Gear

Overdoing and Underachieving

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Gear, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 13 Comments

Vegas stripAh, the American Dream.

If you work hard enough….

If you always put your best foot forward….

Then there’s a path from rags to riches for everybody.

Isn’t that the core of the message?

When I moved from Europe to the States, I noticed what pursuing this illusive dream can lead to.

An obsession with work!

Look around you. Fewer people are doing more and more work. Productivity is up in this “work hard – play hard” society. That’s what makes economists optimistic. Unfortunately, in the U.S. it seems to be all work and hardly any play.

In this no-vacation nation that claims to be big on family values, many kids are now raised by their grandparents because Mom and Dad need full-time jobs to stay afloat. And what if you don’t have any grandparents who live around the corner, or they need to be taken care of themselves?

A friend of mine has one child in day care and the other goes to early and late stay because his wife works as well. He did the math and discovered that most of his wife’s salary goes to childcare.

“Does that make any sense?“ he asked. “We want to spend more time with our children. Instead, we work more and see them less. And for what? Just to pay the babysitter, the daycare center and the elementary school? Is having the extra income really worth it?”

He just ran into the Law of Diminishing Returns which asserts that after a certain point, further investment or effort does not increase the expected return. In fact, it can even lower it.

Does this seem counterintuitive to you?

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Recording Voice Overs on your iPhone

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 22 Comments

Name the number one electronic gadget you can’t live without.

To me this is a no-brainer. It’s my iPhone 5.

It goes wherever I go.

Thanks to audio editor Twisted Wave (one of MacLife’s 29 Web Apps We Can’t Live Without), it’s also my portable recording studio.

The iPhone 5 comes with three microphones. One in the front, one on the back around the camera area, and one on the bottom. Having three mics improves the sound quality of phone calls, Skype sessions, and FaceTime. However, using those microphones for voice-over recordings is not such a good idea. Here’s why.

1. The iOS has automatic gain control, regulating your input signal. To make sure the audio from the built-in microphones doesn’t distort, the gain for the mic preamp is set very low. As a VO-pro, you want to be able to control the gain yourself for the best signal-to-noise ratio.

2. Apple automatically applies a High Pass audio filter that only lets frequencies over a certain threshold get by. The frequency of the data in your voice is compressed around the mid-range and it lacks bass. This ensures that your plosives won’t pop during a call, and it makes calls more intelligible. It also means your voice will sound thinner and not as rich.

3. As each of the three microphones picks up the sound coming from its respective direction, an internal processor analyzes the sound data, loaded with the location and type algorithm of the mics, and processes the sound, in part to eliminate background noises. Again: all this processing is great for making phone calls, but it’s not ideal for recording unsweetened voice-overs.

Here’s a quick tip from Thomas Thiriez, the developer of Twisted Wave: 

By default, Twisted Wave does not bypass the iOS processing, but if you go to the preferences in TW (tap the button in the lower right hand corner of the document list), you will have the option to disable it.

EXTERNAL MICROPHONES

Of course there are a number of external microphones on the market that can be plugged into an iPhone, such as the RØDE iXY and the TASCAM iM2X. Both are for stereo recording and are made for the old 30-pin dock connector that was replaced by the Lightning connector. In order to use these mics on the iPhone 5, you’d need a Lightning to 30-pin adapter.

The original Apogee MiC (introduced in 2011) also needs such an adapter if you own an iPhone 5, and it can also be connected to a Mac device via USB. The MiC is a compact condenser featuring 24-bit analog-to-digital conversion at 44.1/48kHz. It resembles a studio microphone and comes with adjustable gain control. Reviewing the Apogee MiC for Macworld, Christopher Breen said:

Where I found MiC lacking was with voice—specifically a speaking voice. It produces very clean results, but it lacks bottom end. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get a baritone-FM-DJ timbre out of this microphone. When I moved within a few inches of the mic’s capsule the mic rumbled, even with the gain turned down, and plosives because a problem. 

When I backed off and turned up the gain, the mic’s sound was bright, but didn’t pick up my voice’s more sonorous tones. If you’re accustomed to “working” a mic by changing the distance between it and your mouth you’ll find it difficult to do with this microphone.

I don’t agree with Breen. I have enthusiastically adopted the MiC as my favorite iOS voice-over travel solution

At the beginning of 2013, Apogee came out with the MiC 96k. It is optimized for the latest Apple iOS devices, including the ability to record in pristine fidelity – up to 24-bit/96kHz. It has a direct connection with Lightning or 30-pin iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, as well as a USB connection to Mac.

This year, Zoom came out with the iQ5, a stereo microphone with a Lightning connector that works in conjunction with iOS applications. The iQ5 (currently unavailable) captures uncompressed 16-bit 44.1 kHz audio (the RØDE iXY offers up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution).

the MicW iShotgunDid you know that there’s even a shotgun mic for smartphones, tablets and DSLR camera’s? It’s the MicW iShotgun microphone and it comes with a windscreen, a shoe mount and a mini boom pole. Reviewers agree that it works quite well, but that this sensitive mic is rather susceptible to handling noise.

USING YOUR OWN MIC

What if you could simply connect your own studio condenser or dynamic microphone to your iPhone and use your favorite recording software to capture the audio? That’s the idea behind the MicConnect made by Griffin Technology. It’s a small, portable microphone interface that uses a 1/8 inch (3.5 mm) jack to plug into your phone’s headphone jack (or iPad).

Griffin MicConnectWhen needed, two AA batteries will supply +48V phantom power. On the side of the MicConnect you’ll find a gain adjustment wheel and there’s also a headphone output for monitoring. Griffin was kind enough to send me a MicConnect for review. Before I let you listen to a sample recorded with this device, here’s what I sound like using only the iPhone 5 internal microphones:

 

It’s probably best if you listen to these recordings on your headphones. Now, let’s compare what we just heard to the recording I made with the Griffin MicConnect. The WAV 16 bits, 48,000 Hz audio was converted to MP3. 

 

iRig PREThe iRig PRE is very similar to the MicConnect. Both devices allow you to plug any type of XLR microphone into an iPhone or an iPad using the headphone jack. There are differences.

The MicConnect is only compatible with Apple devices. The iRig PRE interface also works with many Android devices. iRig PRE owners can download a free audio recorder & editor, as well as VocaLive Free, a live vocal effects processor.

And now it’s time to listen to the iRig PRE. 

 

I don’t know about you, but I think we have a clear winner. Let’s do a short recap so you can really hear the difference:

 

CHECKING IN

After testing the Griffin MicConnect, I contacted their technical department and asked them about the high level of noise. The microphone I’m using for these recordings has a self-noise level of only 7dB(A) so it couldn’t be the cause. Had they perhaps shipped me a defective device, or was this normal? Griffin told me they were inclined to think that the unit itself was not defective and that the noise I experienced was “to be expected.” Griffin’s Public Relations Director wrote:

The collective feedback that I heard from our engineers was that while they strove to make a high quality interface connection, the $39.99 price point just doesn’t match up with some of the $1K and more microphones. The expected usage scenarios were more in line with recording a garage band, practicing at home, or capturing ideas on the road. We’ve also heard from podcasters that found it quite useful for recording podcast audio.

