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Better Sound: Which Voice Over Microphone is Best for You?

A famous voice talent compared some of the most popular, most expensive microphones for voiceover (listen here)…and few people can hear much difference between them.

Yet there are millions of pages on the internet comparing voice over microphones. What gives?

It’s not interesting to show how things are similar. You would only need a handful of web pages. So people concentrate on differences.

But for voice-over, there’s not a lot of difference in a lot of mics! Time and time again I find even top talent doing their own in-house comparisons of their favorite mic…and finding they can’t tell the difference between their fav and other, cheaper mics.

And the people with money (clients) Do. Not. Care. I’ve never seen a spec that specified mic type. I’ve never heard of an advertising agency avoiding a studio because of their mic choices—and studios DO not all use the same mics as one another.

That isn’t to say all mics and mixers are good. We recommend the MXL 2006/2008 (under $100) plus an under-$100 mixer (like this one). Harlan Hogan private labels those MXL mics as the VO: 1-A, and compared them to the Sennheiser 416 ($1,000), ElectroVoice RE20 ($500) and Neumann U87 ($3,600). Yep, you can’t tell much difference between an under-$100 and an over $3,500 mic. So: Buy the under $100 mic!!

What Makes a Good Voice Over Microphone?

Only LDC’s—large diaphragm (one inch or bigger) condenser mics should be considered for voiceover. Yes, there is an exception or two, but the price doesn’t make them worth it. And you should avoid USB mics, because so far, it’s cheaper to buy the MXL plus a mixer (here’s one we recommend) than to buy a high enough quality USB mic.

Again, we recommend the MXL 2006/2008 (under $100), but some people wonder….

Shotgun: Yes or No?

A condenser shotgun is a small directional capsule inside an interference tube, different than other mics. Though many shotgun mics are poor for voice over, the Sennheiser 416 is a notable exception, so I’ll concentrate on that.

They look cool. They are popular. You can easily find talent that recommend the 416. Of course, one of the most successful talent that I know (after working with us he made over six figures in six months), recommended the 416 for about three years. Then he started testing other mics against it. He was amazed how some much cheaper mics sounded identical to his ear.

What do you get by paying an extra $900? The “shotgun difference” is that they are more directional, more strongly “rejecting” sound that isn’t right in front of the mic; they work slightly better in lesser environments. This mostly means you can get a bit farther away with slightly less loss of quality because of the interference tube design. Moving farther away means they are slightly more forgiving of movement (a beginner talent problem) and plosives are quieted slightly. For these reasons some studios like them.

Of course, when I say loss of quality, there’s some argument about where the change in the sound of your voice becomes a reduction in “quality” as you move farther away from the microphone. But the best engineers I’ve worked with don’t want you getting too far away from that 416! And some would argue that, even at the distance where vocal quality could be said to peak, shotgun mics are not as good as slightly more proximity sensitive mics at their peak. So you gain a bit of versatility and perhaps drop a bit of quality for the extra $900 it costs. Clearly not worth it.

Also, realize that, if shotgun mics had just been invented and were identical to what we see today, but simply didn’t exist a year ago, no voice talent would use them! And, in fact, it would probably be decades before many voice talent would use them. So don’t be fooled by their popularity.

Better Sound… Free

I have yet to meet a talent that works on their voice strategically enough. Several simple exercises and tips can make a qualitative change to your voice that no microphone can do for you. Request a free evaluation and relevant exercises by leaving a comment if you’re interested.