Microphones

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While your voice is your instrument, the microphone you choose as transducer—through which you capture the performance of that instrument and get it recorded—is the single most important tool in your arsenal and by far the most important item you’ll ever buy during your whole voiceover career. Never cut corners here; buy the very best microphone you can afford.

The important thing to understand is that not all microphones suit all voices, so experiment until you find one that makes your voice and its unique tonality sound just right for both yourself and others. Many of the better music stores have mic rooms for this purpose. Take the time to go there. Get different mics set up and have the salespeople record your voice. Work with headphones so you can hear every nuance before you listen to the playback on speakers.

No, we’re not saying you have to spend $10 000 on a mic; we’re saying you should go out there and spend as much as you can afford on getting the best mic for you.

Above all, make finding the right mic a labor of love. Research the topic online, if you like. Determine a price range you’re comfortable with. Find a mic with low self-noise and high dynamic range (more on the reasons for this later). Chat to people online and in person on the shop floor. Due diligence is key.

Essentially, there are two main microphone types: dynamic and condenser. We’re not going to get into a long technical monolog to try and explain the difference between the two, but essentially, a dynamic microphone operates almost like your home stereo’s speakers, but in reverse. Instead of an electrical input signal moving the speaker’s diaphragm to produce sound, the sound of your voice moves a small diaphragm to produce an electrical signal. Behind the protective grill is the microphone capsule, and inside the capsule is a magnet. Around the magnet is a small and movable induction coil that is attached to the diaphragm. When sound waves vibrate this diaphragm, it moves the coil—and this movement creates a voltage as a result of the magnetic field. That tiny voltage is amplified by a transformer inside the microphone housing and sent to the output.

Condenser microphones operate quite differently: the principle of variable capacitance is involved. In simple terms, variable capacitance can be explained as “storing energy in an electric field between two conductive plates.” The diaphragm of a condenser mic is one of these plates. When sound makes it vibrate, the distance between the plates change. These minute changes vary the capacitance and thus, the output voltage of the microphone.

Dynamic mics are tougher and better for stage use. Condenser mics are much more sensitive and better for studio and voiceover work because they have a wider dynamic range; their sensitivity allows them to pick up every nuance of the voice across the entire audible frequency range. Our recommendation to you is: look for a condenser. While more expensive than dynamic mics, you’ll find pretty decent ones at most budget levels.

Still, the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is applicable in this instance, and as painful as it may be, you have to accept that your ears will always know what’s better for you than your wallet. Whichever microphone you pick, take care of it, and it’ll serve you for years to come.

For the sake of interest, the most common microphone brand used by the community is Neumann (22%), and the most popular model is the TLM 103. The classic Neumann U 87Ai is probably the world’s most famous studio microphone and another favorite, although it’s very expensive. The Røde NT1-A (13%) is another popular community choice. But it’s important to understand there is a multitude of brands and models available. You need to find one that works for you.

NEXT: EQUIPMENT

4 Comments

  • Emil

    March 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm Reply
  • Emil

    March 27, 2012 at 11:06 pm Reply
  • Carlos Andrés Novoa Pinzón

    June 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm Reply

    I really thank you Steve for this blog. I want to work as voice over, but I think I need some extra-information from you if you please.

    1. I’m colombian, working in my own company, Audiotesla. I’ve been working on broadcast about 10 years. I’m learning about these new employment possibilities. Would you like to tell me what is the exact meaning of ‘voice over’? (no need to tell my in Spanish, of course).

    2. About microphones, I have two: A Behringer C-1 studio condenser mic and a Shure Dynamic cardioid one. What can you tell me about this equipment? Are they profesional, or not? Do I serve these microphones for my Voice Over purposes?

    Thanks for your help.

  • MckenzieVoice

    October 8, 2012 at 10:57 am Reply

    To any readers and newbies to voicing (VO). Be very careful when selecting a microphone for your voice over work. I selected a microphone originally for podcasting. It was a Behringer C1. I thought that it would be a good buy because a) it was cheap and b) it was for podcasting so surely the vocal quality would be good. Maybe, I was doing something wrong but the sound quality was not what I expected and the tended to be a lot of extra feedback from the mic as well as background noise pickup. Condenser mics generally pick up more exterior sounds, so although you may buy these types of mics for a professional studio type sound, if you decide to record at home they can introduce a lot of excess noise that you don’t need and to clean up the recording will then introduce garbled noises on your voice.

    I am pleased to say that after realising this error in my judgement I replaced this microphone with a Rode NT1A and the difference in voice and lack of exterior background sound pickup for me personally was remarkable. The Rode NT1A I bought came with a free 10 year guarantee which I hadn’t seen any other manufacturer give on their microphones, so Rode must be confident with their microphones. I am pleased with the mic and about the Behringer mic maybe this is for podcasting only but if anyone else got a decent result out of a Behringer C1 for studio type of work I would like to know because maybe I was just unlucky with this mic and had a bad piece of kit.

    Great post by the way!
    McKenzie voice

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