Modern e-Learning is closely integrated with the multimedia environment. Video and audio content steps up as an indispensable ingredient for creating engaging courses – materials that will go viral and entice lively feedback and knowledge sharing. Of course, most of us can just opt for an embedded laptop mic or a plain USB headset. Some might say voice conferencing equipment doesn’t make much difference. However, can we really neglect distortion, vibrations and background noises? As always, it depends on our goals, approaches and methodologies. Some courses will be OK with no extra investment in audio hardware, and some may need more sophisticated gadgets to stand out from the crowd.
Once you’ve realized it’s time to differentiate, the issue of voice recording equipment pops up to drag you into a labyrinth of gadgets and accessories.
As a rule, creating audio recordings is a piece of cake. Cheap and enjoyable even with basic hardware. That said, the quality of your recorded voice is directly linked with the methods employed for sound capturing. In this brief guide, I will focus on standalone microphones used by voice over actors and ordinary people who value audio quality.
«Employed by voice over pros» does not necessarily mean high end products. In fact, most of them are in the low to middle range and would suit a wide audience of instructional designers, content authors, voice talents, etc. There are a few highly important factors to consider in this field, such as recording environment (home, booth, studio) and acoustics, portability requirements, post-record sound filtering, your unique voice and many others.
Not surprisingly, the ambience and room conditions have a crucial impact on recording quality. Sound-proof closet or busy office room, you’d better be on the safe side and go with a microphone that minimizes pick up and doesn’t require loads of sound cleaning afterwards. Acoustics is key, so think twice before choosing a recording studio or other dedicated spot. By the way, I’d be happy to learn where you typically create your audio lectures! Let me know, that will be much appreciated.
Picking a suitable mic for personal use, you will come across the buzzwords of warmth, clarity, brightness, durability and, of course, quality. Keep in mind that catering to specific voice registers is a daunting task, so you may want to ensure a wide dynamic range as a soft option.
Basically, there are two types of microphone for creating voice overs: USB and analog. As the name suggests, a USB mic is plugged directly into your desktop computer or laptop. By contrast, analog mics need audio interfaces, i.e. specific external hardware, to connect to the computer.
Changing gears, there is more to mic classification. For instance, condenser mics are well known for detailed response and impeccable upper frequencies. Dynamic microphones provide a warm and detailed, yet arguably less translucent sound.
From a more practical angle, consider you position when recording. Will you be sitting or standing? In case you plan to be sitting at a desk (which is the most likely scenario if you are making an educational video at home), a studio arm or a desk stand would be of great help.
Elaborating on collateral hardware, here is a brief checklist of voice over equipment that might come along with your mic:
- Needless to say, headphones are a must so you can control your audio tracks while recording voice overs.
- A preamplifier (or preamp) is a must if you are not using a USB-ready mic. Besides, the preamp’s phantom power is a necessary power source for most condenser mics.
- A microphone stand will assist you in delivering the clear sound you are after. Smart mic placement will help you proactively eliminate sibilance and other unwanted side effects.
- Pop filters serve to reduce plosives and improve your speech flow.
- A shock mount is a suspension device that doesn’t let the mic pick up rumbling sounds.
Let’s go through some options available for purchase online.
Low cost microphones (up to $300)
Don’t worry, the market has an abundance of offers fitting all budgets. You may get away with a real gem under $250, or you could fall into a trap and end up with a pricey yet clumsy gadget. As always, be reasonable and do some research of your own before you buy.
1. Audio-Technica AT2020USB PLUS Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone — $150
First on my list comes Audio-Technica AT2020USB PLUS. It’s available on Amazon for as little as $150 and delivers great value for the money. There is no need for pre-amp, so you can just plug it into a USB port and start recording right from the computer. The PLUS version of the mic comes with the highly appreciated self-monitoring feature. You can connect the headphones right into the mic, see if everything sounds fine, and make changes on the fly.
2. Rode NT1A Anniversary Vocal Condenser Microphone Package — $230
Rode NT1A is loved by a plethora of voice over talents, instructional designers and audio lecturers from all walks of life. Also, it’s recommended by Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), a meeting point for authors and narrators, recording engineers and producers engaged in audiobook delivery. The mic will set you back at about $230, so it actually falls into the beginner price range, yet with a professional slant. With the Rode NT1A Condenser, you can record high-quality audio with impressive dynamics.
The microphone comes in a bundle with a shock mount and a DVD. The disc offers nice audio recording tips and tricks that will suit newbies and pros alike.
3. SE Electronics sE2200a II C Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone — $300
Powered with excellent vocal isolation, SE Electronics sE2200a is a superb choice as a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser mic. This model easily filters background noises. It also comes with a shock mount and sells for $300. The device is recommended for its dynamic recording of versatile tones and voices, warm sound and nice look and feel.
4. VO: 1-A Harlan Hogan Signature Series Microphone — $300
The Harlan Hogan VO is a great choice for voice over actors and novice audio producers. The 1-A Microphone comes at a bargain price of $300. The package also includes a hard case, shock mount, XLR cable and quick clip mount, as well as two replacement mount bands. The device supports both USB-style or XLR connection.
5. Blue Microphones Bluebird Cardioid Condenser Microphone — $300
Blue Microphones Bluebird Microphone offers bright and clean audio recording for both male and female actors and lecturers. Some users comment that the default shock mount is somewhat shaky, so you might want to shop for a standalone option. Yet the upsides outweigh the flaws of a Bluebird Mic. Blue Microphones’ product is available at $300 and provides a nice long three-year warranty period.
