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Getting Started - Microphones, Recording Environment and Software

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This is my guide for getting started with voice acting. It has some information on microphones, recording environment and software. All prices are US Dollars and are listed for comparison purposes only.



Professional - I'm not qualified to comment. Looking at $250 - $5000.
Mid Level - USB mics are the best option since they have their own preamplifier and an analog-to-digital converter (A/D converter). The microphones listed below are all condenser mics, which are ideal for low to medium level sound sources, like you would have with voice acting. Dynamic microphones typically have a limited frequency response, so they are more suited to live vocals (singing) and loud guitar amps. Having said that, there are some dynamic mics that are suitable for voice over work and I list one below.

USB Condenser Microphones

Blue Yeti $129 - $150
Audio Technica AT2020 $100 - $169
Samson CO1U $80 - $130
Samson Meteor $60 - $70
Blue Snowball $50 - $70
CAD U37 $50 - $70

USB Dynamic Microphones

Samson Q1U $50

Headset Microphones

Headset microphones are really only suited for chatting on Skype or chatting with your friends while playing games. They just don't have the range to reproduce your voice accurately. You'll find that normal talking is fine, but as soon as you need to inject some emotion into your acting, your poor mic will be overloaded and you'll get clipping. You'll also find that your voice just isn't all the clear - it will have a muddy quality to it. I have heard some recordings from headset mics that have surprised me, but I usually have to amplify the recordings because the gain just isn't high enough and once I do that, the recording is pretty noisy.

Pop Filters

In addition to a microphone, you'll need a pop filter. Condenser mics are very sensitive, so they'll pick up sibilant and plosive sounds from S's and P's. A pop filter will prevent these issues. I've had to ask many an actor to redo their recordings due to the hissing sound of S's and the popping of P's. Pop filters also help reduce the noise of your breathing. :D

Microphone Settings

If your microphone has noise reduction or automatic gain control (AGC), disable those settings. If there is a quality setting, set to the highest. If it's labelled as CD or DVD quality, set it to DVD.

Recording Environment

It's extremely important that your recording environment be as quiet as possible, with no effects from the room like echo. Using a laptop to record is usually a better option because the fans are quieter. If the room you're recording in echoes, then hanging drapes or blankets on the walls may help. There are even acoustic sound blankets and wall panels available if you can afford to outfit your room with them.

Another option is an Isolation or Reflection Filter. They can be pricey and are mounted on the microphone stand. I did find some nice desktop microphone stands that including a reflection filter for about $80 USD.

Removing noise from a recording will alter the recording, sometimes damaging it to the point where it's unusable, so it's vital to set yourself up with a good recording environment if you wish to pursue voice acting work.


Fortunately you don't need to shell out a bunch of cash for recording software. You can get started with Audacity just fine and if this turns into a serious undertaking, then you can upgrade to one of the professional editing options.

Audacity - free
Goldwave - free up to 2500 commands, then you must purchase a license. $19/yr or $59 lifetime. Goldwave has a few more features than Audacity, but I'm not as familiar with it.
Adobe Audition CS6 - $350. Lots more features than Audacity.
Sound Forge 10 - $500.
Cubase 7 - $500.

Edited by AndalayBay
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DIY Vocal Booth

alternative title: "An Abbreviated Guide to Acoustical Science"

or: "Lindsey Doesn't Know How to Shut Up, Sorry"



First and foremost, it is imperative to know that A FULL, FLOOR-TO-CEILING VOCAL BOOTH IS NOT A NECESSITY. I personally know actors who do no such thing (because the space in which they record is quiet/padded enough, their mic is good enough, etc) and they choose to compensate with EQ and other post-processing efforts. Or, many actors prefer to save room space and have their vocal booth in a mini version on their desk. Or, as Lori described above, there are options such as mic stand-mounted reflection filters and the like.


HOWEVER, the fact does remain that, in conjunction with a good recording system and proper mic technique, performing in a sound-dampened and reflection-reductive environment will make the life of a voice actor immeasurably easier/better and WILL give your recordings a more high-quality, professional sound.

