Gear, gear, gear… gear, gear. Seriously, gear. It’s a popular topic for voice talent, probably one of the most talked-about facets within the VO industry. It’s no surprise really, there is almost an endless supply of technology that is available to voice actors. An amount that is only surpassed by opinions on what gear is the best for voiceover. In recent VO Boss podcasts, Tim Tippets and I have been discussing best practices for smart gear selection to help enhance your audio quality. This is my take on it. Let's hunker down and dig in, shall we?
But...What Microphone Should I use?
It’s true, your microphone choice has a lot to do with the quality of your audio. But remember, the mic is only one component in a long line of choices in your studio set up. Mic’s are kind of the start of the signal chain from your voice to the final recording, so this makes it an appropriate place to start the discussion.
Despite all of the differing opinions on microphones (and there are a lot!), there is a universally agreed-upon truth: You get what you pay for. There is no question that a U87 which costs over 3K, is going to sound better than a $50 Blue Snowball mic. But those are extreme examples to prove a point. What about all those in-between mid-range priced mics? There are some general guidelines that apply when considering your purchase.
The first, as convenient as it may be, is to generally avoid USB microphones for professional voice over. While these microphones have their place - they are awesome for upping your game on zoom meetings, YouTube, or sometimes even your podcast - they just don't offer the range or quality needed for professional Voice Over. (I used an Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ for years to step up my zoom calls in my outer office) Remember, for voiceover jobs, your audio quality is scrutinized for quality - especially today. You can’t afford to sound “just good enough”. USB mics have all of their components crammed into a very tiny package, which can sacrifice quality. It’s like trying to fit two V-8 engines into a Mini Cooper. Sure, you can do it, but it’s probably not going to work super effectively.
Secondly, you will need to invest some money - at least $300 to $500 - for a decent quality microphone. And to be clear, these are mid-range price points for mics. Consider this an investment and part of the cost of doing business in this industry. I started out long ago with a mid-range Rode NT1 which served me well for at least 6 years in the industry. I now have 3 microphones that are priced more in the upper tier - a Neumann TLM 103, Sennheiser MK 416, and a Shure SMB7. Each one of them is used for a specific purpose, and each came after a good solid 10 years after I started working in VO. For me - a smart investment into my business - each of them has paid for themselves many times over in resulting gigs.
Third, if you need help in researching mics that might fit your voice well, listen to the voices of some of the major players in VO. Listen closely to ones that have the same tonality as your own voice. Then find out what mic they are using. That will give you a good starting point for the choices you make when deciding on your own microphone. And if you’re still unsure, talk to a trusted coach or professional. Engineers such as my good friend Tim Tippets is well versed in the technology of the industry. They have the ability to listen to your voice, understand what genre of VO you’re targeting, and can recommend a good microphone that suits you.
For those of you who want to cut to the chase and see my personal recommendations for microphones and other equipment, feel free to take a look at my Studio Recommendations page. (Full disclosure: this is an affiliate page but I promise you it only lists my favorite stuff that I have actually owned, used, and personally endorse).
Connect the Tech
Next in the signal chain are microphone and equipment connect cables. For your studio microphone, XLR cables to be exact. Here’s the thing; don’t buy cheap cables. I’ll repeat that just so it really sinks in. Don’t buy cheap cables. I say this from experience, and Tim Tippets was my teacher. I have always heard that your cable can go bad, but it was never going to happen to me! Until it did. And Tim was the one who called it after I placed a frantic call to him when trying to install my shiny new Apollo interface. I kept thinking the interface was bad, but indeed, it was my cable. Thankfully I had a spare to change out - which is always a good idea. If you’re going to invest a chunk of money on mic’s and interfaces, acoustic treatment, and a computer, don’t cheap out on your cables to save a little cash. Good quality cables are worth their weight in gold. That being said, I always recommend Mogami Gold Cables. They are durable, well shielded, and will last years. And if you are in need of connection cables like USB, Thunderbolt, HDMI, etc - I like to buy from Amazon or Monoprice. Just make sure the cables are compatible with your equipment and if you have Apple equipment, make SURE to only get Apple cables. Ok, moving on.
