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
Latest Update: December 2022
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.
With the explosion of podcast and online video creation there’s a vast range of options to choose from, with an even bigger range of prices.
Although you might be tempted to simply buy the newest and cheapest USB podcasting microphone you can find on Amazon, thankfully, there are a few tried and tested microphones that have reliably stood the test of time in music, radio and film production that can be trusted to deliver professional quality results at an affordable price.
So to narrow the search I asked for recommendations on the best microphones for recording voice overs (and podcasts or tutorials) from a few experienced composer, musician and post-production audio friends.
This article is the result of their wisdom and suggestions!
- How to choose the right microphone
- USB Microphones for Recording Voice Over
- XLR Microphones for Recording Voice Over
- Which is the Best Boom Arm for Voice Overs?
- The Voice Over Microphone I Chose To Buy
- Quick Voice Over Recording Tips
- Why I use Riverside for video call and podcast recording
- How Not To Run a Voice Over Recording Session
TLDR: Quick Links!
For recording podcasts and video calls I can’t recommend using Riverside.fm more highly. It’s easy to use and delivers great results, as all of the files are recorded locally – so there’s no internet drop out or streaming compression and you can save 20% with code: jonnyelwyn
You can read more about why I think Riverside.fm is the best way to record remote interviews here.
Otherwise, if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to read all of my careful research?
Here are some quick links to all the products mentioned in this post, organised by approximate price:
- Neumann U87 XLR Microphone – $3695!
- Audio Technica AT4040 XLR Microphone –
$495(Currently 50% off!)
- Shure SM7B XLR Microphone – $399
- Shure MV7 XLR/USB Microphone – $250/£230
- Rode NT1A XLR Microphone – $199
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) USB Pre-amp – $199
- Shure SM57 XLR Microphone – $99
- Shure SM58 XLR Microphone
- Rode Podmic Microphone
- Yeti Pro USB Microphone
- MXL 770 Microphone – $79
- Blue Snowball USB Microphone
- Gator Frameworks Boom Arm
- Blue Compass Boom Arm
- Rode PSA1 Boom Arm
Items in bold I personally own.
How to choose the right microphone
Personally, 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!
Dynamic Microphones vs Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
There are four main types of microphones but the ones in this post fall into these two categories: Dynamic Microphones and Large Diaphragm Condenser microphones.
For example, the Shure SM57 is a dynamic microphone whilst the Rode NT1A is a large diaphragm condenser microphone.
How do they work and what’s the difference?
Dynamic – “Using a movable induction coil suspended in the field of a magnet, dynamic mics work like a speaker in reverse.“
LDCM – “Condenser mics work by using a capacitor (or condenser) to convert acoustic vibrations into an electrical current. That means they need a power source like 48V phantom power to operate.“
LDCM are particular good for recording vocals, which is why you’ll most often see them in any podcast or YouTuber video.
But as we will see (and hear) dynamic microphones can also sound great on vocals too.
If you want a lot more details on the differences between these microphones and the other two groups, click here.
USB VS XLR
In choosing a microphone there are essentially two ways to go:
- A USB microphone that connects directly into your computer.
- An XLR microphone into a pre-amp that connects via USB into your computer.
XLR microphones tend to be 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. The Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) also allows me to connect my Yamaha HS7 XLR-based professional studio monitors to my desktop set up.
Should I pay more?
In researching which voice over microphone 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 $3,695 price tag.
The super expensive microphone? 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.
Check latest price on Amazon Global Stores
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.
But they do have a bit more of a funky appearance and personally, 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 (above) and that is probably the best way of choosing which one sounds good to you.
Shure MV7 USB & XLR Microphone
The MV7 costs about half the price and, according to one user I know, is about 90% as good.
If you’re using it to record over the very long USB cable it comes with, you’ll also need to download the Shure Motiv desktop app, which gives you access to all the features and functionality and firmware updates available.
You can even use the MV7 to record onto your phone. You’ll need a Lightning to micro-USB cable to do this with an iPhone though, but this is also because it doesn’t require any phantom power.
The Shure Plus Motiv iOS app only records to WAV files, as either 44.1kHz/16 bit or 48kHz/24 bit.
Once you’ve finished recording, the WAV file can then be saved to one of four compressed formats:
- ALAC – Apple Lossless Audio Codec
- AAC 96kbs – Advanced Audio Coding
- AAC 128kbs – Advanced Audio Coding
- AAC 256kbs – Advanced Audio Coding
In Tom Buck’s in-depth review you can get a solid understanding of what makes this microphone special, very different to the SM7B and who might be interested in it.
