When I first started in the audio engineering industry, I was honestly surprised at the amount of voiceover work I’d be involved in. Recording voiceovers is not even necessarily a novice job. But much of the audio work that makes money involves recording a script of some sorts. In other words, voiceover work is very common and when done professionally, can really help to pay the bills.
Voiceovers (commonly referred to as off-stage or off-camera commentaries) are done in radio, television, film, and other multimedia industries. There are professionals out there who make a good living either performing or recording these voiceovers.
So what microphones work best for recording voiceovers? Here are my top recommendations:
- Neumann U 87 AI: The Neumann U 87 AI (link to check the price on Amazon) is a modernized version of the legendary but discontinued Neumann U 87 (which was itself a recreation for the U 67 but as an FET mic rather than a tube mic). This multi-pattern large diaphragm “true” condenser microphone is a staple in many voiceover studios due to its clear, crisp reproduction of nearly any voice. The microphone itself is very versatile with 3 selectable polar patterns as well as a high-pass filter and pad option. This is my top overall recommended voiceover microphone.
- Rode NT1-A: The Rode NT1-A (link to check the price on Amazon) is another large diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone. This mic gets my top “budget” voiceover mic recommendation. It’s an extremely quiet condenser that reproduces voice with pristine accuracy.
- Electro-Voice RE20: The Electro-Voice RE20 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a large-diaphragm cardioid dynamic mic and a favourite in the broadcasting world. This mic exhibits no proximity effect, has superb protection from plosives and is low in sensitivity. This mic gets my top recommendation for voiceovers in less-than-ideal environments.
Let’s dive deeper into each of these microphones in a minute, but first, let’s talk about what we want in a voiceover microphone.
What Makes An Ideal Voiceover Microphone?
- Polar response: choose a microphone with a polar pattern that best suits your recording environment. Regardless of your choice, ensure the pattern is consistent, at the very least, between 0-degrees on-axis and 90-degrees (to the side).
- Flat frequency response: picking a microphone with a flat frequency response will reproduce the human voice the most accurately.
- Sensitivity: In soundproof recording environments, we want a sensitive mic to reproduce the nuances in a voiceover performance. In non-soundproof environments, we want a low-sensitivity mic to help reject the ambient noise.
- Proximity effect: This again depends on what we’re going for. On one hand, the proximity effect can help give the human voice that radio-ready “gravitas.” On the other hand, it can greatly alter the tone of the reader’s voice if he moves relative to the microphone during his performance.
- Protection from plosives: Omnidirectional microphones and mics with less sensitivity are less prone to plosive “pops” in their signals. Always title your microphones slightly off-axis and use a pop filter!
- Low Self-Noise: When using a condenser in a soundproof room (highly recommended), choose a mic with a low self-noise rating to further reduce the ambient noise in the mic signal.
So now that we have a general idea of what we’re looking for in a voiceover microphone, let’s discuss the recommended U87, NT1-A, and RE20.
The Neumann U87AI
The Neumann U87AI is my top recommendation for a voiceover microphone. I’ve used this microphone extensively in the studio for voiceover work and it rarely gives me any issues.
The high-end design of the U87 yields an accurate reproduction of sound and its versatility lends itself particularly well to practically all voices.
Let’s discuss the U87 in more detail.
Polar Patterns Of The Neumann U87AI
The Neumann U87AI has 3 selectable patterns (cardioid, bidirectional, and omnidirectional). All three make great choices for voiceover work. Most often, we’ll use the cardioid pattern, which has the following polar response graph:
I like the cardioid option due to its isolating characteristics. It’s more “focused” on the reader than the other polar patterns and less “focused” on picking up the sound of the room. The cardioid pattern is the most common pattern for a voiceover mic for this reason.
The cardioid pattern option of the U87AI also has the lowest self-noise rating and high maximum sound pressure level rating, which we’ll get to shortly.
What I dislike about the cardioid pattern is that it does make the microphone prone to plosives. Once again, ensure you tilt the U87 slightly off-axis when recording the audio and put a high-quality pop-filter between the reader and the mic.
For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
The cardioid pattern exhibits some proximity effect (though less than the bidirectional pattern) which can be effectively manipulated to enhance the voice of the voiceover talent.
Frequency Response Of The Neumann U87AI
The Neumann U87AI has a very flat frequency response in all of its polar patterns. Because we’ve discussed the cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns of the U87, I’ll show their respective frequency response graphs here:
A flat response like that of the U87 will yield a natural sounding recording. This is exactly what we want when capturing voiceover takes.
