A manual for voice actors what you really need
from the view of a sound engineer
There are endless amounts of advice on equipment and recording technology on the internet. Most are confusing rather than enlightening. I will give you the basics of what you really need to know and what technology you need. Follow the basic rules right from the start so that you don’t end up at a dead-end later. Because type A can become type C one day.
(A) I’m a narrator at entry-level and I just want to get the maximum result with minimum equipment. Have $600 with you.
(B) I’m an intermediate voice actor, earned some money and I want to get better equipment now. Hard times for you.
(C) I’m the top voice, the agencies book me regularly and I just want the sound of a professional studio. Check your savings.
Rule No.1 (A,B,C)
You don’t do anything until you’ve done the acoustics!
Because we want to hear your voice and not your room. If your room acoustic is bad, you can install whatever you want. Better equipment will record a lousy acoustic even better.
If you can’t take room acoustics into consideration because of your work environment, buy at least one Lavelier microphone. The Rode Lavelier Go costs around $ 60 and makes you understandable at the train station.
Perhaps you have found your place where you are well isolated from outside noise. Basements have some sort of reputation. An attic with sloping walls is your friend. The room should be a rectangle and never a square. An ideal size would be about 3.50mx 5.00m. Bigger rooms need more acoustic treatment. 10 – 16 sqm are fine.
Your floor needs a thin carpet. That can be a cheaper needle felt. Special insulation must be made in the recording area, which must be well balanced. The Auralex Acoustic Set D36 is an ideal basic building block and costs around $ 200 and is sufficient. You shouldn’t sound like you’re under the blanket. Fill the rest of your room with shelves and cupboards as much as possible. Otherwise, you can use thick carpets. For the recording area, you really should invest in the Acoustic Set, they are important like a microphone.
Now you need a low-band absorber for low frequencies.
That can be 2x the Auralex bass trap for $ 200 each, which is placed in the corners at the other end of the room. Much better, however, is a cheap used fabric sofa from eBay for $80, it’s ideal and doubly useful. Don’t buy any China Low Budget Absorbers, they’re less effective and sometimes dangerous.
If your destination is Type C, you should go for the Auralex Acoustics Dominator for about $1.000 and take the advice of a local expert for set up and measuring. If you want to go high-end.
Dear Type A, you don’t even think about recording directly with your computer. It’s unprofessional. You will say goodbye to these cinch connectors and get confident with XLR.
So your Audio Interface, the heart of your studio, should be equipped with XLR jacks. Best buy for you:
The Focusrite Scarlett is an excellent reliable workhorse – about $160.
The Steinberg UR22c is also doing well and a bit more solid – about $150.
Solid State is known for high-end products and the SSL2 is excellent – about $230.
They are all USB and work pain-free with any Mac and PC.
Attention Type B & C: You may buy a pre-amp later on and some come with an ADAT Digital Output. The audio interfaces above have none.
These Interfaces are equipped with ADAT:
Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 and Audient ID22 – about $390.
There are dynamic microphones and condenser microphones that require 48 volts phantom power, which provide all of the interfaces mentioned. Condenser microphones are much more sensitive than dynamic microphones. This gives you the freedom to move your head if you want to look down at the pages.
Your settings at the microphone should be always:
Kidney, 0db, no Low Cut.
You do that on your DAW Software with a 60Hz Low Cut. Keep a distance of 20-30 cm to your mic. Don’t go too close – Give your voice a chance to develop.
For Type A Entry Level, these are the best mics for voice recording:
If you want a higher Entry Level, this is your choice in the $300 class:
What about the hype of this Shure SM 7B for $400?
I think it’s a bit overrated, and no fish and no meat. If you want to go for the next level, you better stay with a good $200 – $300 mic and invest in a pre-amplifier next. You will be surprised how good your mic will sound suddenly.
So, Type A, here comes your Entry Level Setup for $600:
Lewitt LCT 240 PRO BK $140
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen $160
Auralex Acoustic Set D36 $220
Microphone stand K&M 210/19 $50
I don’t recommend such table-mounted swan-leg stands. A Rode NT2A or a Neumann TLM 103 i.e. is quite heavy and the stand has to carry the weight. Get a real stand that will be your unique allrounder for more flexibility.
Q: I have seen these Youtube comparison tests and I’m really confused that a Rode NT2A etc. sounds like a Neumann TLM 103.
