Studio

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.

Last year, I was attending a New Year’s Eve concert when one of my agents called. She apologized profusely for her timing, but a long time client really needed to know my availability. It only took a few minutes to go over my schedule. Twenty-four hours later, the job was booked; the first one of 2013.

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 ine 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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That’s what friends are for

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 21 Comments

Sandy washes ashore in Union Beach N.J.

When measuring the impact of wars and natural disasters, it’s convenient and comfortable for us to use numbers.

Numbers don’t bleed.

Numbers don’t suffer.

Numbers don’t cry.

Hurricanes deserve names like Gloria, Katrina and Sandy, but the victims of those violent storms often remain anonymous and abstract. That way, we can keep them at a distance and our lives don’t have to be touched by their misery.

It also gives us a sense of safety. As long as adversity does not come too close, we can go on with our lives and run our business as usual. Today, that’s not going to happen because I’d like you to meet a remarkable woman who’s lost most of what she’s worked for in a superstorm.

Patrice Devincentis is a part-time lecturer in music appreciation and production at Bergen Community College, she teaches piano and she plays keyboards in the classic rock cover band Black Night. She also owns and operates Sonic Surgery, an audio production studio in Union Beach, N.J. Here she records, edits, mixes and masters, working with musicians and voice-over talent.

HURRICANE HELL

As we approached Union Beach on the way to her house, it was as if we had entered a war zone. The National Guard was everywhere. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles were rushing on and off. Hundreds of cars were waiting in line at the few gas stations that still had fuel.

Flood-damaged furniture piling up in front of Patriuce Devincentis' house.Closer to the ocean, some structures were barely standing. The roads were covered in sand and dirt. Mountains of garbage and debris were piling up. It was a stinking mess.

Life hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Patrice. A few years ago, she lost her husband to a dreadful disease and after his passing, cancer nearly took her own life. During her illness, her employer let her go and it became increasingly hard to stay afloat financially and emotionally, all the while raising her preteen daughter. Her home and her garage-studio became an anchor in uncertain times.

MIRACLES AND MISERY

Cutting back on all expenses -including flood insurance- Patrice pulled off a miracle: she worked incredibly hard and gradually built her life and her health back up. Last July she could even burn her mortgage. But the joy over what she had accomplished didn’t last long.

Three months later, Hurricane Sandy pounded the Jersey shore and Patrice’s house and studio were flooded with salty Atlantic sea water. In a matter of minutes, thousands of dollars worth of musical instruments, hard- and software and pro audio equipment were drowned and rendered useless.

When I opened the studio door a few days later, the rotting smell of growing mold was already noticeable. The insulation between the walls had soaked up and retained the water. The top of the Yamaha Grand was missing, and the sound booth was filled with flood refuse. Slimy mud covered the floor. 

A broken cinema display had fallen on the mixing table, and muddied Kurzweil, Korg and Roland keyboards were scattered over the studio. Monitors, microphones, equalizers, de-noisers, compressors, digital recorders, preamps… you name it: everything under the water line was ruined, including a top-of-the line PA system.

On October 30th, Patrice wrote on her Facebook page:

“Sonic Surgery and my music career have died a very watery death.”

Well, a few of her friends decided not to let that happen. Nine of them joined forces and came to Union Beach, armed with a generator, face masks, gloves, plastic bags and demolition tools. The goal was to get the house and studio dry before the mold would make it a health hazard. It took us a day to rip out the wet floors, to open up the walls and to completely empty the studio.

Had you not known any better, you would have thought that Sonic Surgery was holding a yard sale that day. Unfortunately, all the electronics, the instruments, the gear and the furniture were worthless and not covered by insurance. 

FEMA STEPS IN 

On the day the president was touring the Jersey shore, a man from FEMA stopped by to assess the damage. He looked at the studio and came back with a number. A very low number.

“You can’t be serious,” said Patrice. “I would never be able to refurnish and equip my studio for that amount. How did you even arrive at that number?”

“It’s simple,” said the man. “This is a garage. I can see it was modified, but it still is a garage.”

