Gear

More Studio Secrets Revealed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 25 Comments

You’ve seen the inside of my voice-over booth. Now it’s time to talk about technology.

Don’t worry, I’ll do my very best not to be too technical, if only for my own sake.

When it comes to the tools of the trade, I subscribe to the “less is more” philosophy. Life is complicated as is, and in my studio I’d like to keep things as simple as possible. 

Without exception, my clients ask for audio that’s “unfooled around with”. Most of them are much better equipped to do post-production sweetening in their studios, if that’s what they want.

I have no inclination to compete with all the high-end bells and whistles their engineers have at their disposal. As long as I can give them clean and clear audio, they’re happy and I’m happy.

Computing Power: the hardware

At the heart of my studio is a Mac Mini with a dual-core 2.3 GHz Intel i5 processor running OS X Lion. It came with 2GB of memory, but thanks to a removable bottom, it is very easy to add more memory to your mini. If you let Apple do it for you, 8 GB will cost you $400. It took me ten minutes to do it myself for less than $45. At the time I even got a $10 rebate and free shipping!

Sorry, but I’m not going to get into the Apple versus PC discussion. I’ve used both and I have found Apple to be more reliable and user-friendly. I do want to tell you what prompted me to get a Mac Mini.

Reason number one: it barely makes any noise. When it does, it produces a whisper that’s almost inaudible.

Some colleagues have a studio with two separate areas: a sound booth and a control room. The computer is usually outside the booth. I combined both spaces, which means that my desktop sits next to me in my studio. The Mac Mini uses very little energy and it rarely ever gets warm. That makes it amazingly quiet.

Secondly, this computer stays in my studio. It doesn’t have to go on the road with me. Otherwise I would have bought the Macbook Air (no moving parts and also nearly silent).

Third: I already had peripherals such as a flat-screen monitor and an ergonomic mouse. I just added a wireless keyboard. Tip: if you want to connect a standard analog computer monitor or LCD to your Mac Mini, you need a Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter.

What the Mac Mini doesn’t have is an optical drive to play and burn CD’s or DVD’s. For that purpose I bought the Macbook Air SuperDrive which can be plugged into one of the four Mac Mini USB 2.0 ports.

The actual move from PC to Mac was very easy. It took me about a week to get used to my new computer and the operating system. It’s all rather intuitive. A few weeks ago we did add a MacBook Air to our household. This is no ordinary laptop. It is a work of art!

Backup, please!

We’ve all heard horror stories of friends who lost months if not years worth of irreplaceable data when their system decided to take a permanent break. Backing up is something all of us should do, but we often don’t. We forget. We tell ourselves that we’ll do it tomorrow or the day after. It’s just one more thing to think about, and that’s why I wanted a backup system that would do the thinking for me.

I now have an Apple Time Capsule with a 2 TB hard drive, designed to work with my operating system (although it works with PC’s too). After an initial backup which lasted several hours, it now backs up both computers in our home quickly, wirelessly and automatically. Installing it was a piece of cake. The Time Machine feature in the OS detected the Time Capsule and within minutes it was up and running.

Tip: as the Time Capsule is backing up, it may interfere with your recording. In my case, I noticed a soft but annoying buzzing sound on the audio file, which disappears when the automatic back-up is switched off.

Look at me!

Next on my list was a webcam which I use for coaching sessions, webinars and Skype. I picked the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910. The Carl Zeiss optics lens has a wide angle and the video quality is remarkably crisp and clear.

Reviewers also praise the quality of the stereo microphones. That’s not so important to me because my sound comes directly from my studio condenser.

Mac users: don’t get all gaga over all the advanced features listed on the box and in the manual (zoom, face tracking, exposure adjustments). Even though Apple sells this camera in their stores, most of the Logitech functionally works on a PC and not on a Mac. The C910 is also not supported as an iMovie camera, but that’s Apple’s fault.

In summary, this camera gets an A for image quality, but a C- for limited Apple functionality.

Software

There are many different types of DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) available for audio production on a Mac. Colleagues with a background in audio engineering like to use Pro Tools. A lot of my voice-overs friends rave about Adobe Audition CS5.5 and Twisted Wave. Until I made the switch, I was a happy Sound Forge™ Pro user.

