NT1A, TLM 103, LCT 440, U87 … which microphone is best?! The right question is, which mic will make YOU sound great? Anne welcomes Tim Tippets back to the BOSS Audio series, and they talk mics and interfaces. Discover tips for finding the mic best suited to your voice. Your microphone and interface are essential investments in your voiceover business. Listen to this week’s episode to make sure you have the tools in your booth to help you rock your audio #LIKEABOSS!
Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:
The microphone can pick up on mouth sounds we don’t hear with our ears
The pandemic has made it essential to have quality studio equipment
If you buy an inexpensive microphone, you can’t expect to sound like the top pros
Sibilance is a whistle inside of an “S” sound
Pursing your tongue and pushing it toward the back of your teeth will create sibilance, relaxing the tongue will create less of these sounds
Find a peer that sounds like you, and ask them what microphone they have
XLR Microphones typically allow for better sound than USB mics
USB mic technology is getting better, however, an XLR microphone plugs into an interface that allows for more quality controls that cannot fit into the microphone itself
The diaphragm of the microphone is the “ear” of the microphone, and USB mics cannot fit as much technology into this diaphragm due to the limited size
Large condenser microphones will pick up on more noises
Invest in quality XLR cords to allow for the best quality sound
Top-level interfaces run plug-ins live while you record instead of having to do these effects in post-processing
Be cautious of package deals, as they don’t typically include top-quality components
A quality interface and microphone will help your voice sound the most like “you” in real life
Everything in your audio recording chain should be top-quality to produce top-quality sound
Referenced in this Episode
Direct links to things we brought up ++
Look at all of the gear that Anne recommends!
Find out the one microphone Tim thinks is the best for the most voices at an affordable price point!
Check out all of the equipment that Tim recommends
These cables are studio gold!
Recorded on ipDTL
>> It’s time to take your business to the next level, the BOSS level! These are the premiere Business Owner Strategies and Successes being utilized by the industry’s top talent today. Rock your business like a boss, a VO BOSS! Now let’s welcome your host, Anne Ganguzza.
Anne: Hey everyone, welcome to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m your host, Anne Ganguzza, along with the amazing VO Tech Guru and audio engineer extraordinaire, Mr. Tim Tippets. Hello Tim!
Tim: Good morning, good morning, Anne.
Anne: [laughs] How are you?
Tim: I’m doing ok.
Anne: So Tim, I have the question which you probably get all the time.
Anne: And the question is, I have a lot of students who are, you know, that I work with on a day to day basis, that they’re just starting out — or even if they’re not starting out, they want to know what microphone should they get that would make them sound good. And so, you know the answer to that is probably as varied as [laughs]. I have my own opinions, but I figured we should have a discussion about microphones with you today.
Tim: Ok, sounds good. First of all, how are you doing this morning?
Anne: I’m doing awesome, thank you! [laughs]
Tim: You’re welcome. I forgot to return the favors. That was rude of me. Ok so yeah, microphones. I think you hit right on it when you said “I have my own opinions.” We see it on boards a lot in Facebook and elsewhere.
Tim: What microphone should you get? “Well, I own the TLM 103. You should get that.” Or “I own the 416,” or you know, “I have this or that, so you should get that because they’re great.” Well, no because for each voice, there’s the right mic. I’ll give you an example. So someone heads into Guitar Center, and they say hey, you know, they go to Pro Audio, this happens a lot by the way.
Anne: It’s always Guitar Center too. I’m just sayin’.
Tim: Yeah, it is.
Tim: Well, it makes sense, it makes sense for someone who’s not in the know.
Tim: So they head in there and they talk to Pro Audio staff. These people are usually musicians and producers. So the question is asked, “hey look, I need a mic, and I need an interface because I’m going to be doing voiceover.” And they say, “hey, well, come over here and look at this Rode mic. It’s the quietest mic in the world. It’s called the Rode NT1A.” If I get on that mic, it’s gonna be ok, but only for one reason, because, and it has nothing to do with talent. What it has to do with is, I’m not a sibilant speaker, ok?
Anne: Ohh. You know, I had a Rode, I had a Rode NT1A when I started.
Tim: And I bet you weren’t sibilant on it because you’re not a sibilant speaker.
