The voice over equipment market can be a confusing landscape that requires a proper guide. Based on my own experience and invaluable insights from professional engineers, this article will help you get the best voice over...
My Voice Over Equipment
In the modern era, most voice over artists work from home as opposed to traveling to professional studios. So in order to compete as a VOA, you must not only possess the proper training and talent, but also a great home studio.
In this article, I will explain how to set up a professional home studio, including all of the voice over equipment you will need to help your business thrive. I am operating under the assumption that you already have some of the basics you need, such as a computer and desk. This will include not only a list of the equipment and accessories for different budgets, but also links to where one can purchase these items.
My top 4 voice over microphones
One of the biggest decisions that both new voice talent as well as veteran voice talent mull over is: which mic is best? This is a complicated topic, probably the most complicated when it comes to your equipment chain. For the current purposes, I will tell you about the best options based on an ideal recording environment; i.e., a properly treated room.
Let me start by ruling out USB mics. While there are some newer USB mics that are worth looking at, such as the Apogee, the vast majority of successful professional voice over artists, studios, agencies, etc. do not use USB mics. An XLR microphone is the preferred choice for true professionals. Remember that all condenser XLR mics require 48 volts of phantom power. Let’s discuss some options of various price ranges and styles.
The industry standard among cardioid condenser mics is the Neumnn TLM-103. A cardioid condenser mic is a microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. This means the area of sensitivity is “heart shaped” in front of the mic. So even at a slight angle, if you speak toward the front of the mic, the signal will be strongest there, and weaker behind the mic. This helps cancel outside noise behind the mic such as the hum from air conditioner vents or fans.
You will find this mic in many professional studios all over the world. Some reasons are its composition, durability and style. The TLM-103 picks up the human voice very naturally. You do not need to project as much when using this mic. You can also record clear, true-sounding VO without turning the gain up high on your interface or pre-amp. The biggest drawback to this mic is that it is on the higher end of the price spectrum, but trust me, it is worth every penny.
2. Rode NT1-A →
Rode makes a lot of great microphones of all styles. The Rode NT1-A is a fantastic mic, especially for the price. My favorite aspect of Rode is that they offer no-questions-asked 10-year warranties on all their mics. I damaged my NT1-A years ago. I contacted Rode and they sent me all the details immediately on how to get my mic fixed or replaced FREE of charge. They even handled the shipping.
The NT1-A is a great mid-level cardioid condenser mic. It served me well for years before I built up my business enough to purchase my Neumann TLM-103. It cancels out most noise behind the mic, while remaining great at picking up what’s in front of it with a bright full sound.
This is a shotgun mic that is popular with many voice talents and studios. The Sennheiser MKH-416 is the Cadillac of shotgun mics. Shotgun mics have a unidirectional polar pattern, which means they mainly pick up sound from straight in front of them. This is why shotgun mics are used often in film and TV. They can pick up the sound of what they are pointed toward, even from far away (several feet).
The MKH-416 is great for home studios, as it eliminates most outside noise. You can also perform a lot of breathier dynamic reads with this mic. It is very popular for trailer voice overs. This mic performs well with the gain high or low. You can also back up a few feet away from this mic and still get a smooth, clear sound. As you would expect, this mic also is pricier, but that’s because it is as good a shotgun mic for home studio as there is.
4. Rode NTG-4 →
A more affordable, yet solid shotgun mic is the Rode NTG-4. This is a newer model by Rode. The NTG-3 is also fantastic and overall a better mic, however for the purposes of a home studio, the NTG-4 is the better option when you consider it is about half the price of its big brother. The NTG-3 carries the heftier price tag, in my opinion, because it is the better mic for use in the field, which, after all, is the traditional purpose of shotgun mics. The 3 handles the outdoor elements better than the 4, but since you are in a treated indoor studio space, I recommend the 4. It also has some neat features like a -10db pad, high pass filter and high frequency boost.
These are great for adjusting your sound on the fly. I like the high pass filter because my voice often causes a low rumble when analog signals are converted to digital, and the high pass filter allows me to fix it while I am recording rather than in post production. This saves me a lot of time.
Your audio interface is a vital piece of equipment. It controls and translates the signal from your mic to your computer. One of the most important aspects of an audio interface is the pre-amp. The pre-amp is essentially what drives the microphone’s signal strength. If your pre-amp is weak, then you will have to turn the gain up very high which will negatively affect your signal-to-noise ratio.
