BenBax

Voice-over / Podcast Recording Studio Tips

Microphones Part 3

EV ND767a

Type: Dynamic.
Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid.
Frequency Repsonse:
35 - 22,000Hz (?!).

Late one night, I was reading lots of online reviews of microphones and quite a number of people were extolling the virtues of the EV ND767a microphone (what a catchy name...!), saying that they preferred it over the SM57! "My goodness!", I thought to myself as an SM57 fan, "can this really be true?". So I bought one. It's certainly a nice mic, but perhaps a little too 'bright' for my liking, with a lot more top-end that I'll need to test further to see if I can tone it down a bit to make it sound more to my liking. It does have a nice rubberised shaft, stop laughing, and looks very sturdy. Frequency response is quoted as going up to 22khz, which seems insanely high / incorrect for a dynamic mic (but again, is that just EV's different methodology for frequency testing?). It was around the same price as an SM57.
 UPDATE  I believe it is now discontinued or replaced by something very similar in the new EV range - most likely the ND76 (or the ND76S which has a switch!) or the ND86 which is supercardioid in pickup pattern. The frequency response of these replacement models is now a more realistic 70 - 17,000Hz.

EV ND767a


EV RE50

Type: Dynamic.
Polar Pattern:
Omnidirectional.
Frequency Repsonse:
80 - 13,000Hz.

EV RE50B

Whilst not a voice-over microphone, the RE50 has a very clear and transparent sound. An omnidirectional pattern means it will pick up sound from all around, is not directional at all, and has no bass boosting 'proximity effect'. It is very popular with reporters on TV and radio. I bought one of these too and will be testing it soon and posting the review on here. More for your interest really, it's not a voice-over microphone by any means, but may be good for location work or interviews if you want some ambiance to be picked-up in the recording. If I don't like it, they seem to keep their value on eBay if it's in new condition. The RE50 used to be all the rage on 1980s local TV news in its 'champagne' paint finish. The RE50B (with B suffix) is the black version. Omnidirectional microphone capsules do not suffer from the 'proximity effect' bass boost when close-miking.


 

Studiospares S1000

S1000Type: Condenser.
Polar Pattern: Cardioid.
Frequency Repsonse: 20 - 20,000Hz ? (no data available)

For less than £35 (in 2009), you can now own a good condenser mic with a near ruler-flat frequency response! Spend another £20 on an elastic suspension, and you have a really nice condenser mic set-up. It has a larger pick-up area than the AT2020, so you may need more acoustic treatment in your room. But for that price, it's pretty faultless. I find it has a very rich, warm sound to it without capturing too much of the old 'moist mouth' noises that condensers can sometimes over-do. DO NOT buy Studiospares' windshield for this mic. It is a mere 7mm thick and costs £14.38 - YOU WILL BE THOROUGHLY DISAPPOINTED, trust me. I was, and I sent it back. Instead, I bought a Rode WS2 windshield which also fits my AT2020 which is a proper rough rescinded foam windshield and only cost about £19.

You can buy this as a kit in a flightcase, and also another version, the S1100 (with a flat grille top) which has two switches - a bass roll-off and an omni switch (effectively converting the mic into an omnidirectional one).

 UPDATE  Studiospares no longer sell these exact models (S1000, S1100) any more, but a single updated version. In 2018, the S1005 model which comes with the suspension mount was on sale for just £39. That's got to be worth a try at that kind of price!

I'm not sure whether this is available in the USA - the way Studiospares describe it sounds like they specified each component themselves eg. material for the grille, etc. and had it made in Asia, but you know what factories in Asia are like and could have similar versions re-branded for other companies. Who knows.

Condenser Microphones
Clockwise from top left: AT2020, S1000, SM57


 

Sennheiser MKH416

Type: Condenser.
Polar Pattern:
Super cardioid / Shotgun.
Frequency Repsonse:
40 - 20,000Hz.

Sennheiser MKH416

I really tortured myself about buying this one. So many experienced voice artists and sound engineers say this is not a good mic to use for voice over work. Whilst the MKH416 was never designed for voice-overs studios (it is for TV and film work with a camera, often outdoors), it appears to be the Americans who have persisted with this misnomer and so converse to its critics you hear people rave about it too. 

Legendary VO Ernie Anderson can be seen on a YouTube video voicing promos for ABC television in 1989 with one of these inches away from his mouth, no headphones and instead the audio track of the promo he's voicing blaring loudly out of speakers in the same room!  But what a voice he had - he'd sound good with any microphone! I had seen it as the main on-air mic on BBC Radio 2 in the 1990s (although I think they'd fitted it with a windshield from a much longer shotgun mic to act as a bit of end distance 'buffer') and with royals interviewing each other (below) to reduce room resonance and atmos even from the open window, etc. If you have a wonderful deep chocolatey voice, maybe this isn't the mic to choose to get the full rich sound of your pipes. Now I own one, I can appreciate why it is used for VO work - it is very 'direct sounding' and 'clear cutting' - despite a flat frequency response - which is indeed mentioned by its critics. I suppose they like it because it allows the voice to cut through any background music without having to EQ it.

MKH416 interview


So purchasing possibly my most expensive microphone (£700) was something I thought about for many months before deciding to do it.  The reason I took the plunge was because of its directionality.  I hoped it would give me the quality of a condenser but without the huge pickup area you'd get with a large diaphragm condenser that would pick up the computer fan and any room reverberation.  Initially, I wasn't that convinced I'd made the right decision when putting it through my Mackie mixer and into my DBX 166xs compressor before going through my Audient iD14 and into the PC via USB.  I couldn't seem to get a particularly fantastic sound out of it, and the gate of the compressor kept 'pumping' with every slight 'clunk' the microphone heard in the room.  So I had to stand absolutely still when recording so that a knocked cable or rustle of clothing didn't open the gate. I regretted purchasing the microphone and introducing it to my setup at the same time as a new compressor and USB interface, because I was having to master 3 new modules in the chain - effectively the entire chain!  However, I had an idea to plug the microphone directly into the Audient USB interface instead, bypassing the Mackie mixer and compressor/gate analogue side of the chain.  What a difference!  This was it - the magic combination to [possibly] rival my beloved SM57 analogue chain (mentioned on page 1).  Then I thought I'd try plugging in my SM57 directly into the USB interface as well.  Blam!  Perfect sound.  So this was the eureka moment when I realised that this was the way to do it from now on (early 2018).  No more Mackie mixer and analogue compressor/limiter/gate.  Just the microphone signal going directly into the computer via the USB interface, raw and unaltered.  Then using the compressor/limiter functions of the audio editing software to make it sound just as good, if not better than before with the analogue chain. (Re: software - after 21 years of using Cool Edit, I started using Sound Forge Audio Studio which came free with some Sony video editing software)

I appreciate I've wandered off the point of this microphone review, but think the above chain setup is worthy of mention because it made such a difference to the sound of the mic.  The MKH416 is a long microphone - a little longer than my full hand span, and thin.  Initially I used the windshield with it, but because it is so very directional you can simply talk slightly off axis and you don't need the windshield.  Just like Ernie Anderson!  But without that voice...

I bought an elastic suspension mount for it, as it is mounted on a long gooseneck and clamp in my setup. With its directionality, you do have to remain fairly still in the 'sweet spot' of the pick-up. I would say it doesn't 'reject' sound from behind it / the sides as much as an SM57 or MD431 dynamic mics do, as it's generally more sensitive with being a condenser.

MKH416 windshield

Zed6 mixerI must admit, I actually use the MKH416 now as my main voice recognition software microphone for my daily work writing hundreds of e-mails in place of the microphone I had used previously for this task - the Sennheiser Black Fire 531, above.  I didn't have to retrain the software switching mics, and the accuracy is very good.  I originally had it on a weighted desk stand with an 18 inch black gooseneck which has an XLR connector built into its end, but because of desk vibrations it's now on a gooseneck coming from a G-clamp stuck to a shelf near my desk.  Because it's a condenser and needs phantom power, and my small Beringer Xenyx 502 mixer I had previously used for voice recognition does not have phantom power, I purchased an Allen & Heath Zed 6 mixer (shown right) specifically for this microphone to use for voice recognition.  I spent a long time researching which mixer to get as I didn't want one with a huge 'wall-wart' mains transformer. It's a very nicely built mixer, and I leave the microphone plugged in and mixer powered up and on 24/7.  It also produces nowhere near as much heat as my Mackie mixer. The only downside is it doesn't have something like a 'tape out' to plug into my PC soundcard (like Mackies do) so I have to take the signal from the headphone output instead as the line level output is obviously too high a signal.

