Nethervoice Blog

Open the Floodgates

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Studio8 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 Day I Almost Killed My Family

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing24 Comments

Yesterday, I had a frightening realization.

In my life, I have wasted way too much time on things I’m not good at and don’t enjoy doing. Things like gardening, ballroom dancing and trying to understand how computers work and what to do when they don’t.

Some things like yard work can’t be avoided, and part of me says it’s good to be outdoors and work with weedkiller every once in a while. 

Things like dancing the Tango I really should avoid, as all my former dance partners can attest to. It’s utterly unromantic to have someone like me call out the steps while on the dance floor, because his stressed-out brain has no idea what the heck his body is doing.

And don’t get me started on computers. My greatest achievement is replacing the memory of my Mac Mini. My darkest hour came when I nearly strangled my old Dell in desperation, because it refused to shut down and install an update Mr. Gates deemed critical. After a series of malfunctions, this was the last straw.

“I’ll teach you a lesson, you worthless piece of trash,” I cried with bloodshot eyes, as if as my miserable laptop was listening.

“I’ve had it with you. If you don’t restart right now, I swear I will go to the Apple store today and you and I are done! It’s OVER! Do you hear me? I don’t deserve this!”

Don’t ask me how, but it did the trick. Two minutes later that pathetic thing was up and running again, and it continued to make my life a living hell for another year. Why did I put up with it, you wonder?

Well, I know my strengths and I have two left hands when it comes to things of a technological nature. I also lack the motivation to change that. Call me strange, but that’s how I feel.

Most men seem to have this “I can fix it” mentality. Psychologists say it’s in our DNA. While women long for men to acknowledge their problems and really listen with an open mind and heart, men are prone to jump in prematurely and offer solutions. It’s pre-programmed. We can’t help ourselves, but we sure want to help others. It’s that Mars and Venus thing.

Well, I must have missed the boat in that area of evolution, because I am rather reluctant to activate that helper-gene in me. Perhaps it’s for the best because over the years I have learned to live with a horrible truth:

I am terrible at fixing things… but I’m great at making matters worse.

Case in point.

When I was five years old, my Dad drove a forest green Ford Cortina. It was his pride and joy. One day and for no particular reason, the exhaust started making menacing noises. Being the frugal man he was, my father decided to keep on driving, hoping the loud bangs would eventually go away.

They didn’t.

Mourners at a funeral could tell he was getting close to the church (my father is a minister), because the sound of explosions would get louder and louder. Thank goodness people didn’t have car alarms in those days. Otherwise, his ferocious Ford would have set them all off at once.

As a child I remember being frightened and embarrassed by the bangs, and that’s why I took it upon myself to secretly intervene.

What if I were to stuff that wretched exhaust with leaves? Wouldn’t that muffle the noise? It worked for Cuddles my Guinea pig, so why not for my Dad’s car?

And that’s exactly what I did. One glorious Fall morning I shoved all the leaves I could find into the exhaust pipe and did not tell a soul about it. This would be my surprise. My gift to my Dad: A quiet Cortina.

That afternoon, on our way to see “The Aristocats,” I nearly killed the car…. and my immediate family, including myself.

So you see, when I say I’m no good at fixing things but I am great at making matters worse, I absolutely mean it!

That day I should have learned a valuable lesson:

If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. 

But I didn’t.

A few weeks later I tried to “repair” an outlet in my room by sticking both ends of an electrical wire in it. I nearly electrocuted myself and I left the whole house in the dark, including a congregation of praying church Elders who were meeting at our home. Good Lord!

When I was seven, I shaved off my five-year old sister’s eyebrows with my Mom’s ladyshave, just to see if I could improve her looks. It took me twenty seconds to realize my mistake, and I used a Sharpie® to bring her brows back, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice. I still remember the site of my poor little sister, looking very much like Mr. Spock. But it gets worse.

One time, when she wasn’t feeling well, I pretended to be a Druid and made her a concoction of apple juice and colorful berries I had picked from neighborhood bushes. I might have ended up an only child, had my mother not entered the room on time, ripping the deadly drink out of my sister’s hand. 

What can I say?

A few years and one or two close calls later, it finally dawned upon me that I better stay away from things I had no knowledge of.  A DIY-mentality can be detrimental, not only to the health and well-being of close friends and family, but to a freelance business. 

Now, that might not be a shocking revelation to you, yet, I find many self-starters to be deaf to that message, and blinded by their enthusiasm and inexperience.

