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How To Pick the Right Microphone For Your Voice

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

February 9, 2011

Comments (25)

Brunette singing into a microphone vintage styleWhen it comes to buying a microphone, you want to be sure that whatever you purchase does justice to your voice and brings your talent to the fore.

In today's VOX Daily, you'll learn about some factors you'll want to consider when going about determining if a microphone is suited to your voice.

After you've read the article, be sure to comment with your thoughts!

The Age Old Question

What microphone is best? Which microphone should I buy?

These are questions that frequently pop up from people who are entering the voice over field. After receiving another question of this kind today, I asked David Ciccarelli, CEO of Voices.com, if he could collaborate with me on an article that would help people select the best microphone for their voices. David is an honours graduate of the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology (OIART) and has a wealth of knowledge at the ready when it comes to audio recording.

While we can't give a definitive answer to anyone who asks "What microphone should I get?" what we can do is provide people with tools to help them decide for themselves.

Considerations When Choosing a Microphone Include:

Usability

The best microphone is the one that you can use with the fewest technical problems. If all other things are equal, choose the simplest setup that you can that will enable you to record as quickly as possible, hence the saying "plug and play."

Frequency Response

Some microphones like the RE20 (the stereotypical radio microphone) are large diaphragm microphones designed to pick up lower frequencies such as a deep male voice, a bass drum or even a bass guitar.

The small diaphragm or small capsule microphone is designed to pick up higher frequencies such as the female voice, the brightness of an acoustic guitar or shimmering cymbals. You may have seen these as the overhead microphones on a drum kit or above an orchestra.

I was just at a voice over workshop where hertz was explained in terms of the human voice. Hertz, named for the German physicist Heinrich Hertz, measures the number of cycles per second. Where the human voice is concerned, this means the number of times the vocal folds vibrate per second.

๏ A healthy male voice usually falls between 110-120 hertz
๏ A healthy female voice usually falls between 200-210 hertz
๏ Children's voices usually fall between 300-400 hertz

The higher the vibrations per second, the brighter the sound. To give you an example, you might be familiar with A440, also known as Concert Pitch. As an orchestra prepares to tune, the principal violinist will play this pitch to help others in the ensemble tune their instruments.

Directionality

Decide which type of directional pattern, also known as a microphone's polar pattern, best suits your needs. For voice overs, a more focused directional microphone is likely best. The polar pattern you should be looking for is a cardioid or a hypercardioid.

This type of polar pattern will minimize room tone and ambient noise as it's designed to pick up sounds within close proximity of the front of the microphone.

Pop Filter

A pop filter is considered a standard accessory for voice over artists. The pop filter acts as a screen that helps to reduce the impact of the air from your mouth onto the microphone capsule which results in the minimization of sibilance, plosives and other mouth noises.

If you're curious about pop filters or want to learn more about whether or not you should use them (some people prefer not to), take a look at this article discussing the benefits of using a pop filter.

To Pop or Not? Are Pop Filters Necessary? (47+ comments)

Shock Mount

A shock mount is a mechanical fastener that holds your microphone in place, suspending them by elastics. I have one of the USB microphone that we use at the office for podcasting. One of the benefits of a shock mount is that the microphone is isolated from stand vibrations. For instance, if there is a low rumbling under foot, the shock mount can absorb it.

Testing

Experiment with a friend's microphone or borrow a handful of microphones from the music store and test them out. If you're looking at a high end microphone, you might consider renting a few mics for a couple hundred dollars overnight to test a few pieces of equipment before investing a couple of thousand dollars on the right microphone for your voice.

Price

The best microphone for your voice won't necessarily be the most expensive one on the market. From one perspective, the best microphone is the one that is affordable and gets the job done which is why many of these criteria could be considered "nice to haves," and not "need to haves."

Having said that, the microphone, along with the preamp are the pieces of technology that are between you and your computer so get the microphone that makes your voice sounds best but also fits in your budget.

Favorite Microphones

Some time ago I posted an article asking voice talent to comment with their favourite microphones and why they loved them. If you're looking for some firsthand recommendations from people who love their mics, I encourage you to read this article:

The Hottest Microphones on the Planet (32+ comments)

There are many reviews online where people describe their experiences with various microphones. A quick Google search can lead to more information quickly on a particular microphone of interest.

How Did You Pick Your Microphone?

