Wednesday, February 6, 2019
A grocery list: Putting together your first voice over recording setup
by Kenny Faircloth
XLR Microphone: A microphone that hooks up by a 3-point XLR male to female cable; requires an interface and phantom power
USB Microphone: A microphone that hooks directly up to a computer via USB; uses computer as interface, does not require phantom power
Frequency Response Chart: By reading a frequency response chart, you can determine how applicable a certain model of microphone is for your intended uses by seeing how the microphone favors which frequencies at which decibel ranges. For more information:
For any seasoned voice actor, this is a pretty tired topic; and by now, there is a general consensus that there’s no such thing as a miracle microphone everyone should get. Rather, we constantly reinforce the vague blanket statement “get a mic that suits your voice.” That’s all fine and good! However, it leaves a lot of the newcomers to the industry in a state of confusion because they haven’t browsed the shelves at Guitar Center like we have. They have not put the hours into watching booth junkie like we have, and they probably have little to no personal incentive to do that. Instead of this vague arbitrary guideline to just get what “fits” your voice and your needs, I think a little bit of structure might be nice for the curious rookies out there; so here we go - your first recording setup.
The first consideration you should make once you’ve reached this microphone crossroads is simply this: how serious am I about voice acting? Do you already know this is what you want to pursue wholly? Or is this just a hobby to you? You need to dig deep, beyond what everyone says is and is not possible for you to do with your life. I know that can be a huge factor. You might have been told your entire life that this is not a feasible life route, that it’s a child’s dream. I hear all the time “Yeah, I’d like to do it if I got the opportunity.” The real question though is not whether you’d like to do it if you got the opportunity but rather whether you’d like to do it.
Chances are if you need some sort of guarantee or reward in order to want something, it is not what you really want. In which case, this may just be a hobby for you, and there is absolutely no shame in that. It does not make you less motivated or less purposeful or anything. It just means you want something different for yourself, and voice acting is something fun for you. Your first answer might also not be your final answer. It is entirely possible for you to start out as a hobbyist then find yourself wanting to take it a bit more seriously. In which case, there will be a time for you to revisit this question. Once you have answered this question for yourself, it’s high time for your next consideration - budget.
How much are you willing to spend for recording equipment? This question is why I stress you gain some understanding of how seriously you want to take voice acting. There is no need to spend copious amounts of dollars on equipment when this is just a hobby for you. If you are a hobbyist, I recommend spending no more than $100. It is entirely up to you, but you can essentially find what you need with a $100 budget.
Before we get into the actual equipment though, I should make a quick disclaimer. Regardless if you are a hobbyist or a serious voice actor, I fully recommend buying used equipment instead of new from licensed dealers such as Guitar Center. However, if you feel okay with the risks that come with purchasing off of Ebay or Amazon, you are 100% free to do so. That being said, let’s continue.
As a hobbyist, there is little reason for anything more than a USB microphone which eliminates the need for an interface and XLR cables. Honestly, a Blue Snowball is perfectly fine for pursuing a hobby. Alternatively if you want to go a little bit further, there is always the Samson CO1U, Audio-Technica AT2020USB, Rode NT-USB, and Blue Yeti. Again, I recommend buying your equipment used from licensed dealers. There is absolutely no need to spend the extra penny for new equipment when pre-owned equipment works just as nicely and lasts nearly as long depending on the condition you buy it in. However, if you happen to be an adolescent with rich parents who support your hobby or you are an adult who makes a great salary and can spare the extra expense, totally go for it.
As a serious voice actor, the budget actually doesn’t change too much. At an entry level and assuming you already know you want to pursue this seriously, I would not recommend spending any more than $200 on your entire first setup. This is entirely dependent on the means at your disposal, but it really would be a waste to spend any more than what you need for your first setup. My advice is to not bother getting anything crazy. Your microphone needs should not amount to anything more than the AT2020 or Rode NT1.
Also to clarify, I mean the Rode NT1, not the Rode NT1-A. As an entry level voice actor, you might as well buy a used Rode NT1 instead of getting its more cheaply made counterpart the NT1-A. You can very easily find a Rode NT1 pre-owned for $120 on Guitar Center. This microphone can very easily stand toe-to-toe with other microphones that are more expensive yet reside in the same tier. Like honestly, just look at that frequency response chart. It’s a nice, pristine flat frequency response which is great for someone just starting out. It covers your bases just fine without omitting too much of the bassier or brighter aspects of your voice.