The only criticism of the U87AI (and condenser microphones in general) people tend to have is that high-end may sound harsh. This is due to the clarity of the condenser microphone when combined with digital audio recording. If the U87 sounds harsh in the high frequencies, try EQing the signal. I personally do not find the U87 to be overly bright or harsh.
The proximity effect of the cardioid pattern is worth revisiting here. Note that if the mic is in cardioid mode, the bass response will increase as the talent gets closer to the U87. Try to use this to your advantage when recording any type of voiceover.
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
Sensitivity Of The Neumann U87AI
The sensitivity ratings of the Neumann U87AI are given as:
- Omnidirectional: 20 mV/Pa
- Cardioid: 28 mV/Pa
- Bidirectional (figure-8): 22 mV/Pa
All ratings at 1 kHz tone into 1 kohm load impedance.
The U87AI, in all polar options, will output a strong signal of the narrator’s voice. This means less reliance on gain from the microphone preamplifier.
For more information on microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.
So the U87AI has a great sensitivity rating, but there’s another way to think of its sensitivity. That is, how reactive its diaphragms are to the changes in sound pressure.
The U87 utilizes a large dual-diaphragm capsule. Each diaphragm is a 26mm, centre-terminated, gold-plated Mylar diaphragm with its own 34mm backplate. The two are separated by a thin aluminum spacer.
For more information on microphone capsules, check out my article What Is A Microphone Capsule? (Plus Top 3 Most Popular Capsules).
These diaphragms react extremely well to subtle changes in sound pressure and, therefore, recreate the voice talent’s voice with near spot-on accuracy.
For more information on microphone diaphragms, check out my article What Is A Microphone Diaphragm?
Proximity Effect In The Neumann U87AI
As mentioned, the Neumann U87AI exhibits the most proximity effect in bidirectional mode, some proximity effect in cardioid mode, and no proximity effect in omnidirectional mode.
When in cardioid mode, try experimenting with the distance between the speaker and the microphone. Finding that sweet spot for each voice talent can really enhance the voiceover.
For more information on microphone proximity effect, check out my article In-Depth Guide To Microphone Proximity Effect.
Plosive Protection Of The Neumann U87AI
I’ve had mixed results with avoiding plosives with the U87AI. The amount of plosive energy a microphone will deal with depends largely on the vocal talent and the script from which they read.
Tilt the U87 off-axis from the talent. I typically have the mic tilted at least 30-degrees (along a horizontal axis). You can also decide to turn the U87 slightly off-axis (along its lengthwise axis). This will cause the plosive gusts of air to hit the diaphragms at an angle rather than straight on, helping to reduce their impact and the chances of a mic pop.
Note that tilting a microphone off-axis will generally affect the tone of the microphone. This change in tone is explained in the polar patterns. The U87’s bidirectional pattern will exhibit the greatest amount of off-axis colouration due to mic tilt, while the omnidirectional pattern will barely change. In cardioid mode, there’s not really a noticeable tonal difference at ~30-degrees off-axis.
Always position a pop filter between the talent and the U87 to help disperse plosive energy before it hits the diaphragm. Try distancing the narrator from the microphone if popping is an issue in the early stages of recording the audio book.
If plosives are causing serious issues in a voiceover read, try the following:
- Tilt the microphone off-axis.
- Create more distance between the pop filter and microphone.
- Get the talent to read the script with their finger pressed against their lips in the “shush” position (funny but works).
- Distance the speaker from the microphone.
- Select the U87’s omnidirectional polar pattern.
For more information on microphone plosives, check out my article Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.
Self-Noise Of The Neumann U87AI
Because the Neumann U87AI is a condenser microphone with internal circuitry, it also produces self-noise. The sound of the electronics, however slight it may be, is picked up by the diaphragms and reproduced in the mic signal.
The self-noise values of each of the U87AI polar patterns are as follows:
- Omnidirectional: 15 dB-A
- Cardioid: 12 dB-A
- Bidirectional: 14 dB-A
Although these values are not the quietest on the market, they work well for recording voiceovers. When recording in soundproof rooms, a 15 dB-A self-noise may be noticeable to the listener, but chances are it will go unnoticed. Even at its loudest self-noise rating, the Neumann U87AI is still a professional quality voiceover mic used in pro studios around the world.