If you have any tips or a story to tell, be sure to add a comment on this posting for all to see and benefit from.

Looking forward to your reply!

Best wishes,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Alexey Avdeev

Related Topics: acting, audio recording, child, choosing a mic, German, Google, how to, microphones, Microphones, OIART, pop filter, radio, voice overs


Comments


    This is right on for me this morning, as I'm in the market for researching a new mic for voice over work. I also do music, so I have to take that into consideration as well. Our guitar center here will allow me to try several mics inside the store to see which one sounds best on my voice. I also have recently heard that a really good mic with a cheap interface defeats the purpose...so a good mic plus good interface is what I'm in the market for. Thanks for the article!

    Posted by:

      So much depends on the job and the voice. David's right - try a variety of mikes, and in your own surroundings if possible. Where I work, in rural Devon UK, that wasn't possible, so I went with the crowd, thanks to forums at Voices.com and Voiceover Universe, and got the affordable but excellent cardioid condenser Rode NT1A - you can hear samples on my site. No, I don't collect a commission!
      With more budget, my 'nice to have' will be the vintage ribbon 4038, now made by Coles, because I truly fell for its warm, realistic sound while working at the BBC. Fabulous for narration, though probably not for commercials, or anything where there's a likely need to fight through background music added later.

      Posted by:

        Great question, Stephanie...

        I was in the market a few years back. Up to that point I had been using the RE27 (same as the RE20 but with a few extra patterns). I loved it.... until I heard how my voice could sound on a Sennheiser 416.

        I tested a few different mics including a go to unit for many voice talent, the Neumann TLM103. Funny enough, I couldn't get any kind of presence from that one, but female friends I know swear by it.

        If voiceover is going to be your career, I think you need to go with a good condenser mic. Dynamic mics just don't have the full body you need to compete with other voice talent.

        If you're going to spend money on something, make it a good mic and a good preamp. A good voice coach once told me, "If you want to compete, you have to have the gear. Plain and simple." I guarantee you won't get the same quality sound out of an RE20 as you will out of a U87. It's a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but in the long run, you're not going to always be questioning, "Am I getting the best sound for my voice?"

        It's tough to find a shop that will have the kind of selection you'll want to try, so what the heck. When you exhaust their collection, call up a radio station and ask if you can come try their mics? Call up another local voice talent. Collect samples of yourself reading the same copy on all of them, then determine which one you like the best.
        REMEMBER: Don't use any other compression or eq. You want a fair representation of what that mic sounds like. And make sure you're recording at the same level. If you have a portable setup, bring it and record with it, because every different place you record will have a different preamp and different room sound, so the more variables you can avoid, the better.

        Good luck.

        Posted by:

          Since my voice is deeper than the typical female one, I couldn't go by the suggested mic's for women. Currently, I use the AKG 414, which works great for me.

          Posted by:

            Mornin'

            "the microphone is the one piece of technology that is between you and your computer" .... well that's not exactly true in all cases. You will almost always have an interface, ie: Mbox, Apogee, etc, and maybe a mic pre-amp, and of course some engineers & purists will say that cable quality, think Mogami, also matters. Essentially the whole recording chain matters... but, considering the global picture of internet carrier, your computer age/capability, recording software, room noise, etc, buying the mic you can afford & learning to use well is a good place to be.

            Posted by:
            • Tom Dolan
            • February 10, 2011 1:54 PM

              Guys,
              I really appreciate what you're trying to do here. I also prefer educating my clients over just belching out a canned response to the "what mic should I buy" question, but this article here is mis-representing a LOT of potentially valuable information, which could lead many to come to erroneous conclusions about their mic selection.

              First off, we talk about usability. I completely agree. For newbie self-recorders, simplicity is key. However then we bring up the RE20 (the only mic specifically mentioned). It's a great "DJ" style mic, but simple to use it is not. For conversational voice over it requires the use of a high (clean) gain preamp and potentially a compressor and EQ.

              Next we reference that the RE20 is a "large diaphragm" microphone. This is also accurate. However, this term NEEDS to be completed, as "large diaphragm" is USUALLY followed by "condenser" in the general recording vernacular. The RE20 is a large diaphragm DYNAMIC. Dynamic mics like the RE20, SM7b, and MD421 are valued for their high spl and high off axis rejection MORE than anything else. The reason we use them on voices is because in a radio station, the environment is normally noisey, and the talent/dj is usually yelling. Look at how they're used, the person is lipping the mic, and doing their full voice dj thing, which is then run into a high gain pre, then EQ, THEN limited to within an inch of its life. This is done so the voice will be super "loud" and "cut through" all the other noises in a person's car.