I won’t be going over the pros and cons of each program. You can try most of them out for free and I’d certainly take advantage of that.

I ended up choosing Twisted Wave because it’s very stable, easy to use and at $79.90 it’s also budget-friendly. Thanks to a great interface, zooming in and out of a waveform is very fast, even when the file is quite long. I particularly like the fact that I can zoom in at great detail for precision editing.

Different clients prefer different audio formats and TW can import, export and convert most of them. It has a time-saving batch processing feature which is especially useful when you’re working on a lengthy e-Learning project with lots of short files that need to be separated out and individually named.

TW doesn’t come with a whole lot of special effects, but new and existing plugins are imported seamlessly. With TW, effects no longer have to be applied one by one, but it’s possible to load any number in an effect stack and still adjust them separately.

Some of you might prefer Adobe Audition CS5.5 because it’s loaded with features such as Noise Reduction, a DeClicker, a DeHummer etcetera. I had already invested in Izotope’s RX2 audio repair toolkit and it’s now an integral part of my Twisted Wave Effects line-up.

I do have two items on my Twisted Wave wish list. I’d love to have a feature similar to Adobe Audition’s Auto Heal function for brushing away audio glitches. It’s like having Photoshop® for your audio! I also like to have my Sound Forge WaveHammer tool back. It applies a tad of compression and normalization to the sound files to give the audio just a bit more oomph.

Controlling the Wave

To streamline my job in the editing room I’m using a ShuttlePROv2 controller. It has 15 programmable buttons, a jog knob and a spring loaded wheel with which I can control the main editing functions in Twisted Wave.

It’s preprogrammed for things like Garageband, iPhoto and iTunes, but it was really easy to program the TW keyboard shortcuts into the Shuttle. With my mouse in one hand and my ShuttlePRO in the other, I can scroll, zoom, cut, copy and paste much faster than with a keyboard.

The ShuttlePROv2 connects to your computer via a USB port and it comes with custom labels for the top 9 buttons. It can be used on either MAC or PC computers.

Gefell M 930 Ts & Rycote's InVision™ Studio KitMicrophone and shock mount

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I consider myself to be a very lucky man. In December 2011, I won a Microtech Gefell M 930 Ts large diaphragm condenser microphone in a recordinghacks.com giveaway. This microphone happens to be ideal for voice-over work. To find out why, you should read my review by clicking here.

Because the Gefell did not come with a shock mount, I had to find a suspension system that would hold this small microphone. Rycote, a company based in the UK, makes the InVision™ Studio Kit you see in the picture. It’s a combination of a unique, universal shock mount and a very light and effective pop filter. If you click here, you’ll find out what I think of this kit.

I’m using an Ultimate Support® mic stand and their telescoping Ulti-Boom. WindTech cable clips keep the mic cable separate from the stand.

Preamplifier

A good preamplifier strengthens the low level signal coming from your microphone to a level suitable for recording, without degrading the signal to noise ratio (S/N). A preamp with a high S/N has very little background noise.

Some boutique preamplifiers can really color your sound and that wasn’t something I was particularly interested in. My ideal preamp needed to be dead quiet, transparent, detailed and clear in all frequencies.

As I researched preamps within my budget range, I kept coming back to one model: the Grace Design m101.

Built in Colorado, the sound quality is often described as “natural” and “pristine”. I couldn’t agree more. This is a phenomenal preamplifier!

Looking at the front panel, you’ll see a 48V phantom power button, a ‘ribbon button’ which, when engaged, bypasses the phantom power circuit, and a high-pass filter button to reduce low-end rumble and curb the proximity effect of a microphone.

In my review for pro audio dealer Sweetwater, I called this preamp an “Amazing Grace” because it makes my microphone shine.

Audio Interface

In a nutshell, an audio interface connects your microphone and other sound sources to your computer. For audio to be usable by a computer it needs to be digital, and an interface converts your analog signal to bits and bytes. You’ll often find external audio interfaces that include a mic preamp, but since I already had a pre, I opted for the pocket-sized Echo AudioFire2 (discontinued, but still available for around $200).

