Microphone “Speak”

by | Studio Equipment

There is a guy named (appropriately) Mike who contributed the following to a user group I subscribe to. He obviously spent a lot of time on this and it deserves a look by anyone seriously into recording voice. This is an amazing amount of information, and I want to thank “valleybearmike” for this great piece on “trying on” the correct microphone for your voice.  Some of this is quite technical, and necessary.

 As a suggestion: First do this- There’s an excellent website where one can learn minute detail on their current or some other microphone, at Microphone Data – Just create a free account and you’re in!

But before you sample the sound of your voice coming through a mic, first, consider: 

The sound chain is very important, those guys (at a pro audio store)  will flip stuff around
and a sweeten up a mic. Everything flat except rolling off the the EQ below 100Hz when running through a compressor. And No tube compressors either, a nice DBX 166XL is just fine.

And those frequency charts are very important- Flatter the better! Though a Gefell UMT70s has a little 1.5 KHz bump that pushes the voice through those soft vocal passages- just delicious.

 One way to test drive a mic before going to the pro audio shop is to visit
www.coutant.org. The site is dedicated to presenting many different types of mics and
many of the pages have audio clips of what the mic sounds like when used to record the
human voice. A particular mic you’re considering might not be listed on the site, but just
by listening to a bunch of them online you ‘ll get a good idea how certain types, brands,
and models sound. It might help you determine ones to consider.
When you audition mics at a pro audio store, make sure the sales rep uses the same
audio chain for each mic–from pre-amp to monitors. Make sure to audition mics dry
without any compression or EQ and then with some compression, say, at a ratio of 3 to 1
and a threshold of -12 db. That way you get an idea what your unprocessed voice will
sound like to a producer when they add compression. Make sure the mic compliments the
pleasing qualities of your voice and refrains from accentuating any negative qualities.
Check the frequency response chart for each mic. Many mics are not completely flat.
They have upward bumps in certain frequency ranges, usually in the upper midrange. A
mics particular frequency bump might not be flattering to your voice. So, listen to a
playback on each mic and check it’s freq chart, so you can see what each mic does
Take along a few different pieces of copy: soft sell, hard sell, character. See what the
mic sounds like with different ranges of your voice.

Test driving mics – Oh where to begin? (by bearvalleymike)

The first thing to understand is that every mic has a valid purpose, and that not every mic is going to be the perfect mic for every occasion or person. There is no such this as best, only better.

Next it would be helpful to have a musical ear, i.e. some musical background or a good appreciation of music.
Most can be developed over time, but just being sonically observant can be very helpful in choosing a mic.

Just the other day a friend of mine asked me about what would be a good mic for Karaoke. I gave him a test drive
of all my mics just so he could get an understanding of what each mic has to offer. He immediately heard all the
differences and with further instruction he then felt confident in choosing a mic.

So how do you get an understanding of what mics sound like if you don’t have a friend like me? Check out this site:
http://www.coutant.org/contents.html The “Microphone Site” is a wonderful source of information
on older mics and their history. Many of the mics on this site also have audio clips of what each mic sounds like- PERFECTION.
I download each sound file and click back and forth, learning the subtle differences and nuances, shading and color of each mic. Just by listening to a mic I can (for the most part) tell what each mic
can be optimally used for.

Always try to be on good terms with your recording engineers, they can be a valuable source of information. Bend there ear, tell them you are looking to buy a mic and that you’re getting confused. Ask them if they have a good locker of mics that you could test drive and offer to book a half hour or an hour- they might just do it for free!

It’s also nice to have an understanding of the history of what each mic was used for, when and how.
Why? Let’s say you’re doing a commercial that requires a vintage sound (1920’s to 1970’s) you
could then select a mic appropriate for that period you are trying to capture. Within that mic will be all the flavor and style and color built right in (kind-a like Shank N Bake). It’s always better to start by using the appropriate mic for the situation, rather than trying tack on some cheesy effects in post production. Like using the right tool for the job.