Lacking the funds, the appropriate skills, knowledge and the right contacts, so many of them begin their entrepreneurial journey trying to do it all and fix everything…. and wonder why their business isn’t taking off within the year.

Sooner or later, all of us have to come to terms with our own limitations and fallibility. Or -to put it bluntly- our ignorance, arrogance and narrow-minded stupidity.

Having been self-employed for most of my working life, I learned many lessons the hard way. Had I known what I know now, I could have saved myself valuable time and lots of money. For example:

1. The only shortcut to success is to learn from people who are where you want to be.

Trial and error are the worst and the slowest teachers. They keep you down. You can see so much more when you stand on someone’s shoulders.

I encourage you to find people who inspire you. Identify what makes them tick. Study their skills and strategies. Make them your own. Refine them. Perfect them and pass them on to others.

Those who wish to reinvent the wheel, usually end up going around in circles. 

2. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be your own coach.

You’ll either cut yourself way too much slack, or you’ll be overly critical and paralyze every effort to be productive. More importantly, your ignorance will stifle your growth.

You cannot teach yourself what you haven’t mastered yet.

3. Never trust the opinion of friends and family.

Sticking feathers up your butt doesn’t make you a chicken, but here’s the thing: They don’t know that.

Family and friends are there to support you no matter what. However, most of them know zilch about the business you wish to break in to (more on that in this article). Love them with all your heart, but please don’t listen to them. 

The quality of the feedback always depends on the quality of the source.

4. Focus on what you’re good at and enjoy doing. Outsource the rest.

You don’t save any time or money by trying to fix your computer or build that website. Unless you have a degree in IT or web design, you’re likely to lose time and money you don’t have. 

Why insist on doing your own books and taxes? If numbers were never your strength, you’ll overlook substantial deductions and make a mess of your administration. Some people were born to be bookkeepers. Let them deal with your finances. Strangely enough, it makes them happy when it all adds up!

5. Don’t sing your own praises.

A little bit of self-esteem can go a long way, but too much of it is a huge turn-off. Respect is earned. Let your work speak for itself. It may take a few years to build up a solid reputation, but you’re in it for the long run, aren’t you?

Give others credit, and realize that happy customers are your best credentials.

6. If you mess up, fess up.

Nobody is perfect and you are bound to make mistakes. Some people are quick to blame others for their failures and point to themselves when things go well. As the owner of your business, you must own up to your successes, as well as to your slip-ups.

You’ll never be able to better yourself if you don’t acknowledge that you still have a lot to learn. No one expects you to know it all, and if you surround yourself with experts, you don’t have to. 

Last but not least:

7. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.

When something’s not right, don’t wait until things escalate. If you’re in over your head, look for strong shoulders to lean on. You’d be surprised how many people will welcome the opportunity to help you… but you’ve got to ask!

And above all, don’t waste you’re time on things you’re not meant to do. You know what I am talking about.

These things will never make you happy. 

Stop trying to fix things you have no business fixing.

Believe me. Your family and friends will be eternally grateful!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

What happens when your recording studio is flooded? A nasty home emergency with a happy ending!

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How to Break into the Voice-Over Business

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career54 Comments

“I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.” 

Steve Martin, from his memoir “Born Standing Up

 

As the writer of a fairly popular blog, this is the question I get asked the most:

“How do I break into the voice-over business?”

Questions are interesting things.

One can often tell how the person asking the question thinks the world works or should work. 

Questions contain spoken or unspoken assumptions that reveal a lot about someone’s beliefs and values.

Most people just answer a question without challenging those hidden assumptions, unless they’ve been trained to do so.

QUESTION THE QUESTION

A question like “How do I break into the voice-over business?” has at least three assumptions. Before I attempt to answer it, I need to know more about what is presumed.

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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Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Journalism & Media13 Comments

Phil Keoghan ©Paul Strikwerda

What would you do if you knew that your time on earth was about to come to an end?

Would you go back to work and pretend nothing happened?

Would you go on a cruise around the world?

Would you visit as many friends and family members as possible?

Or would you stay inside, close the blinds and curl up with a pint of your favorite ice cream?

Phil Keoghan, host of “The Amazing Race,” was 19 when he almost lost his life. On one of his first TV shoots under water, he got trapped in an upturned interior cabin of a sunken cruise liner and couldn’t find his way out. With very little air left in his tank, he panicked, realizing that his next breath could be his last.