Echo AudioFire2This device is connected to and powered by the computer via a FireWire bus. I purposely didn’t want to get a USB-interface. The Mac Mini only has four USB slots that fill up pretty quickly and USB devices cannot draw power from the computer. With the AudioFire 2 you can record 24-bit 96 kHz audio with near-zero latency (delay) monitoring.

Because the AudioFire2 has a 400 Mbps FireWire port and the Mac Mini has an 800 Mbps port, you need an adaptor to be able to connect it to the computer. The AudioFire could also use a simple step-by-step  set-up guide. Perhaps it’s my lack of technical insight, but it took me a while to make the right connections (literally and figuratively).

Overall, this sturdy, small metal box performs just fine. It’s more of a necessity than anything else.

Monitoring

Like so many of you, I evaluate my audio in two ways: I use headphones and studio monitors. Gear-guru’s often recommend buying closed headphones to prevent sound leaks from feeding back through the microphone. That’s why I got the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro.

These headphones stay put alright, and they shut outside sounds out (not that ambient noise is a problem in an isolated studio). Over time I found them to be quite uncomfortable. I happen to have a rather large head (thanks Dad!), and I didn’t like the tight grip the Sennheiser had on my ears.

The AKG K 240 semi-open Studio headphones I am using now, are very comfy and they provide plenty of acoustic isolation. My ears can breathe! After a year and a half, the cups started showing some wear and tear, and I will replace them soon with velvet ear pads.

The AKG has a regular, straight cable which I also prefer. Somehow, things always get caught in a coiled cable, such as the one that comes with the Sennheiser.

Both headphones are excellent for detailed monitoring.

When it came to picking out a pair of speakers a few years ago, my budget was limited and so was my space. At that time I was recording in a cold corner of the attic, and I got a pair of Alesis M1Active 320USB monitors.

At first I was quite skeptical and I didn’t really expect much from these bookshelf speakers. Once I plugged them in, I was blown away by the fact that so much sound could come out of such a small package. That has not changed.

I’m sure they are no match for a pair of Genelec studio monitors, but for under 100 bucks these Alesis speakers continue to impress me. As you can see, I have placed them on stands at ear hight. It really makes a difference.

Enough already

Alright… I think I’m done shopping for a while, don’t you?

Selecting audio equipment can be a daunting task and it can be a learning experience. Just as a musician has to know his instruments, a voice-over pro has to have a basic knowledge of the tools he or she is using. There’s so much good stuff available these days, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated by gear-snobs and audiophiles. Talk to people you trust and whenever possible, try things out for yourself.

Don’t blindly buy something just because some guy at your local Guitar Center told you he loves it, or because Paul Strikwerda wrote about it in his blog.

After all, that’s just a bunch of Double Dutch!

Paul Strikwerda ©2012

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My Prized Possession

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 34 Comments

What do the Vatican, the United Nations, the German Parliament, the BBC and my company Nethervoice have in common?

We all use top of the line microphones from a family owned business in the small German town of Gefell.

If you’ve never heard of Gefell and you enjoy European history, let’s travel back in time for a moment.

In 1943, Georg Neumann‘s main microphone laboratory in Berlin was hit by bombs and caught fire. To avoid more damage, Neumann and his technical director Erich Kühnast moved the entire company to Gefell where they continued their work in an old textile mill.

After Germany’s surrender, Gefell was occupied by the Americans and then handed over to the Soviet Union. In 1946 a number of Gefell employees returned to Berlin to establish a small workshop. This workshop eventually became Georg Neumann GmbH, the second Neumann company.

Kühnast and most of the original staff stayed in Gefell and continued to develop and build microphones. Neumann made Kühnast manager of the limited partnership Georg Neumann & Co. which was later nationalized by the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Despite the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the management of the two companies stayed in touch with one another.

In 1972, the GDR prohibited use of the Neumann trademark, and the East-German company was renamed VEB Mikrofontechnik Gefell.

