What’s more important when setting up your home studio; the quality of your recording equipment or the quality of your recording space?
Expensive Gear is Fun!
There’s a point of pride in having that fancy “holy grail” mic you’ve had your eyes on. There’s satisfaction in having that awesome interface you’ve dreamed about and those nice, expensive Mogami studio cables. Most people that I’ve known in any sort of music or recording industry have a taste for expensive gear, myself included. It’s exciting seeing that new Neumann, Sennheiser, or AKG mic that just showed up from the delivery guy! Is expensive gear really what it takes for success, though?
The Need for Proper Voice Over Equipment
Sure, the microphone you’re packing in your setup makes a difference. There’s no denying that. An XLR microphone is king for professional voice over. You just can’t get the same out of a USB mic that you can out of an XLR. Even looking at a “one to one” comparison between the XLR Audio-Technica AT2020 and USB Audio-Technica AT2020USB, you can get far more clarity and headroom out of the XLR version with a good interface. This isn’t to say that USB microphones don’t have their time and place. They are fantastic for YouTube and streaming services like Twitch or for the hobbyist that is looking at Voice Over to see if it’s something they would like to pursue. For professional voice over, however, the truth is that an XLR microphone is necessary to make a career.
Voice Over Doesn’t Need to be Expensive
It’s also worth noting that the quality of your XLR microphone makes a difference, too, but not as much as you want to think. The industry standards for voice over are the Sennheiser MKE416, the Neumann TLM 103, the Neumann U 87, and the AKG c414. They’re all fantastic microphones to be sure, but they aren’t inherently necessary to get somewhere in the industry; well, save for some places that require specific microphones. There are other great options for microphones out there. Lewitt comes to mind as a company that makes microphones of extremely high quality for a very reasonable price point. My backup mic (and the one currently in my booth) is a Lewitt LCT 540 Sub-Zero, and I love it. Aston has a wonderful line of microphones, as well, and the CAD e100s is a phenomenal microphone that is more than capable of standing up to the “big boys”. Even the extremely affordable Rode NT1A is a great option for a booth mic. All of this microphone talk leads me to my big point though. Your microphone choice plays a much smaller role in your setup than you think it does.
If my Microphone Doesn’t, What Does?
So, you’ve got your Neumann U 87, your Apollo Twin interface, your Beyerdynamic HD1770 Pro headphones, and an AMS Neve 1073 preamp in your booth. You’ve spent well over $5,000 in setting up your recording space with top of the line equipment. You step into your booth, get everything turned on, and start to record. When you listen back to it, you find your entire recording tainted by echo and your neighbor’s lawn work since he apparently picked that exact moment to trim his hedges. Why? You haven’t spent time or money to ensure your recording space is treated properly. The Single. Most. Important. Thing. You. Can. Do. Is to properly treat your recording space to soundproof it and minimize echo. The ONLY sound we want to hear is the sound of your lovely voice. How you treat your recording space is infinitely more important than the gear you fill it with.
How do I Know That’s True?
Mike DelGaudio’s YouTube channel, Booth Junkie, is a phenomenal resource for both new and established voice actors alike. He has a video entitled “$50 mic vs $1000 mic: an UNFAIR comparison!”. In this video, he compares a $50 used AKG Perception 100 and an industry standard Neumann TLM 103 which, as of writing this, cost about $1300 new. It should be a complete and total blow out, right? Well, it is, but probably not in the way you’re thinking. He keeps the AKG Perception in his booth, which is very well treated, and it sounds beautiful when he speaks into it. Meanwhile he speaks into the Neumann mic in various places around his house which aren’t treated. There is no comparison. The audio of the cheap AKG would get selected by a casting director every time over the Neumann, which cost 26 times as much, in these circumstances. I’ve taken the liberty of linking the video >HERE< so you can check it out in your free time!
Are There Other Options for New Voice Actors?
Of course, there is an understanding that not everyone starting out has the option of, or access to, a soundproof recording space that they can treat properly with acoustic panels and acoustic foam. There are a few ways to “cheat” at doing this that can help. If you have a walk-in closet that is filled with clothes you can wrap yourself in blankets. That helps deaden the sound quite a bit! If you have a space that you can treat but isn’t completely soundproof, then there are different microphone options than the traditional condenser mic. The Sennheiser MKE416 shotgun mic is a great option if you do have extra money to blow on a microphone. A second and much more affordable option is a dynamic microphone such as a Shure SM7B (MV7 for a cheaper option) or an Electro-Voice RE20 (RE320 for a cheaper option) which cuts out a large majority of sound once you get a few inches from the mic. These are great options to help, but they still aren’t a complete alternative to a fully and well treated area.
Voice over can be an exceptionally fun and exciting business to get into. It has the potential to be an incredibly rewarding career. Just like with any other business, you need to have the “tools of the trade” in order to do your job properly. Yes, your microphone and preamp quality is extremely important, but all else pales in comparison to the importance of a well treated recording space. If you are starting out, I would give you some simple advice. Treat your recording space with your budget before buying your equipment. If you need to save a little bit longer to buy your microphone and preamp after treating your workspace, then do so knowing that you’ve given yourself your best chance to succeed by treating your workspace. I wish you the best of luck as you build your way into this business. Happy recording!