Speaking of audio quality, it’s important to remember that both the MicConnect and the iRig PRE use an old-fashioned analog TRRS connection to connect to the iPhone and/or Android. It would be unfair to expect too much from these affordable devices. The 30-pin dock connector and the 8-pin Lightning connector carry digital signals. 

iRig PRECONCLUSION

It speaks for itself that a soundproof studio with high-end equipment is the best place to record pristine audio. But on the road, the best solution is the one that you carry with you. 

Although the MicConnect and the iRig PRE have similar features, the iRig PRE clearly beats the MicConnect in terms of audio quality. It  comes with a Velcro strip to secure the device, as well as two free apps. Best of all, it can be used for Apple and Android devices.

Would I use it for anything other than a quick audition?

No way!

I’ll stick to the Apogee MiC.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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Can CAD’s Cool Colored Cans Cope with VO?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 11 Comments

Over the years, people have commented that I have a good head on my shoulders, and they’re right. In fact, I’m rather bigheaded.

I’m also blessed with sizable ears that turn bright red when it’s hot or cold outside. And because they continue to grow as I age, there will come a time that I’ll be all ears. When that happens, I shall probably take up sailing.

My big head never really bothered me until I had to select a pair of headphones for my voice-over work. When I’m recording I prefer not to wear them (it takes me out of the moment), but when I’m doing detailed editing, I use them for hours in a row.

FACTS and OPINIONS

Searching for the perfect cans was quite an education. Just as with microphones, not everybody has the facts, but most people have an opinion:

“You must buy the Beyerdynamic DT770. They’re great.”

“Get the Sony MDR7506. Everybody in the business is using them.”

“The Sennheiser HD-280 PRO is the industry standard.”

I’m always interested in what others have to say, but I also know that what works for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for me. Part of that has to do with our individual anatomy.

All ears hear differently, and you and I may have different tastes of what sounds good. If you love listening to classical music, you probably want headphones designed for audiophiles. I needed cans that would allow me to accurately pick up breaths, mouth noises and other unwanted sounds. I wasn’t going to use them to listen to the Berliner Philharmoniker or to mix the latest Rap album. I wasn’t even going to listen in stereo!

COMING TO TERMS

When comparing headphones, you’ll find that many brands display a total lack of modesty. They describe their products as “world-class,” “revolutionary” and “exceptionally accurate.” While much of this lingo is just marketing hype, there are a few terms that come back again and again. Let’s take a quick look at them.

Open versus Closed

Open Headphones are designed to allow some outside noise to come in. Closed or sealed headphones isolate your ears from ambient noise. Open headphones tend to be lighter; they put less pressure on the ears, so they’re usually more comfortable. They also produce a more “open” sound, a bit more like your studio monitors. 

Closed headphones produce a more “inside the head” sound, and they’re often used in music production where critical listening is vital and outside noise should stay out of the mix.

If I were to were to use my headphones to listen to music on the train, the bus or in bed, I’d go for closed ones, so as not to bother other people. In my studio, that’s not an issue. Because I work in a very quiet environment, isolation from ambient noise is not so important either. Comfort, on the other hand, is.

My favorite pair of cans share a feature with my mind: they’re semi-open.

Frequency Response

Sound is measured in terms of frequency. Frequency response refers to the range of bass, mids and treble (highs). Let’s say the range of a pair of headphones is 15 to 25,000 Hz. What does that tell you? Well, the first number represents the bass end of the spectrum and the second number the treble end. One of the headphones I was looking at, had a range of 15 to 25 kHz. Is that any good?

Sennheiser HD280 Pro, Beyerdynamic DT770, Sony MDR-7506 & AKG K240 MK II

The audible frequency range for human beings is about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Below 20 Hz, the bass frequencies are more felt than heard, but loudspeakers are much better at delivering that punch. Frequencies over 20 kHz aren’t always audible.

Because of the limitations of the human ear, a wider frequency range doesn’t necessarily lead to better sound quality. So, don’t be fooled by the numbers.

With some headphones and loudspeakers, certain frequencies are exaggerated and others are attenuated (reduced). Because headphones don’t give you the physical oomph that sound waves from a room speaker have, some makers of headphones overcompensate and build in a hyped bass response.

When listening to your voice track on these types of cans, it sounds like you’ve recorded too closely to the microphone (proximity effect). The flatter the audio response, the more accurately it reproduces the sound from the input source. Those headphones are best suitable for voice-overs.

Impedance

The impedance of a headphone (measured in Ohms) refers to the headphones’ ability to resist electricity. Here’s what you should know: The lower the impedance of the headphone, the easier it is to get higher volume. Higher impedance doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality.

The higher the impedance, the more power your headphones will require. If you’d plug a high impedance headphone (e.g. 600 Ohms) into an iPhone or MP3 player, you’d definitely notice a loss in quality because the drivers can’t handle it. That’s why those models usually need an amplifier to drive the speakers inside the headphones.

Some manufacturers make different impedances for the same model (the Beyerdynamic DT880 comes in three ratings: 32 Ohms, 250 Ohms, and 600 Ohms), so be sure to look at the specs before you place your order.

Sensitivity

Another factor influencing the loudness of the headphones is the sensitivity. Impedance determines how much power the headphones will draw, while sensitivity indicates how much of the electrical signal delivered to the headphones is converted into sound. This is measured in decibels of Sound Pressure Level per milliwatt, or dB SPL/mW.

Headphones of a higher sensitivity (and with high impedance) will sound louder than those of lower sensitivity. Be aware that the human ear may experience hearing loss if sound is sustained above 85 dB. So, if your cans are more sensitive than that, be extra careful.

Comfort and Fit

Even the best studio headphones would be pretty useless if they don’t fit right. When it comes to fit, manufacturers use fancy words to describe the two main types of studio cans:

Supra-aural headphones like the Koss porta pro, rest against the outer ear. The ear pieces can be flat pads against the ear, but can also be shallow bowl-shaped, or deeper ear cups that are too small to completely surround the ear.

Koss porta pro supra-aural headphones

Circumaural headphones like the Sony MDRXB700, have ear pads that completely surround the ear, and ear cups that completely enclose the ear.

Professional audio reviewers recommend wearing headphones for at least fifteen minutes when you test them for comfort. I’m not sure I agree. If they’re not comfortable, I can tell within seconds. Keeping them on for an extra ten minutes is not going to change that.

This is what you should ask yourself: Do the earpads exert too much pressure on the ears? Can the headband be easily adjusted? Remember that headphones that enclose or cover your ears can get uncomfortably hot. To find out, you do have to wear them for a while.

Sony MDRXB700 circumaural headphones

There’s one other thing I pay attention to: the cord. I happen to hate coiled cords. They tend to be heavier and there’s always something that gets caught in them. I also prefer the cord to be detachable from the headset, in case I need to replace it. Every studio engineer I know has messed up some cords by rolling over them with their chair. Cheaper headphones usually don’t come with a detachable cable.

