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Purchasing a Microphone is a Big Deal

Getting started in the voiceover world is exciting, but often nerve wracking. If you’re like most people, you’ll be eager to purchase a microphone and jump into a booth. Sure, you can rush to a run-of-the-mill chain store, get a snow cone-ish microphone for twenty-five dollars, and start recording a few minutes after you cut open the package. However, a wiser investment will increase your audio quality and attract a higher degree of excellence in your professional contracts.

This isn’t to say that purchasing the most expensive microphone is the best option—when it comes to buying a mic, you have plenty of choices.

There are lots of online resources, like this page on Edge Studio’s website, where you’ll find a staggering assortment of microphone descriptions and specs, including prices that range from $80 to over $10,000! Lists like these are seriously intimidating and can make even the most experienced talent nervous. Take a breath, step back, and remember this: as a voice talent, your best plan is to shop around, take your time, and find a mic that is compatible with your voice and other pieces of equipment, no matter what the price point.

Jumping Into The Deep End? Maybe Not!

When it comes to technical specs, most of the heavy hitters and professionals use a microphone with an XLR cable. It’s a tried and true industry standard, but an XLR microphone opens the door to many other considerations, as well. You’ll have to think about your cable quality, pre-amplifiers, phantom power, and digital audio converters, and those are just the absolute basics needed to get a signal into your computer! The advantage of this complexity is that you have the opportunity to adjust and optimize your signal at every link in the chain, potentially creating the best, possible sound for your voice and environment. On the other hand, you also have an equal number of opportunities to degrade and ruin your signal.

If you are new to the voice-over game, a USB direct connection microphone can be an ideal place to start. USB mics are cost effective and easy to set up in varied situations, makeing them ideal for your podcast or start-up audio business. USB direct connection microphones do have some limitations. Many are not fitted with hardware gain controls, use budget components, and sound “tinny” and thin. Some, however, sound great and offer a full feature set at a price that’s still a fraction of the “pro” XLR mics. Find one that works for you and you’ll have a perfect mic to get you started as you learn the ropes of the voiceover industry.

Take the Time to Research Voiceover Industry Standards

A good place to start when shopping for a microphone is your group of voiceover peers. While community advice can certainly be incorrect, there are some widely used, well known microphones that are a great starting point in your search. Find other voiceover professionals who have a sound similar to yours and find out what mics they use and what mics they’ve used … and sold. There’s a very good chance that your list of contenders will quickly narrow down to a half-dozen or fewer well known and well respected options.

Most serious voiceover pros are using large diaphragm condenser mics that are sensitive, nuanced, and offer that BIG sound. The exception is radio broadcast and some on-air commercials that rely on dynamic broadcast mics to produce the “radio” sound. You’ll find both of these options at the top and bottom of the price scale and in both XLR and USB connections.

Try Before You Buy

It’s worth saying again: Try before you buy! The goal when buying a microphone is to find one that works well with your voice. If you have friends in the industry, test out their equipment. When renting is an option, try at a few different microphones and check them out in your own studio to get a feel for how they work in both your own environment and with your voice. If you aren’t lucky enough to have either one of these options, you’re going to have to do a little more leg work if you want to make the investment worth it.

Some retailers have generous return policies or no-risk, money-back trial periods. If you have the money, you can purchase your top two or three mic options then try them side-by-side in your own studio to see which one is the best match for you. Keep that one and return the others! If you’re going to do this, it’s worth contacting the retailer directly and telling them what you plan to do. They might have advice or suggestions that you hadn’t thought of and they’ll definitely appreciate the heads up regarding your intentions. I’ve even had retailers throw in accessories like a mic bar at no cost.

Putting in a bit of extra effort to find the right mic for you will improve your final audio quality and ensure that your investment is a smart one.

Maybe It’s Not The Mic…

Fact: A great mic won’t work magic on a poor voice.

Another fact: A great voice sounds great on almost any mic.

And a third fact: Even the best mic will sound terrible in the wrong environment.

You should honestly evaluate whether a mic is really the best investment. Perhaps your money would be best spent on some coaching or training to improve technique and delivery. Maybe an investment in a vocal booth or room acoustics would have a significant impact on your quality. The truth is that if your delivery or recording environment aren’t up to par, no microphone is going to help you reach the next level.

If you’re looking at microphones because you want to sound better, think long and hard. If you’re looking at microphones because your voiceovers are already excellent but you want to sound different, then you may be on the right track.

Is Voiceover Your Passion or Your Business?

When it comes to passion, you need to purchase what makes you feel good. If that’s the primary objective of your voiceover work, open up your wallet and go nuts with a big smile on your face! However, if voice-over work is a  business venture then it’s important to guarantee a meaningful return on your investment. Before you buy that new microphone, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a valid business need for this mic?
  • Is this the most versatile option? Will it cover more than one base, or is it a very specific tool?
  • How quickly will this mic pay for itself?
  • Are there jobs that I need this microphone for?

There is No Perfect Microphone

Some voices sound incredible with a cheap USB mic aimed at podcasters and some sound better on microphones that cost as much as a nice late model quad cab 4×4 truck. The bottom line is that you need to do the research to ensure that you pick something that matches your recording environment, your voice, and your goals. Take your time, be picky, and resist the seductive allure of “New gear day” and instant gratification!

UPDATE: What’s in my mic locker?

After a few comments and emails, there’s a follow up to this article. Find out what I have in my own mic locker and discover the symptoms of MAS (Microphone Acquisition Syndrome).

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