              This set up is NOT conducive to commercial VO, where countless pieces of copy usually start their direction off with phrases like "non-anncr" or "real person". The RE20 will force a new voice talent to create the technical version of the sound many producers are now saying they DON'T want. Not to say you can't achieve natural results from this set up (though it will require A LOT more leg work), but dynamics are LOW out-put microphones, so expect to have noisier recordings if you can't afford a really nice pre.

              Next, size of the diaphragm doesn't have the linear relationship to frequency response that you are insinuating. If this were the case then shotguns and pencil mics would always be squeaky bright mics, and large diaphragm condensers would always be muddy. The larger cartridge in a dynamic might be designed for better bass response, but often that means the mic has a more severe bass ROLL OFF to maintain accuracy. This can ALSO hurt voice recordings as it can suck out the low end presence of a voice if you don't know how to tailor your EQ settings (referring back to the simplicity argument). Large cartridge dynamics are FAR more valuable in recording screamers and kick drums because of their resistance to overloading. In fact I often prefer the sound of a "small diaphragm" hand held dynamic (like the SM58) over a large cartridge dynamic as they are designed specifically for singers, not general purpose mics used on kick drums.

              Speaking of voices, the human voice will represent a very broad spectrum of sound, not just a few hertz. A "healthy" male voice will often fall between 80Hz and 1000Hz, female voices typically fall between 200Hz and 2000Hz. NO voice will be one specific EQ. Even singing a specific note, with perfect pitch, will vibrate air at different fequencies surrounding that pitch. I propose an experiment. Get a singer to sing a perfect high A, then eliminate the EQ on 1760. If surrounding frequencies are not altered then you would end up with perfect silence. Go ahead. Try it. I'll wait here.

              If the human voice didn't occupy a spread of frequencies, we'd all sound like robots (think auto-tune). Your estimates here only represent the absolute lowest end of the human spectrum per gender. The WHOLE BODY is the instrument, not just the flaps in the back of the throat. Play a tone at 80Hz, MANY men will have trouble getting that low and maintaining any semblance of resonance...

              Also as a technical note. You mention Hertz = cycles per second, but then say "hertz per second" which is redundant. By writing it that way you're actually saying "cycles per second per second" which would be a different (nonsensical) mathmatical equation. Really it just sounds silly though, like saying "ATM Machine".

              Again, I'm happy you've written this article from a common sense "try before you buy" perspective, but some of the ways facts are represented here is borderline inaccurate, or at the least implies an understanding from the reader which they probably wont have if they're green enough to ask "what's the best mic for me"..

              Posted by:

                One last point if I may indulge a bit.
                There's a reason why we value the cardioid and hyper-cardioid polar patterns. It boils down to rejection. A shotgun will reject more sound from the sides and corners of a room than a mic set in omni. However, the more focused a mic gets, the more you have to deal with the proximity effect (VERY basically, the closer you get to a directional mic, the more bass frequencies are un-naturally emphasized, plus the more directional a mic is the more this effect comes into play per distance), which will make your recordings sound less natural.

                Why not record everything in omni then (if we don't like these "un-natural DJ" voices)? Because it's really expensive to properly treat a room to stand up to a detailed mic in omni. The MKH416 has become extremely popular in this regard as it was originally used so the talent could be in the control room with the director, producer, and writers (not a very clean environment). It maintains its dominance on the West Coast purely through momentum. It's actually designed to be used on a boom pole, and sounds pretty awful if used in too small of a space.

                If you want the most "natural" sound, then expect to treat a space (time/money/effort) for wide cardioid or even omni...

                Posted by:

                  Tom,

                  Fair enough. In a professional studio environment, there are often several steps in the signal chain as I've outlined here on microphones:

                  http://blogs.voices.com/thebiz/2007/12/the_audio_recording_signal_chain_microphones.html

                  ...and here on pre-amps:

                  http://blogs.voices.com/thebiz/2007/12/the_audio_recording_signal_chain_preamps.html

                  The statement was in reference to a USB microphone, in which case it would be the only step between your mouth and the recording software. However, you've made a great point that should be reflected in an article providing recommendations on how to select a microphone.

