khz, 16 bit, enable Captivate to cope with the audio a bit better. I had been saving as mp3 but Captivate seems to convert the mp3 to WAV and then back again when publishing.