Voice-over / Podcast Recording Studio Tips

Microphones Part 2

Electrovoice RE20

Electrovoice RE20Type: Dynamic.
Polar Pattern:
Frequency Repsonse: 45 - 18,000Hz.

For a while I used the Electrovoice RE20. I imported it from the USA (far cheaper at the time) 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 it 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 actually 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! Alas, despite my best efforts I really couldn't get a nice sound out of the RE20. I use 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. I may have been too used to the accuracy of my AKG C414 at the time of comparison.

The moody coloured lighting, the acoustic tiles, a Bose 101 monitor speaker, Beyer DT100 headphones - it's my VO booth in 2004.

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 that causes that effect. In the end I sold it to an ex-Capital FM 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 certain 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 must just prefer that particular 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 (see later). Before the RE20 came along, most US radio stations had MD421s, and I know that Rick Dees prefered an MD421 in his own studio at KIIS FM even into the 2000s. 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 doesn't have the RE20's side-vents for the air to escape out of when you're close miking.

I've seen these with popper-stoppers mounted on the front, and suspension mounts. These look very odd are not required for your purpose - it's not that sensitive a mic!


AKG C414

AKG C414 B ULS condenserType: Condenser.
Polar Pattern:
Switchable Cardioid/Hypercardioid/Omni/Figure 8.
Frequency Repsonse: 20 - 20,000Hz.

As one of the first microphones I purchased, my AKG C414 B ULS really 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, I would advise against getting a 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, and possibly your PC whirring away. It also requires a good low noise mic pre-amp - I used a Joe Meek VC3Q and there was a great deal of noise and hiss from it.

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 switches and flat frequency response. I'd only ever seen them in two other radio studios (I think Ireland's 2FM and Key 103 in Manchester). It came with a clever custom suspension mount, windshield and case (this AKG C414 B-ULS version has been superceeded by the 'digital' version). 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 good distance away (ie hand-span minimum) from the mic to achieve a more 'natural' sound without EQ. 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. You can now get an AKG C214 which only has the front facing diaphragm (so doesn't do the figure 8 or omni patterns), but makes it more affordable.

AKG C414 B ULS microphone    AKG C414 B ULS mic
My AKG C414 B-ULS in 2005 with its 1 inch gold diaphragm.
It had a nice square design, unlike its current replacement models.
I must admit, I do miss it and regret selling it now that this version is no longer made.

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. As a side effect, they keep talent the correct distance away from the mic so they don't get too close to it. Windshields can sometimes tend to 'muddy' the sound by filtering out the very 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 - now called the AT8031

ATM31aType: Condenser.
Polar Pattern:
Frequency Repsonse:
30 - 20,000Hz.

The ATM31a - what a mic! My first proper microphone, 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 dynamic mics. It's essentially a studio condenser mic that can be phantom powered or alternatively use power from an internal 1.5v AA battery if no phantom is available. It's not quite as full sounding as the C414 of course, 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 directly to me back in 1994, soldering an XLR cable for me to use with it before dispatch, 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 Technica in 2006 but I saw it still for sale in 2009. In fact, it's been replaced by the AT8031 which appears to be identical in technical specs but now has the addition of a low end roll-off switch.

l-r: EV N/D767a (partial), ATM31a, MD431 II, M201, SM57, MD441, a bit of an AT2020


Audio Technica AT2020

AT2020Type: Condenser.
Polar Pattern:
Frequency Repsonse:
20 - 20,000Hz.

More recently I bought another Audio Technica mic - the AT2020. Only £70 (in 2005), it's made to a high standard 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 elastic 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 do find the mic technique and sonic quality of American radio presenters' microphones 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 compressed and limited like crazy, with the presenters 'eating' the mics. It's like listening from inside their mouths sometimes. But lots of US stations still used tape carts well into the 2000s!

Audio Technica AT2020 microphone    Audio Technica AT2020 microphone windshield
My AT2020 on a desk arm with gooseneck plus 90 deg XLR plug.
And the same but fitted with the Rode WS2 windshield which fits it nicely.

Anyway, this AT2020 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 certainly recommend it as an ideal condenser mic first purchase. You can get it in a USB format now, but bear in mind you won't be able to live EQ it through a mixer with that model so it may not sound as flattering.


Oktava MK319

Oktava MK319Type: Condenser.
Polar Pattern: Cardioid.
Frequency Repsonse:
40 - 16,000Hz.

The Russian-made Oktava MK319 was 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 (just 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' of stock that a chain of guitar stores bought 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 have the same internals as the MK219 but in a different body which is acoustically less 'boxy'.


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

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