It’s a slam-dunk: seat voice actors around a table and before long, any discussion will gravitate towards microphones.

In a sense, it’s understandable because the microphone is the single most important tool in a voice actor’s recording chain. Why? Because it captures their voice in all its raw, persuasive glory. Even more than that: it both presents and represents them as storyteller while they’re making the sale – whatever that sale may be. It follows by implication that the better a voice actor is at the art and craft of making the sale, the more likely a client is to book them for voice overs repeatedly.

Consequently, when aspiring voice actors start asking questions like “what microphone should I get?they are confronted with an almost infinite number of widely diverse answers that often end up being more confusing than helpful.

Kenita Hill is a top performer on Voice123, ranking in the top 10% of voice actors. Coming from 25 years in the healthcare industry, and being a Voice123 member since November 2020, she brings insight as a new, successful voice actor.

She too, found it difficult to choose her first microphone. “It’s overwhelming almost, really is, to find something that fits because they say if you have a deeper voice, you get a certain kind of microphone. If you have a higher pitched voice, this type of microphone works for you. So it’s really tricky,” she says.

The truth of the matter is that every voice is different. By the same token, every microphone is different. Even a question like what microphones do professionals use? can be problematic. Some pros use mics that are eye-wateringly expensive. Others don’t. Some even swear by their Blue Yeti’s ability to get them jobs.

Best voice over microphones, but for who portrait of Kenita Hill
Best voice over microphones, but for who portrait of Matt Ellis

For starters, don’t make the mistake of thinking that by simply investing in a microphone that professionals seem to prefer, you’re ready to record voice overs. Like most simplifications of complex ideas, that kind of logic can only get you so far when it comes to choosing the best mic for your professional voice over career. 

Matt Ellis is also a top performer on Voice123, ranking in the top 10% of voice actors. He’s also a screen & stage actor, and a singer & musician. He’s been voice acting for just under 10 years, and has experience with creating the ideal sound.

As a prime example of not just opting for what the pros use, Matt claims he’s been excelling with a mid-range priced mic, the Rode NT1A. “I was going to buy into a more expensive microphone like a Neumann TLM or a Sennheiser. Those were the kind of two that I was looking at. And I just found that we just got such a good sound out of this mic, that I didn’t feel the need to sort of spend the extra money. We just have come up with this sound that is really reliable and works. And so what’s the point of kind of tweaking something that’s already good, right?” 

To cut the very long ‘best voice over microphone’ story short, you need to get a microphone that suits your voice and can showcase it at its best. Thus, you need to choose the right microphone for you. There’s no holy grail of a mic, no one-size-fits-all. 

So what does that mean for you? It means sometimes you’re going to hit the jackpot, and sometimes you’re going to end up with a mic you’d like to upgrade as soon as you can. Luckily, the differences between good mics aren’t so dire that they’re going to jeopardize your job. But they will affect how your voice sounds, depending on your natural pitch and tonal quality. 

And how do you choose between the best microphones, the cheap microphones, and the different types of microphones?

To cut the very long 'best voice over microphone' story short

You need to choose the right microphone for you. There’s no holy grail of a mic, no one-size-fits-all.

Kabir Singh says the answer is complicated. Kabir is a top performer on Voice123, a poet, and a philosopher. He’s been a Voice123 member since 2010, and brings experience and his well-thought insight to the conversation.

Kabir notes: “The answer’s much different than it was pre-COVID. I would encourage you to go down to something like a guitar center [and] try out different mics. They let you play around with mics once in a while… Now, I would say maybe rent one or two different mics. You can rent them online, …rent one that’s shotgun, rent one that’s omni-directional directional… hear it in your space. That is the best way. Otherwise you’re just kind of guessing.”

Thus, your best bet would be to sample, compare, explore your options, and see what works best for you. Granted, that’s pretty difficult during a time when we can’t physically visit stores and sample mics. So before then, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the reality of choosing a mic.

Best voice over microphones, but for who portrait of Kabir Singh

The best microphone

 The best microphone for one is not the ‘best microphone’ for all.

Choosing between the Blue microphones, Shure microphones, Rode microphones, Sennheiser microphones, Neumann microphones and more, is neither easy nor simple. Any Google search for best voice over microphones will bring up a plethora of suggestions. Why? Because it’s subjective. There are so many voices saying different things about which microphone is “the best,” and that’s because those voices have their personal preferences.

Aside from the mic discussion, there are big pieces of the puzzle missing from the picture. Everybody asks which mic to pick, but people aren’t focused on the entire recording chain. The chain goes from mic to audio interface, to digital audio workshop (DAW). This 3-part chain is important to note, because the mic, audio interface, and DAW are all variables. And they’ll affect how your voice over sounds.

Best voice over microphones only work in a high quality audio chain.
Our rendition of the recording chain - microphone, audio interface, digital audio workshop.

The DAW for example, can certainly influence the way your mic sounds. Kabir says that “each DAW has its own plugins, stuff that makes your mic sound better, or make your [voice] sound better. A plugin might have a noise gate, and that’s important for certain microphones. Like I mentioned, if you had a certain microphone that’s picking up [sound from] all directions, and you didn’t have the [recording studio] like I did… then you might incorporate a plugin such as noise gate. The noise gate might help you cut that noise out in the background.”

So the idea of a best microphone has its importance, but it’s only a part of the bigger picture. We’ll get to the parts of the recording chain in a second, and the ‘best DAWs’ in another episode of The Booth, but first there are more things to note about choosing a mic.