There are other alternatives to a full booth, and to doing it yourself. If you have the money, you can purchase a ready-made booth or partial booth online (vocalboothtogo's options and Harlan Hogan's porta-booth come to mind). However, for most of us hobbyists, such options might be a bit too much. Alternatively, you can build yourself a partial booth out of a square/rectangular container and a bit of foam (see this YouTube video how-to, among others). In fact, there are a multitude of YouTube videos about building your own full vocal booth, too (see: these quick Google search results, for a start).


Really quick here, though, I'm going to tell you how I did mine. Using what I learned from some pretty intense acoustic research online, I came up with a recording solution that would work for me. I hope that this "article", rather than convincing you to do it my way, instead inspires you to do a little digging and considering and figure out what might work for you and your situation. :) Let's get started!



Step One: Consider Your Needs


There are several things that factor in to how you're going to build your booth, and you can't just jump into construction without a good deal of thinking first. Those things to consider are: The space you are working with, your own vocal range, the recording chain you use / what you need your booth to do, and your budget.


1. The Space

For me, my space was a tiny, sort-of alcove-- a kind of indented corner with a low ceiling in a basement bedroom with wood flooring. The space was very small; only about two feet wide and an absolute maximum of four feet long. The size and the makeup of the corner were extremely important considerations as I thought about how I was going to build my booth. The low ceiling meant more reflection of sound emitted in that space. As well, the hard, flat flooring would be extremely problematic (read: it would also reflect sound A LOT) and need to be dealt with.


If the term "sound reflection" is throwing you off: That's just the name for what makes your recordings sound "echo-y", or "I can tell that you recorded that in your room." Sound waves (our voices) bounce off of solid (especially flat) surfaces kind of like bouncy-balls. Pretty easily and quickly, what you just said will hit the walls of the room you're recording in and then make it back to your microphone a second time... even a third or fourth time. This is why your recordings have an "echo" even though you don't normally hear it. A microphone (especially a condenser microphone) is extremely sensitive and will record that "sound loop" until the sound waves fade out.


Ever wonder why professional recording studios have shapes and padding all over the walls? It's to cull the sound before it hits the flat of the wall. It's to keep the sound from bouncing back; making it too weak and faded to echo at all.


Think about a bouncy ball again. If you throw it at a regular wall, it will bounce back, right? The harder you throw it, the harder it will come back at you. But even if you toss it softly onto the wall, it will still bounce some. Now, say the wall is covered in carpet. The bouncy ball will have a hard time bouncing, even if you throw it pretty hard. It will still bounce, but not as much. Now cover the wall in two inches of squishy mattress foam. Chances are, the bouncy ball will hit and then fall right down and never come back to you.


The same goes for your voice. The louder you are in an unpadded space, the more reflection you will get back to your mic. Even if you talk quietly in an unpadded space, you'll get some. But put the same voice into a padded space (a booth) and you immediately hear a jump in recording quality. The microphone is only listening to your voice one time and not getting any "bounce back."


As well, the "low ceiling" in my future-booth space was because of the passing by of the air conditioning channel. That meant that any time the air conditioning was on, I'd hear it. Heck, any time the bathroom fan was on in the floor above, it would reverberate through the floor vent into the AC channel and my mic would hear it as a dull hum in the background of every recording.


The only thing going for me was that one of the corners of my future booth would be open to the center of my bedroom. (Yay, open space!) Except... again, all the walls were flat and bare, the floor was wood, and there is a refrigerator literally twelve feet from my bedroom door in the basement kitchen. (If you don't know how loud a refrigerator is to a microphone, let me just tell you: It's loud.)


In summation: The small, flat-surfaced-all-around basement space I had to work with was just about 100% the least ideal situation I could have picked, but it was also my only option. I would have to figure out a way to solve all of it.