Professional Microphones (from $530 to $4000)
The previous mics were moderately priced and quite suitable for beginners. Now let’s get into something more sophisticated and posh.
6. CAD Large Diaphragm Supercardioid Condenser — $422
An outstanding piece of US-made voice over studio equipment, the CAD Microphone sells in a slightly higher range – for $400. The peculiar thing about this device is its rectangular shape. Despite this questionable design solution, it provides a beautiful deep sound. All you could expect from a top-notch large diaphragm condenser mic – and more. Voice over actors comment that it can be easily used outside the booth, highlighting its powerful filtration of background noises.
7. Rode NTK Tube Condenser Microphone — $530
Another great Rode model, the NTK Tube Condenser Microphone will set you back $530, yet with a bunch of indisputable user benefits. A large diaphragm condenser with a great warm sound – a nice choice for those who prefer it real loud. Devoted users also cite a broad dynamic range and durability of this mic. Similar to other tube microphones, you need to warm it up for a while so it performs its best. Make sure you turn it on and keep it on standby for twenty or thirty minutes before recording an audio lecture.
8. Sennheiser MKH416-P48U3 Super-Cardioid Shotgun Tube Condenser Microphone — $1000
The Sennheiser Mic is used in professional studios and dubbed as «the gold standard». A great choice for road trips and outside recordings, Sennheiser is a classic directional shotgun mic, rugged, lightweight, and user friendly. Suppressing feedback, it delivers superb sound quality and ease of use. See it as part of your voice over home studio equipment? It’s never been easier. Just be prepared to shell out $1,000. And yes, it’s really worth that much dough.
9. Neumann U 87 Ai Switchable Studio Microphone, 3 Directional – Nickel — $3200
Professionals give full credit to the Neumann U87 model. This exceptionally pricey mic supports three directional patterns: all-directional, cardioid and figure-8. U87 sells on Amazon for $3,200. Neumann fans have a more affordable choice, though. A lower option, Neumann TLM103, also delivers great quality recordings. Available at $1,100, it fits the expectations of broadcasters and home studio owners. This mic is extremely sensitive, users maintain that it renders emotions and nuances with great efficiency.
10. Blue Microphones Bottle Tube Microphone System with B6 — from $4000
The unrivalled winner of nearly all equipment tests and one of the market leaders, The Bottle Tube Mic will take your voice over gift to the next level. It’s handcrafted and hand tested. If you have pure 100% audio quality in mind and don’t get sticker shocked easily, be ready to write a check for as much as $4,000 or $6,000 (depending on the vendor and special offers).
In this video is a comparison of 3 popular solutions from various price categories. The results will surprise you:
UPDATE! A couple of weeks after this post was published, I received an email from professional audio engineer Rebecca Ramsey, who pointed out a few inconsistencies in the article and suggested I put a few more popular models on the list. Rebecca, many thanks for your input and valuable criticism!
11. Electro-Voice-RE-20-Cardioid-Microphone – from $449
The RE20 dynamic cardioid mic is considered an industry standard, employed by sound engineers and music producers across the globe. Its comes with a heavy-duty internal pop filter which does a great job for close-in voice recordings, as well as an internal shock-mount for noise reduction. Somehow, it’s available at a mid-range price of $450 while delivering high-end quality.
12. Shure SM7B Dynamic Microphone Cardioid – from $399
The SM7B dynamic microphone offers a flat wide-range frequency response that works great for both music and speech recording in any audio app. The SM7B contains perfect shielding against electromagnetic hum produced by neon lights, monitors and other gadgets. The included pop filter makes any additional protection against plosive sounds superfluous, eliminating most of the defects effectively even for close-up narrations. Great value for the money!
13. Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone – from $149
This one is a real gem. For just slighly over a hundred bucks, you can get yourself a high-quality USB mic that is a nice fit for a standard home setting. The Blue Microphones Yeti offers four recording modes and a surprisingly clear sound for this price range. Well-built, feature-packed, a nice choice for amateur audio lecturers who are not ready or not willing to set up a professional studio.
Collateral voice over recording equipment: Shock mounts
Now, let’s put in a few words about shock mounts. As I mentioned at the beginning, the goal of this device is to suspend and hold the mic with elastic bands or some similar means to avoid unwanted vibrations and rumbling noises. As we have seen, many mics come with a bundled shock mount as an accessory. If this is not your case, consider one of the standalone options. Apparently, the sort of shock mount that suits you best entirely depends on your mic.
My personal choice here would be the universally compatible Rycote Invision Studio USM Universal Large Diaphragm Microphone Shock Mount. A great companion for large diaphragm microphones. Sets you back $120.
This random listing of voice over equipment packages provides you with some basic shopping guidelines, regardless of budget and professional experience. If you ever get a chance, try to rent a mic and test it in your actual recording environment for a couple days to see if it’s what you need. Your optimal mic is exactly the one that makes your unique voice sound great – don’t forget about that and don’t get carried away with bells and whistles.
Jot down a list of essential features to meet your specific tasks. Wipe out the unneeded extras, and there you go. Being an e-Learning professional who considers costly standalone equipment to deliver the utmost in your course-flow, you can’t just be satisfied with the first mic you encounter. Like any creative pro, you need an ability to tweak and tune, and possibly produce a couple test lectures. Be picky but don’t overplay it. After all, your voice is only as good, reassuring and engaging as your content.