After a year into the pandemic, actors, narrators, and voiceovers are using their home studios more than ever for auditions and production. The main component of a home studio is the microphone and there are two main types, XLR and USB.
The difference is in the connection. A USB microphone converts the sound of your voice or sound source from analog to digital within the microphone itself and sends it down the cable to your computer and recording software. We covered USB microphones in a previous article.
The other type, with many more choices, are XLR microphones.
XLR microphones need a preamp or input/output box to convert the signal to digital and send it to your computer or recording device. They also require a microphone cable with an XLR connector, hence the name.
There are many types of XLR microphones and too many choices to expound upon in one article, but here are a couple of tips. There are a few different types of elements (the part that hears the sound) that is the core of the microphone and the first thought is to choose which type will be best for your application.
Some XLR mics are dynamic which are usually found on a stage for music reinforcement. They do not need power and rely upon the incoming signal (voice) to excite the element (or capsule). A few examples for home studios are the Shure SM7 and the Electrovoice RE20 which have been used in radio stations and on podcasts for years.
They also work well in an audiobook studio as they are not as sensitive to sibilance (Ess’s and Shh’s) as a condenser mic and don’t pick up as much mouth noise.
The other type of XLR used in a voice-over studio is a condenser microphone. These are usually powered by the preamp by what is known as phantom power or the 48v button on your I/O box, and pick up the most subtle noises. You can really hear everything when wearing headphones!
The second tip is figuring out the best pickup pattern for your particular application. The pattern is where and how the microphone hears. Most microphones for voice-over are in a cardioid, or heart-shaped pattern. Cardioid ‘hears’ the front of the mic and rejects its back and sides. That is why it works well for a single voice.
If we were doing an interview, each person would be on one microphone facing the front of it so that the pattern would ‘hear’ the sound. Some popular voice-over microphones are shotgun mics. These microphones have narrow cardioid patterns (hyper-cardioid, super-cardioid) and are also seen as boom microphones used on set for location shooting. They seem to compress the voice and gives it a broadcast quality.
Another pattern is figure 8 (the symbol looks like an 8), which hears the front and backside of the microphone and rejects both sides. If we were recording a podcast or interview one person would be at 12 o’clock and the other at 6 o’clock. It is great for interviews and multiple voices. If we were to add a few friends to this podcast we could switch the microphone to Omnidirectional. This symbol is a circle and hears equally all around the microphone.
XLR microphones run the gamut from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, but the quality on the low end, price wise, is so much better than it was ten years ago. Finding something that fits your voice and budget is easier than ever. Plug it into your home studio and get to work!
Dave Kresl is an experienced Senior Audio Engineer with a demonstrated history of working in the media production industry. He has worked on commercials and films. Visit his Facebook page here.