After what seemed an eternity, the support crew on the surface sent a rescue diver to find him. In the nick of time, Phil was pulled to the surface and he survived. The next day, he went back to repeat the dive that nearly killed him.

That was not all.

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 Studiobricks ONE has arrived!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Studio32 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 Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Studio54 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 Strikwerdain Articles, Gear, Studio2 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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Be Kind. Unwind.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career10 Comments

Do you know the First Law of Ecology?

“Everything’s connected to everything else.” 

As I was leaving the gym this morning, I had to think about the connection between the world of weights and treadmills inside, and the world outside. 

To me, there isn’t much of a difference. It’s all about sweat, commitment and endurance. Every time I leave the fitness center, I feel lighter, stronger and more alive.

Working out is working out for me!

Some of my colleagues aren’t feeling it. Even though they don’t exercise, they sound like they’re trapped on a treadmill carrying a heavy weight on their shoulders. No matter what happens, they feel they have to keep on running the rat race.

These are people who live in constant fear that’s manifesting itself in many ways. They won’t leave home without a mobile device. They might text or check email while driving. Some will tell you they can’t afford to take a break. Others will take their home office or studio with them on the road or on vacation. Why?

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.

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Why you suck and what to do about it

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles36 Comments

Small things can annoy me big time:

Loud neighbors past midnight.

People who believe the earth is their trash can.

Zigzagging drivers who don’t signal before changing lanes.

Folks who chew gum with their mouth wide open.

Lowballing “colleagues.”

I could go on forever but I won’t because I’ll end up annoying you.

A short while ago I was in my car listening to NPR‘s “Morning Edition,” and something else bugged me. It wasn’t their angle on the news or their choice of topics. It was something more subtle.

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.

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Cut the crap. No more excuses.

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career6 Comments

A few seconds of reflection can lead to life-changing decisions.

My moment of truth happened a few weeks ago. Right around my birthday.

I looked at myself in the mirror and I wasn’t exactly thrilled by what I saw.

Years of leading a sedentary lifestyle and a love for ice cream had clearly caught up with me. As I closely observed my mirror image, I knew that I had let myself down. My inner voice -which is much wiser that I am- couldn’t take it any longer and yelled:

THIS ISN’T ME!

My pants felt too tight around the waist. My muscles were not as toned. My breathing had become shallow and my energy level was way down. Worst of all, the state of my body had started to affect the state of my mind, and not in a good way.

Life’s greatest disappointments are usually very well planned, and this was no exception. I was staring at the result of years of carefully executed sluggish behavior; a sequence of deliberate poor choices and compromises. Too often I had chosen the easy way out, until the easy way became the hard way, and a comfortable lifestyle became annoyingly uncomfortable. Now I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without panting.

It was pathetic!

We’ve all been there in one way or another, harboring unhealthy habits, engaging in self-destructive behavior, small things that add up and get out of control. Some people give in and eventually give up.

The question is: Can an unhealthy pattern be broken and replaced and if so, how? Or was I doomed to stay out of shape?

The way I see it, if you’re in my shoes, you have two options:

You either make excuses or you make changes.

That sounds like a slogan from a Tony Robbins seminar. It’s easier said than done. So, let’s examine a couple of factors that may help or hinder change:

1. If you don’t feel you have a problem, there’s no reason to search for a solution.

This is a source of frustration in many relationships, personal and professional. One party thinks the other needs to change. The other party appears to be clueless or believes nothing’s wrong.

Here’s the thing. As long as you are convinced that a certain behavior is (socially) acceptable, why give it up, especially when the perceived benefits appear to outweigh the costs? In a world of instant gratification it is quite common to choose short-term “rewards” over long-term benefits. You only live once, right?

In the society I live in, things like overeating and overspending are not only acceptable, they’re actively encouraged. Happiness is on sale in the frozen food section. In my case, it comes in the shape of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy.

Need to relieve some stress? Grab a candy bar! Feeling tense today? Take out your MasterCard® and buy something you don’t need. You’ll pay for it later, but for now it feels soooo good!

How far do things have to go, before it’s too late?

2. As long as you keep on buying into your own excuses, there’s no motivation to change.

Excuses are like old tapes, playing in the back of your head. You know they’re a bunch of baloney, but they feel so warm, fuzzy and familiar. Some of the reasons why people think they can’t change sound almost plausible:

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“People just have to take me the way I am.”
“Change is hard and takes a long, long time.”
“That won’t work for me. I am special.”
“I’m too busy trying to make a living.”

