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  • Writer's pictureDrew Carpetner

Voice Over Equipment & Recording

Updated: May 13

Equipment and Recording

The Important Voice Over Equipment

I collaborate with many brilliant audio engineers, but since many of my clients are primarily involved in video production and not audio experts, I've received numerous inquiries about my recording equipment over the years. I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief overview of my voice over equipment while noting that there are many options at many price points that will get the job done sounding just as well. I love to talk gear, so here we go!

The Microphone (Mic)

I rely on a Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphone, which is widely regarded as the LA industry standard. I previously used a Neumann U87, the East Coast industry standard, but managing two different microphones for pickups and on busy days became cumbersome. Consequently, I've stuck with the 416.

Most filmmakers are familiar with this microphone because it's often mounted on a boom. Interestingly, the voice-over community adopted it in the 1980s when the legendary Ernie Anderson refused to record in the booth, and engineers needed a microphone that could produce excellent sound quality when recording in the control room.

While the 416 excels at rejecting room noise, its popularity primarily stems from its flattering tonal characteristics, especially for male voices. All thanks to Mr. Anderson being a bit of a diva that day.

The Preamplifier (Preamp)

To power the 416, I use the Avalon 737 tube preamplifier and channel strip, a favorite among voice-over artists, and for good reason. I previously had a Manley VOXBOX, but despite its higher price tag, I'm relieved to have moved on from it. I found myself constantly fiddling with it and struggling to achieve the sound I wanted. In contrast, the 737 is difficult to make sound bad. I played with it for a few hours and haven’t needed to touch its settings since.

My processing involves minimal compression and some de-essing to smooth out the 416's more aggressive qualities.

For clients who prefer "broadcast-ready" audio, I apply additional processing within my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) using various plugins to achieve the desired results.

The Voice Over Recording Environment (Room)

Without a doubt, the most critical element in any recording setup is the room itself. Even the best equipment can sound terrible in a poorly treated room, while half-decent equipment can sound quite good in an acoustically favorable environment. Like many VOs, I started in a closet, but eventually, the lack of proper ventilation became a significant issue. This was despite cutting a hole in my house to install an air conditioner into this closet, but that’s a story for another day.

After that, I moved to a 4x4 Whisper Room booth and later upgraded to an 8x8 Whisper Room because a 4x4 box is a miserable place to work, and it was extremely difficult to treat properly. It blocked outside noise but sounded like I was recording inside a sock drawer, which effectively I was.

While booths are popular for reducing environmental noise (such as leaf blowers and traffic), prefab booths generally have subpar acoustics and don't block as much sound as advertised.

By far, the best environment is a bedroom-sized room that’s well-treated and doesn’t have external noise to contend with, but that’s not possible for many, which is why booths are so popular.

DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

The rule here is: to use whatever you are comfortable with. All modern DAWs do roughly the same thing, the only variable being the monkey pressing the buttons. I’ve been using Adobe Audition for nearly 20 years and, despite the annoyance of a subscription model, it serves my purposes very well. Were I starting fresh, I’d likely choose Reaper due to its high customizability, wide user base, and lifetime license.

Newcomers tend to gravitate to Pro Tools because of its ubiquity in the music production industry. My advice would be to stay away. It’s packed with features to enable mixing large instrument ensembles and is needlessly complicated for anything less than that. If you are already a user, though, it’s more than capable. Other options include Twisted Wave, which is Mac only and NOT capable of multitrack mixing, Audacity, which is free, and Logic, Apple’s DAW.

They will all get the job done equally well in the hands of a skilled user, so pick whichever one seems to interface with your brain the easiest.

Gear Takeaways

Treat the room, treat the room, please, treat the room.

It’s far and away the most important factor. You can buy panels, I like GiK Acoustics the best but the main thing is you have a lot of soft and heavy stuff around your first reflection points. A great video about that is below:

Other tips to get you off on the right foot in treating your room:
  • Square rooms are the hardest to treat due to standing waves. Diamond or 5+ walled rooms are the best but you probably don’t have one of those, so, rectangular is the next best.

  • In order of importance: first reflection points first, then the corners, then the ceiling.

  • Hard flat walls will need the most treatment. Anything to break up resonance helps; bookcases, coat racks, couches, etc.

Equipment Selection Takeaways

  • Condenser mics are more detailed than dynamic mics require the least room treatment and reject the most outside noise (airplanes, traffic, dogs, etc.). Condenser mics need the most treatment and the quietest space. There is a dramatic difference between the two. If you aren’t committed to treating a room well, don’t buy a condenser.

  • Almost no one outside of you and a very astute audio engineer can tell the difference between a $3000 preamp and a $300 one provided the gain is staged correctly. The expensive ones are usually bought out of ignorance or by audio nerds with no other hobbies (guilty as charged).

  •  Just spend the money on Mogami cables, they don’t sound better but will last a lifetime. At least, buy a few levels up from the cheapest and a well-known brand.

  • Don’t over-process your audio on any tracks you plan to use. This is the #1 mistake everyone new to recording makes. Record with peaks from -12db to -6db and normalize to -3db, then save it before you start turning dials and opening plugins. Compressors are for experimentation only until you’ve been recording for a few years. Absolutely no one, ever listens to this advice but I had to say it anyway because I’m apparently, I’m now a grumpy audio guy.

All that said, I thoroughly enjoy assisting individuals with their recording setups, a service I've provided to many clients and really anyone who wants help. If you're not well-versed in audio equipment but are interested in assembling a setup, please don't hesitate to reach out! I'm always delighted to discuss equipment and room treatment for as long as you're willing to!

Happy recording!

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