Covert Your Analog to Digital
There was a time, not too long ago, where recording studios needed racks of pre-amps, eq’s, compressors, limiters, mixing boards, converters, patch bays, etc… in order to convert your voice into the 1’s and 0’s that your computer needs to record your audio. Not anymore! All of those thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment have been distilled into what is known as an audio interface. (add appropriate choir aaaahhhh here) Yup, this is the little box you need in order to convert your voice into a digital signal. But wait, there’s more. This little box also typically powers your condenser microphone with 48v power, and if you dig around a bit you can find one that has onboard bells and whistles to make you sound like a VO god or goddess! When it comes to interfaces, I have experienced both the good and the bad. For me personally, my favorite brands are Apollo, Mackie, Audient, and Steinberg. I currently am using a Universal Audio Apollo Solo and I LOVE it. The interfaces mentioned above range in price from just below $200 through $800, and all offer a great breadth of features. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or 2i4 interfaces and have had 2 of those bad apples that "spoiled" my bunch. I’ve also had students who have had issues as well. Others I know love the Focusrite series, but for me, I'd rather stick to the brands I mentioned above.
For more info on Mics and Interfaces, check out my VO BOSS Podcast with Tim Tippets below:
For an even deeper dive into Interfaces check out my VO BOSS Podcast with Tim Tippets below:
DAW, You're the BEST!
It’s time to get into the Wargames of recording software. Seriously, if someone posts an innocent opinion on social media about their DAW (digital audio workstation) or recording software, go get a bag of popcorn because the show is about to start. People are passionate and loyal about their choice of recording software. But here’s the bottom line. Use what you know. Use what you’re familiar with. It’s going to make life easier for you. Sure, there are some basic things you need your recording software to do as a voice actor. You need to be able to record Mono audio, monitor your levels, export as .mp3 and .wav, and it has to work on the computer platform that you own. I personally use Twisted Wave for Mac right now because it's perfect for my level of use: it allows me to streamline my workflow, I can integrate the iZotope processing software, and it is inexpensive. $79.90 for the standalone version for my Mac to be exact! Adobe Audition is also super popular out there and has even more capabilities for flawless production and multi-track editing. Whatever you choose, take the time to get to know your software. And, no matter which software you use, it’s worth the investment to take a class on the ins and outs of how to use it most effectively.
For a fun discussion on our favorite recording software, check out my VO BOSS Podcast with Tim Tippets below:
You’ve heard the term “bundle up”? When shopping for gear, you may see equipment "bundles" that include a mic, cables, headphones, interface, and more. Be WARY. It might seem like a great deal, but sometimes manufacturers of these bundles may include low-quality components to cut costs that may not sound good or break after a short time. I know a few of my students who ordered a bundled package because it was a "great deal" which turned out to not be such a great deal when the equipment stopped working after a few months.
That being said, where are good places to find gear? If I know exactly what I want, I go through Amazon (Yup, I am a Prime member here since it helps me save on shipping!). If I am not sure what I am looking for or am wanting great tech support, Sweetwater is my place to go. I have had the same Customer Sales support guy for over 10 years and he is the BEST, will even help out with free tech support after purchase - which is GOLD. Other great vendors I have purchased from include BSW and B&H Photo Video - both great places with quick service. If you have a mind to do a little bargain hunting and like to live dangerously, you can find quality used gear on places like Ebay, or Reverb.com. If you are going to go down the used gear route, be smart. Do your research, and make sure to inquire about existing or extended warranties or customer support after you purchase.
And there you have it. The official Anne Ganguzza Gear Blog. :) I've waited a long time to write this, but I can honestly say I have had the benefit of many years of experience in buying, using, (sometimes) returning, and loving my gear. Make sure to check out my recommendations on my Studio Gear Page!
I’ve got my popcorn.
I’ve got my thick skin.
Let’s do this.
LOL. Seriously though, let me know what you think. Do you have a story about gear? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear gear experiences from other VO bosses!
Much love and Keep on rockin' your biz.
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.