 


Neumann TLM103

Type: Large diaphragm condenser.
Polar Pattern:
Cardioid.
Frequency Repsonse:
20 - 20,000Hz.

Neumann TLM103

What is it with the Germans and microphones?  Again, another tortured purchase for me!  “A considered purchase” (in other words, it's probably too expensive for what I do, but what are you saving all that money up for anyway? For food?!) in October 2019 at £840.

Neumann U87I had considered purchasing Neumann U87Ai (pictured right), with the idea being it's such an omnipresent microphone in recording studios and has been for 40+ years, that this would be the pinnacle of my microphone purchasing - for voice work, all you could do from then is purchase either outboard processing racks or some stupendous microphone preamp or amazing audio processing software.  The U87 is most often used for vocals, speech recording, the main on-air mic for national radio stations, etc.

However, buying a microphone which cost more than my first car and that niggling feeling that perhaps the U87 is the price it is because people are simply willing to pay that for the kudos or because it has a reputation, rather than perhaps the sum of the components actually costing quite that much (?), especially relative to other microphones in the Neumann range, meant that I will not be buying the U87.  For the moment at least!

Anyway, the ‘poor man's’ U87 is perhaps the TLM103.  Cosmetically, it effectively looks like a shortened version of the U87 in that it has the same mesh cage top, and a similar cylindrical body - just that the body is not as long.  It's also about a 3rd of the price of a U87.  Others have analysed its frequency response fairly scientifically (on YouTube at least) and state that although it does use the same capsule diaphragm as the U87, the frequency response graph, when compared, is indeed slightly different and a little ‘brighter’.

I first became aware of it when I spotted a 'stumpy U87' as the station microphone at Scala Radio, a national classical station in the UK where it is used along with a Rycote elastic suspension mount which is a heck of a lot cheaper than the Neumann one and less spiky looking (you can hear Howard Stern chunter on in a YouTube clip about how dangerous his new Neumann mic suspension mount was which is why you will generally see him with a TLM 103 without a suspension mount, nor windshield which is why he can 'pop' sometimes).

The purchasing options are to buy the microphone in a wooden box with the SG3 stand mount included (not elastic suspension - just a metal ring piece that screws onto and holds the microphone at its bottom as per my photo above).  Or you can buy the microphone without the wooden box but in a nice cardboard box with the official Neumann elastic suspension mount.  The apparent price discrepancy between these two purchasing options, when working it out like a school maths question, suggests the cost of the wooden box is £164 value.  I hope it's a bloody nice box! 
It seems odd that you cannot appear to purchase the microphone and the basic stand mount without this not inexpensive wooden box.  Which again makes your mind wonder if they are deliberately trying to charge as much as possible so that it appears as a premium product and not to cheapen their name and have their mics compared with Chinese made units?  There will no doubt be some economics/marketing rhetoric behind it - those Germans aren't daft.

The U87Ai was released in 1986 as an updated version of the original U87 which was itself introduced in 1967.
The TLM 103 hasn't been around anywhere near as long as the U87, being introduced in 1997.

Aside from the large diaphragm being the same as those in the U87, the mic has no bass roll off switch or any switching at all, but does have very low self noise making it among the quietest microphones out there. (7dBA, but the winner might be a Rode NT1 at 4.5dBA).

I'll keep this page updated with what I find from using the TLM103. Where do they get these names from?

