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QUICK OVERVIEW OF BASIC MIC TYPES
July 1, 2018
Mics are always a great place to start when it comes to audio equipment. They are one of the first things that come to mind when one thinks about voice over.
There are four main types of microphones: USB, Dynamic, Condenser, and Tube mics. I don’t cover tube mics in this section because personally, I don’t find them worth the investment and especially not for people just starting out. There are people out there whom adore tube mics and that’s completely fine! However, there are some reasons I personally don’t care for or highly recommend them.
Tube Mics work with heated tubes inside of them. The pro from this is it can lead to higher sound quality. However, these tubes can very easily break or overheat and completely destroy the mic or at the very least, need to be replaced which is not cheap. Speaking of cheap, tube mics are the very epitome of that often running price range between $3,000- $15,000. Needless to say, I don’t recommend any beginner jump out there and spend as much money on a microphone as one would…Oh, I don’t know… a car!
With this though, if you have a tube mic and you adore it, then that is completely okay. The reasons above are why I don’t recommend it for those starting out. But once you’re consistently working and have the money to spare, you may want to try one out and see how it works for you.
Mobile Mics: I cover this because it’s the exact opposite of tube mics. Mobile mics, or mobile recorders, refers to recording with a smart phone. This is NOT ideal, however, there are some uses. In the chapter three, I talked about messing around with voices. Mobile phones are incredibly helpful if you do a voice in your car or hanging out with friends and you want to remember it for later. If in a quiet area, you can also record lines and auditions on your mobile device. I actually started out recording voice over in my car on my ipod. The audiophile in me now finds this hysterical, but I was able to get some projects from it. Were they paying? Of course not! But it was nice for me to be able to see if I was even able to get roles in this medium before I went out and spent money on a real mic. I’m sure the audio quality hurt my chances of getting roles and if you choose this route, it probably will for you as well. So just make sure you include asking for feedback in auditions
There are some draw backs to mobile recording. They often have very poor audio quality and you rarely can edit audio on the takes (With the exception of using a paid app to record like Garage Band). But the pros would be it’s great for remembering voices and you often have the device with you.
USB Mics: On a step up from the mobile, we have USB. They are called USB mics because they plug straight into the USB port from your computer ( I’m sure that’s shocking information based off the name here). There are some great USB mics for on a budget which I will talk about further on in the Budget section of this chapter. USB mics are pretty easy to install most of the time. Normally, they don’t require much more set up than simply plugging it into your computer. Occasionally, they may ask you to download some program or come with a cd. USB mics are incredibly convenient as is their price. You can get a pretty good USB mic between $60-$250. While I don’t recommend breaking out $250 for a USB mic (For reasons I will explain in the budget section), I want you to know the average budget with those being around the top end of price. USBs can be great for people just starting out or for those doing work that has less restrictions on audio quality (Audio books, unpaid original projects, fan dubs, ect). They do have some draw backs. They aren’t incredible when it comes to audio quality. They sacrifice quality for convenience. Later on, I will talk about things called Audio Interfaces. The USB has an interface built into the mic apparatus. This is what allows the mic to plug straight into your computer. But, no matter what it is, all electrical equipment produces noise. It’s often referred to as “Electrical Hum” And the USB mic is no exception. Because the interface is built inside the microphone, this puts the electrical hum not just closer to the part of the mic that is designed to pick up sound, but right next to it. So you can be assured, that will be picked up. With all this, I still recommend USB mics for hobbyists and beginners because of their price and because you can get decent mics for starting out without having to sink in hundreds of dollars on something you’re still unsure of.
Dynamic Mics: Dynamic mics are a next step up to USB mics debatably. I say debatably because some can surpass USB mics, while others are surpassed by the later. You’ve probably seen dynamic mics on stage at concerts or presentations or even conventions. They are very durable mics which make them amazing for stage work. They can be swung around, dropped (They are the mics you see for the classic mic drop), and screamed into at close range without too many issues. Inside of these microphones is a coil. This coil is what picks up the sounds. The coil is also part of what allows the dynamic mic to be so durable, that along with it’s hard casing and build in pop screen. The pro’s of a dynamic mic is that they are very durable, they are cheaper, normally ranging between $60-$120, and they are pretty easy to find since they are very common at musical instrument stores. The cons being they are not very sensitive, which makes sense considering they are primarily used for on stage singing. But the draw back to that is, if you needed to record whispering or quieter lines, you have to turn up the gain immensely, which can lead to a lot more background noise and humming. Dynamic mics also run based off what is called an XLR plug (That three pronged thing you’ll see if you type “XLR plug” into the internet search bar). You’ll see these types of connections with almost any higher quality microphone. This means they, like their sister the condenser mic mentioned in the next section, will need an audio interface to run on your computer.
Condenser Mics: This is the ideal microphone for recording voice acting. It’s the top of the line when it comes to mic types. Condenser microphones are what you will normally see in any big name studio. In fact, I bet if you look up behind the scene videos involving voice acting, chances are, they are using condenser microphones. These mics are incredibly sensitive and are designed to be so. They can handle anything from whispering to full out screaming. The way these mics work are, instead of having a coil inside to catch the sound like a dynamic mic would, they have two plates. When you speak into the microphone, these plates register the sound waves. However, this means that the microphone is much less durable than the dynamic mic (Please do NOT do a mic drop with this microphone!). These two plates allow the mic to pick up as clean of sound and be as sensitive, but these plates can easily break or move out of place if the microphone is dropped or, in some cases, if a hard enough force of air hits it (These cases are more rare, but can happen).
What’s very important is finding a microphone that best fits your voice! And this info always surprises my students but, despite what some of the microphone marketing would have you believe, not all mics work best for all voices. Will they pick up your voice? Chances are yes, unless you happened across a broken mic, then your chances are a bit lower. But when they pick up your voice, they can distort it slightly. The truth is, not all mics are designed for all ranges. A microphone that may work wonderfully for a soprano voice, will probably not pick up a deep bass voice as well. Some mics works best for mid ranges, others high, and others low. And many mics will tell you this in the mic specs. It’s important to find a mic that works best for your voice, otherwise the mics can make your voice sound tinny, or muffled, or even just not pick up on subtle voice changes (These can be things like vocal tremors or vibrato which when used right, can help bring a performance to life, especially with dramatic scenes or readings). The two best ways for finding the mic that may work best for you. One would be to find other voice actors in a similar voice range or have a similar tone as you have and politely inquire about the mic and audio set up they use (Pre amps can also affect to voice quality so you may want to ask about that as well). And then start trying out mics and brands that work best. Many music stores have wonderful return policies so you can buy a mic, test it out, and if you don’t like it, return it or exchange it for another. Another way is to find recording studio and try out different mics that they will have. I personally keep a large collection of mics in my studio just for the purpose of aspiring voice actors to be able to come in and try out different mics, hear how they sound, and then get an idea of where to go from there. A helpful hint I’ve noticed, certain brands I’ve noticed working well for certain voice types: MXL tends to be ideal for male voices, primarily lower, but some of their mics pick up higher range as well. I’ve also used this brand for females with smoke damaged voices. AKG is a great brand for midrange voices. And Blue’s Condenser mics (I’m not sure about their USBs) tend to be ideal for children and higher tones for females. Now with this said, these are just brand guidelines. That’s not to say that MXL will always do well for all male voices or that they can’t handle higher ranges. It’s just with most of these brands microphones I use or have used in my studio tend to suggest this evidence.
The most important thing to keep in mind with mics is to pick a type of mic that works best for your voice type, your budget, and the type of voice over work you plan to do. If you have any other questions, please leave them below!