Even with the best voice, the best script and the best editing and direction, your voice over project is not likely to make the cut without one other key ingredient: a well-equipped home studio. The overall quality of your recordings is only going to be as good as the methods and equipment you use to capture and control the sound.
With more than 25 years in the voice over industry, I’ve landed on the essential components that I need in order to create the high-quality voice over audio my clients expect. Here are the top 10 things every home studio must have to do the same.
1. High-Quality Microphone
The higher the quality of your microphone, the better the quality of your recordings.
If you’re serious about a professional voice over career, the microphone is one place you don’t want to skimp. At all. Sure, there are dozens of microphones available in the lower price range – but investing in a really good mic is one investment you will never regret.
The microphone is the main tool you use to capture your voice. The better it sounds, the better you’ll sound.
My years of experience have made me a big fan of Neumann microphones. My current model is the Neumann TLM 102 Microphone. This particular mic is rather small and compact, yet its sound quality and versatility are amazing.
When I upgraded to this mic several years ago, I sound-tested four other very high quality microphones along with this one in my studio. I believe the TLM 102 was actually the lowest priced of all of the mics tested, yet when comparing the sound of my voice on all five mics, it was clear that this was the right mic for me. Someone with a different tone or register might have chosen a different option. So, the best mic for you may not be the most expensive mic that you can find. You should find the best quality mic that is a good fit for your voice but at the most reasonable price point.
My favorite features of the mic include:
- Compact size: Doesn’t get in the way of viewing my scripts or screens
- TLM technology: TLM stands for “transformerless.” That means the typical output transformer you find in microphones is replaced by an electronic circuit, which results in low noise and high clarity.
- Built-in boost: There’s a vocal quality known as “sweetness,” which makes vocals really stand out. This mic has the capacity to enhance that quality, adding smoothness and dimension to vocal recordings.
2. Microphone Accessories
Microphone accessories, like a microphone stand, shock mount and pop filter, can help enhance the sound quality even further.
The exceptional sound of a quality microphone can easily be ruined with excessive noise from other sources. These can include handling, mechanical interference and popping sounds made from fast-moving air when you’re speaking or singing. Three accessories can help decrease the chances of all of the above.
- Microphone stand: This keeps the mic steady and stable while freeing up your hands for other things. I actually have my stand mounted to the wall on a versatile boom arm. It is important that the mic stand be free standing and NOT attached to your desk to avoid extraneous noise and vibration. Even a floor stand can pick up vibration.
- Shock mount: This piece of equipment supports your mic. It’s designed to reduce noise caused by mechanical vibrations and handling.
- Pop screen: Noise protection that reduces or altogether eliminates popping sounds in vocal recordings. I definitely prefer the metal screen vs. the fabric screen.
Another perk of high-quality microphones is often finding some of these features already included. For instance, the Rode microphone I use as a backup/travel mic has a built-in pop screen. My TLM102 came with two types of shock mounts and I tend to prefer the elastic suspension style.
3. Audio Software, Quality Computer
Also known as a digital audio workstation (DAW), audio software is what you use to record and edit.
Recording and editing software is a must, as is a quality computer that’s compatible with the DAW you choose. Slow or outdated computers can really kill your efficiency and productivity.
My DAW of choice is Adobe Audition Audio Software. It has tons of useful features that let me easily edit, clean up and enhance my recordings. It also has capabilities for restoring damaged recordings, adding music to fit an exact duration of time, and expertly exporting recordings.
I originally used Sony Sound Forge which worked great for many years… Until Sony sold it to another company who completely failed on many levels. I was forced to change software programs a few years back, and it was kind of a painful transition. But, the way I do things now is much more speedy and efficient for editing.
4. Mic Preamp, Processor
A mic preamp amplifies the microphone signal, while a processor provides additional power to the preamp. They’re often combined in a single unit.
For best results with your recordings, both a mic preamp and processor are essential for your home studio. Most microphones have very low outputs, and a preamp ensures the output is boosted to a usable level. While most audio interfaces and mixers have built-in preamps, they may not be powerful enough to achieve the most professional results.
You can find the mic preamp and processor combined into a single unit, which is the case with my Harman DBX 286s Mic Preamp/Processor. This piece of equipment is a full channel strip processor with a quality preamplifier and four different processors. Each processor brings a different benefit to the sound quality. The four processors can be used independently or in any combination with the others.
Be aware that sometimes producers and engineers prefer that you NOT use any processor on your recording. I now use just a touch of processing on most recordings, but for many years I recorded very raw audio and let the producer tweak it to whatever degree they needed. You have to be careful with processors and not overdo it.
Mixers are used in home recording studios to combine and process audio signals, and then route them where they need to go.
In addition to letting you combine and route audio signals in a convenient way, the best mixers even let you change the dynamics of the sound. While it’s true many DAWs and other software programs have audio mixing capabilities, some voice over artists prefer the real knobs, buttons and faders you find on the hardware mixers.