A: The human voice has a frequency range mainly from 80Hz – 300Hz with overtones up to 4khz. This is not too difficult to capture. A church organ has overtones up to 15khz. Take a TLM 103 and NT2A and talk at a standard distance of 20-30cm. They both sound fine. Take a one-meter distance and the NT2A will really fall off – The TLM 103 still will sound like you stay in front of it. That’s the difference.
I want to have this famous Neumann TLM 103 (A,B,C)
Good idea. It is the best for voice recording. Even if you are Type A and you can afford it, it is an investment for your future. But remember, when you plug this TLM 103 into your audio interface, you will hear a quarter of its true quality. The rest comes with a really good preamp.
So you received your audio interface with balanced cables, but this will not work with your PC speaker set. Great time to kiss her goodbye. In the beginning, you will get along well with a headset. I highly recommend the AKG K701 (62 ohms) – around $ 140 and it’s the A, B, C headset. Excellent comfort with great transparent sound. You will enjoy listening to your music with it too. Best price/performance. If you can’t afford a nearfield monitor kit yet, at least get a professional headset.
An ingenious set is a pair of Genelec 8030s, it costs around $ 1,200 (gulp!) And your friends will say: Sounds bad. You are now a producer and you will „hear“ from a different perspective.
There must be a reference line – audio reference monitoring. Your hi-fi speakers can produce fantastic, brilliant high frequencies. But they have a lot of distortion and after a few hours this makes you treble-deaf. They’ll twist your ears. The great thing about these Genelec speakers is that you can work for 16 hours and never get tired. Genelec is high-end, but there are still some very good cheaper sets out there.
Place your nearfield monitors in a triangle measuring 0.80 – 1.2 m. Make sure that they are level with your ears! Use speaker stands for this. I’ve seen so many photos of home studios with the little speakers just on the table. This is wrong. You will hear wrong.
DAW – Recording Software
Your Digital Audio Workstation. If you buy one of my recommended interfaces, it will come with a recording tool like Cubase, Protools etc. in a light version, almost enough for you. Whatever you use:
Your recordings and masters are in 48khz/24bit wav.
This is broadcast standard.
When your master goes on Youtube, Soundcloud, or whatever on the internet, it gets brutally compressed. So never feed them with audio that has already been compressed (mp3). Whenever possible, always upload pure WAV files.
I. Now I want to upgrade my Entry Setup.
II. I want to start with a Higher Level.
I. If you can afford it, go for a better microphone (Neumann TLM 103) and a preamp. If your budget is limited, just go for a preamp. In the price range from $400 – 1000 you will get a better mic, but this will be no fish and no meat. The improvement you will get is in no comparison with the improvement you will get with a mic preamp for your cheaper mic.
You may realize the physical difference. For good reason. Your interface preamp is just an emergency solution. These preamps will take you to another level:
The Focusrite ISA One is for voice recording the best preamp you can get for about $500 (digital Output optional).
The Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity is the best sounder and Top class allrounder for $900.
The ART Voice Channel has more features. Noise Gate, De-Esser, Compressor/Limiter, EQ, Digital Output – all in the box. If your Interface has an ADAT Option (Read Type A section above), you will benefit from a better A/D Converter that is on board with the ART Voice Channel. About $750.
II. Here comes your upper-class setup for about $2.000
I presume your room has been set up for acoustic.
Microphone: Lewitt LCT440 Pure & Microphone stand K&M 210/19
Preamp: ART Voice Channel
Audio Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (you need an optical cable)
Monitors: Yamaha HS7
Headset: AKG K701
Q: I’ve heard of these magical plugins (software) that can emulate such hardware (preamp/compressor etc).
A .: In fact, some of these plugins can do magic and achieve up to 90% of the original. Which plugin is great and which is just another nice GUI, it’s a science in itself. Remember, these plugins can only do magic with a rich signal. And that cannot be emulated, it has to be produced. Otherwise, show me the magic box in which I put a glass of wine and a bottle comes out.
Listen, guy, I just want that my voice sounds like this:
Here you go:
1. Make sure you have such a voice.
2. Your room acoustic is perfect.
3. This is the recording chain:
Neumann U87 ($3400) – SPL Gainstation 1 AD ($1500) – Warm Audio WA2a ($1000)
If you have any further questions, please write in the comment.
All the mentioned equipment you can order at Thomann.