So you’re looking to start voice acting, or just make a general nuisance of yourself and you’re in the market for a decent microphone to get the job done. The trouble is there are so many different types and styles of microphones and the quality varies greatly. As the cost of gear comes down and the quality of gear improves, knowing what to look for when considering appropriate microphones for voice acting is key.
With that in mind, let’s look at what qualities to look for in a microphone for your voice over microphone setup.
USB vs XLR
A question that a lot of beginners have is the difference between a USB microphone and an XLR microphone. While there is a notable difference in both cost and quality between the two, the real difference comes down to compatibility.
XLR microphones cannot plug directly into your computer, but instead must be routed through a recorder or mixer first. This results in a considerable equipment cost increase, but also means that you are able to control the sound directly through the audio interface.
Many audio interfaces accept multiple microphones making XLR setups ideal for recording multiple people and managing their levels individually. This flexibility also gives you the option to swap out microphones, XLR cables, and mixers as the situation calls for it.
USB mics (Blue Yeti) on the other hand are designed to be plug-and-play. They connect directly to your computer and are often compact and easier for traveling.
USB microphones are compatible with both PC and Mac computers and even work with Android and iOS phones.
However, their recording quality can be limited and best suited for online communication or a single-speaker recording directly into a program such as Audacity or GarageBand.
Condenser vs Dynamic
Another factor to consider in microphones for voice acting is whether it is a condenser or dynamic microphone. These microphones operate differently, producing unique audio characteristics that will affect your overall tone.
Dynamic microphones are good for general vocals that don’t necessarily need accurate and smooth reproduction, such as interviews, hosting, and live venues. A large diaphragm can be a great mic for voice recordings as they add body and warmth to a hollow or thin voice.
Due to the rougher sound characteristics, dynamic microphones with a cardioid pattern eliminate more background noise, at the cost of some nuances in detail. This makes them well-suited to podcast hosting, general voice recording, and recording voices outdoors for voiceover or interviews. They are also suitable for recording very loud items, such as drums, guns, and explosions since they can stand larger Sound Pressure Levels.
Condenser microphones are good for most studio applications, including being particularly good microphones for voice acting. They produce clarity of voice while giving it both warmth and presence.
Condenser microphones are also excellent for field recording. They are more sensitive than dynamic microphones and have a flatter response suited to capturing detailed audio.
Polar patterns illustrate how a microphone reacts to sounds coming from different directions. There are several polar pattern types, but our main focus for vocal microphones is on omni and cardioid polar patterns.
An omnidirectional microphone receives sound with equal sensitivity from all directions. This means that audio coming from the rear and to the sides of the microphone will be picked up with equal volume and clarity.
- pick up of room reverberation
- extended low-frequency response
- lower cost
Omni microphones are good for recording situations where sound isolation is not needed or wanted. They are particularly useful for interviews and situations where more than one vocal needs to be recorded but sound isolation is not a factor.
Cardioid microphones are most sensitive at the front of the microphone, typically about 6dB less sensitive to the sides, and around 20dB less sensitive to the rear of the microphone.
- less reverb pickup than omni
- less room noise pickup than omni
- minimizes off-axis pickup
Cardioid patterns make ideal microphones for voice acting and other one-voice-one-microphone applications. Voice actors and show hosts benefit from off-axis pickup reduction focusing the sound on what matters most: the speaker’s voice.
Voice actors and podcast hosts (and vocalists!) are likely to find that microphones with a cardioid polar pattern will suit their needs best. Hypercardioid and supercardioid mics, like the Rode nT1a work well, too, depending on your voice and application. However, they tend to be more expensive and lack the warmth that a large-diaphragm cardioid delivers to more resonant male and female voices.
Beyond the questions of condenser vs dynamic, polar pattern, and frequency response, here are some other factors to consider when researching and purchasing microphones fro voice acting.
Impedance is a measure of a microphone’s resistance. Higher resistance in a microphone introduces hum and reduces high frequencies, making the recording sound noisy, or thin. Low-impedance, or low-Z, microphones allow long mic cable runs without introducing noise or reducing frequencies.
Sound Pressure Levels (SPL)
Sound pressure levels indicate the maximum sound intensity a microphone can handle before distorting. In general, a spec of 120dB or greater is preferable. For podcasters miking loud instruments, such as brass or drums, microphones with a higher maximum SPL are best.
Equivalent Noise Level
Also known as self-noise, the equivalent noise level is the electrical noise or hiss a microphone produces. In general, a self-noise specification of 28dB and lower is acceptable for quality recording.
Finding the right Microphones for Voice Acting
All this information is meant to help you narrow down the type of microphone you’re looking for, but it still doesn’t fully narrow down your choices. We’ve helped you understand the fine print on the back of the box sure, but several microphones can share the same stats yet still sound completely different.
How do you go about finding the right microphone from here? How do you avoid spending an exorbitant amount of money buying every flavor of microphone?
Test Microphones in a Store
If you live in a major city, you’ll have a store such as B&H or even a recording studio near you, where the staff will typically have an array of equipment that they can help you get familiar with.
The information we have given is meant to help you narrow down what you’re looking for, but the ultimate decision will depend on what you feel creates the best sound for your project.
If you don’t live in range of a shop or studio, you may have a harder time testing the microphones before purchase.