Voice-over / Podcast Recording Studio Equipment Reviews
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 are on pages
5 and 6 of this article.
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 could also be valuable 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 kind by any manufacturer nor given
any free equipment to test (NB manufacturers - contact me to make this
happen and I'll remove this sentence!!!). I bought all that I review with
my own pennies.
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 young, 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 tape recorder to get an authentic
'vintage' sound, but that's another story!
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) surprised
me. It is not and has never purported to be a voice-over mic. Yes -
you do see them on the US President's podium, but this is more for their
ruggedness than anything else. It is officially an instrument mic 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 without a windshield. Highly directional
- it rejects 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 EQ. I have been informed that the SM48 is actually
a transformerless version of the SM57 with more distinct highs, so that
modification isn't really necessary. The large 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 all foam. It's a mid-grey rather
than black, fits the SM57 snugly, and eliminates all popping,
however hard I try. 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 grill - this means extended
response in both low and high end. Don't get me wrong - it's not a condenser,
but in a blind studio test I read online featuring a great many mics
and people, many preferred the sound from the SM57 to the legendary
Neumann U87 condenser mic (over 15 times the price)!
mostly now use the SM57 as my main voice-over mic for non-broadcast
recordings (i.e. phone greetings, store announcements, etc.). I never
thought I would - I feel I'm almost going back a step with my microphone
arsenal after using an AKG C414, and I know some audio purists may be
shaking their heads, but I really like using it and for the non-broadcast
work I do it works perfectly. The windshield is a must - I cannot 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 probably need a mixer to be able
to EQ it before the signal goes into your computer (rather than use
one of those direct USB audio converters). The intriguing thing is,
ever since I've started using it, I've been receiving compliments for
every voice job 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 so high, after all (and if you're recording
an on-hold message for a telephone system, who will really notice?!
Telephone frequency band = 300 - 3300 Hz, SM57 pick-up = 40 - 15,000Hz).
I do use it without a windshield sometimes, carefully so it doesn't
pop, and the recordings have a 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 voices in other ads who
will all be using condenser mics.
If you are just starting off, I would 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. 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. 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 left), and a larger one which is fatter but makes
it un-poppable (photo below). 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 high ends, 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 hard to hear the difference between these two Shure mics).
The difference is the visual appearance - having the mic in a permanent
yoke makes it perfect in radio studios where mics get mauled about -
and 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. 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.
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 actually 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 the
supplied larger windsheild that you can swap it with for lip-miking
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 'format' it was how Brian Cobby's
wonderful voice was 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 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, 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...!
Next page > Part
II: More Microphones > Page 1, 2,
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