vocal booth

Equip Your Voice-Over Studio For Under A Thousand Bucks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio 4 Comments

Rode NT1 microphone

Americans like a lot of things, but what is this nation’s favorite pastime? Is it baseball, football, NASCAR, or binge-watching Netflix? Not exactly. It’s…..

Shopping!

It’s one of those things I learned quickly when I entered this country as an immigrant. When America has something to celebrate, people flock to the stores.

When they wish to honor their veterans, they go shopping.

When they wish to remember those who died on the battlefield, they go shopping.

When they wish to celebrate their independence, they go shopping.

When they wish to observe Thanksgiving, Americans shop until they drop.

So, with Black Friday and the holidays around the corner, I want to talk to those of you who feel the uncontrollable urge to do some gear shopping. In fact, one of my new readers emailed me this week and said:

“I am seriously thinking about becoming a voice-over. I am starting from scratch, and if you were me, what equipment would you buy, knowing you have a limited budget?”

Here’s my response.

We don’t know one another, but I’ll assume that you have talent, training, time, and energy to pursue this career. If you’re just exploring options, I wouldn’t make a considerable investment. But if you’re really committed, I recommend you forget about the equipment for now, and focus on your recording space. A hundred-dollar microphone is going to sound better when used in a dedicated recording space, than a thousand-dollar microphone in an untreated, non-isolated space.

FLAWED FIXES

Now, there are plenty of manufacturers that are offering “easy solutions” to turn any room into a vocal booth. Remember this. You can buy all the eyeballs and acoustic shields you want, but they will never adequately isolate your microphone from annoying leaf blowers, barking pitbulls, and heavy traffic.

There are at least three proven ways to stop or reduce the transmission of sound:

• Adding mass: the heavier and thicker a wall, the better the isolation.

• Adding dampening material: absorptive material within a wall slows down the transfer of sound.

• Adding space: the further away from the sound you are, the weaker it will be.

Adding air space within a wall also helps decrease those ambient decibels.

So, take a good look at your designated recording space and at your finances, and spend at least sixty to seventy percent of your budget on your recording space. Without a quiet home studio, you won’t have the freedom to record whenever your client needs you to record, and you cannot deliver professional quality audio. Ergo: you won’t be able to compete.

THE GEAR YOU NEED

Here’s the good news: while soundproofing and acoustic treatment of a space is never cheap, getting decent gear to record with does not have to break the bank. I take it you already own a decent computer and a good monitor, so all you need is:

– a microphone, shock mount, and pop filter
– a microphone cable
– a boom arm
– an audio interface
– headphones
– monitors (speakers)
– recording/editing software

Before I give you my recommendations, please realize that the options are endless and the sky is the limit. When talking about gear, some people get on their slippery soap box telling you about must-haves and industry standards. Don’t let them intimidate or belittle you! You don’t need to spend a fortune to produce quality audio.

I’ve only picked equipment that:

– is mostly budget-friendly
– is good for voice-over applications
– has been tested by people I trust
– has had very good reviews

THE MICROPHONE

My choice of a starter microphone is the Rode NT1 Condenser. For well under three hundred dollars, Rode even includes a first-rate Rycote shock mount and a pop filter. This microphone works well for most voices, and during shootouts, it holds its own against models that cost three times as much.

I’m a big fan of the Rycote shock mounts because they work with lyres instead of elastic bands. Click here for my full review.

Rode NTG4 Shotgun Microphone

The Rode NT1 has a cardioid pickup pattern, but if you’d rather go with a tighter supercardioid pattern, I suggest you look into the Rode NTG4 shotgun microphone.  For a little over three hundred dollars, you get a mic with a 75 Hz high pass filter which is useful for reducing low-frequency rumble from HVAC systems indoors or street traffic.

For a shootout featuring the Rode NT1 and the NTG4, listen to the Pro Audio Suite podcast by clicking here.

CABLES & BOOM

Quite a few audiophiles have heated debates about cables. Some believe it doesn’t matter which cables you use because most people won’t hear the difference between a ten-dollar cable and one that sets you back several hundred dollars. I’ve worked in radio for twenty-five years of my life, and sound engineers have assured me that a quality cable does make a difference. A six-foot Mogami GOLD STUDIO-06 XLR Microphone Cable should do the trick.

Blue Compass Premium Boom Arm

As long as you’re not in the habit of pounding on your desk, I recommend getting the Blue Compass Premium Tube-Style Broadcast Boom Arm.  What I like about this arm is the minimalistic design with internal springs and hidden channel cable management. It’s compatible with all standard shock mounts, and costs about one hundred dollars.

AUDIO INTERFACE

So why would you need an audio interface? Well, an audio interface is the hardware that connects your microphone and other audio gear to your computer. A typical audio interface converts analog signals into digital audio information that your computer can process. If I were starting out as a voice-over, I’d choose the Audient iD4.

Audient iD4

I’ve reviewed its bigger brother the iD22 and it’s the interface I still use in my studio. The portable but sturdy iD4 has the same stellar and super clean preamp that will give you a low noise floor. It works with both Macs and PC’s, and for two hundred bucks it’s a no-brainer.

Update: my iD22 is out for a check-up, and I bought the iD4 to tie me over. The only thing I miss is having a high-pass filter, but otherwise I’m very impressed with this very portable preamp. It’s a keeper!

CANS

Next on the list are studio headphones. Not all heads are shaped the same, and what might be a good fit for my impressive noggin, may not work for you. Over the years I’ve tried Sony cans, Audio Technica, and Sennheiser. I finally found a pair I can wear for hours. It’s the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium Edition 250 Ohm Over-Ear-Stereo Headphones.

Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium Edition 250 Ohm Over-Ear-Stereo Headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 880

Even though they look huge and bulky, they’re extremely light and comfortable, and come with a straight cord instead of a coiled cable. I hate coiled cables because they add weight and always seem to wrap around things. You will be able to find cheaper headphones than these semi-open Beyerdynamics, but not ones that hug your ears like teddy bears.

STUDIO SPEAKERS & SOFTWARE

Last on my hardware list is a set of studio monitors. At less than one hundred dollars per speaker, the Presonus Eris E5 ticks all the right boxes. Click here for my story on monitor selection. My Nethervoice studio monitors rest at ear height on speaker stands like these. You’ll also need two XLR Female to 1/4-Inch TRS Male Cables like these from Monoprice.

And what about recording software?

By far the cheapest audio editor costs… nothing. It works across all platforms, it’s got a fully featured spectrogram, and it even allows punch and roll. The name? Ocenaudio.

Well, there you have it. For less than a thousand bucks you’re all set!

Now, do your duty as a patriotic American, and go shopping!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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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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