CAD’s CANS

You probably remember that I’m a big fan of the CAD Audio E100S microphone. Voice-over colleagues are finally catching on to this amazing, affordable mic. This American company has a lot more to offer, though. CAD recently came out with the Sessions” MH510 studio headphones, and asked me to give them a try. Would these be just as good as the E100S?

Before I share my impressions with you, you should know that I’ll judge them based on my needs as a (bigheaded) voice-over artist only. Secondly, I’ll compare them to the reasonably priced cans I have used for the past three years: the AKG K240 Studio headphones that are quite popular in my field.

First off: this CAD offers more than cans. The MH510 headphones are a fashion statement. It comes in few colors: red/white, black/orange, black/chrome and pure black. Each pair of headphones comes with two detachable cables (coiled and straight) and two sets of earpads (leatherette & velveteen), as well as an 1/4″ adapter and a carrying bag.

Compared to the light-framed, self-adjustable AKG K240, the MH501 is rather bulky. There’s a lot of rubberized plastic and the leather headband is thick and cushy. The AKG weighs 8 ¼ ounces (235 g) and the CAD comes in at 11 ¼ oz. (320 g). During longer sessions, the weight of the CAD began to bother me.

AKG K240 Studio & CAD MH510

With the MH510, CAD wanted to make isolating headphones that “virtually eliminated bleed into the playback environment.” In order to do that, the earpads firmly push against the ears. CAD has reached its objective because these headphones isolate really well. However, the price you pay is comfort. My ears did not enjoy the sustained pressure. The K240 Studio headphones, on the other hand, fitted like a glove. The semi-open design offers less isolation, but there’s also much less pressure to keep the earpads in place.

HEAD to HEAD

And what about the sound? Would CAD’s Sessions headphones be suitable for the simple, subtle sound of voice-over?

The AKG has an impedance of 55 Ohms and a sensitivity of 91 dB. The CAD has an impedance of 26 Ohms and a sensitivity of 103 dB. Remembering what I wrote above, this should tell you that the CAD cans are definitely louder. You don’t need to turn the volume up that much, in order to get a solid sound. CAD calls the sound pressure level “rivaling a concert experience.”

If you’d like to relive your experience at a Tiësto dance party, perhaps that’s exactly what you’re looking for in a pair of headphones. As a voice talent, I want detail. Not volume. Besides, volume can be dangerous! It can lead to hearing loss.

In terms of frequency response, the MH510 can be characterized by what CAD calls “extended lows”. One Amazon-reviewer described the bass as “intense”. I wouldn’t go that far, but the low is definitely overemphasized. For certain types of music this might be just what the doctor ordered, but not for voice-over. To me, the extended lows just made my voice recordings sound muddy.

In contrast, the K240 Studio headphones are open, airy, natural and neutral. The spoken word has a realistic, uncolored clarity to it. The best way to illustrate this is by sharing an audio sample with you.

I placed my microphone in between the earpads of both headphones, and I played one of my voice-over tracks. Of course a condenser microphone can never replace the human ear, but this will give you some idea of the difference in sound coming from both headphones. You’ll notice that I alternate between the AKG and the CAD. The K240 Studio headphones are the first ones you’ll hear.

 

CONCLUSION

What I’ve done in this review is unfair and unscientific. Yes, both the CAD MH510 and the AKG K240 are sold as studio headphones, but comparing one to the other is a bit like comparing heavy-duty hiking boots to running shoes. Both are footwear but made for a different purpose. It might have been better to compare the K240 to CAD’s MH310 cans, which look remarkably similar.

I don’t think CAD had voice-over applications in mind when they designed the MH510. That’s where the AKG shines.

The CAD is more geared toward tracking, mixing and mastering of pop music in a recording studio. If you don’t want to have a scratch-track/click bleed through, the closed CAD is the better choice.

Secondly, reading reviews can tell you a lot about the personal preferences of the author, preferences which you don’t necessarily have to share.

And then there’s the size of my head. We must take that into account. 

It’s only fitting…

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS CAD Audio kindly sent me a pair of MH510’s for evaluation purposes.

PPS Interested in headphone reviews? Here are a few websites I researched as I was writing this article:

http://www.head-fi.org

http://www.headphone.com/index.php

http://www.headfonia.com/category/headphones/

http://www.innerfidelity.com/headphonereviews

http://www.goldenears.net

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Get the boom out of the room

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 21 Comments

When I decided to become a full-time voice-over artist, I made myself a promise.

I would never lose an audition because of poor audio quality.

They might not like my voice. They might not like my read, but I would not let them ditch me because I wasn’t able to deliver broadcast-ready audio. In order to get there, I needed two things:

1. A dedicated, isolated and treated recording space

2. Quality equipment 

I purposely put them in that order. You can place the best equipment in a poorly isolated and barely treated room, and you’re still going to sound like an amateur at the kitchen table. I’d rather take an affordable microphone and preamp into a (semi)-professional booth, because the end result will be much better.

So, if you’re wondering where to spend your money, buy a Studiobricks cabin, or build your own space like I did. Then we’ll talk about getting that coveted Neumann U87 Ai, okay?

I still remember the day my 7′ by 7′ recording space was finally ready. The floating studio walls consisted of multiple layers. Auralex® Mineral Fiber and Green Glue were sandwiched between several sheets of 5/8″ drywall. All the seams were caulked with SilenSeal.

Outside noise was kept at bay, but inside, the space sounded like this:

 

CHAMBER OF HORRORS

Unknowingly, I had created an echo chamber! It was an ugly beast, waiting to be tamed. Especially in small spaces with parallel walls like mine, flutter echoes can be a big problem.

The best way to kill those echoes, is to put foam or other absorbing materials on the side walls. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the space, the more acoustical treatment you’ll need. Thankfully, I had a whole bunch of Auralex® Studiofoam Wedgies left over from my previous space.

I covered parts of the wall with SoundTrax™ from NextAcoustics™ and I added four CornerBlox™ bass traps, also from NextAcoustics™. The SoundTrax™ took care of the mid- and high frequency reflections. The bass traps absorbed the lower frequencies.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of my studio, you probably know that it’s also my office. My Mac Mini, Grace Design preamp and A/D converter sit right next to me in a small cabinet. Behind me are two bookcases, and I’ve lined the backs of those cases with Sonex Mini acoustical Panels.

A DIY REFLECTION SCREEN

In spite of those panels, I felt I was still getting too much reflection from the back. I tried to remedy that by taking a room divider and placing it behind my chair. I then took an old duvet cover, a few blankets and a sleeping bag, and hung them over the divider for absorption, creating a rear reflection screen. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the trick. The boom was out of the room!

Unfortunately, my improvised contraption was heavy and unstable. It also had a life of its own. I can’t tell you how many times it decided to fall down on me, usually in the middle of a recording. Two months ago, I had had it with this thing and I started looking for a replacement.

My search lead me to GIK Acoustics, a company that is selling in the U.S. as well as in Europe. They make a wide range of high-quality acoustic panels, bass traps and diffusors.

