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Home Voice Over Studio Acoustics and Equipment

Home Voice Over Studio Acoustics and Equipment

Home Voice Over Studio Part One: The Set-Up

Let’s keep this simple: you want to set up a home voice over studio with a low noise floor. Also, how to do you re-create the quality audio sound you have at professional studios in your home environment? Studios have a high-end production signal chain from your voice, to the mic, to the equipment, to the software. Let’s try to to get as close as we can with no weak links in the chain. But the first step is the acoustics of the home studio. Without that, nothing else sounds good! I have written previously about what I use in my studio. Let’s get you up and running in your home voice over studio!

First Step: Choose your home recording area.

Find the quietest room in your house. A walk-in closet is good only if it’s truly large. Small closets sound boxy and boomy: the lower frequencies bounce around in a nasty way. Then, pick the corner of the room away from windows, doors, and any other noise.  Close off that area as much as possible with dividers or tall furniture covered with thick blankets and pillows, and put blankets or other absorbing material on the walls of that section. Full bookshelves are a fantastic sound absorber and refractor. If you can record in a corner of a room with bookshelves, choose that. Have carpet on the floor, and put carpet or blanket on the desktop you’ll be using there. Hard desk surfaces bounce sound right back at the mic in what is called ‘early reflections’. If you can somewhat close off and acoustically treat a 4′ x 6′ to 6′ x 8′ area in your room  you’ll be in great shape. Make sure you can access and turn off your home’s HVAC system temporarily when recording. For high quality affordable sound blankets that do the job properly, check out Vocal Booth to Go. And for acoustic panels and bass traps, consider the excellent GIK Acoustics.

Second Step: Choose Your Microphone

For a home voice over studio microphone, you need a Condenser (Not Dynamic) microphone that is either Supercardioid or Shotgun in regards to its microphone polar pattern. That way, the mic will be focused straight ahead on your voice, and not taking a wide shot of all the noise and sound reflections in your room. Think of it as normal lens vs. wide angle lens in a camera. You want the normal lens. For Shotgun microphones, quality choices range from the Audio Technica AT875R ($169) to the Rode NTG2 ($269), up to the industry standard Sennheiser MKH 416 ($1000). Non-shotgun condensers like the Shure Beta 27 and CAD E100S are more rare. But, there are good affordable choices like the Rode NT1 ($269) that are plain cardioid not supercardioid but sound more focused. For even less money I can highly recommend either the AKG P220 or AT 2035 (both around $135) which sound excellent, especially on female voices. None of these affordable choices have a very wide cardioid pattern.

Third Step: Pick your Audio Interface

So far, so good for your home voice over studio. Now you need an XLR cable to plug in your microphone to your Audio Interface. The Audio Interface will power your microphone with Phantom Power and will convert your analogue audio signal from the microphone into a digital signal which will then be recorded by your computer and recording software. I highly recommend Mogami Gold or Canare cables for your microphone, but whatever you can find that is decent quality will do the job. You will also need cables to plug in your speakers to the output of your audio interface. Usually 1/4″ jack cables are required.

Audio interfaces have come a long way in the past ten years. I still have the original Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 sitting in storage, and it’s a piece of junk compared to the newest Third Generation version, which I would recommend. Anything by PreSonus, MOTU, Focusrite, or Steinberg under or around $200 will be all you need for quality recordings. Just make sure it works well with your computer and computer inputs. Search for reviews on the particular audio interface that interests you.

Fourth Step: Speakers/Monitors and Headphones

Now it’s time for speakers/monitors and headphones. Mackie and PreSonus both make speakers that are good enough for checking mono voice over recordings for $100 a pair. If you want to spend more, Yamaha and KRK have good options. Headphones are crucial, especially for being able to set up your home voice over studio to make sure the sound is good. Here are the best options for $100 or slightly less:

Shure SHR440 : These are comfortable and very accurate.

Audio Technica ATH-M40x : They are very comfortable, but have a hyped bass response.

Sennheiser HD 280 PRO : These are not comfortable at first, and slightly heavier than the others; but they have extremely accurate sound.

Note that these are all closed-back headphones. This is very important. Opened-back headphones let the sound leak out, so the voice of your client will bleed into your microphone signal. You don’t want that!