After the Wall came down in 1989, Georg Neumann’s heirs reclaimed their share in the company and a new period of cooperation began. Here’s what’s remarkable. When the Neumann engineers took a closer look at the Gefell products that had been developed behind the Iron Curtain, they discovered microphone technology that was more sophisticated than some of that in the West.

After Sennheiser took over Neumann in 1991, Microtech Gefell -as it is now called- became an independent, privately owned company, known for hand-made, high-end microphones. (this overview is in part based on an article in Sound on Sound and on information on the Gefell website).

MY NEW BABY

Fast forward to Tuesday, January 17th, 2012, the day I became the first person in America to own a Gefell M 930 Ts studio condenser microphone.

Out of thousands of microphones on the market, why did I pick this particular make and model?

I have to be honest with you: I didn’t pick this mic. It picked me. Or rather: I got lucky. Very, very lucky!

In my radio days I never paid any attention to the equipment I was using, but since I became master and commander of my own studio, things have changed. As a professional, I think it’s important to get to know the tools of the trade. 

Before I’m ready to make any type of investment in my business, I spend months doing research, reading reviews and talking to colleagues in the know. They make sure I don’t fall for the latest fad, and that when I finally decide on a new purchase, I invest in quality that will last for many years to come.

Any professional chef, musician or mechanic can tell you that well-made, reliable tools make the job a lot easier because they work with you instead of against you. Good tools can’t make an artist more creative, but they can inspire. Without them, he’s less able to realize his dreams. A great set of tools can take you to that proverbial next level.

It’s a cliché, but quality never goes out of style. It is remembered long after the price is forgotten.

RISING FROM THE PACK

As home studios are becoming the norm and more people are having a go at voice-overs, it’s increasingly important to distinguish oneself. It all starts with the way the voice is captured.

The quality of your sound is your signature.

Clients are sick and tired of having to put up with hiss, rumble, interference and echoes coming from inferior equipment recorded in so-called ‘professional’ booths set up in someone’s boudoir. By the sound of it, these spaces aren’t studios. They sound more like shacks. Radio shacks.

If you can’t provide clean, crystal clear audio, you should start a website where amateur VO’s can go forth, multiply and make a lot of noise. Why not call it VoiceRabbit (after the rabid growth I predict it will undergo)?

Alternatively, you could consult men like Dan Lenard, Dan Friedman, George Whittam or Mel Allen. They will set you up with the right gear and help you fine-tune your sound in less time than it will take you to learn the ropes through trial and error.

Although it never paints a complete picture, quality equipment does make a statement. When a client or agent sees you are using professional grade gear, they know you mean business and they have one less thing to worry about.

Imagine going to a wedding photographer to find out if he’s going to be a good fit for your big day, and the man pulls out a cheap point-and-shoot camera. Would you hire him? I don’t think so. Now, owning a Hasselblad 503CW does not make one a brilliant photographer, but that’s a different story.

RECORDINGHACKS

In my quest for the best equipment, I spent many hours on Matt Mcglyn’s creation: www.recordinghacks.com. It’s an online magazine as well as the world’s most extensive database of a 1000+ microphones.

If you happen to be looking for a good podcasting mic for $200, recordinghacks has put them to the test. If you need the specs of the Manley Reference Gold tube condenser, look no further. Interested in a $60,000 ribbon mic shootout? You know where to go!

In 2011, recordinghacks gave away a new mic every month: a Cascade Fathead II, a Blue Yeti Pro, a Lauten Horizon et cetera. December’s prize topped it all: a brand new Microtech Gefell 930 Ts. This small, large diaphragm condenser was made with broadcasting and voice-over applications in mind.

AND THE WINNER IS…

In the first week of January, Matt Mcglyn said he had some good news for me: I was the lucky winner of the giveaway! It was unbelievable. What a start to the new year!

I want to thank Microtech Gefell GmbH for such a generous gift, and for their ongoing, uncompromising dedication to quality.

Matt Mcglyn deserves a big ‘thank you’ for creating such an excellent database and magazine, and for magically pulling my name out of his recordinghacks-hat.