2. Your Voice

Different voices "carry" differently. That is to say, they have different weights and qualities that affect how they interact with the environment. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to hear high-pitched voices from far away than it is to hear deep, low-pitched voices? High pitches "carry", and low pitches don't. And yet you can "hear" a low pitch even through material (like with the subwoofer of a passing car).


My voice is pretty low for a woman, so I have the benefit of not really having to worry about really high pitches or really low pitches. I am, however, naturally loud. That would compound the "bouncing" (reflection) problem created by the small space.


For those actors who do have to worry about the more extreme ends of vocal pitch, there are additional considerations you will have to make. Sound has more energy at high pitches, which means it will be harder to keep from bouncing. (You will likely have to double up on padding, or go for extra-thick.) Low pitches may not necessarily bounce as easily, but they can slice through traditional padding due to their wider wavelength-- which basically makes low pitches act like a needle, weaving easily through the "fluff" of fabric, where normal pitches are more like trying to work a Sharpie through fabric. Adding more of the same-density of padding will not help: You will need to employ strategic use of "bass traps" (dense foam that culls low pitches) and other such things.


3. Your Recording Chain

If you're using a cheap microphone, it doesn't really matter how much you cut down input noise because your recording will still have that "cheaply recorded" sound. Even if you've bumped up to the XLR way of things, the additional stops your signal has to hit before reaching your computer gives it more chances to degrade-- so make sure you use a good cable and that you are careful to keep it in good condition, and that you have a good preamp with carefully-measured settings.


Also, how does your computer sound? If you're recording to a PC, you're going to have to insulate your booth, somehow, from the fan noise. (Run-of-the-mill PCs are loud!) If you're recording to a laptop or tablet, then, phew! No noise problems there, probably. (Just make sure your laptop is not on the same surface as your mic/mic stand. The minuscule vibrations will shake your microphone just enough that it thinks it's a sound!)


Mostly this step is just tilting your head to look at your prior considerations again in a new light. For example, if you only have a USB mic that goes straight to your computer, you don't want to make your booth so "dead" that all your recordings sound dull and quiet. (Which is why you can't just run out, by forty-seven pounds of foam, throw it on in piles, and be fine.) Also, will you need a USB extension cable? That might degrade your recording signal, so you'll have to watch the gain when it reaches your computer. Same with XLR mics: cable length, gain settings.


Just make sure you take the time to think about what you have, what you're working with, and how to make your booth work with you and not against you.


As for me, I knew I'd need a longer (~ 10 feet) XLR cable, and to get a new, near-silent PC.


4. Your Budget

Now that you know what you are fighting against, you need to vaguely hash out the economics of doing so. If you have money to burn, almost, then great! Step complete, problem solved. But if you're like most of the rest of us, you have to figure out how much you realistically have to set aside-- and, thus, how much more elbow grease you're going to have to put in. If you're going to buy new parts, where will you be spendy? In framing, padding, or gear? If you're going to have to scrounge for scraps or used material, where will you plan to be frugal?


My situation was a typical, poor-working-college-student's... but mingled with some atypical obsession dedication that made me more willing to aim high, stretch my skinny wallet far, and get creative. I had already built a poor man's "booth" before (out of pipe and old blankets, for about $25) which ended up barely helping. I didn't want to make the same "go the cheap route all around" mistakes again.


This will come the most into play as you start writing/drawing up your actual, physical plan for your booth. (It's hard to know where to cut monetary corners without first knowing what bits you're looking at.)



Step Two: Spec It


Time to hit the drawing board. You know the measurements you have to work with, you know the issues in your way, you know what changes you're going to have to make, and you know about how much you're willing to spend. So it's time to think. (It'd be pointless for me to hash out all the near-infinite options available, so I'll just illustrate my thought process and my conclusion.)


At first, I was pretty sure I wanted to line my space as much as possible with foam. Thick foam-- like two inches. Real, acoustic foam, too. But that very quickly added up to a lot of money (2.5 walls and ceiling, all foam). Add to that how badly I wanted a thick, comfy shag rug to cover the hard floor (two in one: kill reflection AND comfy for my feet!). I also knew already (because 1.5 "walls" of my future booth were open air) that I would have to use acoustic blankets to make up the difference and serve as a way inside to record.