LOOKING AHEAD 

So, what’s next for Patrice and Sonic Surgery? For the time being, she can use the studio at Bergen Community College to record, but that’s not a permanent solution. She can still serve her clients, but only to a certain extent. At some point, she plans to return home and rebuild her studio from the ground up. It’s not going to be easy and she can’t do it on her own. 

That’s why we -her friends- come to you for help. Let’s see what we can do to get Sonic Surgery up and running again!

second to the left: Patrice Devincentis

Perhaps you have equipment lying around that’s just collecting dust. Perhaps you bought too much acoustic foam and you want to get rid of it. Do you have a mic stand that you haven’t used in ages? What about that microphone you just replaced?

Maybe you have a contact in the recording industry who might be able to help. Maybe you know a pro-audio provider that would be willing to donate gear to a good cause. 

If that’s the case, please get in touch with me. Spread the word. Help a deserving colleague in need. 

this is a screenshot

click on the picture to get to the donation page

You can also help in other ways. We have set up a GoFundMe page for Patrice where you can make a monetary donation.

As I said in the beginning, in the aftermath of a natural disaster it is easy to be reduced to a number. 

I don’t ever want that to happen to Patrice Devincentis.  

Your help is much, much appreciated! 

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS You can reach me through my Contact Page.

UPDATE 

Donations and offers of help came in from many corners and countries! Here’s Patrice’s response:

“WOW WOW WOW… THIS is like a dream come true. I am astonished at the generosity of strangers. This is outrageous and unbelievable. I am awed and incredibly humbled at the generosity. How do you say Thank you under these conditions??? “

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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 Studiobricks ONE has arrived!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 32 Comments

Remember my story on Studiobricks, the new kid on the block of isolation booths?

When it first came out, the voice-over community went a bit crazy.

How could an unknown company in Spain come up with something that costs less and is just as good -if not better- as the vocal booths we’re all used to?

One of the people reading that story was voice actor Mike Bratton. He had been in touch with the folks in Spain, when an exclusive offer caught his eye:

The first U.S. talent to order a new Studiobricks ONE booth, would receive a 30% discount if he mentioned the story on the Nethervoice blog

As soon as he read that, Mike contacted the CEO of Studiobricks, Guillermo Jungbauer, and he sealed what he called “the deal of  the century.”

Last week, Mike Bratton assembled his very own booth, made of Studiobricks. And frankly, he needed it. I’ll let him tell the story:

MIKE TALKS STUDIOBRICKS ONE

“The neighborhood I live in is called Park Slope. It’s in Brooklyn, NY. It’s a fairly residential neighborhood, but my apartment building borders a very busy avenue ( Atlantic Ave.). Oh, and for the last 2+ years, we’ve had constant construction going on right out our window for the new Barclay’s Center arena that is now nearing completion at the end of our block.

So, to be honest, this booth would’ve been very useful over the last few years. 

Luckily, our apartment windows are very good at keeping out the sound. They’re double-paned, and nice and quiet. The most noise I really get is from the neighbors upstairs. They tend to walk, jump, drop what can only be described as bowling balls, and seem to constantly move furniture around, directly over my head.

For the most part, it’s not that bad during my recording day, but the more work I do for the West Coast, the family is home up there, and they can get noisy.

This new booth will hopefully help with that as well… especially the floating floor!

My main reason for buying the booth when I did, is to prep for our new baby arriving this winter.

My previous booth, while excellent sounding, was terrible at keeping errant noises OUT. And for that matter, keeping my noisy voice IN.

So, since my office is now going to be part nursery (we call it  the “surface), I needed a bit of a buffer… so if the little guy is sleeping nearby, I won’t wake him up, and if he does wake up, he won’t necessarily be a featured extra in whatever voice session I’m in the process of recording.”

click to enlarge

What can you say about the process of ordering your booth. Did Studiobricks understand your specific needs?