As for the rest of you, I’m sure you’d like to know how my new mic sounds, and how it stacks up against other voice-over microphones. Well, it just so happens that I have written a review for recordinghacks, and you’ll find out for yourself why the Vatican has given its blessing to a small German company.

If there ever was one brand that has earned the right to capture the voice of G-d, it has to be Microtech Gefell!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice 

Next week I’ll tell you about one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had, and what lessons we can draw from that for our own business.

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Give Me a Break!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear 22 Comments

After much use, even the sharpest knives get dull. Paul Strikwerda

 

Can a voice-over pro ever take time off?

Do you have to be available 24/7?

Is it okay to shut down your business for a few weeks of Rest and Relaxation?

Will your Facebook fans unfriend you?

Will your Twitter followers desert you?

Will your voice-overworked agent ever talk to you again?

Let me answer these questions with a question:

What won’t happen if you don’t do it?

BALANCING ACT

I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. As a European living in the States (the number 1 “no vacation nation”), I see a lot of people around me who are absolutely addicted to their jobs. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected and become a burned-out, boss-pleasing slave laborer.

Have we forgotten our history?

On January 31st, 1865, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. It read:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I guess the keyword is involuntary servitude.

We are free people, living in a free country who have earned the right to free themselves of any free time. Instead, we have chosen “voluntary servitude.”

Now, that’s what I call progress in a society built upon the principles of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”

But let’s put the cynicism and sarcasm aside for a moment. If you’re pursuing happiness as a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You set your own hours. You determine your own rates. You’re the only one who can call it a day and shout from the roof tops:

Give me a break!

You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.

TRAPPED & TIRED

A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Prior to that, there was a reception and -of course- you can’t have a reception without background music. It’s a known fact that most musicians aren’t capable of staying in the background. No matter the crowd, they have to be LOUD.

I knew that if I were to schmooze prior to my presentation, I would have no voice left, even though my vocal cords are well-trained.

As they say: “If you schmooze, you lose.”

Besides, the next day I was going to New York for a recording session and my voice had to be in top-shape in order to sell well.

So, I was left with a choice. Either slip something into the drinks of the band that would have them running to the restroom in a matter of minutes… or hide myself from the crowd until it was time to go on stage.

The first option was obviously more entertaining, but I ended up hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, an overzealous janitor came down, turned off the lights and kicked the door shut, leaving me trapped.

This is where cell phones can save the day. I called the organizer of the event:

“Hi, it’s Paul.”

“Paul, where are you? We’ve looked all over for you!”

“I am trapped in the basement. It is dark in here. Rats are nibbling on my feet. Please rescue me!”

That day, instead of being a voice-over, I became a voice-under.

I think you get my point.

In order to give your all, you sometimes have to get away from it all. But avoid being locked up.

GO AWAY

Now, in an ideal world you would just pack your bags and go where no one can reach you. But what to do when you’re waiting for that all-important callback or that once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for something you can’t afford to refuse?

In that case, you need to take some gear on the road and improvise. Rather than spending a few hours going over all the options, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey Fischer’s classic Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. It’s jam-packed with practical information and I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in a voice-over career.

Here’s what I take along on my travels:

  • a laptop
  • a microphone
  • a CEntrance MicPort Pro
  • earplug-sized headphones

A MicPort Pro is a nifty mini audio interface/preamplifier that plugs directly into your microphone. On the other side there’s a USB cable that plugs into your computer. In other words: this device can turn any microphone into a USB mic. It has phantom power, a headphone jack and two knobs for setting the record level and the headphone volume.

So… after all that subtle product placement, let’s get back to the original question:

Can you take off for a period of time without ruining your career?

Here’s an experiment you should do at home:

Fill up your watering can to the brim and start watering your plants. Keep on watering and watering and watering… until there’s no more water left.

I don’t have to tell you that -in order for those plants to grow- you need to water them regularly. An empty watering can is useless. The moral of the story:

You can’t give what you don’t have.

Now, why is that so easy to understand when it comes to our plants, and why are we surprised that “We the People,” are so stressed, so drained and left without an ounce of creativity?