I especially like the fact that GIK uses ECOSE® Technology in their products, a formaldehyde-free binder, based on renewable materials instead of petroleum-based chemicals. It’s used in wood based panels and glass, rock and mineral wool.

GIK makes a versatile screen panel (32″W x 72″H x 3″ thick) that seemed ideal for my booth. Audio engineers would call it a Gobo. That’s slang for a portable acoustic isolation panel. Some people believe the word “Gobo” comes from “go between.”

Being the gearhead I am, I enjoy watching these types of videos. But when I watch something that’s put together by a manufacturer, the skeptic in me always wonders: does the product actually live up to the hype? I’ll let you be the judge, because I ordered a Gobo!

First, let’s listen to something I recorded in my booth without the GIK screen panel. You might want to use your headphones for this. 

 

As you can hear, compared to the first sample, room treatment makes a huge difference. However, for me the sound wasn’t quite dry enough. You can hear a bit of reverb at the end of each sentence.  

Once the GIK panel came in, I made two modifications. I added wheels so I could easily roll the panel into position, and I added handles. That way, I wouldn’t have to touch the coffee-colored fabric while moving the panel.

Here’s me reading the same lines from my booklet “Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget.” This time, the Gobo is in place. By the way, both samples were recorded in WAV-format and converted to MP3.

 

Having used the screen panel for a few weeks now, I can confirm that it absolutely delivers as promised. It’s well-made, easy to position and it comes in many colors.

REVERB ON THE ROAD 

Even though this screen panel is portable, it’s great for a studio but too big for road trips. So, what do you do when you’re fighting flutter echoes in a hotel room? Well, there’s a solution that fits into your computer. It’s a De-Verb plug-in made by SPL, which stands for Sound Performance Lab. It’s a German company.

Originally developed to shorten the sustain period for drums and guitars, I’ve found that it also works well in the vocal booth, as long as you use it wisely. Once you’ve recorded your audio, you simply select the De-Verb plug-in from the effects list. This what you’ll see:

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 8.22.34 PM

The left button controls the level of reverb reduction and the right one the output gain. Both can be operated with the mouse wheel. When diminishing the reverb, you also diminish the output a little bit, and that’s why it’s good to turn up the gain slightly.

Now, don’t expect this plug-in to “fix” the first bit of audio you listened to (that’s the sample I recorded before I added any treatment to my booth). It’s by no means a substitute for acoustic panels or foam. However, if you’re recording in a less than ideal setting or you like your audio “extra dry,” this will definitely add the finishing touch.

Here’s the sample I recorded without the screen panel in my studio. This time, I added a bit of De-Verb. Once again, I recommend you listen with your headphones on. You might want to start by listening to the first sample, followed by this one. That will give you a nice contrast. 

 

Perhaps you find the difference quite subtle. To me, it’s just one of those small changes that, when you add it all up, can set you apart and take your product to the next level.

But how do you know that these changes really matter? Couldn’t it just be between the ears?  

Well, in our profession everything is pretty much between the ears, isn’t it?

You’ll know you’re on the right track when nobody comments on your audio improvements, because they could not be picked up.

It comes down to this.

Bad audio is an obvious earsore.

Quality audio is blissfully inconspicuous.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Recording on the Road

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 28 Comments

Sometimes, the best opportunities present themselves at unexpected times and in the strangest places.

A few days ago, I took a trip to Atlanta. I’d barely settled into my hotel room when a Polish producer contacted me. He wanted to know if I was interested in playing a part in a new video game. He sent along an audition script, and said his team would love to listen to my voice within the hour.

I enjoy creating all kinds of characters, but for some reason I haven’t broken into the wonderful world of gaming yet. This was a chance I couldn’t afford to miss.

Fortunately, I had come prepared. In less than ten minutes, I transformed my room at the Westin into a mini-recording studio.

HARLAN HOGAN’S PORTA-BOOTH®

Years ago, VO veteran Harlan Hogan had an ingenious idea. What if he were to line a collapsible Whitmor Cube with acoustic foam and place a microphone inside? Would that be enough to tame the unruly reflections of a hollow-sounding hotel room?

Even though this foam-filled contraption cannot keep unwanted noise out, placing the microphone inside a small treated space can indeed make a recording sound less boomy. In a moment I’ll share some sound samples with you.

Over the years, the Porta-Booth® has had a few incarnations, and it has found its way to roaming reporters, television commentators and traveling voice actors.

Porta-Booth Pro unfoldedI own the Porta-Booth® Plus. It only weighs four and a half pounds and it comes with a free lightweight storage bag with plenty of room for a microphone, shock mount, preamp and a desk stand. The Auralex® foam lining the walls, keeps everything that’s sandwiched inside safe from the rough hands of airport handlers.

The Porta-Booth® Plus is made out of strong rip stop nylon, and has two parts: four supporting walls which are connected, and a separate back wall which can be attached with a zipper. Trust me: you won’t need instructions to put one and two together. Once you open the added two-way rear zipper, you can easily stick a shotgun mic through the slot, or a microphone cable.

Here’s another thing I like about this booth. When you’re not on the road, you can hang the strip of four connected Auralex® squares on one of the walls in your home studio for additional acoustic treatment. You can even rest these squares on your monitors to create a reflection screen.

CHALLENGES

So, is the Porta-Booth® Plus as easy to use as it is to set up? Yes and no. As with many new things in life, it takes getting used to. Let’s talk about travel first.

Harlan’s website Voiceover Essentials claims that the Porta-Booth® Plus “fits in most carry-on luggage”. Well, it definitely does not fit in a standard Samsonite carry-on upright that many people are using these days (see photos below). So, I carried the Porta-Booth® Plus separately.

I had planned on putting it in the overhead compartment, but because we were flying on a relatively small airplane, it didn’t fit and it had to be stored with other luggage. Thankfully, nothing was damaged when I got the Porta-Booth® back in Atlanta, but on the flight home, both straps of the carrying bag were ripped off, leaving four holes.

I should have read the disclaimer on Harlan’s website:

“It is not intended to be used as a travel bag and is not covered under your warranty. A heavy-duty traveling bag is under development and will be available soon!”

Without this heavy-duty traveling bag, I don’t think the Porta-Booth® Pro is ready for air travel, unless you store it in a sturdy suitcase.

INSIDE THE BOX

When I got my very first model, I thought I had to stick my head inside the Porta-Booth® to talk into the microphone. Considering the size of my head, that would have been very quite uncomfortable.

Fortunately, that’s not necessary. As long as you turn your mouth toward the grille of the mic and you stay fairly close to the booth, you should be fine.

One of the problems I did experience had to do with script placement. A paper script can block the opening of the Porta-Booth® if you hold it in your hand. Since the assembled space is quite small (16 inches high x 15 inches wide and 16 inches deep) it’s not easy to put the script inside either. Unless you bring a reading light, it’s also hard to see your lines.

The best way around this is to read your script from a Smart phone or a tablet placed inside the Porta-Booth®.

By now you’re probably wondering what Harlan’s portable recording booth sounds like. Does it deliver as promised? Allow me to first introduce the other elements in my portable recording chain.  