Neumann TLM103


 

Rode Podcaster

(2009) PodcasterAimed specifically for podcasting, Australian company Rode have invented an innovative microphone that negates the need for a mixer altogether. It's called the Rode Podcaster, costs around £149, and is a dynamic microphone that plugs straight into your PC's USB socket. It has a built-in headphone amp and volume control, so you just plug your headphones into the side of the mic itself. Certainly borrowing some aesthetic design from the EV RE20 but in Apple-style white, it has a generous 5 metre USB cable. It certainly seems to be the most convenient way to record podcasts direct to your PC if you don't want to buy a mixing desk, but does lack flexibility of control (e.g. tone, compression, limiting) for more critical applications, and the frequency response is quite limited at the high-end.

Legendary voice-over artist Corey Burton once posted on his message board, "I do not recommend "plug'n'play" USB output microphones, except for the most rudimentary news or podcasting applications, where fair reproduction of plain speaking voices and location sound "actualities" is all that's necessary. For character voices and VO work, even an old Shure SM-57 with a high fidelity preamp will do a better job at capturing a range of tone and texture, than the dry, lackluster, or sometimes "murky" qualities I've heard from even the better USB microphones currently on the market." (from coreyburton.com)

Corey does a lot of work for Disney animations and theme parks, and whilst he understandably uses the best equipment available, his mention of an SM57 as a starting off point is worth noting. Please see page 1 for my review of the SM57.

My prediction back in 2005 was that audio equipment manufacturers would begin to offer 'bundles' of equipment and software in a convenient box to appeal to podcasters - an ever-increasing market. Behringer had already announced a bundle that includes a microphone, mixer and headphones. The mixer plugs straight into the USB port. It's a new market for them, and in a similar way that blogs seemed to go, many creators will sign up to do podcasts to begin with, then after realising only 2 people downloaded it, they won't be bothered to continue after the initial excitement (unless you're a geek on a particular topic or an experienced talk radio presenter, I really don't know what people talk about on them!). As I write this particular paragraph at the end of 2009, podcasting wasn't such an in-term anymore, with most amateur podcasters fading away, and edited radio programmes or discussions from newspaper groups being the mainstay of podcast content.

The Rode M3 is a new low cost condenser mic from Rode. Looking a lot like the AKG C1000S, it uses a PP3 9v battery and at £75 sounds like pretty good value for anyone wanting a low cost mic for their podcast recordings, although it's not USB direct.

Rode also introduced the Procaster (picture left) in 2009, a black version of the podcaster body above, but seemingly going straight after the RE20 market. It has an attractive price, but again not USB direct.

Even EV introduced the RE320, a lower cost mic based on their RE20. It's not USB, but for folks who want an RE20 but don't want to spend quite that much, it's the next best thing.

Audio Technica have introduced the BP40 (pictured right), a dynamic broadcast microphone that delivers rich, natural, "condenser-like" sound. Perhaps aimed as an alternative to the Shure SM7B? It's hypercardioid with a frequency response of 50-16,000 Hz.

Beyerdynamic's M99 is another large diaphragm dynamic aimed at broadcast, with the same polar pattern and 30 - 18,000 Hz frequency response. (below right)

AT BP40
And Neumann are getting in on the 'dynamic' act with their BCM 705. Using the same housing as one of their condenser mics aimed at the radio studio market and taken up with enthusiasm by BBC local radio it seems (well, it's not their money, is it!?). 20 - 20,000 Hz response. Neumann describe the mic's pop screen "efficiently prevents unwanted particles, from respiratory moisture, nicotine, to food remnants, from settling on the diaphragm." Yuck!

See my previous review of the Sennheiser MD431 to find out where the mic capsule comes from!
M99

Retro Style Microphones


L-R: Shure 55SH II, DAP VM-60, DM-065 'Nostalgic' vocal mic

Whilst they do look very nice and shiny, and I am certainly partial to them aesthetically, I'm not really sure if they're great for voice-work. As they have so much solid metal caging around the microphone capsule, they tend to be, in my opinion, quite 'metal' sounding and not very 'warm'. They're most often used as props or period mics on occassional vocal stage performances on stage or TV. They're pretty cheap to buy if you do want one. I've certainly found them to be a great talking point in your studio - everyone homes in on mine as they first thing they notice in the room. They can also look like awards! (see below)

Microphone awards


MXL CR77

Type: Dynamic.
Polar Pattern:
Super Cardioid.
Frequency Repsonse:
50 Hz - 14,000 Hz

My most recent purchase is an MXL CR77 (pictured right) which looks great. It's actually aimed for stage use, as it's in fact a dynamic capsule inside, although the design would suggest it is a vintage ribbon mic. The pick-up pattern is quite wide even though it's a super-cardioid and you do have to be pretty close to the grille.