In the end, I made the painful decision that I just couldn't afford all my wants. What I would do, instead, was line it all the way around with acoustic blankets. But neither would I shell out for brand-name or even so-called "acoustic blankets". I would simply buy packing blankets, like the ones movers use for furniture, and double them up. The ceiling of the booth would be the only spot with foam, as it would actually be taking the brunt of the reflection due to its lowness. However, I would only be able to afford 2 inch thick "triangle cut" foam. (This is the cheapest cut of acoustic foam you can buy, and the least specialized in sound dampening. I gambled that because of my middle-of-the-road pitch, that would be all I needed.)


Another difficulty I failed to mention earlier is that I live in my parents' basement. (Yes, yes... laugh it up. [muffled sobbing]) My dad did NOT want me defacing the walls or ceiling if I could at all help it. So, I needed a way to pad this space with as few holes in the walls as possible, and NO glue on the ceiling. But how?!


I came to a brilliant conclusion: A wooden faux-ceiling, screwed strategically into the actual ceiling. This had the double benefit of 1) reducing the amount of holes I made by giving me an added "buffer" to work with that wasn't the ceiling but was anchored to it, and 2) acting as a natural buffer between the booth and the air conditioning channel! With dead air between the top of the booth and the bottom of the AC, I'd be getting some easy isolation. This would, also, hopefully, increase my odds that the triangle-cut foam would be sufficient.


So: My plan.

  1. Hooks would be screwed into a wooden frame (made out of scrap 2x4s)
  2. Packing blankets, with grommets (metal ring-lined holes) in the tops, would be hung from the hooks, two blankets thick on all sides.
  3. The wooden frame would also have a sheet of wood secured to the bottom of it.
  4. Acoustic foam would be glued to the flat bottom of the wooden frame.
  5. Buy a new XLR cable
  6. Build a silent computer (which will no longer be mentioned in this guide as it as quite another beast entirely)

Make absolutely sure that you MEASURE your space accurately, and that when you make drawings and plans, etc, that you work mathematically and accurately.



Step Three: Assemble Materials and Re-Spec


And so I rounded up my materials: My dad had scrap wood in the garage from past home improvement projects, so that was easy. I also had free access to nails, screws, and tools. I ordered seven pieces of brand-name acoustic foam and four packing blankets. I dropped by Home Depot and picked up a packet of hook screws and a packet of grommets.


SUDDENLY! While I was at Home Depot, a thought occurred. Light. Flipping light! How had I forgotten light? How was I going to see in a pitch-dark, enclosed booth in a basement?!


Basically this step is me saying that in the extremely likely event that you have to REconsider what you already considered and settled on, be prepared to do so.


So while I was at Home Depot, I had to remember that an enclosed space surrounded by dark fabric and foam would very easily get hot. Thus, whatever light source I bought, it had to be LED-- the only option that does not generate (much) heat with the light. It also had to be one that I could easily mount to my hollow, makeshift ceiling. And I also needed it to be one that I (preferably) could turn on and off from within the booth, or at least easily. And so my purchase was made and all was well.


In the end, the cost of my booth was as follows:


Wood pieces (5)                                  $  0

Nails, screws, tools                             $  0

Auralex acoustic foam (7)                  ~$53

Packing blankets (4)                          ~$32

Screw hooks (pack of 10, needed 8)     $  6

Grommets kit                                      $10

LED "under cabinet" bar light              ~$19



Step Four: Construction


After all the thought and preparation that went into your booth so far, this step should be the easiest.