MICROPHONE

In my home studio I use a Microtech Gefell M903 Ts condenser microphone. It retails for $1,784.72. I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable taking such an expensive mic on the road. That’s why I wanted to find a sturdy replacement that wouldn’t break the bank. 

Because low-frequency rumble is a common problem in less than ideal acoustic situations, my travel mic had to have a high-pass filter. Such a filter also curbs the bass-boosting proximity effect, which can easily occur when you’re getting close to the microphone. After a two-week search, I found my mic. 

Let’s listen to my two microphones. You’ll notice that they have different personalities. Which one do you like better: A or B? Can you tell which one is the Gefell?*

 

Without telling you which is which, I can reveal that my travel mic is a previously loved AKG C 3000 B. I bought it online from Guitar Center for under one hundred dollars. This thing is built like a tank, it looked like it was never used and it came with a shock mount. Listen to the sample again, and tell me if the difference in sound quality is worth $1700,72. 

PREAMPLIFIER

In order to bring a condenser microphone signal up to line level, you need a preamp. My favorite travel gadget is the MicPort Pro made by CEntrance. It’s a portable preamp with a built-in 24bit/96kHz, A/D converter. It gives your mic 48V phantom power and it has a headphone amp for zero latency monitoring. It is powered from the USB port. 

It took me a while before I finally found a portable pop filter. Most of these things take up too much space and the ones with a big clamp can be heavy. On the road I use the Pop Guard made by WindTech ($29.95). It weighs almost nothing and it slides neatly over most side address microphones. 

I’m also happy with the On-Stage folding desk stand. My AKG mic isn’t exactly light, so I had to get a reliable metal tripod stand. The die-cast clutch adjusts in height from 4.25″ – 6.75″. For the mic itself I bought a padded microphone bag.  

FATAL MISTAKES

Three big blunders almost ruined the recording day for me. Number one: for monitoring my audio, I relied on the small earbuds that came with my iPhone 4. Back home I immediately replaced them with the very comfortable Sennheiser PX 100-II headphones that can be folded up. 

Secondly, even though I had asked for a quiet hotel room away from the elevator, we ended up in a gorgeous corner unit with windows on two sides. The 14th floor view was spectacular, but so was the traffic noise that never seemed to stop. Next time, I’ll make sure to inspect the room first, before unpacking. 

To get away from the noise, I wanted to move my booth and computer as far from the windows as possible, but the quietest spot in the room had no electrical outlets that were within reach. I should have brought an extension cord, but because I hadn’t, I ended up placing everything on the desk by the window. Have a listen: 

The question is: did placing my microphone inside the Porta-Booth® Plus make a huge difference? 

The Porta-Booth® Plus definitely tamed some of the reflections, but I would be embarrassed to send this audio clip to prospective clients. With the help of some clever plug-ins and other tricks, I was able to turn the audio into this: 

Am I happy with the end result? Not really. Most of the background noise is gone, but it sounds strangely distorted. Audio engineering is part art, part science and boy, do I have a lot to learn!

SHOWING WHAT YOU’VE GOT

Every audition is an audio business card. It’s proof of the level of professionalism a client can expect from you.

You either show it, or you blow it.

Remember: most clients won’t give you a second chance to make a first impression. Not even a producer in Poland.

So, what was I to do? His animation studio was expecting my demo within the hour. 

Well, I ended up recording his audition script that day, and I used some artificial sweeteners to make it sound okay. But I told him in my email that this was recorded in a hotel room, and I sent him a demo I had recorded in my studio, so he could hear what I was capable of.

A day later, and in spite of my best efforts to come up with a decent recording on the road, I was hired.

Life can be a mysterious road trip.

Some say that it’s the destination that really matters.

How you get there, is not always important.

Live and learn, my friends. 

Live and learn. 

Paul Strikwerda ©Nethervoice

* The first microphone was the Gefell. Number two was the AKG.

PS The Porta-Booth® Plus Carry-On bag has arrived! It’s strong. It’s sturdy, and it has two side pockets for your microphone, desk stand and cables. With this addition, the Porta-Booth® Plus is now ready for the road and I can give it my unofficial seal of approval.

Porta-Booth® Plus Carry-On bag

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Confessions of a Hopeless Gearhead

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 13 Comments

Guilty as charged.

In the past few years I’ve become more and more of a gearhead. I like to look at new audio equipment; I like to read about it and I like listening to sound samples.

On any given day, I have to spend at least a few minutes studying reviews, gazing at pictures and drooling over obscure objects with buttons, switches, cables and meters.

Dear Abby: Is this weird and should I be worried?

I mean, my equipment is fine. There’s nothing wrong with my microphone and I don’t need another preamp. For a voice-over like myself, a simple studio setup will suffice, so why am I staring at all this stuff?

I know I’m not alone.

My photographer friends are always looking for the latest cameras, the best lenses or software that will revolutionize the industry. Musicians wonder what they would sound like on a new instrument. Professional chefs can’t wait to get their hands on a new set of sharp-looking knives. Even quilters go gaga over new gadgets. Why is that?

Read the rest of this story in my new eBook. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover

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Spending a year with me

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 15 Comments

2012 is a year I will remember for many reasons, but the main reason is this: 

Your generosity.

Did you know that readers of this blog donated $2,500 to the National MS Society this year? Thanks to your contributions, our Walk MS team raised a total of $6,504!

When I told you that my friend Patrice Devincentis had lost her Sonic Surgery recording studio in Hurricane Sandy, you stepped up to the plate big time.

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Donations to Sonic Surgery

Right now, part of my basement is taken over by audio equipment that was donated to Patrice, mostly by friends in the voice-over community.

Just when she thought her career was over, your help gave her hope and a chance to start rebuilding a studio and a career. 

As soon as her recording space is ready, I will deliver all the gear on your behalf, but that’s not all.

When you go to the Sonic Surgery GoFundMe page, you’ll see that together we’ve raised over $2,600 for Patrice. We still have a long way to go before we’ll reach our $10,000 goal, but it’s a great start.

SPREADING THE NEWS 

As readers, you’ve also been generous with your blog comments (all 2,658 of them), retweets, Facebook “likes” and all the other ways in which you helped my stories reach a wider audience. Thank you so much for that! It works and here’s the proof.

A story like the introduction of Studiobricks (a new type of vocal booth), has reached almost two thousand readers. Mike Bratton’s interview and review of the Studiobricks ONE cabin, has been seen over fifteen hundred times. But there were more reviews this year. 

In collaboration with recordinghacks.com, I put the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts microphone to the test; the amazingly affordable and brilliant CAD E100S mic, as well as a shock mount for the 21st century, the Rycote InVision™ system.

I presented seven reasons to hate home studios, and most recently, I had a chance to review Jonathan Tilley’s new eBook “Voice Over Garden.” 

THE NEW NETHERVOICE

Let’s remember that 2012 was also the year my website got a major facelift. It gave me a chance to write about why your website stinks, how analyzing web traffic can help you craft content, and how you can use social media to spread your message (as long as you don’t step into the filter bubble). 

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I love writing about the business of being in business. Having a great voice doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically have a great voice-over career. You have to be a savvy entrepreneur as well. 