Anne: No, not typically, yeah. I had a, I actually used it for quite some time before I, you know, got a couple of different microphones, but yeah. It served me well.
Tim: Yeah, well the NT1A has a very, very big boost on the top end, the high end of the frequencies, where, which is where sibilance lives. And sibilance, just to be clear, is not an S sound, it’s a whistle inside of an S sound. Ok? When it’s very, very sharp. And I’m gonna make a comment about females. Do not take it the wrong way, ok, because it’s just the nature of females versus males in the way that we speak. Females tend to be more sibilant, simply because, I mean they grow up listening to other females. So they mimic them. Makes sense, with everything else. But females will tend to purse the front of their tongue and curl it just slightly, push it towards the back of their teeth, which makes a stronger S sound like thisss.
Anne: Right, right.
Tim: Ok? Males, we tend to have a very relaxed tongue when we say S’s, so snakes, silly, things of that nature, so we don’t tend to get in trouble.
Anne: Very interesting.
Tim: But when you — yeah, but when you have someone who is already sibilant — we don’t notice that they’re sibilant in real life, right?
Tim: But the microphone is super sensitive to it. So what it ends up doing is it takes a situation and makes it much, much worse. And then these people aren’t getting the feedback that they’re sibilant until someone listens to their audio, and then someone tells them, “hey, you are sibilant,” and maybe then, then maybe they’ll be clued in.
Anne: I’m so glad you said that, because I’ve always like, people have always talked about females being sibilant, and I’m like, well nobody’s every complained. I wonder — and then I thought, well, maybe I don’t know what it sounds like. And so I’m glad that you explained it like that, because I was like, nobody ever said I was sibilant or complained that I needed to, you know, do something with my audio. And so I always wondered if I knew exactly what it meant, so thanks for that clarification.
Tim: Yeah, no problem, and there are, and there are things that can cause sibilance. We can go from not being sibilant to sibilant because when we get older, our teeth will shift for instance.
Tim: But anyway, it’s easy enough to get rid of that just by making sure that you don’t have a mic that’s super hyped on the top end, to where sibilance is going to be an issue.
Anne: Now, is there — I know that there’s a bunch of people who say the Rode NT1 is better. Is that a…?
Tim: Well, yeah, it’s a completely different microphone, and that is true, it is better, right, and it has more options, etc, if I’m thinking of the right mic; I believe I am. But overall, here’s what it comes down to. If you’re looking for the right mic for you, first of all, do not buy a $60 microphone and think that you’re going to be competing with someone like you, Anne, who has a $1000 Sennheiser.
Tim: Ok, that microphone, and you also have a 103 that’s around —
Anne: I do.
Tim: The Neumann, around $1200, right, with the, with all the gear that comes with it.
Tim: They’re that price for a reason. Right?
Tim: We’re talking about — and the 103 is a large diaphragm microphone, and we know how sensitive that thing is.
Anne: Oh my goodness!
Tim: We talked about in past episodes about not eating right before you voice, or not being hungry when you voice on that. There’s actually a picture out there somewhere where they were doing a session with the 103. And the poor gal had a small mattress around the front of her stomach while she was recording.
Tim: Because it was picking up all of her stomach noises. It was hilarious. But bottom line is this. Don’t buy an inexpensive microphone and expect to sound with, like the top pros do, because that’s not gonna happen. Can it sound a lot better than it does if it’s EQed, and compressed a little bit, and kind of dialed in, and your environment is pretty good? Yeah, yeah. But it’s not going to sound top-notch. So the thing to do is to look to your peers. And/or, if you can go somewhere — right now obviously it’s going to be difficult to go somewhere and test microphones because of the Covid crisis.
Anne: Yes, right.
Tim: Ok, so we understand that. And I’m not quite sure what return policies are going to be as it relates to the Covid thing either, because there for the longest time —
Anne: You could try them out.
Tim: — you could return — yeah, well you couldn’t return microphones for the longest time, and then suddenly you could.