All I had to do was set aside a Saturday and enlist my perfect dad and a dear, kind, patient friend to help me. Then I took a "stud finder" tool to make sure I knew where I could screw the false-ceiling, and marked those places. Then I carefully measured and marked blankets (DON'T MESS UP, TRUST ME. BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL) and pounded grommets into them. Then I sanded the scrap wood into a safe and usable (splinter-free) state, and assembled the faux ceiling. Then it was just a simple matter of affixing the faux ceiling, screwing in the hooks (AT THE CORRECT MEASUREMENTS TO MATCH THE BLANKETS), and hanging up the blankets.




Oh, and I took an old comforter, folded it up, and threw it on the floor. That was (and still is) my "rug" that buffers my sound from the hard wood floor. Pretty high tech, yeah? ;P It works, though!




:') It's a beautiful thing, to see your long, hard thoughts turn into something real. 


(See: My photo gallery of the finished product for more detail shots!)


But once it was assembled... Would it even work? Had my/our hard work been for naught?



"Step" Five: BE AMAZED


Spoiler: IT DID WORK. And it worked MARVELOUSLY. You might just have to take my word for it, because the samples I've included here aren't perfect.


Sample sort-of without booth: [link] (A fast-talking courier from a TESV: Skyrim mod)


Full disclosure, this sample was recorded on a Blue Snowball USB microphone. When I upgraded my recording space, I also upgraded my recording gear. Still, though, you can hear the effect the room has on the clarity of the recording. Having to use the noise removal tool brought the noise floor up, sure, but that hacked some of the "good noise" from the voice, too. When I normalized/compressed the file to get the volume back up after noise reduction, it just sounds... dull, and recorded. Voiceover is NOT supposed to sound recorded; it's supposed to sound real. This sample does not. (AND this was even recorded in a poor man's “booth”: just a couple run-of-the-mill blankets in front of and behind me.) In addition, having to increase the gain again after noise reduction also brought the unavoidable mouth noise into a more audible range, making the recording sound so much more unprofessional and sloppy.


Sample with booth: [link] (A teenaged thief giving someone a piece of her mind)


Again, full disclosure-- this sample was recorded on a more expensive, slightly more complex recording system of an AT2020 XLR mic through a preamp, but STILL. You can't hear ANY background noise, and the line is very clear and the personality really gets through. What little noise removal I used didn't take much, if anything, out of the integrity of the spoken parts. Editing took MILES less time and effort.


Oh, and besides the scientific/technical benefit... recording in a booth is just waaaaay more fun. You feel so legit and cool and professional. There's really no downside!




So what are you waiting for? Making a DIY vocal booth isn't so hard-- if I can do it, so can you!!



P.S. If any of this giant wall-of-text is unclear, I am more than happy to take questions to go into greater detail of what I did, or to share my acoustical knowledge! :) Voice actors gotta stick together, right?

Edited by lindenlaurel
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Excellent guide Lindsey - thank you! I'm the "sound engineer" for Dark Brotherhood Chronicles and I can tell you, there's no way to remove echo in post production. If the recording has echo, it has to be redone. You can remove a low hum, although you run the risk of removing some of the voice quality as well, but there's no way to accurately create a profile for echo and remove it from a recording.


I will add some additional information about XLR microphones and set-ups to the OP.

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I found this guide from Blue Microphones that provides some good intormation on recording at home. It talks about room ambience and even has instructions for building a mini recording cube for only $23. They also have some advice on where you should position your recording set-up in the room and how far you should be from the microphone. They also explain side-address microphones.

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Good information Andalay - thank you.  Is certainly food for thought :)

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I just got done building the Mini- Recording booth and I think it does wonders.  Something I do want to point out is that if you don't want to use the adhesive spray, you can use a hot glue gun for the foam.  It dries quick, holds the foam, and doesn't smell bad afterwards.

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Thanks for the feedback NSH. I agree - your new recordings are vastly superior to your old ones. We'll make a recording studio out of your old dorm room yet!

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Nice! Some of those are quite reasonably priced which would help someone who does VA as a hobby.

I’m guessing you do VA work? We have a few roles that need filling for DBC if you’re interested. If so, send me a PM and I’ll give you the details.

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