How to select the best microphone

Passionate debates can frequently be seen on forums about which microphone VO artists, podcasters, and home-studio radio DJs should use.

People have been known to chip in recommending that beginners (and anyone else) use very expensive microphones, some costing four figures – all without knowing anything about the person’s needs or their ’studio’ set up.

I think it essential that anyone with the desire to do voice overs, or record shows at home, not be put off following their passion just because they may not have the gear other people think they need.

I say, use what you have and do it anyway –  or buy modest equipment to get started if you have nothing to hand.

Some people use good quality USB microphones, they are not to be dismissed out of hand. Honestly, technique and environment play a large part when it comes to recording voice overs.

And remember – for voice over work – you just need to capture your performance; engineers in post production will likely add filters to enhance your voice (little of what you hear is untreated audio).

Now, back to the ‘heated debates’. When someone asks for advice on microphones, it is – on one level – an impossible question to answer. Partly because people’s voices can sound better with one microphone over another, and only by trying quite a few can the artist (that’s you) settle on the one that’s best for them.

Best microphone

The best microphone is also the one that suits the environment in which it is being used.

When it comes to supplying ‘dry reads’, unless you have a soundproofed room fitted with acoustic tiles, then using a very sensitive condenser microphone will cause you lot of problems that can’t easily be fixed in post (if at all).

And frankly, forever fixing things up afterward will become tiresome and boring. And who’s got the time to fix up audio anyway? Like filmmakers say – ‘get it in the can’. I.e; record it right so you don’t have to fix it it up.

In an un-soundproofed room, a good condenser mic will pick up the sound of birds tweeting outside, traffic, planes flying over and next door’s barking dog – as well as all the reverb of your voice bouncing around the room.

One way to reduce room reverb is to hang heavy curtains to cover hard flat surfaces and/or lay bed mattresses against walls. Place acoustic tiles on desks and other flat surfaces.

People who have to record in less than ideal situations might consider using a dynamic microphone.

Dynamic

Using a dynamic microphone may mean you need to speak louder than is called for, and/or you will speak much closer to the microphone – which could lead to an unnatural sounding performance. It really depends on what your client wants.

popfilterHowever, there is a place for each microphone.

For example, when I was asked to do a hard-sell commercial that required raising my voice to near shouting pitch, I got the best result using a Sure SM58 and a pop filter.

It is one of the lowest priced professionals mics there is (although I had to raise my top end a hair to compensate for its dull high-end (treble) response).

Some people will also record at night, when it is quieter, but that isn’t always ideal for quick turn-around jobs that are received during the day.

Doing VOs late at night when you are tired isn’t ideal either because your vocal chords won’t be fresh (have you noticed that your voice is a little deeper in the morning?). And you won’t deliver your best performance if you feel tired. Diction is key.

A noise gate may help keep unwanted noise at bay, but they can sometimes introduce a whole set of other problems. They need to be set up correctly so they do just enough to help (less is more). Honestly, they need to just very gently kick in to keep out ambient room noise.

Recording environment

Apart from having the mic that’s best suited to your voice, the mic you buy will likely depend more on your recording environment than your voice or budget.

acoustic tilesIf you do have a soundproofed room or booth, that also has acoustic tiles to kill reverb, then you can buy your dream condenser microphone.

Everything else is a compromise – I know it, you know it – and that may be fine if you are just starting out and have the freedom to do multiple retakes and polish up your recording.

When it comes to selecting a microphone, your choice is simple. Use the mic that best suits your environment, and don’t place a Roll Royce engine in a Skoda.

While there is nothing like standing in a perfectly silent sound-proofed studio and just giving the best uncompromized performance you can, plenty of people get by recording in less than perfect rooms.

So stick with it, continue to invest in yourself and your studio and put practicality first. Your performance comes first, microphone second.

Need to have, rather than nice to have.