Any voice actor can speak to the importance of having access to a quality home recording studio. The right space and tools can help you create crisp, clear audio recordings, whether you’re trying to break into voice work in film, TV, commercials, animation, or podcasting.
Of the various types of audio equipment voice actors need to record at home, the microphone is one of the most important. Thankfully, technological advances and the recent popularity of remote recording means microphones are more budget-friendly and better than ever.
Still, not all mics are created equal. With so many options to choose from, you may be wondering what kind of microphone will make your voiceover work stand out. This guide explains how to know if a mic is good, top features of a microphone, and how to choose a mic for your voice.
- What makes a good microphone?
- Are handheld microphones good for voiceover work?
- What’s better: a dynamic mic or a condenser mic?
- What’s the difference between mics using USB or XLR?
- How do I choose the right mic for my voice?
- How much does a good microphone cost?
- What microphone accessories do I need?
- Test and compare
Microphone recording is multifaceted. From frequency response and polar pattern to response curves and even the mic’s tangible raw materials, the science behind what makes a microphone good can be daunting. But you don’t need to fully understand the technical components to determine if it’s good. It’s much more important to know how you are going to be using it, what you intend to record, and where you will be recording.
Audio quality: A good microphone should make your listeners feel that you are right there in the room with them. While the muffled, distorted sounds produced by a bad microphone act as a constant reminder that listeners are hearing a recording, the smooth, distinct audio quality of a good microphone puts the focus solely on your voice.
Usability: Purchasing a high-end microphone won’t mean a thing if you’re not capable of using it. Although pricier mics might have exciting audio features, starting with a simpler setup can mean more regular microphone use.
Sensitivity: As a voiceover actor, you likely want to choose a mic that picks up the most detail in your voice. Generally, a good microphone for voice actors will have high sensitivity. If you’ve set up your recording space properly, your best choice is a highly-sensitive mic that can record sharp vocals and capture your voice’s full texture.
However, if you’re just starting out or making do with less than ideal recording circumstances, you’ll want to think more carefully about where you’re recording before choosing a mic. Do you live in a particularly noisy area or share a space with others? If that’s the case, it may be worth looking into less-sensitive mics. You’ll probably prefer the cleaner recordings you’ll get with a mic that doesn’t pick up much noise pollution than crisper audio that includes a lot of unwanted noises.
Bottom line: When choosing a mic for home voice recording, focus on audio quality and determine how and where you’re going to be using your new microphone.
In a word, no. Just cross those off your list now. Set aside your fantasies of rocking the mic like Beyoncé onstage, because that’s not how voiceover recording works. A handheld mic will pick up noise from movement, making for a less clean recording. You want a stable, hands-free setup so that the only thing you’re recording is your voice. You can think about channeling Beyoncé in the studio.
Most microphones used for voiceover recording fall into one of two basic categories: dynamic mics and condenser mics. Both can be used to record voiceover performances, but each has its own unique capabilities. In general, condenser microphones are the preferred choice for voice actors.
A dynamic mic uses electromagnetism to convert sound into an electrical signal. It is less sensitive and will pick up less detail than a condenser mic, so it tends to be used for live performances rather than studio recordings. However, if you’re recording in a home studio with poor soundproofing, a dynamic mic can reduce the amount of extraneous background noise in your recordings.
A condenser mic responds to audio vibrations using capacitor plates. It requires less work from the sound wave than a dynamic mic, allowing it to produce highly distinct audio with little self-noise. This makes a condenser mic ideal for voice actors recording in studios with optimal soundproofing.
USB and XLR refer to the way a mic connects to your computer. Since XLR mics cannot connect directly to a computer, you’ll need a separate audio interface to convert analogue to digital recordings. You can also use the audio interface to connect multiple mics and instruments to the same computer to record simultaneously.
As the name suggests, a USB microphone plugs directly into your computer via the familiar USB cable, so you won’t need a separate audio interface. However, this convenience comes at a cost: the quality of the recording won’t match what you get with an XLR mic. USB mics tend to be built with cheaper hardware that produces self-noise and decreases the quality of the recording. However, they are a considerably more affordable option for voice actors who are just starting out.
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The depth, pitch, and general quality of your own voice should always be a consideration when it comes to choosing a microphone for voiceover work. Since it can be difficult guessing how your voice will sound on a specific mic, most experts recommend trying out different options in your recording space.
Be sure to look at a mic’s frequency response, or how well the mic reproduces the sound it’s picking up as measured in Hertz (Hz). Healthy adult voices usually fall between 110–210 Hz, with 110 Hz representing deeper voices. A good microphone for voice recording will have a frequency response range of around 80 Hz to 15,000 Hz, more than covering the typical range of human voices.
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We won’t sugarcoat it: High-quality professional studio microphones can be pricey. These mics can cost between $1,000 and $8,000, and that’s before you factor in the additional cost of an audio interface. Still, there are certainly more affordable options that will only put you out a few hundred dollars.
Many experts note that when it comes to buying a microphone, price isn’t everything. If you are just starting out, the right mic is the one you can actually afford. As you get more work using the reels and demos you’ve made with your starter mic, you’ll be able to upgrade.
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Your mic is going to require some accessories. If you’re opting for an XLR, you’ll need to invest in an audio interface to connect the mic to your computer. You will probably also need to purchase a separate mount or tripod for your professional-grade mic.
If buying mic accessories feels intimidating, you can find mics that come pre-accessorized with shock mounts and pop screens (used to prevent thudding or popping sounds in recorded speech). Alternatively, USB mics are often freestanding, which eliminates the need for a mount altogether.
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Since audio recording is such an individual experience, your best option is testing out different mics to see how they perform both in your own recording space and with your unique voice.
In a recent poll conducted by Voices.com, 25% of respondents said that they chose their microphone through a process of trial and error. One way to do this is to buy a mic that seems like a good fit and test it out—be sure to keep your receipts. You can also rent microphones from recording studios or retailers. If you know other voice actors or musicians, you can ask to borrow and test out their mics to see what kind of results you get.
Overall, consider what elements make a microphone right for your specific needs and situation. If you’re just starting out or working on a personal side project, it may not be necessary to spend a fortune on a high-end microphone. That said, investing time and money into the best microphone for you can help you rock that audition, nab that part, and take your voice-acting career to the next level.