Let me stop here, and state it’s not mandatory to know all this to be a voice actor, what is important is getting the words off the page and delivering a believable character and being a consummate professional. More then likely your mic choice is made by the engineer, but in listening to some of the commercials out there
for the past 15 years, maybe some of the engineers should be reading this too.

What to look for- Look for a mic that can bring all the subtleties, and nuances of your voice in a dynamic
manner without over coloring it. In other words: some mics are like news papers, the words and punctuation are all there, but the dynamics that the person actually brought to those words when spoken, are now missing.
Same thing will happen to you, when you use a mic that does not capture you in a dynamic fashion- all your time spent in voice and acting class will be for not.
Your voice will just lay there “Flat”- with no depth or warmth- they’ll just be words. In that same vain you don’t want a mic that brings to much to the table in terms of depth and dynamics, such as a Neumann U47. A truly spectacular mic for recording the singing voice and capturing all those little things that such a performance has to offer. A U47 is just to much, those subtleties are not needed for VO work, it will all just “blow by”
everyones ear. It’s like going to the corner market in a Lamborghini to pick up a dozen eggs in a wire basket- it’s just to much for the job. By the time you get home all your eggs will be broken from rolling around.

What you do want is a mic that will capture all of your vocal instrument – that is the
resonance of your chest and head along with your vocal-cords and mouth. All of this is
what makes up your “voice print,” and gives you your character. So a large diaphragm mic
would be a good start. Unlike a shotgun mic that only pics up a very tiny focused area,
blocking everything else out, making you sound flat and colorless- in other words dull.
But rest assured it will make you stand out in the mix, like the leper with the most fingers.

As I’ve stated in past post: the Neumann U87 is just about the gold standard in
professional voice over recording at this date. What the the U87 captures is pretty much
what you sound like- so learn to love it. The other standard of the bygone era was the
ribbon microphone (and to me it still is) it’s only due to it low output and high noise ratio
does it take a back seat these days in the digital domain. But we are in luck Royer has
several ribbon mics that have overcome these
problems. Though nothing beats an RCA
77DX or A, and the “creme de la creme” the RCA KU3A – it makes me widdle just thinking
about it. Regrettably, most engineers can not even begin to fathom what a ribbon mic
can brings to the mix or what to do with it, when it does.

Another (older) voice over standard for radio and animation was a Sennheiser MD421, and
is still very viable today, though not as dynamic as a U87, the 421 offers excellent
performance at a very affordable price. Though not to be confused with the Electro-Voice
RE20 (In my learned opinion it’s just a mess of a mic). Many radio stations and DJ’s love
them, dissipate their buzzy quality that sounds like nails on a chalkboard. Why the radio
guys love them so much, is because they have a bass-boosting “proximity effect” (the
closer you get the deeper the bass), and you can tell when they fall in love with the sound
of there artificially boomy voice, they just rattle on forever. Though Richard Steraban did
use an RE20 when he was the (bass) back up singer on stage for Elvis in the 70’s- in this
case it was an excellent choice – at the time (you see every mic has a purpose).

Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean its crap. One of my very favorite
mics is a “Studio Projects C1.” One can test a C1 with a U87 side by side and have a very
hard time decreeing between the two- (yep it’s that good folks) and some say the C1 is
better then a U87 when you add up the value of sound and price. But comparing a $200
mic with a $5000 mic is just unfair to the $5000 mic.

A Neumann TLM 103 is middle price range mic, but I find it a little fuzzy, noisy and not as crisp as a C1. Though Warner Bro. Animation uses them… And that’s all I have to say about that.

The Perfect Microphone Storm-
Here is a lovely selection of Microphones that any Voice Over professional
wold love to have in there collection. I can safely say that if any of these mics
were eating crackers in bed with me, I would not kick them out.