I am one of those artists. I use the Mackie Onyx 820i Pro Mixer. This compact mixer allows me to quickly and intuitively adjust audio levels and other attributes to produce the exact sound I’m going for. It’s also one of my favorite pieces of home studio equipment. They don’t make them anymore, but a couple years back I bought a second Mackie Onyx, just to have as a backup.
6. ISDN Voice Over Equipment
Officially known as Integrated Services Digital Network, ISDN enables recording studios to connect with voice over talent working remotely in their home studios.
In the old days, you used to have to show up in person to record with a client in a professional recording studio. Today, all you need is a connecting platform to connect your DAW/computer to the recording studio. ISDN was the original in this regard. ISDN has been around since the mid-1980s, and although there are now several competing platforms (Source Connect, ipDTL and even Skype) it remains to go-to standard for remote recording sessions for most recording studios and many voice over actors across the world.
CAVEAT: Be aware that ISDN is a soon-to-be-extinct dinosaur (although how soon nobody knows) so if you are a new voice talent, you probably won’t want to invest in ISDN and instead use something like Source Connect. That being said, I still prefer ISDN sessions over all other options.
The quality of the audio is so good on ISDN, you feel like you’re standing in your client’s recording booth, wherever that may be. It’s also good enough to capture the recording on the client’s end, which means you don’t have to record, edit and upload the files yourself. All is recorded in real time as if you were actually in their studio.
There are other good less expensive alternatives to ISDN, my preference being Source Connect. Most VO talent and production companies are moving away more and more from ISDN, mostly because of telephone company costs involved and the fact that phone companies are phasing out this service over time.
7. Studio Headphones
Studio headphones are a lot different than your standard headphones. Those differences are what make them essential for home recording studios.
Even the highest-quality pair of standard headphones isn’t going to be useful for recording. They simply aren’t designed for the job. Studio headphones are. Being designed for the job means:
- Providing accurate sound. Studio headphones give you the authentic sound of your audio, whereas standard headphones tend to automatically modify the audio in some way to make it sound more appealing. While you may want your music to sound better when you listen to it, you don’t want your voice to be enhanced in any way. You want to know exactly how it sounds as you’re recording it.
- Having a wider frequency range. Standard headphones typically can’t detect background noises or other distortions that occur at extremely high or low frequencies. Studio headphones can. This allows you to remove the distortions as needed.
- Being higher quality. Studio headphones tend to have superior construction. This makes them more comfortable, durable and longer-lasting.
8. Studio Monitors
You need at least one computer monitor to use your audio software, and adding a second one comes with many additional benefits.
I lived with a single computer monitor for years, as that’s technically all you need to access your DAW. The monitor can display your audio software controls, allowing you to use your keyboard and mouse to control your recording sessions in real time.
When we installed a new voice over recording system, I had a second studio monitor installed. Wow. It makes a huge difference in my productivity. The second monitor gives me access to everything else during a recording session. This includes emails, computer files, scratch videos the client sent via Hightail or DropBox, videos or online information, and even Skype.
My full setup has two monitors in both my office and my recording studio (four total). It took some design and detailed understanding of how to get this all setup. Fortunately, I have a husband who has knowledge in these areas and was able to consult with the right people to figure out what we needed.
9. Sound Card or Audio Interface
A critical part of your sound chain setup, sound cards and audio interfaces allow you to get the sound into and out of your computer.
Many professional voice over actors still like to use a sound card, as it can greatly affect the recording quality of your microphone. I use the Echo MiaMIDI computer sound card, which was easy to set up, easy to use, and helps with my audio editing when I’m using Adobe Audition.
However, going with the common theme here of things no longer being available, you can’t find this sound card anymore. I hear more and more that the audio interfaces are more common and preferred these days, so I suggest you do research on those for this aspect of your recording setup.
10. Soundproof Treatment
Soundproofing enhances the quality of your recordings by keeping unwanted noise out of your studio.
Whether it’s a truck going by outside or footsteps in the next room, external noises can be picked up by high-quality microphones. While you can get rid of some unwanted noise during the editing process, it’s not always possible to get rid of all of it. Besides, it’s preferable to spend the time and effort during editing working to improve the overall recording, not fix things that are wrong with it.
There are dozens of different soundproofing options, from professional installation to DIY varieties.
Watch out for tricky things like the sound of water running through pipes in the walls, air conditioning or furnace noise and, of course, the dreaded lawn equipment noise. One of the most important decisions is which room to convert into your studio. We had to move from a room located in the front of the house to a walk-in closet on the backside of our house, just to avoid the neighbors’ lawn equipment.
You can enhance the quality of sound in your studio even further by combining soundproofing with an acoustic treatment. Acoustic treatments are designed to absorb excessive ambiance to make the acoustics in the room sound better.
And, while most people pay attention to the walls and ceiling, it’s easy to forget about sound-proofing the floor. A thick pad can do wonders for knocking out low frequency vibrations.
With these 10 components in place, your home studio will be equipped to produce high-quality voice over recordings indicative of true professional. You’ll also enjoy a setup that lets you perform your work in the most efficient and effective way. Doing your research and investing in quality equipment is definitely worth the time and effort, as it will provide you with everything you need to produce exceptional recordings for years to come.