Take my advice and get lost! Recharge your batteries. Discover that you have significant others in your life who’d love to get to know you. It can’t be all work and no play… Your job is just a means to an end.

TAKING TIME OFF

Be sure to let your voice casting sites and agents know that you’ll be gone for a particular period of time. If you must, bring your gear, but promise yourself that you will only do what is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into obsessive email checking, incessant instant messaging and frantic Facebooking.

Only use your cell phone when you’re stuck in a basement and someone’s thrown away the key.

When you come back from your well-deserved vacation, notice how refreshed, alert and full of energy you are.

People can see it in your face. They hear it in your voice.

Now you’re ready to wow the world again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Renowned German Scientist Apologizes

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 19 Comments


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The Mic Warmer: launching a true innovation

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear 29 Comments

“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” said Heinz Gruenewald.

Heinz works for the world-renowned Westdeutscher Rundfunklabor in Germany, and he’s one of the top sound wave specialists. He has several patents in nanomaterials, acoustic devices, transducers and sensors in his name.

AN UNUSUAL TALENT

Just like some wine connoisseurs are born with an extraordinary palette, Heinz is blessed with extraordinary hearing. As you know, you can let an oenophile taste a glass of wine, and he’ll tell you what country it’s from, what region and even from what year. Heinz has that same uncanny ability but with microphones.

He says that it’s both a blessing and a curse: “Whenever I hear audio, my mind immediately tries to figure out what microphone was used to record it. It usually takes me a few seconds to analyze the sound spectrum. Call me arrogant, but 9 out of 10 ten times I’m dead on.” Heinz has even been on the German version of 20/20 to show his talent off.”

Right now, he is working on a portable version of the digital microphone interface, which is expected to come out next year. The rapid advance of high-def television is associated with increasing requirements in terms of audio technology, which can only be met with the aid of digital microphones. That’s where Heinz comes in.

SURPRISE DISCOVERY

Heinz and I actually started an “online relationship” when I found him on the Internet as I was looking for an expert who could confirm or deny what only can be labeled as a surprise discovery. Here’s how it started.

At the end of 2008, I was listening to some old demos of mine, to determine which ones to keep and which ones to delete. Since I’ve been listening to myself for my entire life, it’s fair to say that I know my sound top to bottom, inside out. For some reason I listened back to back to a demo recorded at the end of January and one from the middle of August. The difference between the two couldn’t have been greater. It was almost as if another person had taken over my vocal chords. I couldn’t believe it.

Back in January, my sound was thin, shallow and cold. In August I sounded rich, resonant and warm. Mind you: I was certain that I had used the same microphone, the same preamplifier and they were all at the same setting I always use to create a consistent sound. For days I kept wondering what could account for the tremendous difference in the way my voice came across. It was night and day. It was too weird for words. What on earth could be the difference that had made the difference?

EUREKA MOMENT

Then I got an unexpected breakthrough. One December morning, I went into my studio to record an audition. It was early and I was freezing. Nevertheless I gave it my all. But when I heard myself back, I could hear the cold of the morning in my voice. This wasn’t working. I decided to switch on the thermal heater and come back when the temperature would be up.

Fast forward sixty minutes. I recorded the same lines with the same gear, and out of curiosity I played the two recordings I had made one after the other. My mouth fell open. A week and many experiments later, I contacted Heinz.

“Let me get this right,” he said with his soft German accent. “Are you saying that the temperature in the recording booth actually influences the way you sound?”

“Based on my experiments, I’m prepared to go even one step further,” I said. “At this point I am convinced that the temperature of the microphone greatly affects the tonal qualities of the sound it is picking up. It boils down to this:

When the mic is cold, I sound cold. When the mic is warm, I sound much warmer.

SCIENCE IN ACTION

Being a scientist and a sound wave specialist, Heinz didn’t take my word for it. Not even when I sent him the audio files. But I could tell he was intrigued and determined to repeat my experiment in a laboratory setting. It was easy enough to replicate.

At 3:00 AM the next morning my phone rang. An excited Heinz had forgotten that he was on German time.