For more information on microphone self-noise, check out my article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).
The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is an incredible large diaphragm condenser microphone. Its high-quality sound along with its very affordable price makes it a favourite among many project studio owners and musicians alike.
For voiceovers, the NT1-A is my top budget option. If you’re on a budget (aren’t we all) and have a decent recording space, the Rode NT1-A would likely be a perfect fit for voiceover recordings.
Let’s discuss the Rode NT1-A in more detail.
Polar Pattern Of The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is a cardioid microphone with the following polar response diagram:
As we can see from the graph above (and hear when using the Rode NT1-A) is that there is noticeable off-axis colouration in the mic’s polar response. The graph only gives us information up to 4,000 Hz, but like all microphones, the NT1-A becomes even more directional at high frequencies.
For this reason, we should be careful about how much we tilt the microphone, if we decided to at all (to reduce the chance of plosives). It also means the narrator should ideally stay in the same position through the voiceover recording.
Cardioid patterns work well when there is ambient noise in the recording area. Even “soundproof” rooms can have a certain amount of room noise. This room noise, whether ambient and chronic or acute and intermittent affects the quality of the voiceover.
A cardioid microphone like the Rode NT1-A, when positioned correctly, will pick up what the talent is saying while rejecting a good amount of room noise. We could say the cardioid microphone “focuses in” on the speaker’s voice and is less sensitive to the environment around it.
Frequency Response Of The Rode NT1-A
The frequency response of the Rode NT1-A is listed as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the NT1-A:
As we can see, the frequency response of the NT1-A is not perfectly flat. However, it is certainly flat enough and sounds very natural on speech.
The subtle cuts and boosts in the NT1-A’s response yield a bright, natural sounding voiceover on practically any voice.
Again, subjectivity should be used when listening to any condenser microphone on vocals. I personally find the NT1-A to sound accurate without the “harshness” some listeners attribute to condenser mics.
Because the NT1-A is a cardioid microphone, the bass response will become accentuated as the talent moves closer to the microphone.
Again, the awareness of the proximity effect allows us to take advantage of the bass boost, which sounds great on some voices and less so on others. Experiment with mic positioning for the “sweet spot.”
Sensitivity Of The Rode NT1-A
The sensitivity rating of the Rode NT1-A is given as -32 dBV or 25 mV/Pa @ 1 kHz. This is a typical rating for a condenser mic and means that the Rode NT1-A will output a strong mic signal for voiceover work. Having a strong mic output makes us less reliant on the gain from our mic preamp and generally yields a cleaner signal.
The large diaphragm of the NT1-A moved very accurately in accordance with changing sound pressure levels. This reactivity is one of the reasons the NT1-A sounds so naturally and precise on speech.
Proximity Effect In The Rode NT1-A
Because the Rode NT1-A is a cardioid microphone, it exhibits some proximity effect.
As mentioned, it’s best to be aware of the proximity effect in order to benefit from its advantages or avoid its disadvantages.
Plosive Protection Of The Rode NT1-A
The NT1-A comes with the tailor made SM6 Shock mount with integrated pop shield. Though the pop shield is not overly flexible in its positioning, it’s a solid defence against plosives. The pop shield is removable in case you have a better pop filter available.
The off-axis tilt strategy helps with limiting the occurrence of mic popping due to plosives. Be cautious when tilting the NT1-A, however, due to its noticeable off-axis colouration. A 15-30-degree tilt seems to help prevent plosive energy from overloading the diaphragm while maintaining the approximate on-axis frequency response of the NT1-A.
Self-Noise Of The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is marketed as “the world’s quietest studio condenser microphone.” With a self-noise of only 5 dB-A, the Rode won’t add any extra noise to a voiceover (unless you happen to be recording inside an anechoic chamber).
The Electro-Voice RE20
The Electro-Voice RE20 is a large diaphragm dynamic and a favourite in the professional broadcasting world. Voiceovers tend to benefit more from the clarity and sensitivity of condenser mics. However, because voiceovers are typically heavily compressed in the mixing process anyway, recording a voiceover with the RE20 would likely yield an excellent result. Depending on your recording environment and the amount of “polish” you want on your final product, the RE20 could easily be a better choice than the aforementioned U87 and NT1-A.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the Electro-Voice RE20 and why it’s a great voiceover mic.