“Guillermo at Studiobricks was great (Guillermo Jungbauer is the CEO, PS). I contacted him first about pricing on the normal Studiobricks booths, and he told me about the ONE system that was forthcoming. I looked into the specs of that, and put them up against the usual contenders (GK, Vocalbooth.com, WhisperRoom™, etc. ), and they were very, very good. In fact, the sound absorption/blocking specs were at least as good if not better than the enhanced models from the main companies, and for a good bit less money. So, it was really a matter of just stepping off the cliff and taking the plunge.”

Was there a language barrier while communicating with Studiobricks or did that not play a role?

“There was very little problem with understanding one another. Guillermo completely got what I was asking whenever I had a question, and there never was really any issue in communication. Everything is always prompt, and thorough. In fact, it’s interesting, because he’s several hours ahead of me in Spain, and most of his responses came via email during MY business hours, which was pretty amazing.”

How long was the time between order and delivery?

“I ordered the booth at the tail end of July. August is a big vacation month in most of Europe, so he got the production in and done in a matter of about a week or two. It was shocking how fast the production of the booth was actually completed. Then it was a matter of the booth being picked up from the manufacturer and put on a boat, and shipping it overseas.

That process took a bit, but honestly, it basically took about 6 weeks (or less) from door to door, which is about average for what I was being quoted from the other companies. Other folks might have different results, depending on where in the US they’re located. It actually arrived at port in New Jersey on the 27th of August. My order date was 7/23… so a little over a month from origination to destination port. Then, I took delivery at my home on September 7.”

Did Studiobricks take care of all the shipping details for you?

“Everything was taken care of on Guillermo’s end. All I had to do was wait for the shipping company to contact me when the item was in transit, to give me updates on its tracking and once it arrived. It was seamless.”

Did you have any problems with customs?

“No problems at all. It did have to be held at port for a few extra days, as it got selected to be VACIS X-Rayed. Being that it was going into a holiday weekend (Labor Day) when it was selected, it took a few extra days for release.”

Did the entire package arrive in one piece?

“Indeed… one, gigantic, wooden-crated, incredibly heavy piece. You know, even if you buy a booth from domestic manufacturers like GretchKen and/or Vocalbooth.com, the panels still come on a big palette on a big truck. The only difference here is the shipping crate/container, and several thousand dollars. Even without the special extra discount, it was vastly cheaper than any of their domestic competitors (except Drum Perfect, which is the booth I had before ).”

What was it like to get it into your apartment?

“It arrived on a mid-sized moving truck. We had to open the crate while still on the truck, and moved all the pieces down to ground level. Thankfully, I live in an elevator building in Brooklyn. Because of the size and weight of the elements it helps to have a number of friends/ family that are willing to help you carry the things up for you, if you have a few stairs to climb.

To be fair, the door is the heaviest piece. It’s a real, honest-to-goodness studio door. All the bricks themselves are fairly lightweight, or at least, reasonable weight for one person to carry up a flight of stairs. The entire process from truck to home took about 45 minutes of steady effort. I highly recommend a hand-truck/dolly (or two) and some palettes with casters. It will make life much easier on you.”

click to enlarge

Tell me about putting the booth together. Was it as easy as advertised? Could you do it by yourself or did you need help?

“It was crazy easy. All the bricks are clearly labeled, and the instructions just tell you where to start., and you’re off and running. The most difficult and nerve-wracking part is seating the door frame. But that gets done fairly early on, and once it’s seated, you’re off and running.”

Did you run into any unexpected problems?

“Not really. The biggest issue I had, was at the end. I had one “horizontal stick” left over. I’m positive I put them in (they go in the corners) on every level, so I’m going with the theory that I had an extra. Because honestly, I don’t want to go back and take the thing apart to find out if I forgot to put in a piece. : )

Oh, also, unfortunately, the door handle seems to be broken… or at least, suffering slightly. I can only lock the door seals from the outside, and that really helps make the booth incredibly quiet. Guillermo has already responded and said that replacement parts will be in the offing, and I’ll be able to get the door back up and running properly within a matter of days… oh, on that front, the little power converter, supplied to run the ventilation system, was unfortunately broken in transit… but again, I made Guillermo aware, and it will be here with the door handle replacement. He’s really just so easy to work with.

