The adage ‘so many people, so many opinions’ is very applicable to the voiceover industry, but it’s inevitably true that some brands and types of equipment have proved themselves over time and are more popular with more people because of it. Nevertheless, all the equipment voice-actors use falls into the same general categories. Some recording equipment stores sell ‘packages’ that include everything you’ll need to record yourself—from microphone to software. Buying one of these packages is often considerably cheaper than buying all the items separately, but keep in mind that one size rarely fits all and if the aim of the package is to hit a certain price point, compromises will inevitably be made somewhere.
The first and most important thing you need is a space where there is no noise. Preferably a room that has been acoustically treated, that you can call your studio. A quiet room and or enclosure is the most important thing! I cannot stress this enough. You can have the best voice and best equipment in the world, if there is background noise or terrible sounds coming from your recording station it will all be for nothing! Second would be your choice of microphone. A Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone is optimal for voice recording and will require 48volts of phantom power to operate it. Third would be your Audio interface. You need a good audio interface to turn your Analog signal (sound from your mic) into a Digital signal (computer). In doing this you may opt for a AI that contains 48v phantom power to operate your microphone. Last would be your editing software. Many options available such as Adobe Audition, Audacity, Pro Tools. You can generally download a trial of these programs to learn the ropes and see which one fits you! There are many other things that you could use to tweak your studio and add to your DAW, such as Amps, Signal processors, Plugins. But keep your studio basic when starting out! You can always add more as you grow!!!
Microphone aside, you’re going to need:
- A good preamp
- A pair of decent, over-the-ear headphones
- A mic stand
- A pop-screen/pop-filter
- Recording/editing software, and
- A mixer, or mixing board.
Let’s discuss each of these briefly.
The preamp is an amplifier; it amplifies the electrical signal generated by the mic and converts it into a language your recording device (computer & recording software) will understand before it enters the system. So the preamp is also an interface that supplies power (48v phantom power) to the mic. The fact that it’s the interface between your mic and your computer makes it the second most important link in the recording chain. If you buy a cheap, noisy preamp it doesn’t matter how good your microphone is; your recordings will be substandard. Once again, you need to pair a good mic with a good preamp, so do your research. There are fantastic, esoteric preamps out there that can cost more than superb microphones, but there are also perfectly affordable but less flashy ones that’ll get the job done perfectly. Let the sound of your voice be your guide and don’t believe everything a salesperson tells you. It’s your voice and your voiceover career. Just make sure you buy a preamp that is sufficiently professional so it doesn’t add noise to your recording. More often than not, that noise—called ‘hiss’—can be the undoing of an otherwise wonderful take (more on that later).
Headphones are self-explanatory: you need to hear what you’re doing while you’re doing it, or you may make a mistake and have to re-record a section. You need decent, over-the-ear ones because you need isolation to be able to hear precisely what you’re doing while you’re doing it. You also need to listen out for things like breaths, mouth noises, and distortion that can wreck an otherwise fine recording. Some talents are even known to use consumer-grade earbuds, but we don’t recommend their use. Earbuds are frequently ‘tuned’ to provide more bass, so they can quite heavily influence what you’re hearing. This is not good when you’re attempting to evaluate your actual performance.
The need for a mic stand is self-explanatory as well. Because condenser mics are sensitive and prone to structure-borne noise; you really shouldn’t consider holding the mic in your hand if your goal is to produce professional recordings. 99,9% of the time, you won’t.
Without a pop-screen/pop-filter it’s virtually impossible to contain, or at the very least control, the blasts of air that are produced by plosive consonants: especially b’s and p’s, as well as t’s. While the screen or filter can’t altogether eliminate the ‘pops’ caused by these blasts, it can reduce them significantly. You still have to be careful, however, and position the screen/filter a couple of inches away from the microphone grille. There are numerous types of screens available; the most professional are usually made of a disc of perforated and stretched metal which deflects the blasts of air downwards and away from the microphone capsule. Others are made of a black, stocking-like material stretched across a frame, are usually a tad less expensive than the metal ones, but can slight muffle the sound. Pick one that works best for you—as long as you pick one and use it!
Once you start looking, you’ll find there’s a huge selection of recording/editing software available on the market—from jaw-droppingly expensive down to absolutely free. Each one offers different types of products and features to create professional recordings and audio files. 25% of the community prefers Adobe Audition, followed by Pro Tools which is used by 20% of the voice actors we interviewed, and Audacity, 18% (free software developed by a group of volunteers using open source code).
Some brands have between seven and thirty day trial periods that will allow you to check out the software in your own recording environment.
I know a lot of VO Artists useTwisted Wave for their audio capture and editing. As a Pro Tools user, I find Twisted Wave incredibly limiting and archaic, but it is also easy to use and probably the best place to start. If software doesn’t scare you – jump into Pro Tools sooner than later…it is just so much more powerful as an editor…especially when you are making changes to a job for a client that doesn’t have an audio editor. Other options would be Audacity or Reaper. As you get comfortable in the software, try to learn how to apply Equalization and Compression in small amounts for those gigs that don’t have an audio guy on the client end.
We recommend you find software that suits your particular needs and your budget; preferably software without a steep learning curve that’s easy to grasp and use. Remember we said that voice-actors are rarely qualified sound engineers as well—although having a fundamental understanding of the technical processes involved in voice recording can be very advantageous, particularly when you work alone and record yourself. Think about what you want to offer as a voice talent and make an informed decision based on your needs and not on what the industry says you should use.
The mixer, mixing board, or mixing desk in the traditional sense, is essentially a hardware controller that allows you to mix tracks that you’ve recorded together—like a voice track and a music track, for example. They come in various sizes, with different numbers of channels and features, and at every conceivable price point. From a voice talent’s perspective, it’s no longer necessary to have a hardware unit because mixers are now built into practically every decent recording/editing software program available. As a rule, using the software mixer built into your software is better; with outboard gear, every additional link in your signal chain potentially adds noise to your recording. The simpler and the shorter the signal chain, the less noise you’ll have to deal with and the less trouble-shooting you’ll have to do.
VO Gear Options recommended by producer/engineer Steve Sundholm:
|Microphone||LOW – AKG Perception Series, Shure SM7B
MID – Sennheiser MKH-416
HIGH – Manley Reference Cardioid, Neumann U87
WOW – Neumann U67 or U47
|Interface||LOW – Focusrite Scarlett, Apogee One
MID – Universal Audio Apollo Twin Solo
HIGH -BURL B2 Bomber (no preamp)
|Preamp||LOW – PreSonus Eureka
MID – Cathedral Pipes Westminster Abbey
HIGH – Manley VoxBox
EMI Chandler REDD.47
|Mic Stand||Try to get a sturdy one that is shock mounted|
|Pop Filter (Do not use foam windscreen)||LOW – Any Pop screen with a fabric stopper – metal sounds weird
HIGH – Rycote – worth every penny!
|Software||Audacity or Twisted Wave to start
Pro Tools for serious editors!
We can’t emphasize this enough—research; research; research. Knowledge is power. If your goal is to become a successful voice-actor, come to grips with the tools of your trade and learn how to use them.