“Paul, I think you’re on to something,” he said. “I have never heard anything like it. I only had a cheap microphone in my office, but I decided to put it to the test anyway. Stone cold it sounded like…. the piece of junk that it was. But when I left it on the radiator and it had warmed up significantly, it was a totally different animal. I swear to you, it almost had tube-like characteristics. It’s amazing. I don’t know how it works, but it definitely does.”

FURTHER TESTING

In the months that followed, Heinz and his team made sure that this hadn’t been a random event. Test groups were brought in to evaluate identical sound bites that were recorded with cold mics and mics that were warmed up. Without exception, the people surveyed not only noticed the difference; they all preferred the warmer sound of the warm microphone.

In February 2009, I traveled to Germany to go over the findings of the Rundfunklabor in person. Heinz and I had been speculating about how we could put my discovery to practical use. We had agreed that it would be a shame to leave the results of the research in some stuffy drawer.

When we sat around the table at the lab, Heinz had a big smile on his face when he handed me a cable with some sort of extension that reminded me a bit of a MicPort Pro. He said: “It looks like an ordinary USB cable, right?” “More or less,” I replied. “What is this black thing that’s attached to it, and why are you showing me this?” Heinz said: “You are looking at a prototype, my friend. And I have a feeling that this is going to create a small revolution.”

TRIAL PRODUCT

He continued: “This device is powered from the USB port and needs no batteries. The other end plugs directly into a condenser microphone. Now, do you see this control knob? Notice that the scale is in centigrades?

When you turn it up, it draws energy from the computer and transfers it into heat. This heat is actually warming up the microphone. And because you can adjust the temperature, you can adjust the tonal quality of whatever the mic is recording. That means that you can use a lower temperature for microphones that already have a warmer sound. Isn’t it ingenious?”

I was floored. In a few months time and without telling me, Heinz had turned my little discovery into the beginnings of a product. “Do you think people would actually buy this?” I asked.

“Paul, listen to me,” said Heinz. “I took the cheapest condenser microphone I could find and plugged it into this mic warmer. When it had reached the right temperature, I asked a professional narrator to read a few paragraphs into this mic. Then we asked him to read the same passage and we recorded it with a Neumann U87 large diaphragm microphone. I think it sells for about $3400.00 in the US.

My assistants had me listen to both samples, and I am telling you right now that I could not hear the difference. And you know me. My ears never lie. This is going to be big!”

“We have to make sure that this thing is safe,” I said. “I don’t want to be sued by some engineer because my device set his studio on fire.” Heinz agreed that there still was a lot of work to be done, but he was confident that we could put this thing on the market within one to two years.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

With the backing of an innovation grant from the European Union, things moved fast. Patents were secured. The technology was thoroughly tested. Designers were brought in to make the mic warmer look sleek and futuristic. Because we were using European money, the device had to be manufactured in Europe. That’s where my Dutch connections came in. I managed to find a small company in the North of Holland that was able to start a modest production line. And I am proud to tell you that in the next month or so, the very first mic warmer will be ready to go to market!

It will be officially launched at the biggest annual audio show in Munich, but one of America’s top pro-audio providers has already placed a substantial advance order after hearing the test results. Geoff Deary, the head engineer, said that he had been very skeptical at first, but that he was “absolutely blown away by this small device.”

CONTEST

So… there you have it.  As faithful readers of my blog, I wanted you to be the first ones to know. But this story does not end here. I need your help. My product needs a name. For some reason ‘mic warmer’ doesn’t sound good. That’s where you come in. I’m asking you to come up with a better name. Please leave your suggestions in the comment section at the bottom of this article.

In two weeks, Heinz Gruenewald and I will pick a winner. And if we choose your name, you will be the first person to receive the finished product! The winner will be announced in this blog, so stay tuned.

Thank you so much for your help!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS please take a few moments to read a personal letter from Prof. Dr. Heinz Gruenewald.

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10 ways to spot a voice-over amateur

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear 54 Comments

“Dad,” said my almost eight year old daughter…

“What does baklava taste like?”

“It’s like a slice of heaven,” I answered.

“In that case… I don’t want it,” she replied.