Tim: So people were just getting microphones and trying them out and then returning the ones that didn’t work out for them, ok? So bottom line is this. Find a peer that sounds like you, and see if you like their sound and ask them what microphone they have. Because you’re going to get a million different answers, a million different opinions. I’ve even heard “the best mic is the one you have in your booth.” And sorry, that’s not true. Ok? Because if you have a Snowball, which is a $39 microphone in your booth, that’s not gonna be the right microphone.
Anne: [laughs] That’s true, that’s true. Well, then, then can I ask you about — ok, so I have a lot of students, if they’re just starting off, they want to know, they want to know, “well, can I just get a USB mic” versus, right, versus like a Sennheiser, you know, anything that is using an XLR connection to your interface?
Tim: Ok, so USB mics are getting better and better every day. The Apogee Plus is a very impressive microphone as an example. However —
Anne: I had one of those, Tim. [laughs]
Tim: Yeah, well I think you just had the Apogee.
Anne: Oh no, that’s right. That’s right. I had the Apogee, and I used it for travel many years ago. But I realized, many years ago, that I could not get, I couldn’t get it to sound as good as it sounded in my booth. If I put it in my booth, it sounded great, right, if I threw my laptop in my booth and then plugged it in there. That was the issue. Most of the times, I had my computer outside of my booth, so I had the issue of “oh, I have to bring a laptop in my booth, and it could be noisy.” But the Apogee sounded great. But then when I went, you know, and I was staying in a hotel, trying to get that Apogee to sound good without picking up external noises because of the sound of the hotel room, that was really difficult.
Tim: Yeah, so that’s a big part of it as well, right, and we’ve talked about this in past episodes, about what you can do in hotel rooms or if you’re visiting family, etc., right? There are licks and tricks you can use. A couple of those, I don’t know if I talked about this before, but I call ahead at a hotel and ask if I can have something on the end cap away from the freeway. Also is the room near an ice machine? Is it near the elevator?
Tim: Things like that, so I kind of get ahead of that, right, if I expect to be voicing on the road.
Anne: I make sure there’s an ironing board there too now.
Tim: Yeah, exactly, so you can do the sip tent.
Anne: Where you can do the sip tent, exactly.
Tim: Absolutely. So yeah, so USB microphones, here’s the biggest problem, with a couple of exceptions. There are a couple of companies, like I said Apogee Plus is very impressive for what you pay for it. Ok? I think it’s $269, something along those lines. But here’s the problem. When you have an XLR microphone, where you’re plugging your microphone into an interface, that interface has a lot of components, like the preamps for instance, and a lot of quality components that you simply can’t fit into the small shell of the USB microphone. And there are other exceptions as well, like people talk about the Yeti.
Tim: And how it is — well, you need to get a different mic or whatever, because that thing’s noisy and has a lot of self-noise, and I agree. However, RX Elements for instance, which has voice de-noise in it, does an excellent job of removing the hiss from that microphone. Now, is that USB microphone gonna sound as good as the 103 or the 416? No way, never in a million years.
Anne: Right, right.
Tim: Can you adjust it in post, with EQ and all that, to get it sounding better? Again yes. Is it gonna sound as good as Anne’s 103? No way. It’s just not gonna happen. Ok? So, and we also have other things to consider. When you have a large microphone like the 103, it has a very large diaphragm behind that grill, right? And there’s a lot to be said for that diaphragm, because it is a large diaphragm microphone. It’s very sensitive. And one of the things that makes it very sensitive is the fact that it’s being fed 48 volts from your interface.
Tim: Right? In order to charge the microphone, if you will. And aside from that, the quality components and all of that that go into it, you have a much bigger diaphragm, so if you have a smaller microphone that’s USB, that has a much smaller diaphragm, that is the — the diaphragm by the way is basically the ear for the microphone, ok? You can only fit so many quality components into the USB mic as it is, but with the XLR mic, you have room to do just about anything that you want. And in fact if you opened the TLM 103 and took it apart, you’d be surprised what’s in there aside from the diaphragm. And these are quality components that we’re just not able to fit into USB mics at this time.
Anne: That makes a lot of sense, and there’s not a lot, there’s not a lot of USB mics out there, really, are there, compared to, you know, XLR mics. There’s thousands of those.
Tim: Well, there is the, I believe it’s the AT2020 Plus, which is —
Anne: Mm-hmm, I had that, I had that as well.
Tim: Yeah, and that’s actually a pretty impressive mic —
Anne: Yeah, I liked it.
Tim: — for what it is, to be honest. Yeah. And again, if you’re going to go next level, and anyone who’s listening to this, when you get a good job that pays you a lot, look into upgrading your system. The better your system is, the quicker you’re going to be getting into that — Anne, you and I have talked about this before, the top 10% that get 90% of the work. Right?
Tim: The quicker you’re gonna get there, because you’re gonna sound better, and you know, everything that goes with that, obviously. So when it comes to microphones, when you’re putting money into your career, we have things such as lessons and all these other types of things that we do. And I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars on demos, thousands of dollars on lessons, and then they have a, you know, a $60 microphone. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Anne: Right, right. You know, I really love that you’re kind of advocating for investing in a quality mic, because there’s so many, you know, forums out there that will say, “you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get great sound,” and I can agree with that up to a point, but I really do believe there is an extra added advantage by having some really good quality equipment. I really noticed it when I made my first investment into the TLM 103, and I was like, “oh yeah, ok, this really does make a difference.” You know, I used my Rode NT1A for a long time, but then when I got the TLM, I was like, wow. And especially now, Tim, in the pandemic, right, when sound and quality is really, you know, a requirement these days, of a lot of clients without, the fact that we can’t go into studios, our studio has to sound pristine, and that includes all the equipment, I think, inside of it as well.
Tim: Yeah, you can’t phone in an audition, and the studio knows that this person is a pro, so it’s fine, and the agent listens to it and says “alright, well, we’ll see you Friday at the studio.” That’s not a thing anymore.
Tim: And I’m not sure when it will be a thing again.
Tim: And it’s what’s kept me so incredibly busy over the last six months, because all these people are used to being on one side of the glass and not the other. Right? So there are microphones out there, by the way — I don’t want to give people the idea that they have to spend $1000 on a microphone. One that I have seen work for a lot of people across the board without too many problems is one of three mics that I reviewed from Lewitt. You can go to votechguru.com, and you can find it under equipment if you want to find this mic. It’s called the LCT 440 Pure, and it’s a large diaphragm mic that costs $269, super impressive, and I haven’t had anyone buy that one yet and not be happy after we tuned it in. Ok, so there are options out there.
Anne: Any gender? Like it doesn’t matter?
Tim: No, both.
Tim: Haven’t had any problems.
Anne: Do you compare it to any other type of mic, that it might sound like, for those of us that have tried all different types of mics?
Tim: Not unless I talk about more expensive mics.
Anne: [laughs] Yeah.
Tim: I haven’t heard anything at this price point that sounds quite as good as this microphone.
Tim: And it’s very quiet. Right?
Tim: So let’s move on to something very quick that we didn’t talk about initially. Microphone XLR cords, don’t go on the cheap with those either.
Anne: Oh yes. You taught me that. [laughs]
Tim: Yeah, I use Mogami Gold exclusively because they’re quad shielded. The one that I have hooked up to my mic right now is 12 years old, and it has been moved I don’t even know how many times. I can lay a power cord right across it, and it’s gonna have, you know, zero problems. It’s a $50 cord.
Anne: Yeah, Tim, you remember when I called you in a panic, right, when I had just changed my interface to the Mackie Big Knob, and I could not — and I plugged in it, plugged my microphones in, and then I was like oh my God! I want to talk a little bit about the Shure mic that I, that you also recommended to me. I plugged that in, and it sounded horrible! And I was like, oh my God, what happened? And literally you helped me debug it to being the cable, and you said “go ahead and make the investment and buy a decent cable,” which now, you know, that’s all I buy. It makes all the difference in the world, so.
Tim: Yeah, it really does. It’s one less thing that you need to worry about, and if I ever have a problem here, which I rarely do — usually people will look at the XLR cord first; I don’t, because I’m pretty darn sure that’s not going to be the problem, right?
Anne: Got it.
Tim: So I would rather pay three times more for a cord that’s gonna last ten times longer, or whatever the number is, but they do last a lot longer, and they’re very high quality. So anyway, let’s move on to talking about interfaces here for a second.
Tim: Ok? Because not all interfaces are built equal either. We do have this kind of thing where technology has gotten to the point where the price points for really good quality stuff have been brought down, so that those components can be put in relatively inexpensive interfaces. And then they are accessible to everyone at that point. That said, there’s a, I’m not going to say a quantum leap, but a significant enough of a leap from buying like a $120 or a $150 interface to then buying something like the Audient ID14 or something like that, which you know costs $300 and frankly gives you a lot more options like an interface and so on. And then you go on from there. Like I have the Apollo Twin, which has all the real-time plug-ins that are running. You’re hearing them right now, the manly Vox Box for instance, that allow me to dial in what I actually sound like, because if I just run straight through a preamp and I run through a mic, that mic’s not tuned for my voice. It needs to be tuned for my voice to make my voice sound the best that it possibly can. And making it sound the best that it possibly can consists of, well, what does Tim sound like in real life? Right? Because you don’t want to make yourself sound, you know, somehow different than you are in real life. A good example of this would be, right now you’re on the 416, right?
Tim: Ok, so we’ve done a little bit to adjust your stuff in post, but just a little bit, right?
Anne: Right, right.
Tim: To get you sounding more like I know Anne to be in real life.
Tim: And if, even though you have a very good mic, we’re not quite getting that bottomed-out rounded end when we’re talking into it directly. But here’s the point. The 416 is picking up those frequencies so that they’re there in the software —
Tim: — in order to be able to adjust it, and it’s picking it up in a quality manner. An interface that doesn’t have quite as good preamps in it, it’s not going to pick it up as cleanly. In fact it might be noisier, and it might not be a proper representation of what’s going on with that person’s voice. So when it comes to interfaces, don’t chintz on that either.
Anne: Well, I was going to say, there are some of those, how do I put it, package deals where you get the mic, the headphones, and the, you know, interface all in one. I’m going to say, I’ve had students that have not had good luck with those interfaces.
Anne: And a lot of times, they’ll say to me, “you know what? I don’t know, I get this buzz, or I’m hearing this hum,” and I’m like, “ok, I’m very familiar with that interface. You probably need to just throw it out right now, so.”
Tim: Which package are you talking about?
Anne: Well, I was gonna say, and I’ve owned a couple myself, the Scarlet interface, which I did not have good luck with, and I don’t know if there was, you know, a batch that was, they had cheap components in it, but I always got a hiss. And I bought another one to replace it, and you know, maybe six months, eight months down the road after that, I had some more issues with it that was like a hum. And I was like, you know what? I’m done, done with this interface. So…
Tim: Ok, so you’re talking about their package deal then?
Anne: Mm-hmm. I didn’t actually get the package deal. I bought the Scarlet when it first came out, the 2i2, when it was a thing, and everybody was talking about it on the boards, you know, on the forums, and they still are. And I just, I had just a bad experience personally that, I was just like, mmm, I don’t feel confident recommending that. That’s me personally. I know people who love it. But for me, I had two that just were not working, and I know students of mine that have had, you know, that package deal where they’ve also had issues.
Tim: Right, and I’ve heard people, when they came out with the gen 1, and then I think they had some issues, so then they came out with gen 2. Now they’re on gen 3, which I believe includes this air button, right? But when you’re buying a package deal like that, I believe it comes with something like the iTrack Solo they call it, and then headphones and a microphone and —
Tim: — an XLR cord. Well, they’re not going to be able to include the best components that tie that microphone and that interface together, so if you’re getting hum, it could easily be from a cord. I mean it’s hard to say exactly what the problem is, but if I were to suspect anything, if you were talking about getting hum —
Anne: Mine wasn’t because I didn’t buy the package. I bought the interface —
Tim: Right, ok.
Anne: — you know, completely separate. So that’s just my, that’s my personal opinion. I know there are some people out there that love it, but I’ve just heard too many stories. I’m like, well, that’s ok. We all have choices. [laughs]
Tim: Yeah, but you’ve been hearing something over and over again, so you’re seeing a pattern.
Anne: Yeah, yeah.
Tim: So again, this speaks to, you know, is that package good enough for voiceover? Well, it depends. Is everything perfect? I don’t know.
