Voice-over / Podcast Recording Studio Equipment Reviews
If you are setting up a studio and want 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, TV,
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 a book! 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 would 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
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
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 bit of
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!
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 a mic for snare and
other instruments, and is essentially an SM58 (the classic vocal mic)
with a different head and slightly different response. The SM57 has
a very different and noticable tone to that of the more 'clinical' condenser
mics above. I have to say I bought my SM57 more for fun than serious
voice work. It will pop a lot without a windshield. Highly directional
- it rejects sound from virtually everywhere except the 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 which makes the mic sound more like
the SM7 (promoted by Shure as a radio / announcer / voice-over mic -
see below) but with 10db lower output (= more noise). 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 sometimes
to see them 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 blind tests, many people
prefer the sound from the SM57 to Neumann U87s (10x price)!
often 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,
and I know audio pros may be shaking their heads, but I really like
using it (so sod 'em!). The windshield helps - I cannot pop it, it sounds
nice and warm, I don't have to bother with acoustic treatment for these
recordings, and I don't feel I have to molly-coddle it like the C414
so as not to damage it. The 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 hasn't got the top-end response of condensers, but us humans can
only hear so high, after all (and if you're recording an on-hold message
for a telephone, who the hell will notice?!). I do use it without windshield
more these days, and the recordings have a crisper high end because
of this. For radio ads, I use my AT2020 (mentioned later) so that I
sound as crisp as other voices in other ads who will all be using condenser
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' windshield
The A81WS is a large windshield
visitor to this website sent me an interesting email regarding the Shure
SM7B (pictured left) - a voice microphone seen in 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
as good as 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 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 and looks a lot
like the SM57's. The pick-up zone seems larger than the SM57.
It comes with two windshields - the slender one which is the same girth
as the mic body itself, and a larger one which is fatter but makes it
un-poppable (photo below). I
suppose 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).
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 for Michael Jackson's vocals on his Thriller album,
and on Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.
I notice Electrovoice's CO4 (AKA Cobalt 4) has a similar look and purpose
to the SM57, but with an extended response that goes up to 18kHz. At
less than half the price of the SM57, it may be worth trying (although
no frequency response graphs are available). I saw an ebay listing for
one recently and the seller said, "used this next to a Shure Beta
and SM57 and it beats them hands down for gain and clarity."
also bought a
With another A81WS
used this as my
main mic for a
long time. I find
it crisp and clear,
with less proximity
to large condensers.
It is also more
is very long!
I also used it
with the A81G,
which is a plastic
grille. In this
'format' it was
how Brian Cobby's
voice was recorded
for the UK's speaking
clock in 1985.
SM81 with the A81G (which IS plastic, no matter what all the websites
say it's made from!)
'Naked' SM81. Ooooh!
can see 2 x SM81s with A81WS windshield as guest mics in the photo at
the right. The presenter has an SM7. I queried this with Shure, as they've
not really been promoted as speech mics.
Shure said, "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 before they started the
KSM large diaphragm series, but still...!
Next page > Part
II: More Microphones > Page 1, 2,
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