Here are some selected chapter markers from Tom’s 30 minute review:
- 10:30 – Simultaneous XLR/USB Recording
- 11:46 – Software (ShurePlus Motiv)
- 12:53 – USB Settings & Sound Quality
- 25:03 – MV7 vs. SM7B & PodMic XLR
- 26:45 – MV7 vs. SM58 & SM57 XLR
Check the latest price on Amazon Global Stores
XLR Microphones for Recording Voice Over
Voice over professionals like Hal Douglas in the Comedian trailer at the very 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 fistful of recommendations organised by price:
- Audio Technica AT4040 Microphone
- Shure SM57 Microphone
- Shure SM58 Microphone
- Rode Podmic Microphone
- MXL 770 Microphone
- Audio Technica AT2020 Microphone
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. But the AT4040 is still about 4 x the cost of the AT2020!
Where as the AT2020 is under £100/$100 also comes as a slight more expensive 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.
Another video from Tom Buck, this time comparing three different $100 microphones; the Shure SM58 and SM57 and the Rode Podmic.
And for $100 all three of these seem like a real bargain for the high quality sound.
Which is the Best Boom Arm for Voice Overs?
A boom arm is a great option when adding a voice over microphone to your edit suite set up, especially if you plan on using it fairly frequently.
In this excellent comparison video Tom Buck shares his hand’s on experiences with three different popular boom arms:
I’m about to install one of these in my own edit suite, and I’m probably going to go for the Blue Compass, partly for looks and partly because it won’t spring up when there isn’t any microphone attached, which the PSA1 looks like it does.
That said, the Compass seems to be much more difficult to accurately position although there seems to be quite a bit of debate about this in the comments to Tom’s video!
So for me it is still a choice between the Rode PSA1 and the Blue Compass!
The Boom Arm I Chose To Buy
UPDATE – In the end I went for Tom’s recommended Rode PSA1 because it stays where you put it and looks like a lot less trouble than the Compass. I’ll just have to make sure I don’t pinch my fingers in it’s scissor grip!
This tip from the ‘Provoked Prawn’ YouTube channel will show you how to stop your Rode PSA1 boom arm from springing up or not holding its position.
The Voice Over Microphone I Chose To Buy
As it is not a USB microphone I also bought this (now 3rd Gen) USB powered Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 pre-amp, which lets you set your levels, monitor your audio and input various other audio devices into your laptop, all via USB.
You can also use the line out connections on the back to connect your Studio Monitors to your computer and, crucially, it also provides phantom power to the NT1-A.
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 Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve and it sounded great.
Because you can get so close to the mic and have such fine control, relatively quiet background sound (e.g. 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 DT770 headphones.
Buy the Rode NT1-A on Amazon Global Stores
Buy the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) USB Pre-amp on Amazon Global Stores
Update – Black NT1 Microphone
I originally wrote this post in 2013 and a year later Rode 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.
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 Rode NT1 on Amazon Global Stores
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 every microphone has a different response pattern, how you place and position the microphone can make a big difference to the quality of the sound.
Twisting the microphone as you record a test will let you hear how the front and side (of a NT1-A the back is ‘dead’) will sound. I once made the mistake of forgetting this and recorded awful sound from the ‘back’ of the microphone. Thankfully, the NT1-A has a gold dot on the front.
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.
More Tips on Recording Professional Quality Voice Over 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.
Why I use Riverside.fm for video call and podcast recording
As an editor I’m still faced with editing a lot of video content that’s been badly recorded over Zoom. During the pandemic I wrote a detailed post all about better ways to do this, which I recently updated with a far better way – Riverside.fm.
Here are five reasons why I love using Riverside:
#1 – Local Recording – All of the participants audio and video feeds are recorded locally to their machines which means they’re not affected by internet drop out or compression. They are pristine quality and (if their camera supports it) available in up to UHD resolution.
#2 – Browser-based – Because all your participant/client needs is a Chrome browser and your Studio link, there are no technological hurdles to get over. It’s fool-proof.
#3 – Individual Feeds – Allow for seamless editing between participants because everyone generates their own isolated audio and video. If anyone shares their screen this too is captured individually and in HD.
#4 – Cloud Powered – But you have to do no work at all to get all these files as they’re automatically uploaded to your dashboard, and even if the client closes the window, a simple click of a reminder link sets the process going again. Riverside also records an streaming-based back up file too, just in case.
#5 – Effortless Workflow – Once all the files are uploaded Riverside automatically syncs them for you and will even set up your Adobe Premiere Pro timeline for you.
You can also generate and download complete transcripts, combined multi-speaker clips and much more.
Having tried and tested a lot of the other options, Riverside.fm is the best way I know of to record a remote video interview or podcast episode.
Check it out for yourself with their 2 hour free account and save 20% with coupon code: jonnyelwyn.
How Not To Run a Voice Over Recording Session
Written and Directed by Tim Mason from Hog Butcher, this comedy short film ‘No Other Way To Say It‘ “pulls the curtain back on the glamorous world of advertising… [to expose] the gritty reality of advertising.“