Month: August 2017

Dynamic vs. Condenser microphones for home studio voice over

I’ve been spending a lot of time getting acquainted with microphones over the past couple of years. I’ve gone through several different microphones while attempting to launch a writing podcast and each time life got in the way and I ended up not launching.

I got really serious about it back in April of this year though. Starting a podcast is something I’ve always wanted to do and there are two that I’m working on launching. I’ve been waiting, though, because I tend to be a perfectionist when I’m launching a new project and I’ve been trying to find the perfect microphone for a home studio setup.

Which brings me to today’s post and a lesson that I learned the hard way. Which is better for a home studio? Dynamic or condenser?

The short answer is a dynamic microphone all the way, but there’s a longer version of this that takes in some nuance you’ll need to consider if you’re putting together a home studio of your own for podcasting or audiobook narration.

Dynamic Microphone Pros

  • Not as sensitive so they will have a much lower noise floor
  • Because of that lack of sensitivity they work well in home studios that aren’t perfectly noise proof
  • Tend to be a lot cheaper than condenser microphones

Dynamic Microphone Cons

  • The lack of sensitivity means that there is some vocal nuance they won’t pick up which can be a problem for audiobook narration where that nuance can be important
  • A lot of the more popular dynamic microphones are quiet which means you’ll have to have a good audio interface that can provide a lot of clean gain. Alternatively you can get a gadget like the Cloudlifter that adds clean gain to your signal, but it’s another cost on top of already laying out some decent money for a good dynamic mic.
  • A lot of dynamic microphones are designed more for radio work than for audiobook narration. The practical upshot is that they tend to be very “boomy” with emphasis on the low end, think that big radio voice on the local Top 40 station. This can be taken care of with a high pass filter, but it’s still a consideration.

Condenser Microphone Pros

  • They have all that vocal nuance mentioned above. There’s a reason why a lot of voice actors and audiobook narrators prefer condenser mics

Condenser Microphone Cons

  • Condenser mics are sensitive. Ridiculously sensitive. I have a neighbor with a muscle car a few houses down and every time they started it up the Rode NTK I was working with would pick it up. It would also pick up mouth noise that drove me to distraction and was ultimately the reason I abandoned my condenser. That sensitivity might be great in a professional studio, but it’s not going to work as well in most home studios which aren’t acoustically clean.
  • Condenser mics are expensive. The Rode NT1A, the microphone recommended by ACX for getting started in audiobook narration, is reasonable at a couple hundred bucks, but they only go up from there. Condenser mics can cost as much as a cheap new car unlike their dynamic brethren which tend to cost maybe five hundred bucks at the most.

I absolutely loved the way the Rode NTK sounded. It had that crisp condenser sound to it and it picked up nuances in my performance, but ultimately the sensitivity was the deal breaker for me. No matter what I tried it picked up too much background noise and too many mouth noises. I realize the mouth noises are more of a performance problem than an equipment problem, but I eventually settled on a nice dynamic that didn’t pick up any of that and saved me a ridiculous amount of editing time.

In the end I went with an Audio Technica BP40 dynamic microphone after trying out several mics. Including some industry standard mics that underwhelmed me, but that’s a subject for another post. The BP40 had the best sound with my voice, and best of all it shows a lot of that condenser nuance but in a dynamic mic that doesn’t pick up room noise or mouth noise or a house fly farting on the wall of a house on the other side of the street.

If you’re thinking of setting up a home studio for podcasting or audiobook narration and you have an environment that’s less than acoustically ideal then a dynamic microphone is definitely the way to go. Condensers might look all shiny, but ultimately you need to go with the tool that works and not the tool that looks the nicest.

 

Daily update: 8/21/2017

I should really start doing these daily writing updates again. I’ve had to start really regimenting my time because I’m taking care of my daughter during the day. It’s one of the perks of working for myself, but it also means I have to be a lot more careful about how I spend my time.

And I need to spend some of my time building this blog. Both because it’s fun and because it’s part of the whole long term strategy I’m working on to publish stuff under my own name.

So with that in mind, here is what I accomplished yesterday to advance my long term business goals:

Writing

Romance: 2044 words

SciFi Romance: 2039 words

Erotica: 1007 words

Paranormal Thriller/Comedy: 2041 words written, 2400 words revised

Fantasy Audio Drama: 1049 words

Total daily word count: 8180

Podcasting

I really ran into some frustration with this yesterday. I’ve been trying to get my recordings to work with a Rode NTK Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone. For those unfamiliar with audio there are two kinds of microphones that are used for audiobook and podcast narration.

Dynamic microphones are less sensitive and have a little less vocal range and nuance. They’re the kind of microphone preferred by podcasters, livestreamers, etc. because they provide that big boomy “radio” voice.

Condenser microphones are way more sensitive but they pick up a lot more nuance in your voice. So they’re popular with audiobook narraters and voiceover artists because it catches more of the performance.

The problem with condenser mics is that super sensitivity also means they can pick up everything which isn’t necessarily a good thing if you’re in a home studio where the kids are playing down the hall and the neighbors are out chatting and your wife is watching CSI: Miami in the bedroom on the other side of the house. You inevitably pick up the sound of play, the neighbors, and Roger Daltrey screaming to punctuate David Caruso making a clever murder related quip.

