BenBax

Voice-over / Podcast Recording Studio Tips

Microphones Part 2

Electrovoice RE20

Electrovoice RE20For a while I used the Electrovoice RE20. I bought it because so many radio studios in the US had them, and a few VO artists I'd spoken to here in the UK had them too. I had one shipped over from New York and was quite surprised at how heavy it was (it is a dynamic rather than a condenser so its weight was justified). It is also highly directional, virtually blocking all sound that is off-axis. I've seen travel reporters on US radio stations speak into the side of an RE20 which reduces a lot of the high frequencies to make them sound like they are wearing a headset in a helicopter! Sadly, I really couldn't get a nice sound out of the RE20. I used a Mackie mixer which didn't seem to 'match' it - perhaps being too clinical in its accurate depiction of the dynamic mic's sound. Don't get me wrong - a lot of peoples' voices (and equipment) work really well with RE20s, but mine didn't.

It was pretty hard to make it pop even when lip miking. Proximity effect is almost zero because the many side ports vent away the air pressure. In the end I sold it to an ex-Capital newsreader and ITV VO for his home podcasting studio who prefered the RE20 over other mics as his voice 'cut through' more, which just goes to show how people prefer microphones for their own voice over others. Paul McCartney always seems to use the same mics since the 1970s when he records albums. And it's not like he can't afford the most expensive mic in the world - he just prefers that one. Strangely, the RE20 is most often used in two very different applications - voice and saxaphone! I have read that the RE20 sounds a lot like the Sennheiser MD421 which is another dynamic. Before the RE20 came along, most US radio stations had MD421s, and I know that Rick Dees prefered an MD421 in his studio at KIIS FM. The stations switched to RE20s because they looked 'sexier' and bigger. But according to broadcasters who've used both, you can get more 'balls' with an MD421 because of the bass-proximity effect, as it has no side-vents for the air to escape out of.

I've seen these with popper-stoppers mounted on the front, and suspension mounts. These are not required for your purpose.

American readers can get an RE20 for $399.00 from Musician's Friend

AKG C414

AKG C414My AKG C414 B ULS opened my eyes as to what a great mic can pick up. If you have poor acoustics or don't acoustically treat the room you'll be recording your voice in, you shouldn't get a great sensitive mic like this - you will hear your room very easily - not only heating pipes / outside / neighbours, but the acoustics of the room as your voice bounces off walls will be picked up by the mic. Although the C414 isn't specifically a voice-over mic, I had worked with them in the BBC's radio studios in the basement at Broadcasting House and found them to be very versatile with the switchable polar patterns (cardioid, hyper-cardioid, figure of eight and omni), bass roll off and attentuation and flat frequency response. I've only ever seen them in one or two other radio studios. I think Ireland's 2FM and Key 103 in Manchester. It came with a suspension mount, windshield and case (this AKG C414 B-ULS version has been superceeded by the 'digital' version, but many people prefer this previous model). You do need the supplied suspension mount as it will pick-up low frequency rumbles if put in a normal stand clip. Proximity effect is noticable - you need to be a fair distance away from the mic to achieve a more 'natural' sound. I mostly had it in hypercardioid mode but switching to other patterns is easy to do and rather interesting to hear the difference. Frequency response is as flat as they come, hence it being widely considered a 'reference' mic. I eventually sold mine to a TV station in London for their continuity announcer studio.

An aside... Popper stoppers are only required for voice-actors and broadcasters (but mostly singers) who are not practiced in controlling their plosive sounds (notably 'b's and 'p's) whose 'explosions' of air pressure overload the microphone's diaphragm, ruining a recording. They are also used to keep talent the correct distance away from the mic so they don't get too close to it. Windshields tend to 'muddy' the sound by filtering out a lot of the high frequency sounds condensers can pick up. If you do get a popper stopper, get one with two layers of material. One layer does not work at all.

Audio Technica ATM31a

ATM31aThe ATM31a - what a mic! I purchased one of these years before I was doing voice work, when I was starting out in radio, and eventually began using it as a general purpose mic (with a windshield for outdoors) which gave a perfect sonic quality for vox pops - so much richer and fuller than reporter's omnidirectional mics. It's a studio condenser mic that can be phantom powered or use power from an internal AA battery if no phantom is available. It's not quite as full sounding as the C414, but its diaphragm is about 1/4 the size and it cost around 6 times less, so this is to be expected. Audio Technica in the UK were very helpful when supplying this mic to me, soldering an XLR cable for me, which was really above and beyond the call of duty! I really can't praise this microphone enough - I think it's a cracker. Sadly, I heard it was discontinued by Audio Technia in 2006 but I've seen it still for sale in 2009.

Audio Technica AT2020

AT2020More recently I bought another Audio Technica mic - the AT2020. Only £70, it's made in China and has a 16mm diaphragm. It pops less than the C414 because the grille is more heavy duty and thick woven. With AT's thick foam windshield you could virtually lip-mic with it. It comes with a metal stand mount (not suspension) and a storage pouch. It would be a viable and more cosmetically pleasing side-address alternative to RE20s in American radio stations (and a LOT cheaper). As an aside, I find the mic technique and sonic quality of American radio presenters quite poor in comparison to UK ones, mainly because the majority of UK stations use large diaphragm condensers and American stations use RE20s or other dynamics that are limited to buggery. But lots still use tape carts! Anyway, this mic stands up very well to other mics - I would say it even gives the C414 a very good run for its money, even though it is the same price as a good dynamic. This is currently my favourite microphone which I now use for most voice-overs. I don't need much acoustic treatment to use it either. I would recommend it as an ideal condenser first purchase.

American readers can get an AT2020 for $99.00 on Musician's Friend
OR an AT2020 with USB connector - designed for podcasts - for $149.00

Oktava MK319

Oktava MK319The (now discontinued) Russian-made Oktava MK319 is an alternative to the increasing number of cheaper Far Eastern-made condenser microphones - yet is very competitively priced and excels in build quality. It has a very wide cardioid pick-up (it's almost omni, really). It comes with Russian instructions, and the online shop from which I purchased it put the price up by £20 the day after I'd ordered, then stopped selling them altogether - maybe I got the last one in the country!? It seems very well made and sturdy, with reed switches for a long switch life but no shockmount (like the AT2020, presumably to keep cost down). I've heard that the quality of the transformer is far superior to the far eastern made mics in this price range. It looks nice too, with a slightly 1970s recording studio look to it. Americans aren't too keen on these, but there seems to have been an issue with a 'duff batch' that a chain of guitar stores bought up at a knock-down price which has given them a bad name - customers weren't aware that they were seconds when they bought them and assumed all MK319s are like that. Apparently these mics the same internals as the MK219 but in a different body which is acoustically less 'boxy'. Now discontinued.

Musician's Friend have some bargains on microphones, mixers and other recording equipment. By following the link you are supporting this site.

Next page > Part III: More Microphones > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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