When you open up shop, you’re all of a sudden the head of the advertising, marketing, sales and the customer service department. Are you sure you can handle that? Some customers can be a royal pain in the tuches, but you have to attract them first.

Over time you’ll notice that there are at least 10 things clients don’t care about, and that there are many things your clients won’t tell you that you absolutely need to know before you hit the record button. This year, I finally revealed my personal marketing strategy and the four keys to winning clients over.

Now, all these ideas didn’t appear to me in a dream. It has taken me quite a few years of running a freelance business to come up with certain vital concepts. Trial and error are the slowest teachers, and I had to learn many of my lessons the hard way. I still remember the day I almost made a $10,000 mistake.

Nethervoice studio

Nethervoice studio

STUDIO STORIES

On an average day I spend at least eight hours in my vocal booth/office, and of course I blogged about life behind the mic. I gave you the grand tour of my studio in two installments. 

First you got to see how I have outfitted my voice-over booth, followed by a review of the equipment I use to make my clients happy.

I also wrote about certain aspects of (voice) acting. In “Are You a Cliché” I dealt with the downside of doing impersonations. “Why you suck and what to do about it” is all about breathing and how to get rid of those nasty clicks and other mouth noises that can ruin a recording. “Are you playing by the rules” tells you what it takes to maintain a good relationship with your agent. 

MONEY MATTERS

In 2011, 44% of independent workers had trouble getting paid for their work. 3 out of 4 freelancers are paid late or not at all at least once in their careers. That’s why the New York-based Freelancers Union ran a campaign called “Get Paid, not played.”

I tend to write a lot about value and remuneration. Just click on the “Money Matters” category over on the right hand side of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. When my website got a make-over, I decided to publicly post my voice-over rates. Not everyone believed this was a wise move, so I wrote a story exploring the pros and cons of being open about fees. 

One relatively new way to fund your business, is to use crowdsourcing. I asked audio book publisher Karen Wolfer to share her experience with Kickstarter. Another money-related topic that came up this year was this: Should you work for free for charity? On paper “giving back” sounds like the right thing to do, but is it always the case? As with any of the stories mentioned above, click on the blue link to read the full article. 

TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF

Let’s move from wealth to health. I shall remember 2012 for one other reason. Never before have I written so much about fitness and well-being. In “Be kind. Unwind” I wrote about the importance of taking a break, being in the moment and leading a balanced life.  

After meeting the globetrotting host of The Amazing Race Phil Keoghan, I discovered four principles to live in the spirit of NOW (No Opportunity Wasted). In August it was time for me personally to cut the crap and rid myself of excuses that had me trapped in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

All in all, 2012 has been a great year. We’ve had to weather some powerful storms, but the year was also packed with positive change. 

It always amazes me how relatively small changes can have a huge impact. Imagine someone throwing a pebble into a pond. See how the ripple effect moves through the water in ever-widening circles. That’s the effect one individual act of generosity can have.

It happens when people who care, share what they have to give without expecting anything in return. It can be time, it can be money or -as in Patrice’s case- even audio equipment. 

I am grateful and appreciative that you have chosen to take a few minutes out of your day, to see what I have to say. Many of you came back, week after week. Hopefully, you’ve found my stories and ideas helpful and worth sharing. If that’s been the case, I have news for you: 

I’m not done yet!

In fact, I’m ready to push more envelopes, stir more pots and be more outspoken in 2013. 

Do you think you can handle that? 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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Open the Floodgates

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 8 Comments

It happened a few days ago.

After finishing a Skype session with friends in The Netherlands, I noticed something strange in the corner of my eye. 

I was in my studio, ready to write the last lines of a new blog post, when I saw water on the floor. It came from behind the bookshelves. 

My studio is in the basement, and it had rained a lot for the past couple of days. Could the water be seeping through the walls?

I stepped out of my booth, right into a big puddle. Outside the house were no signs of leaks, so the source had to be downstairs. After close inspection, the culprit  turned out to be a leaking hot water heater. It had done its job for the past 18 years, and we knew it had to be replaced some day. Well, today was that day.

There’s no reason to bother you with every little detail of the clean-up operation. Suffice to say that I spent the next few hours down on my knees mopping up the water while the dehumidifier was running at full capacity.

Of course I emptied out my entire voice-over studio which was filled with thousands of dollars of audio equipment. Fortunately, nothing was damp or damaged, thanks to something simple I had put in place when building my booth.

I had covered the concrete floor of my studio with floor mats made of EVA foam that’s often used as padding in sports equipment (EVA stands for Ethylene Vinyl). My mat was made for children’s playrooms, and it provided a soft, smooth, vibration absorbing layer.

Covering my 7′ by 7′ space cost me less than $40. These types of mats are also available for garage floors, and most of them seem to have interlocking tiles. 

Having this rubber layer meant that not only my studio furniture stayed dry, but my carpet as well. Wet carpet is a great place for mould to grow. 

Even though it wasn’t soaked, my studio carpet was quite old and from the moment I put it in, I had wanted to replace it. Because the space was now empty, this was the perfect time to do that.

I decided to go with a material that not only dampens the sound, but that absorbs it as well: cork.

Cork is has millions of air cells per cubic inch of which sixty percent is air. These small cellular compartments act as cushions, absorbing vibrations and direct impacts. Cork is a renewable resource (only the bark is harvested, not the tree) and I think it adds a natural warmth to the room. 

While a specialist installed a new hot water heater, I was busy laying down a cork studio floor. The prefinished planks I had chosen simply snapped together and it was fairly easy to get the job done. 

Forthy-eight hours after I had discovered our leak, all was well again.

Life is unpredictable. Sometimes, pretty good things can come out of very bad things. What started as a home emergency, ended with a nice studio upgrade. Thanks to cork, my recording space never sounded better!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Would you work pro bono for a non-profit? Next time I will tackle the pros and cons of giving your freelance work away to a good cause.

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The ideal voice-over mic you’ve never heard of

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 54 Comments

Talking about microphones is like writing about food.

No matter how elegant and eloquent your prose may be, the proof and the pleasure is always in the eating (or in our case, the listening).

Not so long ago, a group of Dutch voice-over pros got together for a shootout. They had been writing about mics for months. Now it was time to let the technology to do the talking. The goal was not so much to pick a winner, but to get a chance to contrast and compare.

For that purpose they threw about thirty mics into the mix, from shotguns to tube condensers. Among the mics they tried were the Brauner Phanthera, an Audio Technica AT4033, the Neumann M147, TLM103 and U87, the Sennheiser MKH-416, a Røde NTG3, a Telefunken U47 and an Electro-Voice RE27.

Then there was this very odd-looking mic from the United States, an E100S designed by Conneaut Audio Devices or CAD. Very few people in the room had even heard of the brand, let alone seen such a microphone. But when the day was over, several voice actors ended up ordering one. By the end of this review you’ll know why.

Its reputation had preceded itself. Prior to the shootout, this rectangular shaped CAD had beaten out the venerable Neumann U87 – regarded by many to be the ultimate voice-over microphone – in a blind test. Not bad for a mic you can often buy for around $400!