As for the NT1-A, you might find that its frequency response chart reads quite a bit brighter which is great for many voices but it might not be the best starting point. Again, the NT1 does great in standing with other more expensive microphones within its tier such as the Sennheiser mk4, Blue Bluebird, and AKG C-214. That same statement goes for the AT2020. You can find that microphone used for $60-$80 very easily on Guitar Center as well. If you wanna go a little bit further you might as well get the AT2035 or AT2050 for the extra $20-$40.
There is absolutely no point in blindly purchasing a more expensive microphone that resides in the same exact tier as these two models, no matter what reviews you have read. The performance will be relatively the same anyways, and that is the hard truth. On that note, it should be explained that roughly all microphones between $100 and $400 have very little gap in performance quality, generally speaking. The same rule applies for all mics between roughly $400-$900 which I would consider the next tier. Then you get your industry standard models at $1000+.
Pay attention to my word choice there though - standard. $1000 microphones such as the Neumann-TLM 103 and the Sennheiser MKH-416 are where the bar is set for industry-grade quality. Frankly, as a starting voice actor, you have little business spending this much money for fan and even indie projects unless you just have the means to do it. You will do just fine with an AT2020 or NT1. Either of those microphones will carry you until you are ready to take it to the next level.
For your interface, you will see and receive a lot of recommendations for the Focusrite Scarlett One or 2x2. You might also hear about how you should get a PreSonus AudioBox 2x2. These are two very good interfaces that dominate the market. However, they are carried mostly by brand power; and while they are certainly worth their respective prices, you can find just as good for cheaper. Generally, this is where the equipment snobs turn up their noses, but my recommendation is to get a Behringer U-Phoria UMC22. It is only $39.99 new, and you can find it even cheaper used. However, this interface is far from cheaply made. It performs very well for its price bracket.
If you pride yourself on your oh-so-insightful equipment connoisseurship, you might be wondering the big question here: “How?” Well, if you look closely at the front panel of the interface, you will notice a small additional brand stamp besides “Behringer.” If you’re looking at it right now, you probably have noticed the label. That’s right. Midas. The high-grade industry equipment company Midas collaborated with Behringer on this specific series of models. Behringer levels of affordability and accessibility but Midas grade equipment. (Tell me all the ways the Focusrite Scarlett is so worth the extra $60-$80 please. I beg of you. Give me all the hot takes.)
You can find more models with additional inputs at slightly higher price brackets, but for your first setup, you will need no more than the UMC22. For XLR cables, I recommend not buying the cheapest microphone cables you can get like for instance Amazon Basics. I mean, of course you can do whatever you want. However, I will advise that you run the increased risk of your cable(s) shorting out at the most inopportune times such as right on the day of a deadline. You would be better off buying a Hosa brand XLR cable at an appropriate length for your needs. Hosa is a pretty good and reliable brand for XLR cables which leads to a quick little side note.
A good company for microphones or interfaces is not necessarily also a good company for headphones, cables, and other accessories. Often, the stock cables you get with a microphone in a bundle are made with cheaper parts to increase the company’s profit margin with these bundle sales. That being said, I wholly suggest you go to your local music store and buy tour-ready XLR cables. They’re made with great parts, and they are durable and long-lasting. I spend roughly $20-$30 on these cables whereas a Hosa brand cable might cost you roughly $15-$20. It is entirely up to you what you purchase, but these are my suggestions.
For headphones, I recommend getting a pair of Audio-Technica ATM20x Studio Headphones. You can find these for roughly $40-$50 new. Alternatively, you can find other cost-effective solutions such as the AKG K 44 Headphones which also go for roughly $50 new; or you can go even lower and just get a pair of Sennheiser HD 202’s for $20-$30 new. Of course, you can find these much cheaper used which I again recommend. There is not much point in spending any more than this on your first set of headphones.
You could go and get a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pros; but the question I pose to you is “Why???” Why would you or anyone for that matter spend $100 on a pair of monitor headphones for your first setup? It just does not make sense to me. I understand wanting to not go through the hassle of upgrading your setup every year or two like it’s a custom-built PC. However, as a voice actor just starting out, you do not need anymore than this as far as equipment goes to carry yourself into the next stage of your career. Throw in a $20 weighted mic stand, some proper mic placement, a decent closet, and some moving blankets then you’ll be good to go. As you move forward with your career and see what does and does not work for you with this basic setup, then you can more freely understand what sort of microphone would “fit” your voice best.
That’s all I got for you guys today though. Hopefully, these suggestions provide a little bit of structure for anyone just starting out. Until next time, my dudes!