And to be perfectly honest, to have this giant thing travel as far as it did, I’m impressed that it only had those two little problems.”

Note: the new door handles and power converter were sent from Europe on a Wednesday and they arrived and were installed on Friday.

click to enlarge

Did you use the Studiobricks Skype assembly service or did you have to contact Studiobricks in any other way while putting the studio together?

“Never needed the assembly service… it was that easy. In fact, my wife was shocked how quickly the thing went together… and again, it was just me, except she helped me (at 6 months pregnant no less!!! ) to marshal the door into place.”

What’s your overall impression of the product now that it has been put together. 

“One word. WOW. It’s really impressive. The build-quality is outstanding. Honestly, it completely exceeded my expectations. It’s shockingly quiet… SHOCKINGLY. My wife went in, and I locked her in the booth for a few moments… and her eyes lit up when she realized how quiet I sounded outside the booth to her. My previous booth sounded awesome… great absorption… but it bled noises like crazy. The Studiobricks booth delivers a nice, quiet environment.”

What surprised you most?

“When you take the pieces out of the shipping container and lay everything out, it looks intimidating. Once you get the floor down, the first layer up, and the door frame… the assembly just flies.”

Does the StudiobricksONE keep ambient noise out as you had hoped it would?

“YES! So far so good! In all honesty, I’ve found that studios, especially networks, are so used to working with talent that have home studios, that they’re pretty forgiving of a dog bark, a noisy upstairs neighbor, or even a tv playing quietly in the background, because it just doesn’t print as loud as my voice does on the mix.

That being said, noises wreak havoc with your concentration, and you worry that it will affect the recording quality, which in turn will make your performance less than what you want it to be. 

Now, I’ve been working just fine up to this point with my previous booth, and as I said, it sounded terrific. But, we have a baby on the way, due in December and my previous booth would’ve been exactly zero help in keeping out any noises that a hungry newborn might make. It also would’ve been the same for trying to keep Daddy’s loud blathering on and on away from sensitive baby ears.

I think, just from the scant 24 hours or so that I’ve had to play with the Studiobricks, that this booth will serve me well. Is it sound “proof?” No. Is it better than any standard walled booth I’ve ever been in? Absolutely. It frankly rivals some booths I talk in regularly in Manhattan, and those are $10K and higher custom booths. You can buy them for your home, and in fact, the company is based in New York, but as we say here in Brooklyn: “Fuhgeddaboudit”, Studiobricks is where it’s at.”

click to enlarge

What do you think of quality of the wall treatment inside the booth?

“The Wall treatments are good. They’re made by Vicoustic, which is a new player on the scene I think, or at least, they’re new to me. They’re another European audio company. I think they’re similar to Auralex, but much denser, and easier to deal with. They’re backed with some serious adhesive, and you just peel and stick. No muss, no fuss.

Frankly, comparing them to Auralex does Vicoustic a disservice. I’ve never really liked Auralex that much, but always regarded it as a necessary evil. Luckily my previous booth didn’t have Auralex, but it had absorbing materials inside the wall coverings. It was a great system. 

I might want some additional treatment though. It’s not as dead as my previous booth was, and so it’s a bit disturbing to my ears, but again, I’m just not used to it yet. Hell, it might actually sound better. My ears just aren’t accustomed to it yet. But if I do get more treatment for the walls, I will definitely get the Vicoustic pieces. Because, not only do I think they’re nicer than Auralex, they’re just dead sexy lookin’ too!”

SOUND CHECK

Mike’s voice-over clients aren’t going to care as much about the looks of his new booth. They want to know what it sounds like. Have a listen: 

StudiobricksONE with ventilation unit

Mike also ordered a ventilation unit from Studiobricks. How would that affect the recordings made in this  4′ by 3′ booth? You be the judge: 

 

Voice talent and coach Jonathan Tilley is based in Germany. Just as Mike, he read my blog and he is now another proud owner of a Studiobricks ONE booth, and he couldn’t be happier. He produced the following video review of his new booth:

Meanwhile, Mike Bratton has offered to answer all your questions in the comment section below. That way, it stays all in one place and you don’t have to hop from site to site to find answers. 