Now you will have the acoustic environment and equipment you need to start making quality recordings in your home voice over studio. In the next post I will discus recording tips in your DAW recording software, with links to many valuable online tutorials for Audacity, Audition, and REAPER.

Good luck!

 

 

Raw Voice Over Samples

Raw Voice Over Samples

Raw Voice Over Samples: Truth in Advertising

When I check out voice over demos from my colleagues, the first thing I listen to is their E Learning or IVR demos. Why? Because there isn’t all kinds of music and sound effects as one hears in commercial or promo demos. You hear the full quality of their voice, and the true quality of their studio. You can hear if their room is tubby/heavy on bass or has too many early reflections. If their preamps and mic sparkle and have that extra special sauce, you can hear it. In short, you hear their raw voice over samples without much post-production, and what quality of files they send to their clients. I regularly check the quality of my colleagues’ work to make sure my clients are getting unprocessed audio files of the highest standard.

An increasing number of production houses and talent rosters, especially in Europe, are asking for raw voice over samples as well as finished demos. This is what my most recent raw voice over sample sounds like. I deliberately chose some slower paced copy so you can accurately here the noise floor level and the reflections.

Starting with Quality Studio Acoustics

My studio has acoustic panels and bass traps from GIK Acoustic. Instead of recording in a tubby booth, I record in my 20′ x 15′ studio. To tame some of the larger wall areas I have several hanging double-thick acoustic blankets from Vocal Booth to Go. And I have covered my desk’s top with deep shag carpet, avoiding the bad effects of large reflective desks. Professionally produced demos are great for showing off a voice over talent’s chops. But there is a question of Truth in Advertising. Can you really deliver high quality sounding audio files, or does all the sizzle in your reel come from the demo producer’s post-production skills? Sometimes a well produced demo can mask the ugly truth about a voice over studio.

The Voice Over Signal Chain

For clean, clear voice over audio, I keep a clean, clear voice over signal chain. Let’s trace that chain from my voice to the digitized audio. First, there is my voice. Next, the sound waves from my voice pass through an Octo – 824S pop filter from The Hook Studios. From there, the sound enters the front end of my Rode NTG3 shotgun microphone. The Rode is just like a Sennheiser MKH 416 but with better bass response and the same self noise level but hotter output.

From the microphone, the analogue signal flows down my Mogami Gold XLR cables into my GAP Pre -73 Mk III microphone preamplifier. The preamp is set to 30 dB gain and 70% Output, HPF at 40 Hz -6 dB per octave, and Air Channel + 3 dB at 30 kHz. The analog signal then goes line out to my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation Audio Interface for digital conversion. The Scarlett is line input with the gain turned down to zero so as to minimize the effect of the Scarlett preamps to negligible since they cannot be bypassed. Finally, the digital signal goes to my REAPER DAW, which captures the Raw Voice Over Sample you heard above.

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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation Audio Interface

How is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation Different from the First?

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation

If you are in the market for a small, inexpensive quality audio interface for voice over, one of the most popular choices is the Focusrite Scarlett. I had owned the 2i2 First Generation as part of a backup/travel rig, but upgraded to the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation when it came out in the summer of 2016. As a result, the improvement was noticeable in all areas:

  • First of all, 8 dB more headroom for instrument inputs.
  • Significantly lower latency than was achieved with the First Generation model.
  • Surge protection for inputs and outputs.
  • More even gain structure for setting mic levels. With the old version, good settings were often near the end of the dial.
  • Better converters that handle up to 192 kHz and 24 bit audio.
  • Ships with Avid Pro Tools First and additional plugins, loops, and software.
  • Much louder headphone amp than in the original. This might be one of the best reasons to upgrade.
  • And finally, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation has more clearly marked dials.

Making the switch to New Scarlett Audio Interfaces.

So, if you own a first-generation 2i2 or another Scarlett audio interface, I highly recommend you make the switch to the newer models. When buying, how can you be sure it’s the second-generation model? Focusrite has a handy guide to let you know. If the serial number starts with a V or W, it’s second-generation. If it starts with a S or T, it’s first-generation.

With all the amazing advances in voice over friendly audio interfaces over the past few years from almost all the popular brands like Universal Audio , Yamaha, Presonus, and RME, don’t settle for an old Focusrite interface. Make sure you choose the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation or other Scarlett Second Generation gear.