As a tech nerd myself, I know when I decided to get into voice over, I was pretty excited at the prospect of a trip to Guitar Center. But which mic? There are SOOO many really good options. There's one thing most voice over professionals will likely agree on: Get a large diaphragm condenser mic with a cardioid pattern for your primary voice over mic. Yes, there are a few exceptions, but a condenser mic is what you want.
As soon as you start digging around online, you'll find that some of the standards the pro's use are:
Sennheiser MKH-416 (An exception! This is a shotgun mic.)
You might think: "I'll just get one of those! Ben Patrick Johnson uses the Sennheiser, and if I do, I'll sound just like him!"
Well, maybe, but not likely.
There are several things you need to consider when buying a new mic.
First of all, what are you using it for? If it's just for general auditions from your home studio, and you never plan on submitting finished audio with it, a less expensive mic might do just fine. What about for that real "conversational" sound that pretty much every commercial audition is asking for these days? How about narration? If someone has to listen to your voice for an 8 hour audio book, which mic will make that the most pleasant experience? Would that be the same mic you'd use for, say, a trailer for a horror movie? There are mics with properties that make them more suited for different uses.
However, the reality is, if you're just starting out, you'll likely just get one mic to do everything for you. Down the road, you might get another mic or two for different kinds of jobs.
This will be the limiting factor initially for most of us - how much mic can you afford at this stage of your voice over career? If you're just starting out, other equipment costs may include a D/A converter, a mic pre amp, recording software, and possibly a computer upgrade - so a mic isn't the only thing you need to think about.
Here's the good news: a really GREAT sounding mic is not that expensive. Here at my day job as an editor, we finish audio every week for national TV spots and theaters with narration recorded on a Marshall MXL V69. In fact, here's a spot I finished on that very mic - I just read the open, you can skip the rest:
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Sneak Peek
You can get one for like $300, complete with shock mount, power supply and even a boom stand. Now I don't love this mic - a lot of the stuff we do here is at high volume levels, and this mic doesn't hold up well for that. But speaking at conversational levels, it sounds fantastic.
More good news: A $3000 Neumann U-87 isn't going to sound 10 times better than a quality $300 mic, like the Audio Technica AT 4040 I have in my home studio. Once you have a mic at a certain level, it takes a lot of money to make a small difference. Don't believe me? I came across a mic shoot out of sorts done about 5 years ago. Not exactly a perfect scientific test, but 18 mics, priced from $79 to $2,600 are compared. You can listen to the mics blind - and try to figure out which ones are the pricier ones:
The Transom Mic Shootout: Blindfold Test
I'm sure some über sound geek can tell you which mic is which just by listening - but I'm no audiophile, and I sure couldn't. I was able to identify a couple of the low end dynamic mics as sounding not so great, and some mics as better than others. However, I couldn't blindly pic out the most expensive mic of the lot, the Neumann U87, as sounding the "best". The other mics I preferred weren't necessarily the most costly either. One I really liked the sound of was the Shure KSM44 - about $700. You try the test and see if you can pick out the, um, "better" mics.
The biggest factor by far is YOU. What mic do you sound good on? Your voice is different than everyone else's on earth. Sure, more expensive is generally better, but you may not sound your best on the most expensive mic. You need to find the mic that fits your voice.
How do you do that? First, identify some of the mics you'd like to try. I'll give you a list of some of the Top Ten Most Popular Voice Over Mics at the end of this article for starters. You can do some research online.
Once you've got a list of several mics, and a couple scripts, do what I did: Head on over to Guitar Center, or some place like it, and try the mics out. Hopefully, they'll give you a quiet room and headphones, but don't hold your breath. I stood at a noisy counter with a mic pre and headphones, and had the sales guy bring me mics to try. For my first mic, I ended up with the Sterling Audio ST55, a Guitar Center knock off of a Groove Tubes mic. The mic was OK, but I later found that my voice didn't really cut well with it - the highs didn't seem high enough. That all ended when I knocked my mic stand over.
Fun fact: Condenser mics aren't durable. Don't knock yours over unless you need to come up with an excuse to justify to your wife that you need a new toy, er, mic.
For round two, I didn't really follow my own advice. I DID do a bunch of research online, and found a mic with very favorable reviews in my price range, but I didn't try it out first. I just ordered it online. Luckily, it works pretty well with my voice. I love my AT4040.
Finally, an amazing mic isn't going to cure cancer. It won't fix lack of training, mouth noise, the neighbors dog barking or your kids flushing Barbie dolls down the toilet in the background. All of THAT, is a topic for another post.
So what's my next toy, er, mic? Well, I'll have to run over to guitar center to try em out, but my next mic is likely to be either the Sennheiser MKH-416 - reportedly great for promos/commercials/trailers or the Neumann TLM-103 - one of the quietest mics out there. But first, I'm looking into building a VO booth... I'll let you know how that goes.
Now here are some of the Top Ten Most Popular Voice Over Mics I've found, priced from low to high. Remember, this is a starting place. Find the mic that fits your use, your budget and your voice.
Top Ten Most Popular Voice Over Mics
$99 Audio-Technica AT2020 USB
$229 Rode NT1-A
$285 MXL USB 009
$301 AT 4040 (Audio Technica)
$529 Rode NTK
$699 Neumann TLM-102
$999 AKG C 414XLII
$1099 Neumann TLM-103
$1199 Sennheiser MKH-416
$3199 Neumann U-87AI
You can buy all of these mics here the the Trev's Top Pics Store.
To hear and see more examples of my work, check out my website: