As a Royal National Theatre trained sound technician, I spent many years listening to all sorts of mics from rifles to condensers, hyper cardiods to lavaliers and reckon I know a thing or two about decent sound quality. As well as live sound reinforcement, studio work was also a large part of my job and I was regularly driving the desk producing cast recordings and editing tape. Yes tape – that’s what we used in those days. If you wanted to edit-out a click or pop you actually had to get a razor blade and slice out a small piece of 2 – 4” tape, chuck it on the floor and re-join the original bits.
The main live shows I worked on tended to be musicals where sound quality was paramount. The objective was to raise the performers voice above a (usually) live band, but still keep the balance as “natural” as possible.
I worked on some of the biggest and best West End musicals but my favourite was probably “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” A musical based on the life of Elvis Presley, starring Martin Shaw and written by Alan Bleasdale (Boys from the Black Stuff). I used a range of Sennheiser microphones on that production but for me, the star of the show was a vintage Sure SM55, used by the “young Elvis.”
Anyway, fortunately nowadays you can plug a decent microphone directly into your PC / Mac and do all the editing on screen. However did we manage before the digital revolution (smiles ironically!)?
There are now several good USB microphones available in the marketplace, and quite a few more really bad ones so here are my recommendations:
I am a particular fan of Samson microphones since experimenting with their early radio mics back in the late 80s. I really liked their CO1 studio condenser microphone so was absolutely delighted when they produced a simple USB version, the Samson CO1U USB condenser mic.
This is a great little studio condenser microphone, solidly built with a warm sound (and for under £55, amazing value for money).
Other USB mics from the Samson camp include the new(ish) Samson G-Track USB Mic/Audio Interface and the excellent Samson CO3U USB condenser mic.
For me, one of the best bits about using a USB microphone is the massive noise reduction benefits. What do I mean? Well, in a typical studio setup, the condenser microphone is powered by a phantom power supply, plugged into the mixing desk, with a range of outboard effects “bussed” onto the desk – such as compression, reverb, auto-tune etc etc. Each one of these elements can introduce noise such as hum, hiss, crackles and RF (radio frequency “white noise,” when the cables / power supplies act as aerials). Each link in this chain of equipment has the potential for introducing a noise – and so I believe that more is less!
A USB microphone is powered by your computer, so no external power supplies are necessary (less noise), a virtual sound desk (complete with sliding faders and full eq) can be used on-screen and all the effects such as compression, normalisation, reverb etc. can be introduced in software – fantastic! The end result is a compact studio and first class fully digital recording with less noise than the old analogue counterpart.
Of course, the purists will say that you should really spend £2,000 – 3,000 on a microphone and £150,000 on a recording desk and many more thousands on outboard effects processors and, sure, if you happen to be Beyonce or Christina Aguilera – great! But for little old voiceover man / woman sitting in their sound-proofed broom cupboard, ahem… sorry, fully equipped digital studio – a USB mic will do just fine!
About the Author: Anthony Richardson – OverVoice is a leading British professional voice over artist specialising in cost effective, Received Pronunciation (accent-free), voice overs for film, television, radio, animation and audiobooks.
He can be contacted via the website at: www.overvoice.co.uk