I prefer to call those ideas disempowering beliefs. It doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not, but as long as you hold on to them, you’re like a chained elephant. They prevent you from moving forward. They seduce you to focus on the impossible and prevent you from contemplating what’s possible.

What people conveniently forget is that they are the owner of those tapes. Inside, they might sound like the voice of their unloving father, dominant mother or most feared teacher. But if you keep on holding on to old crap in your house -crap that doesn’t even belong to you- there’s no room for change.

Here’s what’s hopeful. By playing the same old tapes loud and clear, you’ve proven that you have a vivid and powerful imagination and that you’re quite persistent. Why not use that power to imagine something that’s positive, uplifting and supports your growth? 

Or is there something to gain from holding on to the past?

3. You have to separate consequences from causes.

I’m not asking you to agree with the following. All I ask of you is to keep an open mind. Please remember that my remarks do not refer to the criminally insane but to ordinary, mentally sound people who can be held responsible for their own actions.

In my opinion, things like overeating, lack of physical activity or overspending are problematic behaviors but never the real problem. They are the consequence and not the cause of something deeper. In the West, we have become really good at treating symptoms and ignoring causes.

We’d rather build dikes to protect us from the rising sea level, rather than do something about global warming. Most health insurance policies don’t cover preventative care but kick in when the damage has been done.

Lasting change takes place when you treat the cause and not the consequence.

4. Separate behavior from intention.

In a strange, twisted way, unwanted behaviors are trying to give us something we want. Take procrastination. By putting something off, we buy ourselves some time and quite possibly, peace of mind. If we were to focus on the positive intention behind the ineffective behavior, the question becomes: In what other ways could we achieve peace of mind, and get things done without delay? That way, the attention shifts from fixing the behavior to acknowledging and honoring the underlying intention.

Habitual overeaters are obviously hungry for something. Is it really the food they crave, or are they trying to satisfy a deeper need? What if we were to find that deeper need, and teach that person to satisfy it with more healthy things than an overdose of food? You can throw any diet at someone, but if it doesn’t feed what they’re truly hungry for, people are likely to fall back into their old, familiar ways.

5. Change the behavior. Accept who you are.

For me, the time had come to take a good look at myself because I didn’t like the “me” in the mirror very much. I felt that I had betrayed my body and it made me angry.

It’s quite common for people who are stuck in not so positive patterns, to beat themselves up over it and make matters worse. Add a dose of shame and guilt to the mix and you have a recipe for depression. Here’s what changed things around for me.

Even though we tend to judge people based on their behavior, I strongly feel that we should not merely be defined by what we do but by who we are.

There’s a big difference between: “I just did something stupid” and “I am stupid.” The first statement qualifies behavior. The second is a statement about identity. It’s a gross and unhelpful generalization.

Doing something that isn’t very good doesn’t make you a bad person per se. It just means that you didn’t tap into the resources yet, to effectively and healthily cope with a challenging situation.

As soon as I realized that, I stopped calling myself negative names that were based on my behavior. Then I had another insight:

As long as I was in the driver’s seat, I could change where I was going.

6. Find the right resources and put a plan in place.

Looking at our cultural history, I can only come to one conclusion:

People are gold mines.

Humans can compose heavenly music, design glorious buildings and write moving poetry. We can turn a desert into an oasis and create a world of abundance.

In spite of possessing a dark side, I believe we are born with positive potential, but like a gold mine, the treasure might be buried deep underground or sometimes it is overgrown with weeds. 

There’s no shame in asking for assistance to unearth what lies beneath the surface. But before you start digging, you’ve got to believe that it’s there. And sometimes you’ll find it very close to home. 

My recipe for getting back into shape is not earth-shattering:

Move more. Eat less. Use fresh and mostly organic ingredients.

I dusted off my hybrid bike and got back in the saddle. I also signed up for a three-year gym membership and started working out.

In a matter of weeks, I could already feel my old energy coming back. It was as if a dear friend had returned. Of course it will take a while before my mirror image will reflect the changes, but that’s okay. The all important first steps have been taken.

One last thing.

You didn’t really think this story was about me, did you?

Good! Now, let me ask you this:

What weight have you been carrying with you in your career or personal life?

How have you responded?

Are you still coming up with excuses, or are you ready to make some changes?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: Federico_Morando via photo pin cc

PS If you’re a voice talent, do you want to get rid of audible breaths and lip smacks without editing them out? You can! Here’s how.

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