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.
In a hurry and don’t have time to read all of my carefully researched content? Here are a few quick links to the products mentioned in this post.
- Neumann U87 Microphone
- Shure SM57 Microphone
- Samson CO3 Microphone
- Blue Snowball Microphone
- Yeti Pro Microphone
- Audio Technica AT2020 Microphone
- Audio Technica AT4040 Microphone
- MXL 770 Microphone
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Gen) USB Pre-amp
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!
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?
In 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.
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.
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
Voice 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
The Voice Over Microphone I Chose To Buy
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 (now 2nd Gen) 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.
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.
UPDATE 2017 – The Scarlett 2i4 bundle with the Audio Technica AT2020 is now no longer available and has been replaced with a bundle featuring either MXL550/551R.
You can however get it in a full bundle along with the Scarlett Solo here.
I’ve also seen this uber bundle with the MXL 550/551R and Samson studio monitors, but having done a lot of research on Studio Monitors for this post, I wouldn’t recommend buying them bundled in with this other gear, as the price point should be much higher for anything of quality!
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.
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.
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.
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.“