Not everyone gets the same value out of an expensive microphone

“I would say, people that are new to VO, should not be buying a very, very expensive microphone… if you’re new to something you want to give it a bit of a go before you kind of jump in and buy the most expensive equipment, right? Because you don’t want to sort of realize that you’ve spent all this money on something that you’re not really gonna use,” Matt muses.

What Matt says is applicable to any industry, but it is especially applicable to the voice over industry, where the equipment is expensive. Not everybody is going to know how to get the same value out of a top-quality, premium mic like the Neumann U87 — retailing at around $3600 USD. Buying it as a beginner is like giving a grand piano to a child who’s still taking piano lessons. Unless the voice talent is like a child piano prodigy, they’re not going to get the value from a premium mic.

So no matter which price point you’re at, whether it’s entry level at $200, or premium at $3600,  knowledge and skill are what elevates performance on the mic. Which brings us to our second point. We’ve said it before; voice over entrepreneurship is the foundation of a successful voice over career, not fancy gadgets and top-tier equipment, although they certainly help when you’re at the appropriate level.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that mics sound different depending on the voice. “You don’t know, I spent a lot of time on social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook, looking at advice from other voice actors as to the type of microphone that’s best to use. And you get all kinds of answers,” Kenita adds.

Experimenting and sampling microphones is your best bet when determining the best mic for you. Otherwise, it’s helpful to watch mic comparison videos with a voice similar to yours, and to imagine how your voice might sound if you were testing them. It’s even more helpful to remember that hearsay about the best mic can only mean so much to your mic choosing decision.

Midway Recap Breather

  • There is no ‘best microphone’. Everybody has a different voice, and everybody will require different mics.
  • If it’s possible, experiment with different mics to see what works for you.
  • There’s a bigger picture — the recording chain. It isn’t just about the mic, it’s about the audio interface and DAW too. These influence the quality of your sound.
  • XLR mics are superior to USB when it comes to professional work.
  • USB mics, while not the optimal option, are suitable for beginner budgets and non-professional voice overs

Voice over microphone options for 2021

Perhaps it’s the section you’ve been waiting for – our recommendations. Personally, we don’t have recommendations ourselves, and we’re happy to rely on the opinions of working professionals. 

Matt currently uses the Rode NT1A, and emphasizes that with scrutinous work with an engineer, they’ve created a great environment for his voice. He has his eyes set on the Neumann TLM series, and maybe a Sennheiser mic as a potential upgrade. 

Kenita says her shotgun-type mic in the Rode NTG5 has opened up her warmth and smoothness of her voice after upgrading from the Focusrite CM25 MkIII

Kabir’s first mic was the Studio Projects C1 before getting the CAD E100 (a retired product), and settling for a studio standard, Sennheiser MKH 416 – Short Shotgun Microphone. He says it compliments his intimate voice style.

So as you can see, each of these professional voice actors have found a way to compliment their unique voice. And although we caution against relying purely on hearsay and subjective opinions, these professionals have in one way or another, used other people’s opinions, whether from sound engineers or other voice actors.

Of course, research can help. Here are lists that we’ve found agreeable, recommending the top voice over microphones. Just be sure to take into consideration what we’ve said about USB mics so far.

More voice over microphone options for 2021

As mentioned in this part of The Booth — a guide for how to become a voice actor, there are a lot of resources out there, and frankly, they’re quite good.

But if you’re curious about what the professionals are using, the industry standards for serious careers tend to be the Sennheiser MKH 416 – Short Shotgun Microphone, and the Neumann U87, TLM103, or TLM102. These are all pro XLR mics, and tend to sit at a price range that may not be comfortable for complete beginners. Lower-priced, yet still high-quality options include: Rode NT1A, Shure SM7B, Blue Yeti Pro and the Harlan Hogan VO: 1-A. Interestingly enough, even the Harlan Hogan mic product page says it’s a good idea to experiment with your mics because each voice sounds different. Sound advice.

If you’re just starting out and you’re looking for more, cheaper options, here’s a list of microphones that cost less than $300. It’s worth taking a look before opting for cheap USB mics that can be so appealing for beginners.

Mentality is key

In our first post in The Booth, we talked about VO entrepreneurship. And while there’s so much to say on which mics are best and why XLR is better than USB, ultimately it’s important to remember one thing.

The mic is just a tool. It might be the most important tool, but it’s still a tool.

It’s a tool for a voice actor to use, to emote with the voice and provide an auditory experience. What is it that makes the experience an excellent one? Is it the shiny nickel sheen of the Neumann TLM103, the shape of the Sennheiser Shotgun, or the passion and authenticity that’s heard and felt in a voice over? If you’ve been keeping up with The Booth and our thoughts on VO entrepreneurship, we think you know the answer.

“...As the business grows, you start making more money. You want to invest back into the business. You want to invest in new technology, and you want to invest in a new computer. So it's natural to feel like, ‘let me reinvest in a new microphone, let me go and try some new stuff…”

While it’s important to feel good about your purchasing decisions, and to feel good about equipping yourself with the best you can in order to succeed, it’s also important to remember that having a successful voice over career is going to rely much more on your skill as a voice actor, and as a business person. No amount of money spent on a super premium mic can save someone if their voice acting is subpar, or they procrastinate on running their voice over business. The mindset has to be both artistically inclined, and business-oriented.

As Kabir puts it: “…As the business grows, you start making more money. You want to invest back into the business. You want to invest in new technology, and you want to invest in a new computer. So it’s natural to feel like, ‘let me reinvest in a new microphone, let me go and try some new stuff…”

Relative to microphones, it’s important to remember that every voice will sound different on every mic. That’s the nature of the beast that is the human voice. Just as the uniqueness of human voices is infinitely varied, be open minded with your mic selection, and recognize that each purchasing and trial experience will be different.

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