ROBUST & RECTANGULAR

The CAD Equitek E100S as it’s officially called, is a side-address, large-diaphragm FET condenser with a nickel-plated 1 inch capsule, an 80 Hz hi-pass filter and a 10 dB pad. It has a fixed supercardioid polar pattern and the lowest self-noise rating of pretty much any mic: 3.7 dBA (measured with the capsule swapped for a fixed capacitor, known as the “capacitor substitution” method).

Coming in at 0.61kg (22 oz) it’s not exactly light. Made in the USA, this microphone is built like a tank and it feels solid but smooth thanks to a rubbery coating. It arrives in a nice cherry wood box, already resting in a specially designed ’stealth’ integral shock mount. You’ll find the XLR output at the back of the microphone.

Strong rubber bands tie the microphone to its snug-fitting shock mount. This mount works well, but it’s a pain in the neck to remove in order to place the mic in my Rycote InVision™ shock mount. Most people would only take the mic from its mount to replace the rubber bands, so it’s no big deal.

In my recent review of the Gefell M930 Ts, I came up with eight criteria for an ideal voice-over microphone:

  • minimal voice coloration
  • tight pick-up pattern (cardioid or supercardioid)
  • excellent rear rejection
  • controlled proximity effect (bass boost)
  • low susceptibility to sibilance (shrill “S”-sounds) and popping
  • low self-noise
  • high-pass filter to cut out lower frequencies
  • rugged design, ready for the road

Now look at the specs for this CAD. Based on my preferences, it comes very close to being perfect – on paper, that is. It is often advertised and reviewed as a versatile, all-purpose mic, so I wondered how well it would work for voice alone.

To find out, I hooked it up to my new Grace Design m101 preamplifier and started talking. After all, that’s what I do for a living.

The following samples were recorded in 24-bit, 41,00 kHz WAV format and converted to MP3.

 

 

 

 

Following is a longer sample, a poem called Memory of Holland by Hendrik Marsman, translation by Paul Vincent.

 

LIKE A LASER

click to enlarge

Because of its tight pickup pattern, this is not a microphone for those who like to wobble and wiggle. If close miking is your thing, this CAD is king. Once you have found the sweet spot and you stay there, the mic will hear you loud and clear.

It zooms in on your voice like a laser beam, with the accuracy and clarity of a shotgun. Although sonically different, this makes the E100S a serious alternative to the popular Sennheiser MKH-416, which costs more than twice as much.

Let’s talk about your recording space for a moment. Soundproofing a studio or improvised booth can set you back thousands of dollars. If that’s out of your range, the next best thing is to find a mic that’s not so sensitive to ambient noise. That’s another reason why this CAD makes an excellent voice-over investment.

Off-axis sound spills are kept to a minimum, and yet this mic never sounds one-dimensional. Like a fine Bordeaux, it has a nice open and full body to it.

By engaging the high-pass filter, you can also minimize low-frequency rumble from boilers, pumps, planes, trains and trucks. In other words, under less than ideal recording situations, the E100S can save the day.

Sometimes, outside noise is not the problem. Every microphone produces electrical noise, known as equivalent or intrinsic noise. It can be utterly annoying. As a narrator, I don’t want my softer reads to drown in microphone hiss. Of course noise reduction software can come to the rescue, but with this CAD you’re not going to need it.

This is hands-down the quietest mic I have ever laid ears on.

Most supercardioids suffer from a more pronounced proximity effect, and with a wide open grille, this mic is no exception. You will also need a pop filter to take care of plosives and mouth moisture.

CONCLUSION

Like most reviewers, I do my very best to find fault with the products I’m evaluating. In that respect, this CAD gave me a hard time. There is one thing I struggle to understand, though.

In my opinion, the E100S has all the characteristics to become a voice-over’s secret weapon. Why then, is this microphone a virtual unknown in my line of work? Why do colleagues drool over Sennheisers and Neumanns, calling them “the industry standard,” while ignoring the silent quality of CAD craftsmanship from Ohio?

After reading every review ever written about this CAD and testing it for months, it finally dawned upon me. The E100S has one thing that’s both a strength and a weakness:

This microphone is an everyman’s friend.

It can handle sounds as loud as the engine of an airplane and as soft as a woman’s whisper. It loves strings just as much as percussion. Whether it’s used to record the subtleties of Baroque music or the unrelenting power of Punk Rock, this uncompromising CAD can capture it all.

In terms of marketing, the more universal the product, the harder it is to come up with a unique selling proposition. Not everyone looking for a voice-over mic will find the label “all-purpose microphone” very appealing.

Secondly, because this E100S is relatively affordable, it’s easy to equate low price with low quality. Perhaps my colleagues would take this mic more seriously if CAD would double the price.

Before that happens, I recommend you seriously consider this amazing American microphone.

photo: Willem van den Top

After testing many makes and models, one of Holland’s most respected and experienced voice artists summarized it perfectly:

“The E100S is incredibly versatile. If I could only keep one mic in my locker, this one would be at the top of my list. I would gladly part with microphones costing more than eight thousand Euros in order to keep the CAD.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

This article was previously published in recordinghacks.com, the ultimate online microphone database. Click here for a review of the Studiobricks ONE, an innovative, portable isolation booth especially designed for voice talent. Mike Bratton has the first one in the US.

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Reviewing the Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 2 Comments

The Holy Grail of voice over microphones: is it a mythological object or does it really exist?

If you spend any time on forums for fellow-gearheads, you know that the quest for the best VO-mic can take on Monty Python-esque proportions. People swear by certain brands, makes and models, based on their own (and often vague) criteria.

It is easy to forget that any microphone is part of a recording chain, and when you change one link in that chain, everything changes. Of course the source of the sound is very much part of that chain.

Very few armchair reviewers actually ask the question:

What would make a microphone specifically suitable for voice-over work?

Before the home studio revolution, the answer would have been different. Talent would go into a certified soundproof recording studio and use one of the German workhorses on hand.

Nowadays, lots of VO’s hide in walk-in closets, cover themselves in movers’ blankets or buy a prefab foam-filled box from a boothtique. In other words: the ideal voice-over microphone has to handle less than ideal recording environments.

This is what I am looking and listening for in a VO-mic:

  • minimal voice coloration
  • tight pick-up pattern (cardioid or supercardioid)
  • excellent rear rejection
  • controlled proximity effect (bass boost)
  • low susceptibility to sibilance (shrill “S”-sounds) and popping
  • low self-noise
  • high-pass filter to cut out lower frequencies
  • rugged design, ready for the road

click to enlarge

With this in mind, I had been shopping around for a new voice-over mic when a small miracle happened. I became the winner of Recordinghacks’ December microphone giveaway! My prize was the new Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts studio condenser.

Prior to that, Gefell had never really been on my radar screen, but when I discovered that Georg Neumann had founded the company in 1928, I was intrigued. Gefell itself had been operating under the East-German radar for years, until the Berlin Wall came down. Now, their hand-made microphones are used in the United Nations, the German Parliament and in The Vatican, as well as in the studios of the BBC and other networks (click here to learn more about Gefell’s history).

