Narration playback quality problem - need help

Hi, experiencing an audio (narration playback) problem.

First, the background info. Running Windows 10. This is my first time adding narration to a project. I'm thinking it might be some problem with a setting, but we'll see. I recorded all the narration audio for the entire project, and I'm hoping I don't have to re-record.

Using a high-quality microphone (Rode NT-USB) with sound-absorbent shield panel. I checked the quality of the recording for each slide by right-clicking on the audio object in the timeline.

Beautiful. Great quality. Very happy. BUT.....

When I started to preview the slides with the newly-added audio, the sound was not the same quality!! Hard to describe, but it sound like some lower sampling rate or slight clipping or weird compression or..something. It''s not terrible, I think it would be acceptable to our client. But why oh why doesn't it sound like the preview????

Checked a few other things. Went to the media library and played the clips there, sounded great. Was wondering if it was something that might happen in the slide preview, but be okay in the published project. Nope, when published, had that lesser quality.

Check the Sound setting of Windows. The default Properties for the microphone (under the Advanced tab) were "2-channel, 16-bit, 44100 Hz (CD Quality)"; The other options in this window were all checked.

Hunted around in the forum a bit, someone recommended that imported files be 16 bit 44 KHZ PCM WAV for best results. I see that my microphone-recorded audio file are all MP3 format.

In any event, I can't figure out why the "Previewed" audio sounds great, while the Slide Playback (and Published project) audio is not as good.
Have a deadline on this project, so a quick response is needed!

Thanks,
Michael

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