Voice-over / Podcast Recording Studio Equipment Reviews
I record voice-overs
for all manner of things - phone lines, store announcements, radio, websites,
etc. and along the way I learn a lot about what equipment is useful and
what is superfluous to requirements or overly expensive. The following
rambling diatribe is a description of the equipment I use and techniques
I have learned. I do not claim to be an expert, which is why I'm not selling
you an ebook! I do, however, like value for money and so the equipment
I buy will not 'break the bank'.
I only record voice-overs, but the information and equipment suggestions
on these pages may also be useful to those who record podcasts, audio
books, and also community radio stations, RSLs, AM news/talk stations,
'home-based' internet radio stations, and more.
Please note: These are independent
reviews. I am not paid in cash or in kind by any microphone manufacturer, nor given
any free equipment to test (NB manufacturers - contact me to make this
happen and I'll happily remove this sentence!!!). I bought all that I review with
my own funds.
If you are setting up a studio and would like to contact
me for advice or suggestions, please do and I'll try to advise - but
please read these six pages before you do! Previous interesting
questions and answers of note are on pages
5 and 6 of this article.
Microphones discussed in this article:
||For a long time I had just three main microphones - an AKG C414
B-ULS, an Electrovoice RE20 and an Audio Technica ATM31a. I've been
a microphone collector since I was 5, but these were the ones
I aquired specifically for doing voice work. I had a great plan
to use an AKG D202 with my Studer A807 reel-to-reel tape recorder to get an authentic
'vintage' sound, but that's another story!
L to R: EV ND767a, ATM31a, MD431, M201, SM57, MD441, AT2020, S1000
Dynamic. Polar Pattern: Cardioid. Frequency
Repsonse: 40 - 15,000Hz.
The Shure SM57 with the huge A81WS windshield (which
cost nearly half as much as the mic itself! photo below right)
pleasantly surprised me. It is not (nor ever has been) purported to be
a voice-over mic. Yes - you do see them on every US President's podium since 1965,
but this is more for their ruggedness than anything else. It is officially
an instrument mic used for snare drums and other instruments, and is
essentially an SM58 (the classic vocal mic) with a different head and
therefore has a slightly different sound. The SM57 has a very different
tone to that of the more 'clinical' condenser mics. I have to say I
bought my SM57 more for fun than serious voice work, but read on to
hear how it's now my most used microphone....
It will 'pop' a lot from plosive 'p' sounds without a windshield fitted. It's highly
- rejecting sound from virtually everywhere except directly in front.
There is a well known modification which involves putting the mic body
in boiling water to melt the epoxy glue that secures the output transformer
inside so that it can be removed making the mic sound more like the
SM7B (promoted by Shure as a radio / announcer / voice-over mic - see
below) but with 10db lower output (= more noise) but this could arguably
be achieved with simple EQing on your mixer. I have been informed that
the SM48 is actually a transformerless version of the SM57 with more
distinct highs (but the different basket shape), so that modification
isn't really necessary.
The large A81WS windshield has a sort of scouring pad material inside it,
presumably to give it better structure and a less muddy sound than if
it were made entirely of foam. It's a mid-grey rather than black, fits
the SM57 snugly, and eliminates all popping - you will never
pop the mic with this on! It's also nice to know in the specs that it
is suitable for use when the wind is over 15 mph (which is rare in my
studio unless I've had a lot of sprouts for dinner). You often saw SM57s
on 1970s/80s rock concerts as the main vocal mics. They have a different
sound to the SM58 because they don't have the ball-type grille - this
means extended response in both low and high end because you can get closer to the diaphragm. Don't get me wrong
- it's not a condenser mic sound, but in a blind studio test I read
online featuring a great many mics and blindfolded people, a great number
preferred the sound from the SM57 to the legendary Neumann U87 condenser
mic (which is over 15 times the price)!
now use the SM57 as my main voice-over mic for non-broadcast recordings
(i.e. phone greetings, store announcements, etc.). I honestly never
thought I would - I feel I'm almost going back a step with my microphone
arsenal after using the clinical AKG C414, and I know some audio purists
may be shaking their heads, but I really like using the SM57, and for
the non-broadcast work I do it works perfectly. The big windshield is
a must - I can't pop it, it sounds nice and warm, I don't necessarily
have to worry too much about acoustic treatment for these recordings
as you would with a sensitive condenser mic, and I don't feel I have
to molly-coddle it like the AKG C414 so as not to damage it. You'll
need a mixer to be able to EQ it and hear it 'live' before the signal
goes into your computer (rather than use one of those direct USB audio
converters). The telling thing is, ever since I've started using
it, I've been receiving 10 times as many compliments for the voice work I've done -
which never happened nearly as much when I was using condenser mics.
