Blog Picking Out a Microphone for Voiceover

“What microphone should I get?” is often the first question voiceover artists ask themselves after deciding they want to pursue the art… if not the first. It’s also often the first debate voiceover artists often find themselves adrift in when they reach out to more seasoned pros! To say that the voiceover community has strong opinions regarding the best mics for the job is an understatement. If you ask three voice actors, you’ll get about six different answers!

So… what do we at Closing Credits think?

The right microphone is the microphone that serves you best.

It’s as simple as that.

Every voice actor’s budget, space, vocal instrument, and personal goals factor into the decision of which mic to use. If a one-size-fits-all option existed, there wouldn’t be options in the first place! Especially now, there’s an embarrassment of riches out there for voice actors of all skill levels and budgets. It just takes some research and testing to figure out the right microphone for your needs.

What to Look for

The easiest way to find the ideal microphone is to head to the most trusted audio shop in your area and start testing the equipment in your price range. Most staffers at stores specializing in recording gear know their stuff, and they can provide a ton of help for new voice actors. Not every microphone is suitable for every voice type, either. Just because you find a promising one in your price range, that doesn’t make it inherently the best choice for you personally. That’s why we heavily recommend testing before committing!

At the end of the day, there are mics you like and mics you don’t like.

Specs aren’t so crucial when picking your first microphone. For one thing, you may own broadcast-quality equipment, but that means nothing if you don’t record in a sound-treated space! Even the highest-end mics pick up environment noise and can ruin a session if you’re not careful about where you’re recording.

You should still familiarize yourself with the basics so you have a better understanding of how your equipment works, however. It’s good information to keep on hand, especially when you’re ready to make upgrades. We recommend that you take note of the following:

  • Bit depth: The bit depth is the number of bits in a binary system (ie. the 1s and 0s that make up a program) as it applies to a digital audio signal. For a microphone, we say you need a bit depth of at least 24.
  • Sample rate: The sample rate measures how many frequencies are present in your audio. The average human ear can detect frequencies between 20 hz (hertz) and 20 khz (kilohertz), though as you get older your ability to hear in the higher ranges decreases. Keep this in mind when purchasing a microphone. Additional frequencies may add some richness to your final recording, but they aren’t necessary.
  • Sound pressure level: Measured in decibels (dB), sound pressure level is how much sound impacts the air pressure around it. The human voice has about an upper limit of 100 to 120 dBs, so unless you plan to scream “Kamehamehaaaaa!!!” repeatedly into your microphone, you’re probably not going to cause any real damage to your equipment. We still don’t recommend you testing this, though! Also keep in mind that extremely loud sounds may cause distortion to your recording without necessarily clipping it. Unless you plan to use a ribbon microphone in your studio, SPL is more of a concern for musicians than voice actors.
  • Audio is a complicated science, but beginner voice actors don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of the math and models behind it. That’s the engineers’ job. All the same, though, voice actors of all levels should still put in time researching the fundamentals. It helps you better appreciate everything that goes into creating an audio drama, audiobook, animation, video game, or other project involving voiceover work, and make more informed decisions when purchasing and upgrading your equipment.

    Microphone Types and Polar Patterns

    A microphone’s type and polar pattern determine where the machine picks up sound. You’ll usually see this information depicted graphically on boxes and instruction manuals. There are two different types of microphone, each broken down into further polar patterns: condenser and dynamic.

    Condenser

    Condenser microphones are the most responsive to the highest range of frequencies, making them the most sensitive options. These are the microphones best suited for sound-dampened home and/or professional studios.

    Dynamic

    Dynamic microphones are known for their ability to capture loud, strong noises. They have far less sensitivity than condenser microphones. These microphones work best if you live somewhere with extreme background noise, such as a tiny apartment in a bustling city, or for some music applications.

    Most Closing Credits students live in areas where a condenser microphone, not a dynamic one, is necessary.

    If you’re unsure as to whether or not a dynamic microphone might be better suited for your environment, please feel free to reach out to one of our instructors or our Discord community with your questions. We want you to have the best equipment for your voiceover career, and are here to help if you need advice about which option works best given your physical circumstances.

    Polar Patterns

    Both condenser and dynamic microphones come in various polar patterns, which determine the areas that pick up the most sound.