My prize possession was developed at the request of Gefell customers and is based on their popular M 930 model. “Ts” stands for Travosymetrierten Ausgang, and that’s German for “output transformer.” That’s exactly what has been added to the M 930, together with a newly developed circuit design. This results in a deeper low-frequency extension, negligible distortion and no signal degradation when running long cables.

A BIG SURPRISE

I knew I was expecting a large-diaphragm capsule studio microphone, but when I received a package in the mail the size of a brick, I thought somebody had made a mistake. This couldn’t possibly be my new mic, could it? I was almost disappointed.

I was also wrong.

click to enlarge

Out came a simple wooden case with a satin nickel colored microphone and holder that could easily fit in the palm of my hand. It was by far the smallest large condenser I’d ever seen. Judging by this model, Microtech takes its name seriously!

Strangely, the company logo is laser-engraved on the back of the microphone. The model and pick-up pattern symbol are on the front of this side-addressed design. There are no switches such as a bass rolloff, and the M 930 Ts has just one pickup pattern: cardioid.

This microphone exudes sophisticated simplicity.

Because of the output transformer, the Ts is longer than the M 930 (130 mm vs 118 mm). It’s also a little bit ‘heavier’ (273 g vs 210 g). In comparison, Neumanns like the TLM 103 and U 87 come in at 500 g.

The high-end steel body–also available in dark bronze–feels very solid, and it is virtually impossible to take this mic apart without damaging it. Gefell actually seals the housing with glue. The 28mm capsule with its gold-plated polyester membrane is mounted elastically in the compact housing, which has a diameter of 45mm.

According to Gefell, the combination of the optimized impedance conversion circuitry and the output transformer gives the microphone a very high maximum SPL 142 dB, with at most 0.5% total harmonic distortion and extremely low self-noise level of just 7dBA. This gives the M 930 Ts a clean, uncolored sound over a wide dynamic range.

This microphone has a constant frequency response with an accentuation of about 2.5 dB between 6kHz and 12 kHz, aimed at raising the speech and high-frequency presence. In theory, this should make it very suitable for broadcasting applications.

The M 930 Ts is connected by a standard 3-pin XLR-male plug with gold-plated pins, and needs an external 48 V phantom power supply.

SIZE MATTERS

from left to right: the MXL VO-1A, the Avantone CK-6, the Lewitt LCT 640 & the Gefell M 930 Ts

If you subscribe to the “bigger is better” theory, you’re not going to like this mic. However, if you believe that small is beautiful, you will love it. A few years ago, my studio went almost completely paperless, and these days I read my voice-over scripts off the computer monitor in front of me.

For the first time, I now have a microphone that is not disturbing my field of vision. That’s exactly why the M 930 was developed in the first place: to be discreet. I already find it much easier to concentrate on what’s in front of me, because there’s very little in my way.

If you work for a radio station that is also televising its shows, or if you record YouTube tutorials on your webcam, this mini mic makes sure the focus stays on you and not on some bulky blob blocking your face. On stage, a smaller mic means the audience can actually see and respond to the facial expressions of the performer.

There are three more advantages to this clever design.

First of all, this microphone is easy to position. It fits into tight spaces. Because it is light, you don’t have to worry that your stand will tip over when extending the boom. Third: it’s an ideal compact, sturdy companion for the road.

If you’ve been keeping score, you know I’ve already ticked off a few boxes of my ideal voice-over mic. But there’s more to explore.

SOUND CHECK

When my prize arrived, I was already testing a few new microphones in different price ranges. What immediately struck me was that the M 930 Ts is a neutral, natural sounding mic. This is not a microphone that will add a lot of extra “oomph” or a distinct color to your voice, but the sound isn’t exactly thin either.

Just like its older brother the M 930, its sound is quite rich without being fat. It sounds transparent, or “unfooled around with” as they say in the commercial. That’s exactly what most of my clients want. They like my audio to be crisp and clear, and if it needs to be sweetened, they’ll take care of that in their studio.

The other thing that struck me from the start is how low the noise floor of this microphone is. This really is a big plus during more intimate reads. The M 930 Ts is rated at 7dBA self-noise, making it one of the lowest self-noise microphones on the market (for others, click here).

The cardioid pick-up pattern will give you a reasonable area to work with. For more animated narrators, this means they don’t have to pin themselves down to one spot. At the same time, the off-axis and rear rejection is definitely sufficient to keep the microphone focused, and to keep most extraneous noises out of the mix. This is definitively an advantage under less-than-perfect recording conditions.

I do like my voice-over microphones to have a little bass boost when I get closer to the mic (this is known as “proximity effect”), as long as I get coloration instead of distortion. Up close and personal, the M 930 Ts does add some lower end presence without being too much “in your face.” Sibilance wasn’t really a problem during my test, but that’s also a matter of mic technique. While this Gefell picks up of lot of detail, it is not overly sensitive to popping. Nonetheless I prefer to use a pop filter, if only to protect my mic from mouth moisture.

The only complaint I have is that this microphone comes with a “hard mount” rather than a shockmount. Gefell charges a shocking $300 for an elastic suspension, and over $200 for a rubber isolation “donut” mount. 

This mic is quite sensitive, and I do recommend getting something to isolate it. Because it is so small, a universal shock mount won’t hold it securely. Fortunately, I have found a perfect solution at a reasonable price, but more about that next week.

SOUND BITES

Because I am testing the M 930 Ts specifically as a voice-over microphone, I didn’t want to try it out in a full-blown recording studio, but in a typical, rather small sound booth. When it comes to VO equipment, less is often more, and so I hooked my Gefell up to a CEntrance MicPort Pro, a popular portable mic preamp with a built-in 24bit/96kHz A/D converter (for a USB preamp shootout, click here).

The samples were recorded in 24-bit, 48.000 kHz WAV format and converted to MP3.

I thought it would be fun to record one sound bite in Dutch. After all, it is my native language and because the content doesn’t really matter, you’ll be able to focus on the unprocessed sound. What you’ll hear is the short poem “Memory of Holland” by Hendrik Marsman.

Next, I recorded my voice at 5, 7 and 10 inches from the microphone.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

Based on my criteria, the Gefell M 930 Ts scored 7 out of 8 points, plus a bonus point for size. Apart from lacking a high-pass filter (not a deal breaker) and a shock mount, it has everything a voice talent could hope for. It’s neutral without being boring, and when I listen to my audio samples, I hear myself and not some boutique sound.

 Due to its price tag ($1,695.80), this is certainly no entry-level mic, but let’s remember that Gefell microphones are still made, measured and tested by hand in Germany.

In 2012, the M930 Ts won the Musikmesse International Press Award for best studio microphone. More than 100 magazines from all over the world voted for the best musical instruments and audio equipment of 2011/2012 in more than 40 categories.

Great things do come in small packages, and -just like me- the Gefell M 930 Ts is a winner!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

This article was previously published in recordinghacks.com, the ultimate online microphone database. Next up is a profile of a universal shock mount that uses 21st century technology.

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