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What equipment do you need for voice over recording?

Liz Drury's Neumann Microphone

Since the coronavirus lockdown there has been a rush to create home recording studios. Voice actors who had been used to recording in professional studios suddenly needed their own facilities as the studios were closed, but work was still coming in. Actors who found themselves out of work were looking for a new source of income and many turned to voice work. And other people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic found their way to voiceover as an ‘easy’ way to earn money from home.

Let’s just dispel that myth right there – it’s not an easy way to earn money at all! It takes a lot of training, time to hone your craft, and also an investment in some decent quality recording equipment.

When you are first starting out in voice over, buying equipment can seem totally daunting. There are many websites and forums you can visit where you will find in-depth discussions about the pros and cons of various microphones, interfaces and software that will just leave you feeling bewildered.

So, to help you out here is a simple list of the kit I use, followed by a little more detail on each item, and some suggestions for less expensive alternatives.

Neumann TLM103 microphone with suspension cradle (shock mount)

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface

SE Reflexion filter

Macbook with Adobe Audition software

XLR cable

Pop filter

DR Pro mic stand

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones

KRK Studio Monitors

Gold series booth from VocalBooth

For recording voiceover you need a large diaphragm condenser microphone. The Neumann TLM 103 that I use is an industry standard mic that is fairly common in home studios. It is quite an expensive mic however, so it’s not often one people start out with. I also have a second mic as a spare and for travelling which is an Aston Spirit. This is also a great mic but a lot cheaper than the Neumann. I have suspension cradles, also known as shock mounts for both microphones. These suspend the mic away from the stand to help reduce the transfer of unwanted vibrations to the microphone (and your recording).

It’s important to note that USB microphones are generally not considered to be good enough quality for professional voice over recording, and if you want to be taken seriously you will need to spend a bit of money on your mic. You will also need an interface and XLR cable to connect your mic to your computer.

Focusrite produce a great range of interfaces that are used by voice over artists around the world. Their kit is good quality and not too expensive. The 2i2 is a pretty standard interface among professional voice over artists, and I also have a second interface for travelling which is the smaller iTrack Solo – nice and compact and does the job.

To connect the interface and microphone together you need an XLR cable. Make sure you get one long enough for your needs. The interface will come with a cable of its own to connect it to the computer.

If you are going to have your computer in your studio with you, you need to make sure it doesn’t have a fan – otherwise it’s going to ruin your recordings. I have a fan-less Macbook which is brilliant. There are ways to mirror your computer onto a tablet so that you can leave your computer outside the booth, if it has a noisy fan.

There are a number of audio recording software packages that are suitable for voiceover. I use Adobe Audition which has everything I need and isn’t overly-complicated to learn. The downside of Adobe products is that you can no longer buy the licence outright, you have to pay a monthly subscription. However you can have it on more than one device. When I started out I used Audacity which is free to use and certainly adequate – in fact I know a number of professional voice over artists who still use it because they can’t face the thought of learning something new! It does have some limitations, and it’s a bit ‘clunky’ but if you are just dipping your toe in the voiceover water, it will be perfectly fine for you.

A pop filter or pop shield is a necessity. This thin mesh of fabric or metal that sits between you and the mic and protects it from harsh ‘plosives’ (the p, b and d sounds) which cause ugly spikes in your recording. These start at just a few pounds.

If you are planning to stand up to record then you’ll need a tall microphone stand, or if you are planning to sit you’ll need a desk top stand. I have both, but tend to use the tall stand all the time, and if I need to sit for a lengthy recording I sit on a bar stool. The stand I have in my studio is a robust heavy duty one, but I have a lighter one for when I’m on the road.

The reflexion filter goes behind the microphone and stops unwanted reflections of my voice from bouncing back into the mic. As I’m recording in a booth it’s not strictly necessary, but my booth has a large window and the filter just helps prevent reflections from the glass from interfering with my recording.

The Beyerdynamic headphones are a treat to wear. They were expensive but they are very comfortable, and if you’re going to spend any length of time with cans on your head, they need to feel good! The 770’s are closed back headphones, so if I am being remotely directed, the voice of the director won’t be picked up by my microphone. If I am self directing I prefer not to wear headphones as I find they get in the way.

For editing I have a second pair of Beyerdynamics – these are open back DT 990 Pros. The sound through these is much more natural than the closed back version, so they are better for listening back to recordings.

As an alternative to the headphones I also have a pair of studio monitors. I prefer to edit with headphones on, but it can be good to listen back to the final edited audio through the monitors – especially if your client is likely to be listening that way.

Of course your recordings are only going to sound top quality if you’ve recorded them in an acoustically treated space. The best mic in the world won’t help if you’re recording in a bathroom! I am fortunate to have a purpose built recording booth. These are most definitely an investment as they are not cheap to buy – however you can pick them up second hand and in fact I purchased mine on eBay for £1,000.

You don’t need to have a proper booth when you’re first starting out. You can create a surprisingly good sounding space using pillows and blankets. There are also cheaper alternatives to a full booth such as the Vocal Booth To Go. I have one of their travel booths for when I’m away from home, and the quality of recordings I get with it is pretty good. However, what it can’t do is block out extraneous noise, so you do need to be in a quiet place to start with.

So, how much is this voiceover kit going to cost you?

Here’s my list of equipment again with some prices (September 2020)

Neumann TLM103 microphone with suspension cradle (shock mount)

£1,300

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface

£116

SE Reflexion filter

£152

Macbook with Adobe Audition software

£1,000-£2,500 plus around £10 a month for AA

XLR cable

£6-£15

Pop filter

£5-£15

Heavy duty mic stand

£25

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones (for use in the booth)

£105

KRK Studio Monitors

£300 for a pair

Gold series booth from VocalBooth

$5,395 (approx. £4150 plus shipping)

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro headphones (for editing)

£105

 

This adds up to in the region of £8k, but of course I didn’t buy all of this at once, and you don’t have to spend nearly as much as this to get going.

Here are some alternatives:

Aston spirit microphone

£269

Shock mount

£52

Pop filter

£5

XLR cable

£5

Mic stand

£15

Headphones

£25

Vocal Booth to Go

£360

Focusrite iTrack Solo

£82

Laptop computer with Audacity

£300

 

This adds up to just over £1,100 which is not really a very big investment to start a business.

There are lots of alternatives out there, and many blog articles comparing and contrasting pieces of equipment. I am no technophile but I know what equipment I need and what works for me. I haven’t got time to trawl though pages of recommendations and if you haven’t either – this post may have been of some help!