                  We've updated the article to mention that both the microphone and
                  pre-amp are equally important.

                  Thank you!

                  Posted by:

                    Hi Juan (someaudioguy),

                    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and for providing additional context and detail. I have already made the edit you suggested re: hertz redundancy reference.

                    Given you consult people in this area as something you do professionally, would you be open to joining us on a webinar that helps people learn about microphones and how to test them? Let me know as I expect this would be a popular topic and could also serve as a means to engage with people who'd like to work with you.

                    Best wishes,

                    Stephanie

                    Posted by:
                    • Stephanie Ciccarelli
                    • February 10, 2011 5:50 PM

                      That sounds like fun Steph.
                      We should hook up and put something together.
                      Do you still have my email address?

                      Posted by:

                        Juan,

                        I think I still do but if not we can connect via Facebook to exchange emails. I'm glad you're up for this!

                        Best wishes,

                        Stephanie

                        Posted by:

                          This is always the number one question I receive whenever I do a seminar, and it is a challenging one to tackle, indeed. We did a shootout last night at the DLF VO Lab with 7 mics ranging from $200-$3000, and you couldn't possibly say the price correlated with the sound.
                          The room acoustics FAR outweigh mic choice when it comes to what gets heard in the recording. Also, mic position is crucial to getting great sound. When clients send files to me for a free audio evaluation, it's rarely the mic choice to blame, but acoustics, position, and noise floor.
                          Thanks for sharing this information and I hope it helps people make informed decisions. It's really a shame you can't generally buy and return mics anymore, and testing in the store is border-line useless.
                          Beg, borrow, barter a mic from anyone you can and start experimenting. First timer? Buy an Audio Technica AT2020USB and use it until you discover why it's holding you back (if you ever do).

                          Posted by:

                            Very happy with the Hogan MXL VO-1A and the wonderfully warm things it does with my voice!

                            Posted by:

                              I went with the RE20 because that's what I used for years and I really liked how my voice sounded with it. It's a tough cookie because it's a dynamic mic, which means it's hard to get enough gain unless you run it through a pre. For example, running this mic through an MBox 2 with the input turned up enough to get a decent level on the VU's always sounded like poo to my ears. (Is that a technical term? :)

                              I found a really good combo using the RE20 with an Apogee ONE interface, but recently added the Harlan Hogan VO:1-A to my studio. I got it with the Centrance Micport Pro and am truly astounded at the quality. Not only does my voice sound great with the HH, but the Centrance Micport Pro provides more gain for the RE20 than the Apogee ONE without sounding like...well, you know.

                              I want to echo George by saying the room acoustics are critical. Also, I think a lot of people don't know how to work the mic. They either get too close and end up overmodulating or they are too far away and wonder why their audio is so soft. How about the soft-spoken person that normalizes an audio file recorded in an acoustical space that is lacking? Lordy.

                              This is a great thread. I hope more people sound off about their mics. I'm a bit of a gear head, can you tell? :)

                              Posted by:

                                Only this morning (UK time!) I thought: when I win 3000 dollars, shall I trade my Rode for a Neumann? No! Echoing George and Anthony, It will be put into acoustic treatment. This means you can work at any distance from the mic, from four inches to three feet or more, to suit character and perspective, rather than work around room colouration and noises off. Freedom! Concentration! Bookings!
                                As to a first choice of mike, this was difficult as I worked at the BBC with top-end condensers and that delicious 4038 ribbon, not to mention wonderful monitors, but the Rode never gives me cause for concern. A touch of analogue pre-comp and software post-EQ quickly adapts the balance to the job in hand.

                                Posted by:

                                  The mic(s) I've always used are the ones where I put on the cans, speak a few words, and immediately recognize my own voice. Seriously! Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but there's a logic behind it. Bear with me.

                                  Do you remember when you first heard yourself on a microphone or in a recording and immediately asked, "I don't sound like that, do I?" Well, I believe that if you can speak into a microphone and you hear something that you like, you're familiar with, and you recognize as your own voice, that's the mic you should use because your listener will also be able to hear what you're hearing in your own voice. They will hear in your voice what you think you have and the thing that gives you a uniqueness and a style.

                                  Whether it's an expensive mic that you may need to mortgage your house to afford, or one that you can pick up four for $50 at Musician's Friend, you should be able to speak and get that "ah ha!" reaction from. I think it's a very subjective and personal decision and I agree that you must try out several before you settle on one. I still like playing around with some and still find little gems!

