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Microphones: Becoming Voice Over

As I mentioned in my "Figure It Out" blog post, my friend Greg suggested a Shure MV7 as my first mic. This is a dynamic microphone with both USB and XLR outputs. You may have noticed I said, "first mic." As is true for most voice actors with home studios, I now own more than one, my second mic being an XLR condenser microphone. Some voice actors have a different mic for each type of voice work they do. I'm pretty happy with the two I have, but "never say never" is probably my safest motto.

If you had asked me a year ago, "What is a dynamic microphone with both USB and XLR outputs?" My answer would have been, “I have no idea.” Today, I know enough to be dangerous. Let’s start at the beginning. A microphone takes sound vibrations and turns them into an electrical signal.

Dynamic vs Condenser Microphones: The way the microphone converts the sound to an electrical signal determines the type of microphone it is. You can google the mechanics of how this happens, but, in the end, the way a dynamic microphone converts the signal makes it pretty durable and able to handle loud sound. A condenser microphone is more fragile and is more sensitive to subtle sound changes.

USB vs XLR Microphones:

USB microphones plug into your computer and get their power from there. They have the analog-to-digital signal converter built-in so you can plug it into a USB drive on your computer, turn on your recording software, and you are up and running. A lot of podcasters use USB mics, but not a lot of voice actors use them.

XLR microphones need something called an interface (more on that in my Interface blog post). The mic is connected to the interface by an XLR cable, and the interface to the computer by a cord that plugs into a USB port. The interface is the thing that converts the analog signal to a digital signal and is the place the mic gets its power (called 48v phantom power). Why do you need a digital signal? Simply, so the computer understands what it is.

My Shure MV7 mic ($250) can be either USB or XLR. When I got my Shure MV7 and plugged it into my computer via the USB cord I didn’t like the sound. Greg suggested switching to an XLR cable ($10) and interface. That fixed the sound for me. I also bought a pop filter. I found the YOUSHARES pop filter ($12). It is a small one that fits the Shure MV7 well.

Over time, in classes and talking to working voice actors, I have learned, for VO recording, you need an XLR microphone (remember either dynamic or condenser mics can be XLR). While YouTube videos and online searches give conflicting information, when you talk with working VO actors and VO sound engineers, they all tell you to have an XLR microphone.

So which microphone is best for your home studio? Other than ensuring it is XLR, that depends on your home studio and your budget. A great microphone without a great place to record does not do you any good. In a class I took from Paul Liberti and Frank Verderosa, "HOME STUDIO PRIMER 101: How Do I Set Up A Voice Over Studio At Home?" from Actors Connection, they said, “If you have $1,000 to spend building a home studio, spend $800 on creating a great studio and $200 on your microphone.”

So which mic? My Shure MV7 has a great sound from my studio, but it is a dynamic mic and many types of VO require a condenser mic. If you want a dynamic mic, I would recommend the Shure MV7. Occasionally I see another Shure MV7 in another voice actor’s home studio, but it is much more common to see a condenser microphone. In fact, as mentioned above, I have purchased a condenser mic for my studio as well.

Condenser mics are the type most commonly used in VO studios. There are good condenser mics at several price points. My experiences, as well as recommendations I've gotten from others in the VO business, lead me to recommend four condenser mics:

  1. The shotgun Synco Mic D2 ($250) is gaining popularity and competes with the more expensive Sennheiser 416. It comes with a case, a clip mic holder, short XLR cable, and a foam wind screen.

  2. Many voice actors have the Rode NT1A ($270) in their studio. It usually comes in a kit that includes the XLR cable, a pop filter, and a shock mount. You can get the same kit that also includes a USB audio interface ($320).

  3. The Neumann TLM 102 ($850) comes with a shock mount and I see a lot of these in home studios.

  4. The Sennheiser MKH 416-P48 is the microphone that is standard in professional recording studios. It usually comes with a case, shock mount, and foam wind screen ($1000). In Frank Verderosa’s words, “If you have the budget, the Sennheiser 416 is a workhorse and will be your forever mic.”

For more on microphones, and other studio advice, check out Frank Verderosa's blog on his website or Mike DelGaudio’s “Booth Junkie” on YouTube.

One last thing about microphones: you will need a pop filter and a mic stand.* A pop filter ($10-$75) is a screen that goes in front of your microphone to reduce plosives (popping sounds) that are a natural part of speech when you pronounce words with t, k, p, d, g, and b. I have an Octo 842S ($65) pop filter for my shotgun condenser mic, and the YOUSHARES pop filter mentioned earlier for my Shure MV7. I use an adjustable floor tripod boom stand which is pretty heavy so it doesn’t tip. It allows me to either sit or stand and I can adjust the boom to hang out over my other equipment to get my mic close to my mouth. I also have an InnoGear Microphone Arm I found on Amazon for about $20, I bought it before I had a studio when I was sitting at my desk trying to use my mic for Zoom calls. It worked great for that and I'm experimenting with other uses for it.

*TIP: Depending on your mic’s mounting system, you may need an adaptor to attach your microphone. The Hotep 4 Piece Mic Stand Adaptor kit can be found for less than $10.

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