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Microphone Advice for Voiceovers

Michael Fraidenburg

I could use some expert advice re: the buying principles and recommendations for a microphone to use in front of my computer to create “voiced-over” slide shows to post on the Internet. My current lapel microphones sound hollow and, well, cheap. Any advice out there about how to take things up several notches without damaging the checkbook too much?

Whooooah! Did I open a can of worms for a non-audiophile! The answer to my question is, “It depends!” Picking the right audio input for your computer-based recording is challenging for those of us near the zero end of the knowledge scale about audio technology. That’s because there are soooooooo many choices and quirky things about hooking different kinds of electronic equipment together. “Spend more, get more” is a good maxim. Still, our SpeakerNet News colleagues and some Internet searching gave me the following general impressions about how to choose and some specific product recommendations. In addition, Tom Terrific, besides responding to my question, has joined me as co-author of the following advice. For a price perspective, I did a quick search on the Internet and here list some February 2008 prices for you to look at.

  1. Set your budget. Then, plan to spend it all. You can spend tens of dollars to thousands of dollars.
  2. Decide if you want a microphone that plugs directly into your computer via a USB port (the cheaper option) or a conventional microphone that can also be used in a public address system (the more flexible but expensive option since you need more equipment). If you choose a conventional microphone plan to buy a mobile pre-USB interface so you can plug the darn thing into your computer.
  3. Assess the kind of environment where your microphone will live. If it is quiet — go directly to your USB port. If noisy (like mine where my computer fan noise will share the same desktop) — buy a compressor gate which helps cancel background noise. To deal with echoes or bounce-back from hard walls in your work room and to guard against a “hollow” sound, Joel Blackwell recommends “... recording in a room that has mostly curtains or create a tent under a quilt.”
  4. You probably do not need a mixer. (Whew! Finally some advice I can afford).
  5. Avoid an omni-directional microphone. Shop for one that needs to be pointed at you (better for excluding unwanted noise and for a generally richer sound). Look for the common terms, “unidirectional microphone” and “cardioid pickup pattern.”
  6. If you want a warmer, richer sound investigate “condenser” microphones (but, alas, these tend to be more expensive than “dynamic” microphones).
  7. Decide if you want accessories (like a microphone boom, gooseneck, shockmount, carrying case, live-in audio technician to make sense of all this, etc.). Especially consider buying a compressor/gate. This device keeps audio signals from getting too loud or soft. It acts like an automatic control to keep the volume from getting above or below a level that you define. The result is that soft sounds seem louder and the loud extremes are smoothed out. Tom Terrific uses a DBX 266XL (price search result: about $150).

Below are specific microphone recommendations from SpeakerNet News readers who felt positive about their equipment choices.

— Robert Skoglund

I use the Countryman E-6 (headset) to make my radio program, my television program, and my clips for Blip (price search result: about $300). It doesn’t work in a high wind outside.

— Jim Bouchard

TASCAM US-144 Interface and 990/991 Microphone Pack Bundle (price search result: about $200). This package includes an audio interface for USB connections and two decent microphones. You can also upgrade the mic using this same interface. You’ll want to add about $20 to $30 for a decent mic stand. Another alternative is to simply upgrade to a decent “gaming” headset with mic. Buy one with “noise canceling.”

— Rick Deutsch

I recommend the Samson C01U Recording / Podcasting Pak (price search result: about $230). This kit comes with the C01U condenser microphone and Cakewalk software. This software is great for doing edits. Also consider getting a desktop mic stand, mic clip, shockmount, and USB cable in an aluminum case.

— Tom Terrific

I use an AudioTechnia AT 3035 (price search result: about $200). Regular sound card is not enough; need to also use a USB sound device (Mobile pre-USB) (price search result: about $150).

— Ed Primeau

Two good and inexpensive voice-over microphones: RE-20 by Electro Voice (price search result: about $400) and SM 421 by Sennheiser (price search result: about $380). Get wind screens (foam covers) or a round flat wind screen to keep from “popping” your P’s. It is also a great idea to get a tube preamp. Plug the microphone into the tube preamp and take the output of the tube preamp and plug into your computer. I like the Art tube preamps from BandHphotovideo.com. You do not need a mixer when using a pre amp. It makes the recording sound warmer.

Further reading:

  1. A microphone article written by Tom Terrific.
  2. Advice from a popular microphone manufacturer.
  3. General advice about equipment and the process of recording computer-based voiceovers at home.

The most helpful search terms I used on the Internet were: “computer voice over microphones”; “voice over microphone recommendations”; “voice over microphone reviews”.

Happy recording.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions