What is the Best Microphone for Recording Voice Over?

What’s the Best Microphone for Voice Overs?

  • How to choose the right microphone for recording voice overs
  • Selecting other essential sound recording gear including audio interfaces
  • Tips on recording professional quality voice over

I needed a new microphone to record a voice over for a recent project and set about trying to find out what the best microphone to get would be. As with anything there’s a vast range of choice for a even bigger range of prices.

Here are some of the best microphones for recording voice overs (and podcasts or tutorials) as recommended by a few composer, musician and post-production friends.

How to choose the right microphone

best microphone for voice oversPersonally I’m not setting up a studio level booth – I just need a good microphone I can trust to record voice overs in a way my clients will be pleased with. Another vital criteria for me is to be able to quickly connect it all up to my laptop so I can record their talent, wherever they may be. Portability, quality and price are all important factors for the frequently travelling editor!

In choosing a microphone there are essentially two ways to go: A straight USB microphone or a XLR microphone into a pre-amp that connects via usb into your computer. XLR microphones will be of better quality but this 2-part set up will cost a bit more money and take about 10 seconds longer to set up. I went with a XLR/pre-amp set up because it affords me great flexibility in the future and access to a higher quality microphone.

Should I pay more?

Most expensive voice over microphoneIn researching which mic to get, I came across voice over artist Trevor Jones website, where he linked to this 17 microphone blindfold shoot out which lets you download the mp3’s from each microphone and see if you can tell the difference between a $79 and $2,600 price tag. That’s the Neumann U87 by the way –>

Trevor’s conclusion: Once you have a mic at a certain level, it takes a lot of money to make a small difference. 

The surprising hit of the shootout, and a mic also recommended to me by a composer friend was the Shure SM57.  As silly as it may sound, from a looks point of view I didn’t think the SM57 would cut it in front of my clients so I went with something more beefy looking. As it turns out Trevor also recommends the same microphone that I ultimately went with. That said, my composer friend recommended having more than one mic in my arsenal and said the SM57 would be a great back up to have.

Surprising Microphone for Voice Over

Buy on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

USB Microphones for Recording Voice Over

If you don’t want to splash a lot of money on a microphone and just want something that will get the job done a USB microphone will do that and do it well. Compared to XLR microphones they’re not as good but they’re still pretty darn good.

USB Microphone for recording Voice Over

I have previously used a Samson CO3 for recording temp vo at a director’s house and it held up very well. We did have to construct a ‘booth’ from plenty of duvet’s but it worked for our low-fi purposes. A package like this one includes all the bits you need like a shock mount, pop shield and desktop stand. Buy on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Blue’s Snowball and Yeti Pro microphones were also recommended to me and although they do look a bit more funky, I prefer the look of something a bit more ‘technical’. Also these were recommended for more of a podcast purpose. Pat Flynn lets you listen to a selection of USB microphones in this podcasting tutorial and that is probably the best way of choosing which one sounds good to you.

XLR Microphones for Recording Voice Over

AT2020 Voice Over MicrophoneVoice over professionals like Hal Douglas in the trailer at the top of this post will be using the best microphones that money can buy. But what if you want something a cut above a USB microphone that doesn’t take you in a price tag with three zeros attached? Here are a couple of recommendations.

The Audio Technica AT2020 and AT4040 were also recommended to me by a composer I work with a lot.  Something like the AT4040 is quite a bit more money than I wanted to spend, but probably represents a good investment for an actual voice over artist. Where as the AT2020 also comes as a USB version too.

Also the MXL 770 came up as one of the most popular on Amazon – I’m always interested to see what people are actually buying vs what they’re recommending, and for people to bother with an Amazon review they must be impressed. Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

MXL 770 Microphone

 The Voice Over Microphone I Chose To Buy

Best microphone for recording voice over

Buy on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

In the end I chose this all in one NT1-A recording package from Rode which comes with a shock mount, XLR cable and pop shield (I also picked up a light weight mic stand too). As its not a USB microphone I also bought this USB powered Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 pre-amp, which lets you set your levels, monitor your audio and input various other audio devices into your laptop, all via USB. It also provides phantom power to the NT1-A.

Equipment for recording voice over

Buy on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

It was incredibly simple to put together in a couple of minutes, including a quick driver download from the Focusrite website. I did a couple of quick tests using the voice over tool right inside FCP7 and it sounded great.

Because you can get so close to the mic and have such fine control, relatively quiet background sound (eg planes) is largely unnoticeable and the Scarlett’s controls make it very straight forward to get a decent level. Although you obviously you want as quiet a recording environment as possible, thats not often the scenario I get to work with.

Once out of the boxes it also all fits nicely into my editing rucksack, including my trusty BeyerDynamic DT770s. For a full spec of the NT1-A and the Scarlett 2i4 check out the Rode and Focusrite sites.

Buy the Rode NT1-A Package on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

Buy the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 USB Pre-amp on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

If you’re after a similar “all-in-one” package this Scarlett 2i4 bundle with the Audio Technica AT2020 also came highly recommend and represents equally good value for money.  Buy on Amazon.com

If you’ve read this far and you’re still not sure what to get, you can always have a read of Edge Studio’s very helpful and detailed voice over microphone selector. Also if you have any better recommendations for the readers of this blog, please do hit the comments!

Update – New 2014 Black NT1 Microphone

As for early 2014 Rode have brought out a brand new version of the Rode NT1 (replacing the old NT1 and NT1-A) which has been completely re-designed from the ground up and now appearing in jet black. The reviews seem to be very favourable for the price with Music Radar giving it 4 1/2 stars saying

The NT1 vocal sound is crisp and detailed with plenty of warm low-end body, nothing missing or exaggerated in the midrange and an airy clarity in the top end, plus the included double-meshed pop shield does a great job and conveniently sits unobtrusively exactly where you need it.

If you want to have a listen to just what the 2014 NT1 sounds like, watch the video below from Chad Johnson, in which you can hear dialogue recorded through his pre-amp, a complete music track recording and much more. For even more reviews head over to the official Rode NT1 site and scroll to the bottom of the page for a large selection.

Rode NT1 Black 2014 Review

Although I will be sticking with my current set-up it sounds like the new Rode NT1 is even better than the NT1-A and once again, well worth the price.

You can’t seem to buy it as a complete boxed package from Rode in the same way as you could with the NT1-A above, but Austin Bazaar on Amazon.com are currently offering it as a bundle with a mic stand and cable.

Buy the 2014 Rode NT1 on Amazon.com | Buy on Amazon.co.uk

A Few Quick Voice Over Recording Tips

First of all your brand new microphone is actually quite delicate so don’t go throwing it around or leaving it out to get clogged up with dust. If you do have it set up on a stand all the time something like the NT1-A comes with a handy draw string cover to keep dust off, but you could just use a sock I suppose!

Because of a a microphones differing response pattern, how you place and position the microphone can make a big difference to the quality of the sound. Twisting the mic as you record a test will let you hear how the front and side (of a NT1-A the back is ‘dead’) will sound. Also if you’re after a narration sound, any soft furnishings you can place between the voice and the walls will help prevent harsh reverberations hitting the mic.

UPDATE Nov 2016 – More Tip on Recording Professional Quality Narration

Premiumbeat.com shares some excellent tips on recording professional quality voice over narration in this new article.

Remember to stand always — NEVER SIT. This opens up the diaphragm and allows the voice to reach its full potential. Ideally, position your body at a slight angle to the mic…

The post also suggests some further microphone options including the Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun mic. The most valuable part of the post though are the tips and tricks that you wouldn’t have thought of, without first gaining years of experience.

Things like eating apple slices to help with the ‘smoothness’ of your voice or drinking hot tea to reduce hoarseness. As well as more obvious tips such as using an iPad instead of paper for the script so as to avoid any extraneous rustling sounds.

It’s a great post and a quick read so check it out in full here.

34 Comments

  • I’ve been using my Rode NT-2 for years. Very flat, very nice, very middle of the road to then EQ to taste.

    The AKG C-414 is an old standard, very full sound.

    A good note: if budget is an issue – AND you are doing post sound for film / TV, consider getting a nice boom mic (like a Sennheiser MKH 416) or if you HAVE extra money, a wireless lav (like a Countryman).

    Why?

    These are popular location mics and if you need to match location dialogue during ADR, it makes matching location sound that much easier…. that is, if you can’t do trailer ADR on set 🙂

  • This information was extremely helpful. I am interested if anyone knows what the difference is between using a Pre-amp such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 pre-amp or usind a Mixer with pre-amps built in such as the Behringer Xenyx 802 Premium 8-Input 2-Bus Mixer. I am interested in doing voice over recordings and other vocals and would like to understand if anyone knows what the benefits of each may be. Thank you

    • This is a good and specific question, which hopefully a more savvy audio engineer can answer!

      One tiny observation I’m sure you already know, is that the mixer you mention will still need a USB interface to connect it to your computer. While the scarlet pre-amp is USB out.