Focusrite is one of the most popular choices for newer voice talent. It’s small, sleek and effective for basic VO projects and even podcasts, as you can use multiple inputs.
For years, I used a Behringer. This AI allows for manual EQing and has a lot of other useful features to adjust your sound manually rather than in post. It also has become a lot more affordable in recent years.
The pre-amps on this model are especially great for the price.
If you have the budget to spend, then Universal Audio has some amazing AI. The Apollo Twin is my personal favorite, and many other successful VOAs swear by it. This baby does it all, and comes with hundreds of dollars’ worth of extra software and plugins for your DAW. If you are a voice talent who also embraces the audio production side of voice over, then the Apollo Twin will make you geek out!
You will need recording and editing software, often referred to as a DAW (digital audio workstation). Audacity is a popular DAW, and best of all you can download it for free. It is easy to use, and does everything you need for basic voice recording and editing.
A lot of folks swear by Pro Tools. This is the most dynamic software in many ways. However, in my opinion, it better suited for music production and projects where multiple tracks are needed. Even if you are tasked with handling the post production of a voice over gig, chances are you will need two tracks at most.
Therefore, if you want a dynamic DAW for voice over, my personal choice is Adobe Audition. You can purchase a license for a lifetime, a year, or even monthly.
That should cover all the major components of a solid home voice over studio to compete on a high professional level. Now I want to go into some detail about all the accessories you will need to put the icing on the cake. Remember, your studio chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So if you are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the major components, it is worth taking the time to pick out the proper accessories.
Monitors and Headphones
There are two ways to properly listen to your recordings. One is with headphones, and the other is with studio monitors. The key for both is to get the kind that act as monitors, meaning they play back the true recorded sound. A lot of stereo speakers and hi-fi systems filter the signal with bass boosts, compressors, levelers, etc. You want to make sure you’re monitoring your recordings with equipment that reproduces the actual raw sound.
My recommendation for headphones, or cans as they are affectionately referred to in the industry, is the Sony MDR-7506. I began using these in 2000 in my broadcasting days. I have been turned on to several other sets of headphones, but I always come back to these. They are comfortable, durable, and produce true sound. Ideal for self-directed sessions and client directed sessions.
As for speakers, KRK has become the new standard in most professional studios, and for good reason. These monitors are dynamic, solid and very powerful. The 5” will fill most home studios very nicely. But as a rule of thumb with all monitors, if you can get 8” you should. Simple audio physics will tell you that for absolutely true low-end sound, you must have 8”.
The XLR cable is what connects your mic to your interface. XLR mics deliver a cleaner, stronger and sharper signal than USB.
A pop filter is very useful to minimize plosives when speaking. These are the harsh sounds your mouth makes into the mic when saying “P” and “B” sounds. You can find all kinds of pop filters that suit your individual setup. Here’s a metal pop filter, and here’s a traditional nylon one.
You also want to have a proper mic stand or boom arm. Again, this choice is very dependent on your studio setup. If you are recording and editing in the same spot, then a scissor arm mic stand attached to your desk is most suitable. If you have the money, then get a sturdier and more versatile arm like this.
If you have a booth setup that’s separate from your desk, then a stand is most useful.
You may also consider getting a stand for your copy. If you read the copy off of your computer, tablet or phone, you may not need one.
You need to record in a quiet area. Your noise floor when recording should be at -60dB or lower. If your noise floor is higher, you will need to treat the room or adjust where you are recording in the room. Closets are great, as you can easily soundproof them with items already in your home like thick blankets. Just tack them up on the walls and ceiling of a closet to dampen outside noise as well as eliminate echo.
This video will cover a variety of mics in more detail that will be especially useful for those who are new to voice over work.
Here, you will learn more about why a perfect recording environment is so important, as well as a few tips on how to fix your sound in case your recording environment isn’t as ideal as you would like.
Now, you have a guide to the kind of equipment you need to start a proper voice over studio in your home, or upgrade your existing studio. Remember that with all equipment, personal preference comes into play heavily. If you can, try out a few different combinations and see which suits your voice best.
It is important to understand that YOUR VOICE is the instrument. No amount of fancy equipment can make you sound professional if you have not mastered the art of using your voice properly to convey the content of a script. Voice over work is more about acting, reading comprehension, and emotional control than just reading aloud. If you hone your skills and fully develop your craft, you will succeed no matter what your studio budget. You can always reinvest in your business as you become more profitable. I certainly did. Most of all, have fun!
Voice over work is an exciting and creative career. You should enjoy every aspect of it, such as playing around with your new toys.
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