Microphone Technique and Comparison
To get the most from a microphone—or to choose the right microphone—here’s what you need to know about microphones:
If you move, your sound changes.
But…you already knew that, right? So what is there to know?
How to Get the Sound you Want
Remember: This is acting! Not vocal technique. You can’t fix bad acting by trying to alter your sound. Always start with acting—solve all issues from an acting perspective first.
Whether you are trying to position yourself for the best sound, or pick a mic that has a sound you like, understand what changes as you move. There are benefits to being closer OR to being farther away. It depends on what you are trying to achieve.
🎯 Generic Advice Overall: The sweet spot where your voice warms up a bit, but you don’t have to freeze in place is about 4-7 inches away. That means having your pop filter or similar material only 2-3 inches off the mic. Also don’t aim your mouth directly at the mic. Aim your breath just at or barely off the edge of the mic.
About Mouth Sounds: These are are louder when your mouth is dry, so stay hydrated or use mouth sprays such as Biotene, Mouth Kote, Spry, etc. There are two kinds of mouth noises: The air that can blow on a mic from hard consonants like Pʼs and Tʼs are called plosives or pops. Other sounds, such as your lips moving against your teeth are often call “mouth noises”. They can sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies in milk, and can be noise between words (easy but annoying to edit out, which can take a long time depending on the project) or ON the words (requiring a re-take. Or many re-takes. Or better mic technique.) Hydration is the answer, but not any type of sparkling beverage. Those little bubbles keep bursting in your mouth, creating more Rice Krispie sfx.
Get Close: Less than 3 inches away
🎧 Sound: Warm, Rich, Resonant
💖 Benefit: You’ll sound more resonant, have more overtones—a “richer” sound. Get REALLY close and you sound deeper, darker.
😒 Problem: Get too close and you may sound boomy or a bit muddled.
✨Solution: Option 1️⃣: Make sure the box your microphone is plugged into provides enough power. Unfortunately, this is difficult to determine, as several manufacturers lie outright on their spec sheets. Talk with us or someone in the industry to determine what to use.
Option 2️⃣: First, do option 1️⃣! Then Experiment to find the right location for a rich but not problematic sound.
Option 3️⃣: Control the degree of bass sensitivity by EQ’ing bass down, meaning rotate the LO/BASS knob/pot on your mixer closer left/lower before recording. Experiment. For this, ideally you need a mixer. You can make this same adjustment by using Bass/Treble in your software, but it won’t sound quite as good.
🏃♂️ Movement: Less forgiving
😒 Problem: Your acting may get worse! You may get tense and anxious from trying to stay in one place. Also, high frequencies are very directional, and if you turn your head, your sound may get “duller”.
✨Solution: Option 1️⃣: Prepare by relaxing as much as you can. Think of intimate, relaxing scenes. A hot tub, a babbling brook, a bottle of wine. Let the microphone do the work. Don’t just be “tense and quiet”.
Option 2️⃣: Use a higher compression setting. This can be on your mixer (if it offers hardware compression), or in your software when post-processing. This will NOT help if you are moving around a lot on a very proximity sensitive mic like an AKG. If you are moving around a little bit on a less proximity sensitive mic, this may help sufficiently.
👄 Mouth Sounds: Less forgiving
😒 Problem: You will have more problems editing your audio after you record.
✨Solution: Remember to stay hydrated and/or use mouth sprays!
Option 1️⃣: Don’t aim your mouth directly at the mic. Aim nearby, at the edge or just barely off the edge of the mic.
Option 2️⃣: Use more pop filtering material. At minimum, use a double-paned pop filter.
Option 3️⃣: Act warm instead of making the mic do all the work. Get a little farther back, and practice relaxing in advance for a naturally warmer sound.
Option 4️⃣: Get a mic that warms you up more, like an AKG, so you can be warm at a further distance, or a Sennheiser 416, designed to let you be a bit further away.
Option 5️⃣: Try a significantly less sensitive mic, like an RE20, so it won’t pick up on mouth sounds as much.
🔊 Studio Echoes: More forgiving
💖 Benefit: A less expensive studio room may work. The closer you are, the more your mouth is the “primary sound source” and the more we hear YOU instead of your voice echoing in the room. (“Echoes” should technically be called “early reflections creating a comb filtering effect”).
🎯 Sweet Spot
👉 Generic advice: If you really, really love the warm sound, you may be kidding yourself: Every kind of voice is used nowadays, and acting and vocal technique can do a lot for you. Most new voice actors have trouble relaxing enough to let the mic do the work. Until your acting is good enough, don’t start shopping for expensive mics!
Get Farther Away: More than 7 inches away
🎧 Sound: Clean, Natural, Conversational
💖 Benefit: This sound is more in demand all the time.
🏃♂️ Movement: More Forgiving
💖 Benefit: Your acting will be better! Voice acting is based around body language first. You have to move.
👄 Mouth Sounds: More Forgiving
💖 Benefit: You won’t have to edit your audio as much.
🔊 Studio Echoes: Less Forgiving
😒 Problem: This is a tough one. Every little bit you move back, the more you have to control the studio sound space.
✨Solution: Option 1️⃣: Put sound-absorbing material behind the mic, and behind your script stand. Some people will use what looks like a deep-dish pizza box lined with a blanket and place their script in the middle. The box “catches” more of your voice before it can go anywhere to create echoes. Others have hung blankets behind their copy stand. Get creative and Absorb the sound of your voice before it “gets into the room”.
Option 2️⃣: Experiment to find the right location for a clean but not problematic sound.
Option 3️⃣: First, do options 1️⃣ and 2️⃣! However, you may also want to put sound absorbing material over any hard surfaces in your room, such as laundry machines, cement walls, wood floors—anything creating much “echo”.
Option 4️⃣: Get closer, and very slightly EQ bass down and treble up instead of getting so far away you pick up studio echo issues. For this, ideally you need a mixer. You can make this same adjustment by using Bass/Treble in your software, but it won’t sound quite as good.
🎯 Sweet Spot
👉 Generic advice: Troubleshoot your studio setup to control echoes, and then experiment with getting a bit closer, and use Echo option 4️⃣—put a bit of treble into your sound, possibly drop a bit of bass.
If you are doing animation, or don’t have a lot of resonance in your voice, use a less proximity sensitive mic, and one with less sensitivity overall, such as the RE20.
What to Practice:
It’s more important that you learn to be loose and move around! You can NOT be a voice actor without a lot of body language. for this reason, I do NOT recommend strongly proximity sensitive microphones for most voice talent! You are better off being able to move without penalty.
Shopping for Microphones:
Why doesnʼt my expensive mic make me sound good?
Read this article by George Whittam, who makes studios for Hollywood stars. He points out how CRUCIAL it is to control your position relative to the mic when testing.
Note that George mentions the Harlan Hogan VO:1-a, which is based on the MXL 2006/2008, which we recommend (available almost everywhere). George said, comparing the MXL to a $3,600 Nuemann mic:
“…response is almost identical to my ear across nearly the entire frequency spectrum. The physical construction of the microphone is quite impressive, and consistent with the quality we’ve come to expect from MXL, giveing their German counterparts a run for their money.”
Avoid long sleeves, textured fabrics, too many buttons or zippers, noisy jewelry, etc.
Don’t touch the stand, or anything, including yourself—no hand wringing/clasping, no hands on hips, etc. Pay attention to paper sounds, pencils/pens moving, etc.