In no particular order
Condenser Mics
~ Neumann U87
~ Studio Projects C1
~ Gefell UMT 70s or MT 71s A great all round announcer mic (only for the guys)
Useful for whispers or up close work- National Geographic sound.
~ Neumann U47 FET (not the “U47” Different animal all together- NBC used this mic
for its promos, really cuts through a mix puts you right on top)
~ Neumann TLM 127 (a big improvement over the TLM103)
~ Sennheisser MD421 (great classic mic vintage 70’s sound a daily driver)
~ Neuman TLM 103
~ Electro-Voice RE10 or RE15 (for that Vintage 70’s Sound)
~ Shure SM5B or SM7B (Radio announcer standards)
~ Shure SM58 (Don’t laugh it gets the job done)
~ Sony C48 (some love to hate this mic)
~AKG C414 (some hate to love this mic)
~ Blue 8Ball (not a bad mic)
~ Blue The Ball (Not bad either)
And many others

~ RCA KU3A (Perfection- Film industry standard 50’s – 60’s)
~ Shure SM3B (only 2 in the world and hand made)
~ Coles 4038 (an great classic English mic)
~ Royer R-121 (first heard this mic in Walt Disney Hall on guitar SPECTACULAR)
~ RCA 77DX or 77A (A refined tone classic- used well into the 70’s and today)
~ RCA 44BX (30’s radio days rich buttery sound)
~ RCA KU2A (The “Skunk” standard of the film industry in the 1940’s)
~ RCA BK5A ( Radio &TV mic with a blast filter to protect the ribbon from gun blast
great on voice and music)
~ RCA 74B ( A good general ribbon mic I like it a little better then the 44BX)

There are many other mics and some people may ague one mic over the other
but everything is subjective. It all depends on the need and who is using
the mic and how that person sound on it.

Other factors that come into play is the equipment that mic is running through:
pre amps, compressor/limitors, mixer and even the EQ’s- they all have different sounds,
flavors and colorings. The trick is building a studio that is tasty and can deliver that
tastiness consistently. But like they say garbage in garbage out, and your first starting
point in your MICROPHONE.

Taking the leap:
Like buying a car or any major investment- knowledge is power.
Know what other microphones sound like. Listen and pay attention.

Don’t be afraid to spend some time trying them all out. Again and again.

Beware of the headphones- they will cloud your good judgment.

Record your mic demos. Bring a script along with a blank CD and
a USB flash recorder so you can take it home and listen to it on your system or
in your car. If the sales people won’t record your “MIC DEMO” try
another place. If They want to make a sale, they should be

Most of these sales people are wannabe engineers so don’t be
afraid to ask to hear the mics through different pre amps and mixers.
anytime these guys can touch the gear is play time to them (it would be
optimal to hear it through similar equipment that you have at home).
Ask for a little 2:1 compression on the mic- just make sure they roll
off the EQ before 100Hz and that the compression comes after the
mixers EQ (very important). (Compressor setting would be: 2:1 ratio,
with a 21 Threshold, hard knee. everything else should be on auto)

Don’t be fooled my the buttery sound of a Tube pre amp, most mixer board preamps are
just fine. (If they can run it through a Soundcraft would be optimal or Mackie mixer would
do fine too).

Don’t be pressured to buy! Take your sweet time. Shop around for the best price
check on line: B&H, Sweetwater, Ebay. Just don’t be in a darn hurry.
If you buy in a store don’t be afraid to haggle, say “The only thing that’s holding me back
is price” you’ll be amazed what that can do and don’t jump on the first offer (remember
some of those big stores have huge sales all the time). And don’t be afraid to have them
throw in some mic cables or a mic stand too- Hell I’ll take two of each!

I hope this all helps, though I’m sure there will be some opinionated chatter here.
My understanding of mics a continual growing process, that unfolds as I go along.
I ask questions, observe and read a lot of instruction manuals, only to better my
understand of the process. But most importantly I listen.


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