The black chrome finish is not for those who have OCD about fingerprints!
(although MXL do provide a polishing cloth with the mic!)

Its look (and possibly even model name) are surely inspired by the RCA 77DX which Larry King used on his desk (albeit as a prop in his case).

MXL CR77


Microphones, continued...

Frequency Response Graphs

You can see why the C414 is a popular mic.


RE20
45 - 18kHz

AKG C414 in hypercardioid pattern
20 - 20kHz


ATM31a
30 - 20kHz


AT2020
20 - 20kHz


SM7B

50 - 20kHz


SM57
40 - 15kHz


Shure Beta 87A
50 - 20kHz

MK319
20 - 18kHz

Shure SM81
20 - 20kHz

Sennheiser MD431 II
40 - 16kHz

Sennheiser MD421 II
30 - 17kHz

Beyer M201
40 - 18kHz


It's truly amazing to see prices for some microphones drop by literally 80% over the course of 10 years.

Neumann U87Microphones - in conclusion...

From those I know, most full-time voice-overs in the UK use Neumann U87 / TLM103, Rode NT1, AKG C414 TLII, or AT condensers for true pick-up of their voice which can then be EQed and processed later using software or outboard processing boxes.
Then at BBC Radio 4 and BBC local radio they mostly used Beyerdynamic M201s (hypercardioid) which is a unique choice.
There's a huge selection of condensers manufactured in the Far East whose prices are around that of popular dynamic stage mics. This has brought accurate sound recording within reach of many more people than 15 years ago when the cheapest good condenser would have cost four-figures (£). I've used Neumann U87s (pictured left), M149s (which cost more than my car) in voice-over booths, and really didn't find them hugely different in clarity to my AT2020 to warrant spending such a large amount more on them to initially purchase - but perhaps my ears are not as trained as recording and sound engineers - there must be a reason why people have 'favourite' mics they prefer over others.

My current favourite microphones are the AT2020 and the MD441, but if you're starting out or just doing podcasts, an SM57 is an excellent buy (along with a Cloud Lifter) or a Rode NT1 with suitable phantom power supply. Along with a professional USB audio interface.

 

Comments, questions, suggestions, compliments(!)? Contact me.

Contact me to have your question answered!

Fun stuff:
Voice-overs in a limo - see a video of five big names from the VO world

* prices of equipment correct at time of publication.
For price in US dollars ($) simply multiply price you see in £ by about 1.4.

Model Name Price paid Summary
AKG C414 £480 Quality all-rounder. Multiple polar patterns probably not useful for voice work. Acoustic room treatment recommended.
EV RE20 £450 Works better on certain voices. Expensive for what it is.
Shure SM57 £70 Excellent value - with suitable windshield, ideal for non-broadcast voice work.
Shure SM7B £425 Expensive - gives very similar tone to SM57 which costs much less.
AT ATM31a
(now AT8031)
£110 Very nice condenser, ideal for location recording.
AT AT2020 £70 Superb value side-address condenser.
Shure
SM81
£350 Not cheap, but more rugged than large diaphragm condensers.
Oxtavia MK319 £92 Well built, but picks up too much.
Beyer M201 £140 Superb dynamic with the quality of a condenser.
Shure SM87A   More for studio vocals or stage work than voice work really.
Sennheiser MD431 £225 Good but expensive dynamic. (discontinued?)
Sennheiser MD441 £760 Superb quality dynamic, but not cheap.
Sennheiser MKH416 £700 Shotgun mic, clear and direct but very directional and not that 'warm'
Neumann TLM103 £803 Excellent standard, very low self noise. A 'poor man's U87'?

How To Build Your Home Recording Studio - Video


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