One of the things people wanted to know is the ambient noise level in and outside of the booth. For this, Mike took his trusted Neumann U87 and recorded the following:

The Studiobricks ONE retails at about $3,500 (depending on the exchange rate of the Euro). Tax and shipping is not included. There’s a wide range of colors to choose from, and you can even have your logo on your booth. How cool is that? 

All Mike has to do, is wait for the baby!

Please contact Studiobricks for details at info@studiobricks.com.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Missed opportunities. Playing it safe. Living with regret. If this is you, Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan has something to say. Click here to read about his amazing journey.

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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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Thinking Outside the Box: Studiobricks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 7 Comments

Every once in a while, a product comes along that could become a game changer in the industry. This is the story of one such product. Before I tell you what it is, you should know that my voice is for hire, but my opinion is not. 

Guillermo Jungbauer

Born of a Dutch father and a Spanish mother, Guillermo Jungbauer worked as a plant manager in the automotive industry. In his spare time he played the saxophone, but he was always worried that his music might disturb the neighbors.

He had used several prefab isolation booths to keep the decibel level down, but when it was time to move into a new apartment in Barcelona, Guillermo wanted something more stylish and more portable. Something that looked like design furniture, but it would have to be as easy to put together as the things you buy from IKEA.

There was one problem: such a booth did not exist.

In Europe, there were at least fifteen different manufacturers, and none of them offered what Guillermo was looking for. So, he decided to develop it himself.

THE SOUND BOOTH REIMAGINED

Jungbauer imagined a beautiful looking booth, made of building blocks that would fit together seamlessly without using any screws. 

On paper it was a great idea, but sound engineers and industrial designers told him it was impossible, especially because he wanted the booth to have double walls and a door. Time and again he was told: “It can’t be done.”

This was in 2007.

It took Guillermo two more years to perfect a concept he named the Studiobricks cabin system, a self-assembly acoustic booth unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

These are the building blocks or bricks:

Here is the finished product:

Guillermo’s first customers were woodwind and brass players who -just like Jungbauer- needed an isolated space to be able to practice at home. Soon, he received inquiries from pianists, string players and drummers. Then recording studios and post-production facilities got wind of it.

By the end of 2011, 170 units were sold all over Europe, in Asia, India and Australia. In 2012, Studio Bricks sales topped 250 units.

STUDIOBRICKS COME TO THE STATES

Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan built a 12′ x 8′ Studiobricks recording space, right into a residential apartment in New York.

Gahan’s engineer/producer Kurt Uenala told the online magazine SonicScoop:

“They’re modules (Soundbricks, PS) that are really Legos – they snap into each other, but they’re made of sandwich wood and rubber,” he notes. “It’s been here since September, and it really works sonically and in terms of providing acoustic isolation. It reins in the sound not just of the vocals being recorded, but also of productions and mixes – we have to be able to turn it up.

I’ve got to admit that first and foremost I fell for the look – it’s beautiful. This is a very beautiful apartment, and whatever we do has to look good. That was maybe more my prerequisite, because I thought it would be really sad to put a carpeted wooden room in here.” (click here for the full story and pictures)

Studiobricks offers standard solutions, but a lot of cabins are made to order. Jungbauer:

“Once the customer places an order, we create a Serial Number and PDF with the cabin. We ask for exact measurements of the room (height!), we want to know where the wire tunnel has to be drilled, where the door and window have to go, the color of the booth, et cetera. For professional studios we can also print digital photos and logos on the bricks in order to create a unique look (see picture below).

click image to enlarge

Computer Numerical Controlled machinery (CNC), ensures that each lightweight element fits precisely without gluing, screwing, sawing or sealing. A small Studiobricks booth can be assembled by one person within an hour, no building skills required. All the blocks are numbered and installation instructions come in many languages.