It doesn't quite have the top-end frequency response of condensers,
but if you EQ it well, and bear in mind that us humans can only hear
audio frequencies that go so high, if you're recording an on-hold
message for a telephone system - who would really notice?! Telephone
frequency band = 300 - 3300 Hz, SM57 pick-up = 40 - 15,000Hz. You're covered! I do use
it without a windshield sometimes, but carefully so it doesn't pop, and
the recordings have a slightly crisper high end because of this. For
voicing radio ads, I use my AT2020 or S1000
(mentioned later) so that I sound just as crisp as other voice-over's voices in other
ads played around the ad I'm voicing who will all be using condenser mics.
If you are just starting off, I would certainly recommend the SM57
as a first purchase. You may find you'll still have it in your studio
when you become a pro!
SM57 with smaller, more 'standard' locking A2WS windshield
The A81WS is a large windshield
Dynamic. Polar Pattern: Cardioid. Frequency
Repsonse: 50 - 20,000Hz.
A visitor to this website sent me an interesting email regarding the
Shure SM7B (pictured left) - a voice microphone seen
in many radio studios. I knew they were dynamic and expensive here in
the UK, but the visitor informed me they were a lot less in the US.
I thought that if it was better than the SM57 and specifically designed
for studio voice work (rather than for instruments like the SM57), I'd
give it a try because it would be more appropriate for the work I do
- in theory it would perform better. So I imported one from the USA.
It has built-in bass roll-off and
presense peak switches, and its frequency range goes all the way up
to 20,000Hz, but it's not a smooth frequency response graph by any means
and looks a lot like the
SM57's graph. The pick-up zone seems larger than the SM57's. It comes
complete with two windshields - the slender one which is the same girth
as the mic body itself (see below), and a larger one which is fatter
but makes it un-poppable (photo above). In
many ways the SM7B is a modern version of the SM5B (pictured right)
which was discontinued in 1986 yet still in active use in certain American
radio station studios. I assume they clean the spit off the foam windscreen
every decade or so...!
My verdict after testing: ...I think the SM7B and SM57 are very
similar. There is not enough audible difference between the two mics
which would make me think that one costs more than 6 times
the price of the other. The SM7B seems to have slightly more bass and
more top end, but only if you really concentrate can you hear the difference
(it's not like the difference between an SM58 and a Neumann u87 - it
is not easy to hear the difference between these two Shure mics). I'm sure you could
easily EQ this out so they sound the same. The difference is the visual
appearance - having the mic in a permanent yoke makes it perfect in
radio studios where mics get mauled about - along with the roll-off
and peak switches. I have since seen a user-tested frequency response
graph of the SM57 and SM7B absolutely side by side, and the results
were uncanny, with the same peaks and troughs. The SM7B did have more gain at lower and higher ranges,
but as had been said, nothing that could not have been adjusted with
EQ to make the SM57 sound the same. I'm comforted by this, and it confirms
that the SM57 above is indeed a valid microphone for voice
This from Shure themselves: "The SM7, the SM57, and the SM58
are all based on the Unidyne III capsule design. The SM7 capsule is
not identical to the SM57 or SM58, but it is similar."
I personally found the SM57 gave a superior, crisper sound to the SM7B
with the equipment I use.
Above, the SM7B with the smaller thinner windsheild fitted, and next
to it is the supplied larger windsheild that you can swap it with for
I sold my SM7B to a music producer in London. As an aside, a Shure
SM7 was used by studio engineer Bruce Swedien for most of Michael Jackson's
vocals on his Thriller album (including Vincent Price's rap!),
and on Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.
Type: Condenser. Polar Pattern:
Cardioid. Frequency Repsonse: 20 - 20,000Hz.
I also bought a Shure SM81 on a day when
I was feeling particularly extravagant. With another A81WS windshield,
I used this condenser as my main mic for a long time. I find it crisp
and clear, with less proximity effect compared to large condensers.
It is also more directional. It is very long! I also used it with the
A81G, which is a plastic grille. In this set-up was Brian Cobby's
wonderful voice recorded for the UK's speaking clock back in 1985.
SM81 with the A81G veriflex grille (which IS made of plastic, no matter
what all the websites say it's made from!)
'Naked' SM81. Ooooh!
the photo at the right, you can see 2 x SM81s with A81WS windshield
as guest mics. The presenter is using an SM7. I queried this directly with Shure,
as the SM81 has not really been promoted as a speech mic.
Shure told me, "You are right, SM81 is not
highlighted for voice-overs in our catalog. As a general statement:
small condenser microphones produce an accurate recording, i.e. the
recording will not sound 'warm' and 'full' like recording with large
condenser microphones or with a special radio microphone like the
SM7, specially designed to give a very 'warm' sound.
If you use the PG81 for voice-over recording you might have to use
the EQ in your mixing desk to 'warm' up the sound, i.e. using a microphone
which is recommended for a specific application makes life much easier."
However, when I re-read the HW International catalogue
(Shure's UK distributors) from 1994 (I promise I'm not a hoarder), in a mic selection guide table
recommends the SM7 as the "premium mic for VO / announce (dynamic)
but the premium mic for VO / announce (condenser) is the
SM81". I suppose this was long before they started
the KSM large diaphragm condenser series, but still...!
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