“Why not?” I asked. “It’s sooo good!”

My daughter answered:

“I don’t want to…

Read the rest of this story in my new book. 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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The Quest for the Best Voice-Over Mic

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 1 Comment

Did you hear the joke about the three voice-over actors bragging in a bar?

“My condenser has phantom power,” says the guy with the spooky voice.

“My shotgun produces killer demos,” retorts the man in black.

“My ribbon has a suspended diaphragm,” snaps the girl in the Harlan Hogan baseball cap.

Waitress: “Anyone ordered a Blue Bottle?”

Unidentified customer: “No, I just got a Snowball.”

“Can I get some MixCubes on the side, please?”

Waitress: “Active or Passive?”

TICKLES

Hearing voice-overs talk is like listening to a Monty Python skit. It can be slightly surreal and silly. One thing’s for sure: many VO’s have opinions. Strong opinions, especially when it comes to gear.

Whenever people take themselves too seriously, I’d like to tickle them a little. If you ever plan on messing with the mind of a VO-pro, go to an online voice-over group and type in the following words:

“I am new to this business and I need your help. What’s the best voice-over mic?”

Unknowingly, you just released the beast. If you honestly believe that the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a big deal, wait until you get voice-overs started on their choice of mics…

You’ll soon discover that some VO-Pros suffer from a condition the psychological community calls “Microphone Envy.” So far, there is no sound treatment for this auditory affliction.

Here are some of the comments these hired voices might make about their precious sound catchers (in order to protect their identity, I decided to name all of them ‘Mike’).

Gear Geek-Mike: “My mic has a 32 mm gold sputtered thin Mylar capsule.”

Show-off Mike: “Mine has a retail value of $7,775. I got it for 7 grand on Ebay.”

Frugal Mike: “My cheap Chinese mic sounds almost like your pricey German one.”

Model Mike: “But I cut a deal with the Germans to endorse this microphone”

Macho-Mike: “Mine is bigger and better.”

If you happen to be in the market for a microphone, these message boards might not be the best place to solicit advice. In fact, I highly recommend not asking anyone for any recommendations. Period. Not online. Not in the shop. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better. Determine how much you can afford to spend and start doing your own homework instead.

Researching mics can be good fun. Why not fire up your laptop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and listen to a few microphone tests. The fellows on this page always manage to crack me up… They’ll say something like this:

(test: courtesy of Nethervoice Sound Laboratories)

 

Remember though that a microphone is only one part of an audio chain and that different people will sound differently on the same mic. One colleague just bought a brand new and very expensive German mic. It was exactly the same make and model he had purchased fifteen years ago. In spite of that, the old and the new mic had their own, distinctive sound!

MY CHOICE

Many of you have asked me what microphone I use to bring home the bacon (not an easy thing for a vegetarian). I use an MXL VO: 1 A cardioid condenser microphone. It’s the first mic designed for voice-overs by veteran voice actor Harlan Hogan.

Not only is it very affordable; should you decide it’s not for you, you can send it back because it’s sold with a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.

The VO: 1-A has been tested against much more expensive industry standard voice-over microphones such as the Sennheiser 416, the  ElectroVoice RE20 and even the Neumann U87. Without exception, the reviews have been stellar. But what matters most to me is the fact that my clients seem to like what they hear (and I have some very picky customers!).

If you experience a sudden attack of “Microphone Envy,” remember this:

Writing about microphones is like ice skating about food.

It doesn’t really make sense. Just as you can’t get wet from the word water, you don’t know if a certain microphone is the one that will flatter your voice the most by merely reading about it or by staring at a picture. You’ve got to give it a spin and use your ears.

So, have you heard the one about the two voice-overs in a bar?

With tears in his eyes, the first one exclaims:

“Why did Don LaFontaine have to go before his time? It is so unfair.”

The other one thought about it for a moment, took a deep but silent voice-over breath, and replied:

“I guess God wanted his voice back!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS This blog only reflects my personal opinion and I am not compensated in any way for featuring certain brands and/or products. It was written in 2009. These days, my microphone of choice is the Microtech Gefell M930 Ts. Click here for my review. 

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