  • Cardioid: The cardioid pattern is so-called because it’s shaped like a heart. It picks up the sound in only one direction, making it ideal for situations where you’re recording a singular voice. This is the polar pattern you’ll need for voiceover work.
  • Supercardioid: Think of a supercardioid as a cardioid pattern with a stubby little “tail” on its back, so they can pick up a few additional noises behind the main direction where it points.
  • Hypercardioid: The hypercardioid polar pattern sports the same shape as the super cardioid, but the “tail stub” in the back is even larger. Neither the supercardioid nor the hypercardioid work well for voice actors.
  • Omnidirectional: An omnidirectional microphone is highly sensitive to sound in all directions. They’re mainly used when you’re recording in stereo or throughout an entire room, but not recommended for home voiceover studios.
  • Bidirectional: Also known as a “figure 8,” the bidirectional polar pattern is equally sensitive in two main areas of the microphone. It’s best used in situations where two people who need to be recorded are sitting across from one another, such as a podcast or radio interview.
  • Lobar: Lobar polar patterns are only found in shotgun microphones, though not all shotgun microphones are necessarily lobar. This shape resembles an X with one “arm” longer than the other. It picks up more than a supercardioid or hypercardioid and is used more often in film than voiceover.
  • PZM/boundary: A pressure zone microphone (PZM), also known as a boundary microphone, looks like a half-circle with a flat back. In other words, they’re like an omnidirectional pattern sliced in two.
  • Infinitely variable: An infinitely variable microphone can take on any of the aforementioned shapes, or can be toggled to something combining two of them. There is no need to purchase one of these for voiceover reasons, even if it can take on a cardioid shape.
  • In addition to knowing how sound enters your microphone, we recommend that voice actors take the time to research how sound travels from your microphone to your computer.

    XLR vs. USB: The Great Debate

    One of the central audio equipment debates within the voiceover community revolves around whether or not you need an XLR microphone or if you can build your career up with a USB. These days, USB microphones have become so sophisticated, it can be hard for even the most seasoned audio engineer to tell a difference between mics in the same price range sometimes. Still, voice actors should familiarize themselves with how each connection type works.

    XLR

    Because they don’t plug directly into your computer, purchasing an XLR microphone also requires budgeting for an interface—such as the popular Scarlett Focusrite—and an XLR cable. These microphones are most commonly seen in professional and broadcast studios, as well as live music venues, because of their durability and robust sound.

    USB

    Unlike an XLR microphone, a USB doesn’t require a specialized cable or interface. It plugs right into your computer’s USB port. Podcasters and streamers are fond of these mics because they don’t involve any additional equipment when they’re setting up their shows. Plus, they’re significantly more budget-friendly while still featuring the same audio quality components as their XLR counterparts.

    Which is the best for voiceover, then?

    We don’t think you’ll be able to detect any major upward shift in quality until you start considering XLR microphones in the $400+ range.

    Your recording environment and post-production habits matter so much more when you’re beginning your career. What’s the point of investing in the Neumann microphones you find in the studios for Disney and Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network if you live next door to an airport or artillery practice range? If an audition specifies that you need an XLR microphone, but you turn in a file with excessive background noise, how is that superior to a USB in a quiet, sound-treated booth?

    Our point exactly.

    If you’re starting your voiceover career, we recommend prioritizing creating a sound-dampened recording space over the debate between XLR and USB. It doesn’t have to be a $5,000 premade booth or converted walk-in closet, either. Even pillows and blankets in a simple PVC cube on your desk can go a long way in ridding your final recordings of pesky background noises. Not to mention even voice actors with rudimentary audio editing skills can remove problematic aspects of their recordings in their chosen digital audio workstation (DAW), such as Audacity or Adobe Audition.

    Get Started with Closing Credits

    The Closing Credits team wants to see our students succeed, and that means having the equipment that works for them, not the equipment we ourselves prefer. We design our voice acting and audio engineering courses to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions regarding your career. Feel free to reach out to our instructors or our Discord community whenever you have questions about getting started… and where to go from there!

    Additional Resources

    Did we mention that voice actors hold really strong opinions regarding equipment? Crispin Freeman broke down his thoughts on his favorite gear for different experience levels and budgets at his Voice Acting Mastery website. And if you’d like to hear the differences between polar patterns just to get an idea as to why the voiceover industry prefers cardioid, Sweetwater has you covered.

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