What Microphone to Buy when Starting Voice Over
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
The microphone! The most prized possession of a voice actor. But what one do you buy?
Purchasing your first microphone can be daunting — there are some many options and at so many different budgets!
If you are just getting into voice over, I would suggest investing in a decent XLR microphone, however we do not want to blow the budget. Especially, if you are not sure if voice acting is for you.
What is an XLR microphone?
First I should explain, there are two standard microphone inputs, USB and XLR (External Line Return).
Most USB microphones are very cost effective and you don’t need to invest in an interface — we will discuss this at a later time. All you need to do is plug the microphone straight into your computer and start recording. Sounds perfect right? Well… not exactly. If you are really serious about getting into voice over, USB microphones are usually not the best. To start, most casting directors and producers of quality projects are not huge fans of the USB mic. Why? You might ask. Most USB microphones have feedback that can be heard in the recording of your audio. The USB plugged straight into your computer causes a slight hum, this usually can be fixed by other methods, but this usually requires investing more into the mic. In the end the XLR mic is now looking fairly decent.
My friend and colleague, Tony Wijs — an audio engineer and fellow voice actor — pointed out that the quality of a USB microphone is often less than optimal compared to an XLR. "They generally can sound thin or just lack in bottom end overall." It is best to have a fuller sound from the microphone so there is less post processing that is needed to make the microphone sound better.
Another thing to consider is having control over your gain — gain is how loud the input of the microphone is. With a USB mic, you need to go into your computer’s audio settings to adjust the gain of your microphone. Gain is very important when either you get REALLY loud (screaming for that sweet video game role) or REALLY quiet (very intimate moment in that anime). Having to go into the settings, clicking around, and adjusting the gain to then set it back to the right level when you are done with your line sounds exhausting. On an interface, all you need to do is turn a knob, keeping you in the moment of your audition or project.
One final thought I will mention, but definitely not last in the topic of USB mics, is that most USB microphones have a latency issue. What this means is when you talk into your microphone there is a delay from the input and the output. Most voice actors monitor their recordings using headphones to make sure there isn’t any apparent issues with mouth noise, room noise or any other noise needed to be aware of coming into your recordings. Having this delay, even if it is small, can become annoying or even disorentating — either case, it is best to avoid.
XLR microphones are everything that USB mics wished they were.
There is little to no latency in audio monitoring, most cases there is no feedback in the input of the interface and there is so much control you have with the input of the microphone’s audio. ALSO, the quality of these microphones are superb as the internals are usually more sensitive and higher quality. The frequency response of the microphones can vary between each model — giving you the choice to get a microphone that compliments your voice and so much more!!!
WAIT so microphones are unique in sound?
YES! This is the beauty of it. Some microphones have a very neutral flat response, what this means is that the audio going in will not be affected by the microphone. Some mics are warmer, causing the voice to sound smoother and richer, by enhancing the bass frequencies and reducing the highs. Then there are bright mics, this usually has a lower bass response while increasing the brights.
What this means is that there is no perfect microphone. For some, one mic may compliant the voice of an actor, while the same microphone will bring out the flaws in someone else’s voice.
My first microphone was the RODE NT1, a very nice microphone and was not a “cheap” investment. However, as I was working on a project with a client he messaged me and said “Are you by chance using a RODE NT1?” I was so excited that he was able to tell “Yes I am!” I said, elated to see what he would say in response.
“Yeah, the second you get the funds for it; sell it and move to something less bright and without the RODE logo on it.”
I was in shock — this was a great purchase. He went on to explain that my voice is prone to sibilance, the hiss of an ‘s’ you hear in some audio, meaning a bright microphone will pick this up like no one’s business.
So I sold the microphone to a fellow Voice Actress, who has been using it since and loves it! And I “downgraded” to a less expensive microphone, which in turn complimented my voice more than the NT1 did.
Then which mic do I get if each one is different!?
We’re getting there!
There are 3 main different styles of microphones: Dynamic, Condenser and Ribbon
Dynamic - These are the least sensitive of the three and require a lot more power to run. As a result of turning up the gain, the input might start producing static in the audio. In most cases adding a cloudlifter or preamp, boosting the input before getting to the interface and reducing how much power the interface has to produce. You can usually find Dynamic microphones on stage at a concert, in a radio studio or in other situations. These microphones are really great when you do not want the environment sound bleeding into your microphone as they are not very sensitive.
Condenser - These microphones are much more sensitive than their dynamic counterparts and are capable of capturing a much wider range of frequencies. These mics are very efficient at giving the best noise performance due to their construction and larger diaphragm. However, condenser microphones generally require additional power, called phantom power — usually from an audio interface, mixer, or pre-amp. These mics can be found in studios, vocal booths, or even next to an acoustic guitar, violin, etc.
Ribbon - To be honest, I am not as familiar with a ribbon microphone.These mics are very delicate, as they have a ribbon, hence the name, that picks up the audio. The ribbons are known to breaking or getting damaged from moisture — the pop filter was designed back in the day to prevent the spit of performers from getting on the ribbon. These mics were the first “great” microphones invented in the 1920s and had a run of popularity until the 1960s. These microphones are still around and have been receiving a renewed interest.
Now onto my suggestion for your first microphone.
As you may now know, there are many options and types of microphones out there. The most common XLR entry level microphone is the AudioTechnica AT 2020. This microphone runs around $120 (USD), so very affordable for an entry level mic and has fairly neutral or flat frequency response — allowing it to be a fairly good mic for most vocal types.
There are other mics around this price point and even some bundles that you can get that allow for a great entry into voice over.
Mike DelGaudio, a full time professional voice actor, has a great YouTube channel called Booth Junkie. Here he compares microphones and does head to head shootouts to determine if a mic is a “good” mic. I highly recommend checking out his channel to get a better comparison of other microphone options and at different budgets.