      But as for the difference in the pre-amp quality itself this forum thread (in which they favour the Scarlet) might help?

      http://homerecording.com/bbs/general-discussions/recording-techniques/wich-better-behringer-xenyx-1204-usb-vs-focusrite-scarlett-212-home-recording-350755/

    • Speaking as a (MANY years ago!) BBC-trained audio engineer, the difference is that the Scarlett (it has TWO Ts, guys) is in effect the same pre-amp that Rupert Neve designed for the desk Sir George Martin installed in AIR Studios after he left EMI. The FocusRite RED plug-ins — once you’ve downloaded and installed them — give you much more control over the sound than a Behringer would do, plus you’re starting from a MUCH higher quality pre-amp in the first place (albeit a digital simulation of the ‘real thing’).
      So yes, I’d go for a 2i4 over a Xenyx every time, and I’ll declare my vested interest: I recently bought a 2i4 myself!
      As for taking care of quality condenser mics., two top tips if you have any dampness at all in the air — or if it’s very cold — where you (or your mic.!) live: 1) Keep one or two sachets of silica gel in the case with the mic. 2) A friend who runs a studio keeps all his condenser mics. in a lidded plant propagator, which he swears by for keeping his mics. 100% dry at all times.
      Why do this? Well, as you’ll know if it’s ever happened to you, even slight dampness in the element of a condenser mic. can make it crackle when used, or in severe cases it can refuse to play completely — until it’s TOTALLY dried out.
      I’d been thinking of buying a ‘rodent’ myself; I’ve used them on many happy recording occasions, and your article has confirmed this is going to be my treat now my annuity has come up!!!

  • I bought an NT1A too. This was my choice but I found it to be a little sibilant with my voice so I chose to mod the microphone which screws up the warranty but what the hell a better sounding mic as an end result. I found a website called microphone parts at http://www.microphone-parts.com and if you check this link you will see how to fairly easily mod your NT1A for a much better sound.

    Here’s the review I sent to their website:

    http://microphone-parts.com/reviews/rk-47-capsule-review-in-rode-nt1a/

    Hope this helps someone out there.

    MckenzieVoice

  • Hey Johnny, this is Ezra. I took your advice over the past 2-3 weeks and I purchased the Rode NT-1 A package, Focusrite 2i4 for my new voice over business. In addition, I also got the Samson Sr950 Headphones, KRK G3 5″ speaker for audio playback. I’m currently waiting on my acousitical foam to arrive and I’m taking voice & diction classes. My DAW is Audicity (Free) The whole step so far is helping out a great deal.

    Thanks!

    • Hey Glenn
      Thanks for taking the time to post. Good to know that it’s possible, although I’m not sure I’ll be voiding the warranty though, as it lasts for 10 years.
      Hope the voice over work goes well!
      cheers
      Jonny

      • Yes, you are right when you say about voiding the 10 year warranty. However, the external casing is so resilient that it is highly unlikely you would break the mic.

        The only problem you could have is if the internal transistors or FET dies but why do you think Rode offer this 10 year warranty because they don’t believe they will often have the buyers use it. There is the odd chance something minor could go wrong but if it something as small as a transistor fails a local electrician or electronic buff (everyone knows one) could correct the problem quite cheaply and easily. The internal transistors and FET is not such high quality which is how they keep the price of the mic to a bare minimum. However the new NT1 (without the A) is supposed to be a different beast with lower self noise and much better components. This new NT1 could also be a great option for your readers. All I know is that when I changed the capsule in the microphone it sounds so different it has definitely got to be worth a try, for the brave of heart at least. $200 sounding mic or $4000 – $6000 – sounding mic. Is it worth it? Yes,I think it was well worth it!

  • Great post…
    I was watching the other links posted here..
    I ended up with interest in a couple of mics and I would like to know what do you think about them.. or if I should go for the Nt1-a
    Shure SM7B
    Rode NT2000
    My main use would be home vocalising documentaries and reportages.
    thanks again

    • You should go with the Rode NT2000 in my opinion. Great mic! The NT1A has now been revamped and the new NT1 has better qualities than the NT1A. The Shure SM7B is a well known mic due to it being a favourite with the singers and vocal performers everywhere. But for documentary type work I’d say if you have the money go with the NT2000 and you will be as a happy as a kitten playing with a discarded ball of wool.

      Both the NT1, NT1A and the NT2000 are all condenser mics, they will pic up a lot of external noises as well as your voice for this reason good soundproofing of the room you will be recording in will be needed, if you don’t have the correct soundproofing then maybe go with the Shure which is a little more directional. They are all good microphones!

  • Hi Simone
    I hope MckenzieVoice’s comments were useful. I’ve found my NT1-A to be just fine for all my needs and it has often produced great results in much-less than studio quality conditions. It might be worth checking out the new NT1 or as suggested the NT2000 and Shure SM7B are obviously more expensive (and there hopefully better!) microphones.

  • Thanks for the excellent review.
    Before reading it I had bought the Røde NT1.
    Also the Apogee Duet amplifier, for the Apple PowerBook pro.
    Excellent results, as you can hear in the introduction to my video “Flying High” on VimeoPro.com/goff/alps.
    Goff

  • You are a very expensive chap, Jonny! Very expensive indeed. Thank you for providing a great jumping-off point for exploring the kit that I hope will work for me. And thanks to Fred Gleek, too, for his recommendation. You’re all very useful folk.

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