Polar Pattern Of The Electro-Voice RE20
Here is the polar pattern diagram of the Electro-Voice RE20:
As we can see from the graph, the RE20 does a great job at rejecting sound from 120-degrees to 240-degrees off-axis across its entire frequency response. The RE20 has roughly 16-18 dB rejection at 180-degrees.
In recording environments with noticeable ambient noise, the RE20’s cardioid pattern helps reject some of that constant noise while focusing in on the talent’s voice. The cardioid pattern combined with the low sensitivity of the RE20 make it an excellent choice for recording in non-ideal locations.
Note that I wouldn’t recommend ever trying to record any voiceovers in a noisy environment. By “less-than-ideal” I mean a quiet or soundproof room that just so happens to have a higher level of ambient noise.
There is very little off-axis colouration with the RE20. We’ve discussed the advantage of plosive reduction when speaking slightly off-axis into directional microphones. The RE20 allows us to do so without changing the tone of the mic pickup.
Perhaps the most interesting point about the polar pattern of the RE20 is that although the microphone is a directional cardioid, it exhibits no proximity effect! This is due to Electro-Voice’s Variable-D technology.
A cardioid pattern with no proximity effect makes the RE20 a very good choice for voiceover (as shown by its popularity in the broadcasting world).
Frequency Response Of The Electro-Voice RE20
The RE20 is rated as having a frequency response between 45 Hz and 18,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph:
Note that the frequency response graph of the RE20 also shows us what it picks up at 180-degrees (the opposite direction of where the microphone is pointing).
The frequency response of the RE20 is very flat for a dynamic mic. This microphone will pick up the entire range and all the harmonic content of the human voice without colouring it negatively.
Due to the lack of proximity effect, I wouldn’t suggest using the RE20’s high-pass filter option, as it would likely thin the talent’s voice too much.
The low-end roll off of the RE20’s frequency response helps reduce unwanted low-end rumble as well as potential mechanical noise and vocal plosives.
The high-end roll-off ensure the RE20 mic signal will be anything but “harsh.”
Sensitivity Of The Electro-Voice RE20
The Electro-Voice RE20 has a low sensitivity rating of 1.5 mV/Pa. This means the microphone will output a relatively weak signal compared the two condenser mics on the recommended list.
A high-quality preamp with sufficient clean gain is highly recommended when using dynamic mics like the RE20 for voiceover work. Similarly, you could invest in a Cloudlifter Mic Activator to put in-line between your RE20 and preamp.
The low sensitivity of the RE20 helps reduce the amount of ambient noise in the mic signal. For example, if you were recording into your laptop, you could point the RE20 away from the computer and the low sensitivity cardioid mic would do a fairly decent job at rejecting the laptop fan noise.
The large Acoustalloy diaphragm and low-mass voice coil of the RE20 capsule react very effectively to changing sound pressure (compared to other moving-coil dynamic capsules). This yield a more accurate capture of a reader’s voice than a typical dynamic mic. The RE20 is even marketed as having a “studio condenser response.”
Proximity Effect In The Electro-Voice RE20
The RE20 has Electro-Voice’s Variable-D technology which virtually eliminates the proximity effect. This is often seen as a benefit when recording voice due to the microphone’s consistency.
Plosive Protection Of The Electro-Voice RE20
The strategy of speaking into the microphone slightly off-axis may not even be necessary with the RE20.
Each opening on the RE20 is covered by a high-quality blast and wind filter designed to effectively dissipate plosive vocal energy. The talent can get very close to the microphone without worrying about overloading the diaphragm with vocal plosives. The filters also protect the diaphragm against excessive sibilance, which is yet another huge benefit when choosing a voiceover microphone.
Self-Noise Of The Electro-Voice RE20
The Electro-Voice RE20 is a dynamic microphone and has no self-noise.
So these are my top three recommended voiceover microphones. Of course, there are many microphones that work incredibly well on voiceovers, but in my experience, these are the top 3.
Remember that the microphone is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating a high-quality voiceover. That being said, it is an important piece to consider in order to get the best product possible.
All that being said, here are my top three voiceover microphones:
- Neumann U87AI: Best studio microphone for voiceovers.
- Rode NT1-A: An incredible “budget” option for voiceovers in a studio-grade space.
- Electro-Voice RE20: Recommended dynamic mic for less-that-ideal recording situations.
- AKG C414 XLII (another high-quality multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser microphone)
- Neumann TLM103 (another great Neumann to record voiceovers)
- Rode Procaster (a budget broadcast-ready dynamic microphone option)
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.