Recording voice over demo on the cheap: USB or pre-amped mic?
March 22, 2006 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to determine the best bare bones microphone system for recording a basic voice-over demo cd for the smallest financial outlay possible. Is there a tremendous advantage to USB mics over 1/8" mics? Can I get decent quality without having to buy a preamp, or is phantom power the only way to go? Can a USB headset give me CD quality audio, more or less?

right now I'm leanind toward something like this Plantronics USB headset, but I'm definitely open to suggestions.

I'm guessing noise-cancellation is a must, but are there any drawbacks to just getting a USB Skype-type headset and trying to sweeten the audio after it's recorded? It doesn't need to be anything really fancy, just functional enough not to sound like crap.

This'd all be running on a pretty solid XP SP2 pc with a ton of hard drive space and 1 GB RAM, so my computer can take pretty much anything I tried to throw at it, right now.
posted by StrangeTikiGod to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: er, this Plantronics headset, rather...
posted by StrangeTikiGod at 9:40 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: I use a Plantronics USB headset for my podcast voiceovers and I'm pretty happy with the results. If you want to get fancy you can tweak the wav file a bit by adding a touch of reverb and maybe enhance the low-end frequencies. One point is that this type of headset is designed for conversational speaking, i.e., no extreme variations of volume. So my experience is that you are best off keeping your speech volume fairly subdued and the mic close in.

Another advantage of a USB headset (besides easy access to the port) is that it is recognized as a sound card automatically by whatever application you're using.
posted by La Cieca at 9:40 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: The main advantage is that since the D/A conversion happens right there in the hardware, you don't have to worry about the quality of your preamps and converters on your sound interface (which is probably a soundblaster and not so good.) There are some really good ones -- I know Blue makes a great one∏_id=18 but it's going to run you a lot more than a headset.

Really, though, you should sound fine with just a headset. It's not like people need to hear every nuance to understand what you're saying. Just talk as reasonably loud as you can without clipping and apply liberal amounts of compression after it's recorded.
posted by tumult at 9:48 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: Microphones make a lot of difference in voice quality. If you're trying to break into a business where your voice will be your selling point, then go down to your local recording studio where they have hyper-expensive mics and isolated booths with extremely great mastering equipment. Spend a couple hundred bucks on an hour or two of booth rental under the care of a recording engineer.

Assuming that you have the vocal skill, you will sound orders of magnitude better than some guy with a USB headset, and you won't be buying junk equipment you'll be throwing away at earliest opportunity.
posted by felix at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: I'm an audio pro (studio owner, and now studio manager at a UK university). A headset mic is almost certainly NOT going to yield results suitable for a voice-over demo. The voice-over industry demands a thick, rich sound, 99% of the time using a condenser mic. Headset mics have teeny-tiny capsules which are superb for the purpose they are intended for (delivery understandable audio at a fairly narrow frequency range).

Seasoned VO pros (male voice artists in particular) use the Proximity Effect to make the most of the lower range of their voice. You know all those hollywood-style VO guys? This is totally what they're doing. Other than the voice timbre they're born with, a big chunk of their technique is learning the mic techniques that allow them to get a fat sound from the proximity effect, but control their pronunciation so as to minimize the distorting effect of Plosive Consonants on the microphone capsule.

OK, so all the technical geekery aside, the good news is that you're doing this in 2006 and not 1976. You could pick up a exceedingly useable USB condenser microphone for very little money. I'd be tempted to recommend a similar conventional condenser and a small preamp (again, can be had very cheaply), but the USB option would be the simple option.

But if you really want to go down this route, whichever mic you get, be sure to shell out for a decent mic stand (£10 here in the uk - $20 if you're in the US maybe?) and - most importantly - a pop shield. Nasty plosive distortion is the single most amateurish sounding thing on podcasts and voice-over demos.

Have fun.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2006

Oh.. and forgot another important detail. Recording near your computer is almost certainly going to be a no-no, due to the noise. Ideally you should get a cable long enough to enable you to record in a different room, and spend some time finding somewhere that sounds good (i.e. not too reflective - a tiled bathroom would be a no-no). If you have problems finding a spot that sounds good, a good solution is to suspend a quilt or heavy blankets behind you while you record.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 1:45 PM on March 22, 2006

the mic techniques that allow them to get a fat sound from the proximity effect, but control their pronunciation so as to minimize the distorting effect of Plosive Consonants

Just to clarify, the proximity effect is (as the name suggests) spatial, and simply a matter of closer to the mic == more bass. This is true in principle for all mics with a cardioid polar pattern. I disagree that it's a "technique" thing though, just a property of a microphone's design. Same goes for the plosives, you generally just pop (har) a pop shield in front of it and stop thinking about it.

I don't know about the Plantronics, but some general-purpose mics that would fit this project nicely are the uber-ubiquitous Shure SM-58 (dynamic mic, industry standard, you can drop it from a cliff and it might still work, $40-80 (guesstimate, I'm in Europe)) or, for a condenser, something like the MXL 990 (I'd say $80-ish). Condenser tend to reproduce a wider, clearer sound with more high-end detail than dynamic mic, but they need phantom power (48V of DC), so you'd need a pre-amp or mixer of some sort. You'd need one anyway with a dynamic, just to convert the mic signal to line level impedance.

If you're on such a tight budget that a separate mixer (a baby 2-channel Behringer or Phonic goes for what, fifty bucks?) is out of the question, I would definitely go for USB over putting anything through the horrors of Soundblaster-quality A/D conversion, and I'm not being a snob here. I heard Samson makes an affordable USB mic, too.

In summary, if you have the chance at all I'd go for an MXL 990 or any of the other cheap Chinese-made condenser mics that are very popular on the market now - they're basically sort-of reverse-engineered copies of legendary German (etc.) mics that ten years ago we could only *dream* of owning anything like. Tremendous bang for the buck.

If not, then go with an USB model. And what coach_mcguirk said - think about isolation. And also don't be shy to learn about recording and post-processing / mixing techniques: compression and a hint of reverb will go a long way in making your recordings sound better. Good luck.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:28 AM on March 24, 2006

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