We are available on Skype to assist with the assembly process. So far, only one customer in Mumbai India asked for Skype assistance, and after 2 hours the whole studio was ready.”

I asked Jungbauer if an existing model can be expanded by adding more bricks. He said:

“Yes, we already have customers who bought a vocal booth and now want to connect it to a control room. To change one brick with a window brick is no problem, and if you change the frame construction you can add bricks in 1ft steps.”

ADDING ACOUSTIC PANELS

If you are familiar with isolation booths, you know that these spaces need to be treated with dampening materials. Otherwise the sound waves will just bounce off the walls the way they do in your bathroom. Studiobricks booths are no exception, and that’s why they come with panels made by a rapidly growing company from Portugal: Vicoustic.

Vicoustic might not be very well-known in North America, but they have installed soundproofing solutions in Russia, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Singapore, The Netherlands and in many other countries.

Studiobricks cabins come with adjustable Vicoustic Wavewood acoustic panels.

Another problem small studios have is ventilation. Studiobricks offers a CE certified Studio Ventilation Kit at $430 that delivers an almost silent flow of air (see picture). It can be controlled wirelessly and placed inside or outside the booth. Other ventilation systems can be connected to the booth as well.

A VOICE-OVER SOLUTION

Because of increasing demand from the voice-over market, Studiobricks has released their latest product, the Studiobricks ONE, a 4′ by 3′ booth, retailing at $3,500 (depending on the exchange rate of the weakening Euro).

Add an estimated $1,000 for packaging and transportation (prices depend on your location), an optional ventilation system, and you’ll end up paying about $4,888 + taxes. That’s still cheaper than a 3.5′ x 3.5′ double-walled Enhanced WhisperRoom™ ($5,870 -shipping not included).

THE EXPERT WEIGHS IN

On the East West Audio Body Shop program, the must-see show about home studios, George Whittam said about Studiobricks cabins:

“It looks like they are built at a very high degree of precision and care, and from an esthetic standpoint, they definitely kick the butts of anything I have seen. These things apparently perform really well. I was looking at the specs, and even their standard model seems to outperform the WhisperRoom and the VocalBooth, until you get into the highest levels of both of those products, which gets really expensive.

It’s pretty darn impressive for something that’s prefabricated. I have never seen anything quite like it before. If they can get that thing over here to the states at a reasonable cost, it’s going to be a major competition for the likes of WhisperRoom™, VocalBooth.com™ and Gretch-Ken.”

There are more than 20 showrooms worldwide where you can find a Studiobricks cabin (see their website for details) and the plan is to have some on display in New York and LA at some point in time. Now get ready for this:

SPECIAL OFFER

Studiobricks CEO Guillermo Jungbauer has a special offer for one U.S. reader of this blog:

The FIRST person in the USA to order the new Studiobricks ONE cabin will receive a 30% discount on the cabin itself, if he/she mentions this article. Please note: this discount does not apply to packing and shipping costs, the ventilation unit or other accessories.

Bear in mind that this is a new product and that production of the Studiobricks ONE will be in full gear starting September. 

Once your cabin has been assembled, I will post pictures of your studio on this blog, as well as audio samples. 

The question is, who will be the first voice talent in the U.S. with a brand new booth from Studiobricks? We’re about to find out soon because I’m not going to keep it quiet!

AND THE WINNER IS…

Mike Bratton has just installed his new booth, and you can click here to find out what he has to say. My interview includes audio samples.

As far as I know, there is no company that imports Studiobricks booths into the U.S. Those who have a cabin, have imported it themselves. However, Classe A, Inc. in Montreal, can help you get a Studiobricks booth, and they have a model in their store. Here’s the link to their website:http://www.classea.com/Classe_A/Studiobricks_EN.html

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Many thanks to David Weiss, founder & editor of SonicScoop for allowing me to use a quote from the article about Dave Gahan’s studio.

In my next story, Casting agents Beth Allen and Linda Stopfer open up about unprofessional behavior that causes talent to lose jobs and damages their reputation with clients.

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