                                  Posted by:

                                    Great comments. I learn so much from these discussions.
                                    Due to finances I had to start with the AT 2020 usb. It's actually a very good mic for the money, but it's so sensitive that it picks up ALL my mouth sounds.
                                    I've been thinking of upgrating to the NT-1 or VO:1-A. I've read that some mics 'reject' mouth sounds more than others. Can the users of either of these mics comment on this?

                                    Posted by:

                                      Great themes in this topic. Picking up on Paul Nixon's point: the tone you hear in your cans as you speak is greatly influenced by the polarity or 'phase'. They should deliver positive pressure peaks when your speech soundwave is doing so, and vice versa. If not, you'll hear a partial cancellation of your low tones, and feel discomfort.
                                      The reversal could occur anywhere in the chain, though I don't believe it is very common. A remedy is either to transpose the mike jack wires (only if it is a dynamic!), or get the cans plug re-wired (very difficult, as most are manufactured for stereo, with tricky wire) ...or you could insert a 1:1 audio transformer, as made for in-car systems, at an appropriate line-level point in the system, and with the secondary connections transposed. This is a soldering job on the plugs, but not extreme - ask a local radio amateur maybe. I had to add such a transformer when I changed my computer.

                                      But check first: you may not have this issue! Temporarily try open-backed phones, a pair that really are open to the air.
                                      Apply the back and then the front of one of them alternately to your best ear as you speak in the mike. It will be immediately apparent which polarity is right. And if it's from the back, that's yet another another thing to fix on a Sunday!

                                      Final point: Users of ribbon mikes, or figure of eight condensers have an easy way to check or change polarity: simply skip round the back and compare!

                                      Posted by:

                                        Coming back to this, having now bought that BBC classic, the Coles ribbon! It sounds superb, especially for narrative. Yes, I had to improve padding on another wall as it can hear in both directions... but a unexpected bonus is it rejects the 'far field' rumble of traffic to a greater extent than my LCD condenser, even though the bass response is quite similar. Any other ribbon users found this? For that matter, ARE there any other ribbon users?

                                        Posted by:

                                          Before this thread fades away, pop on to Google and find the Bing Carbon Mike. Prepare to be astonished!

                                          Posted by:
                                          • Howard Ellison
                                          • October 23, 2011 3:29 PM

                                            Great comments everyone. Stephanie, I'd love to tune into your webinar on the subject. Let us know when it's scheduled!

                                            Posted by:

                                              I use an AKG 414 for VO work. You can attenuate the lower frequencies to eliminate "boominess" and as a previous commentor said that he wanted to use his mic for music as well, then you'll be hard pressed to find much better. I also record music and have a second 414 which is mounted with the other on a bar to form a crossed figure of eight. The last recording the I did with these mics, plus some fill mics was a performance of Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto. with the 414s placed just above the conductor's head. For the piano I used a Neumann RSM 190 in L/R configuration. Life is good.

                                              Posted by:
                                              • Peter Hill
                                              • February 1, 2012 4:24 AM

                                                Recently, I was diagnosed with vocal chord palsy on the right hand side and as a result, my voice is very weak and without any real power. I am looking for a very simple wireless microphone which will help me to communicate without adding any further strain on my voice. I am extremely frustrated that people can't hear what I'm saying and have been advised by a speech therapist to conserve my voice as much as possible.

                                                Where your advice is very good for budding pop stars etc., I have searched the Internet and unable to find any help for someone like me. Your help with this would be greatly appreciated.

                                                Posted by:
                                                • Joanio Bonio
                                                • January 31, 2013 2:24 PM


                                                  Question, lets say I want a deep pitch microphone to mask my voice, so I can do videos but still remain anonymous. I plan on covering all sorts of controversial topics, however, I also wanna keep my private life, private, and separate. So, where would I buy a deep pitch mic? And how much (general estimate) would it cost me?

                                                  Posted by:
                                                  • warren
                                                  • August 9, 2013 4:07 PM

                                                    Hi Warren,

                                                    Thanks for commenting!

                                                    I would recommend calling around to a few of your local recording studios or music shops to get an idea of where and how much it would cost locally and then compare this with prices on an online marketplace that sells recording gear, such as eBay.

                                                    Best of luck!

                                                    Lin

                                                    Posted by:

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