Anne: Right, right.
Tim: At that price point? I couldn’t tell you. I’d have to listen to it.
Tim: Can it be tuned to sound better? Uh sure, but here’s the thing. If you go to any store — we won’t name any names, ok, but there’s one that’s very famous out there. It’s huge. They like to combine one half of their store, which sells everything you can imagine, along with grocery — they’re calling them super centers. Now if you’re going to go get fruit for instance or vegetables, would you tend to go there — do you have Gelson’s near you?
Anne: I do. [laughs]
Tim: You do. Ok.
Anne: Like literally two miles down the road. [laughs]
Tim: Yeah, are you gonna go to the super center to get your fruits and vegetables or to Gelson’s?
Anne: Well, Gelson’s tends to be a little expensive, but yeah, I know there’s quality. [laughs]
Tim: Right, exactly. That’s the point, right? It’s expensive, but it’s expensive for a reason.
Anne: Right, right.
Tim: Ok so, you’re investing in food that goes into your body.
Tim: So for your career, why wouldn’t you invest in quality equipment for your career? Because you do not want to be in a situation — and believe me, anyone who’s listening to this — when I’m going through auditions, I have only done this maybe a few times where I’ve said “hey, there’s a hum or something. Other than that your audio sounds qual — you know, it’s top notch.”
Tim: “You need to get that checked out.” Normally what’s happening when this stuff comes in is I don’t have time to give 80 people feedback.
Tim: I just don’t. I mean, I like to help people, but come on. At some point, it just gets a little overbearing. So these people that contact me say, “hey, I keep auditioning. I’m getting likes, I’m getting this and that, but I’m not getting any jobs.” And sometimes it comes down to the equipment, sometimes it comes down to a lack of processing or over-processing. It might be noise, it might be acoustics, you know, any number of things. Right? But when it comes to equipment, you don’t need to go top-shelf. That’s not necessary. I mean it would be hard for me to say I’ve ever heard anyone sound bad on a Neumann U87.
Anne: Right, right.
Tim: But it’s a $3000 microphone.
Tim: So it better have some qualities to it that, you know, just about anyone’s gonna sound good on it, ok? But again, there’s that area where you cross the line into “ehh, not so great.” And you want to stay away from that if possible. Spend the money up front so that you know that’s not part of your issue.
Anne: I think that’s for people who say, you know, I think maybe if people are just starting off and they don’t want to invest a ton of money, you know, they want to kind of just dip their toes in the water, and then they buy a package deal like that, I think that’s fine as long as they have in their head the idea that if this is something they want to do for a career, then they, you know, they set aside that money, and they really do, you know, what I consider to be the smart move to invest in your business and just upgrade that equipment.
Tim: Yeah, well, you know when people come to me, and they say “hey, I’d like to get into doing some voice work,” ok, what does voice work mean to you?
Tim: Ok, well it means this. Alright, so let me ask you a question. Is this a hobby for you? Are you just going to be doing podcasting once in a while, or are you looking to kill it?
Tim: Right? So for anyone out there right now who’s looking to kill it, don’t buy the cheap stuff.
Anne: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Tim: Because you’re not going to kill it. If you want a hobby type of situation, sure, go and get that stuff, but expect some trouble. And yeah, so that’s —
Anne: Good advice!
Tim: — interface.
Anne: Good advice! I’ll tell you what, I think we could probably talk about this all day.
Anne: However I think that this has been a great discussion for people just getting into our, let’s say our version one, or our podcast part one of two of microphones and things that we have in the booth. Awesome advice, and I’d like to give a great, big shout-out to ipDTL, our sponsor, allowing Tim and I to connect with one another and give you all sorts of wonderful information about mics. Thank you so much, Tim. It’s been, it’s been amazing. I’m sure we could talk for another [laughs] another hour or so about this.
Tim: My pleasure.
Anne: Alright. Have a great week, and we’ll see you next week! Thanks, bye!
>> Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your host Anne Ganguzza. And take your business to the next level. Sign up for our mailing list at voboss.com and receive exclusive content, industry revolutionizing tips and strategies, and new ways to rock your business like a BOSS. Redistribution with permission. Coast to Coast connectivity via ipDTL.