Voiceover microphones I've known and loved
Choosing a voice over microphone for your home studio can be a tricky decision. With so many different mic’s out there, ranging in price from a few pounds up to many thousands of pounds, knowing which one is right for your voice and the type of voice over work you do can feel a bit overwhelming.
For most people starting out as a voice over artist, cost is usually the deciding factor when it comes to choosing a microphone.
In the distant past, finding a microphone that was relatively cheap but still had good sound quality wasn’t easy. That began to change in the early 90’s when manufacturers like Rode introduced microphones that, although not “cheap” cheap, were still a fraction of the cost of top end mics from brands like Neumann (more on them later). While purists were quick to find fault with these new offerings, the truth was that for the money, they sounded great. Even 30 years later, the Rode NT1 stills stands up pretty well even against top end mics.
My first voice over microphone was even cheaper than this though! In the 2000’s China became a manufacturing powerhouse, which meant lots of Chinese-made microphones began to appear on the world market. These were often in the £80-£200 price range and for that you got a fully-fledged large diaphragm condenser microphone which made them ideal for people starting out. But how did they sound? Again, for the money, they sounded pretty good.
The microphone I chose was a Studio Projects B1 which, from memory, cost around £100. With this (and a Studio Projects pre-amp plugged into my computer soundcard), I started doing my first paid gigs as a professional voice over artist. At the time, I didn’t have anything to compare it to sound-quality wise, but I don’t remember any producers or engineers ever complaining about it. In fact, I’ll let you into a secret, the key to having a good voice over home studio is actually more down to the acoustic treatment you have in your voice booth (or recording space) rather than the mic. Don’t get me wrong, the mic needs to be of reasonable quality but if your recording space sounds bad, the best mic in the world can’t fix it.
At this time I also worked producing and directing videos so bought a shotgun mic for use on set. The one I chose was the Audio Technica AT4073 and I picked it up for £250 from eBay. This had good reviews and worked out quite a lot cheaper than the Sennheiser 416 (which is basically the industry standard). Sound-wise, this mic has good presence and actually works quite well for things like promo voice overs and radio imaging voice overs. I wouldn’t describe it as smooth sounding but it has plenty of body and makes your voiceover recordings cut through in a busy mix.
After I’d been doing voice overs for a while, I decided it was time to upgrade my mic, and managed to get a good deal on Peluso VTB. I think this retailed for about £1000 at the time and is a valve microphone. Its sound apparently emulates the famous and extremely expensive Sony C800. The C800 is famous for being smooth, clear and precise and I’d say the Peluso VTB had those qualities as well. For low intensity voice overs at normal volumes it definitely had a smoothness to it with plenty of clarity and not too much bottom end. It was quite a bright microphone though and it’s sound could get a bit strident at high volumes.
My current mic, which I imagine I’ll be keeping for some time, is the Neumann U87 which currently sells for around £2400. This is generally considered THE industry-standard voice over microphone and has been around for decades, albeit in slightly different forms. Go into any high-end recording studio in the world and chances are you’ll find at least one (and more likely several) U87 mics. So why is it so popular? Well, for one thing it sounds really good on lots of different sources. Stick a U87 in front of anything from a male voice over to a drum kit to a violin and you’ll get something that sounds, well, right. It also takes EQ really well so if you have something that doesn’t sound exactly how you’d like it when recorded, you can tweak it in post to sound better. When used for voice overs, it has a full bottom end (depending on how close you get to it), solid mid-range (critics say it sounds quite nasal but I think you can fix that quite easily by cutting at around 1200Hz - geek hat off) and quite bright (but still respectable) highs.
I suppose the final question is, does the Neumann U87, which costs 23 times more than the Studio Projects B1, make my voice over recordings sound 23 times better? In short, YES! Actually, the truth is no… no it doesn’t. So what’s the point in buying it?
Well, being completely honest having a Neumann U87 (and a Neve pre-amp - if you haven’t heard of Neve, look them up) is a nice thing to be able to say you have as it shows that you take the sound quality of your home studio and your voice over recordings seriously. It also makes my voice sound much better than any other mic I’ve used (maybe not 23 times better but still, there is definitely a difference). It also gives me confidence when connecting up with other studios knowing that the audio quality is as good as it gets, which in turn allows me to focus on the read and the performance rather than worrying about sound quality. Similarly, knowing the mic is reliable and unlikely to cause me problems during sessions takes that concern aways as well. These microphone’s are also renowned for their longevity with 50 year old vintage U87’s commanding hefty prices on eBay. This gives me confidence that, if I want it to, this mic will last me a lifetime.
So would I swap it for any other mic? Well, not sure about swapping it but if money was no object there are a few other mics I’d like to add to my collection. If anyone’s won the lottery and wants to send me a vintage Neumann U67, a vintage AKG C12 and vintage Neumann M49, I’m sure I could find a place for them in my studio.