I’ve been trying to make the Rode NTK, a wonderful microphone with a great sound, work, but I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s just not right for my setup right now. A small walk-in closet in an out of the way part of the house that ain’t a studio no matter how much I gussy it up.

Basically I’m spending so much time “fixing” things that sneak into the recording in post-production that it’s causing major delays and making it so I couldn’t release my big audio drama I’m planning on a reliable schedule, so I think it’s time to move back to dynamic mics for now and see if the results are any better.

Because right now I’m way behind the schedule I want to stick to, which is frustrating.

That’s the thing about being an indie though. You’re going to run into problems like this, and part of the fun and the frustration is figuring out solutions to these problems. Sometimes you get it right and it’s amazing, and sometimes it’s days of frustration. Yesterday was one of the frustrating days on the podcast front, but here’s hoping that won’t last much longer!

Marvel’s Defenders and superhero fatigue

Marvel’s Defenders is the new hotness over on Netflix. Their latest bingeable masterpiece tailor-made to get people to keep renewing those Netflix subscriptions.

As a huge geek it’s the sort of show that should be catnip for me, but I’m just not feeling it. Y’know what I am feeling?

Superhero fatigue.

There’s just so much new stuff coming out and I have to wonder when it’s going to get to the point that the superhero trend starts to fizzle out. No pop culture fascination can last forever even if it does have the power of the mouse behind it running it into the ground.

Netflix is the perfect microcosm of this. I watched Jessica Jones and really liked it. The only problem? When I went back to watch it again I wasn’t as interested, and I realized that the only thing that kept me coming back to that show was David Tennant who provided the first truly menacing villain any on-screen Marvel property has seen since the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe became a thing.

I tried Daredevil. Everyone was raving about it, but it felt like more of the same. I forced myself to watch a few episodes, but then it got to the point where I got distracted by something else and I never came back to it.

Iron Fist? I didn’t even bother with it when it hit Netflix. I did catch parts of a few episodes because my brother in law is obsessed with the Netflix Marvel stuff and I happened to be over at his house for something on the day he was binging it.

The snapshots I saw of the show convinced me it wasn’t something that I needed to sit down and explore in its entirety.

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting too old to really appreciate the new pop culture hotness in a way I would’ve when I was younger and had more time on my hands. There was a time when I got on the hype train for things like this, but I guess I was burned enough times that I’m willing to let the hype train leave the station without me and I’ll wait to see if it’s going anywhere worthwhile before I give something a try.

I keep seeing people saying wonderful things about the Netflix Marvel stuff, and I just don’t get it. I guess it’s not for me and that’s fine. Difference is what makes the world go ’round, after all.

Mostly it makes me feel old though. I’m at the point where I have to carefully ration the time that I do spend on pop culture stuff. Between running my own author business and two kids, including a newborn that I’m taking care of during the day now because fuck paying $1400 a month for someone else to watch a newborn sleep all day at daycare, I find myself spending less and less time on stuff that doesn’t capture my attention and imagination right away.

Maybe that’s getting older. Maybe I’ve just lost patience for stuff that isn’t immediately gratifying. Either way, I think I’ll be giving Defenders a pass.

Lion King in theaters for a limited time!

I just found this out yesterday because I’m terrible at keeping up with media and what’s in theaters. I hardly ever go to see anything in the theaters these days considering we pay an exorbitant amount of money to have all the movie channels.

But I heard the Lion King is back in theaters for a very limited run at AMC. Like it’s going to be gone by Thursday in most regions. I guess the big splash was last weekend.

I’ve got my tickets! I’m taking the older kid to see it in the theater and I’m stoked! I haven’t seen it on the big screen since back in the mid ’90s when it had its first run. I came close when I was youth supervisor at a library and used my power of movie selection to show it on the projector there, but it wasn’t the same.

So if you have kids or if you just love the movie you have a couple of days to go see it if there’s an AMC theater near you!

Conquering audio

State of the art closet home studio!

So I have one hell of a huge sense of accomplishment. After months of effort I’ve finally got the first episode of an audio drama podcast I’ve been working on in the bag and it’s something I’m happy with.

It’s been quite the journey to get to this point. So far I’ve had to:

Get audio equipment I was actually happy with.

This might not seem like much, but it ended up taking a good chunk of time. I started out with an Audio Technica 2100 back when I was just thinking of doing a podcast about writing. I then upgraded to a Shure SM7B but for a variety of reasons I could never get that mic to work the way I wanted it to in a home studio setting.

I finally did a microphone shootout of my own and tried a bunch out to see which one worked. There are a lot of mic recommendations out there, but I found that ultimately it takes trying a microphone out in your setup to see how it’s going to work for you. Not all microphones are created equal and suited to the wildly differing environments in a home studio.

I ended up settling on the Rode NTK which I loved, and I’ll probably end up doing a post about my microphone shootout for anyone else out there who’s interested in that sort of thing.

Setting up my home studio

This also took some time. I initially set up my studio in my basement where I keep my office. The problem with that is my fish tank is in the basement along with our furnace which creates a lot of noise. I tried a couple of band-aids to try and get the microphone to work in my home environment, but ultimately I had to change where I worked to suit the recording setup rather than trying to get the recording setup to work in a suboptimal location.

So I moved all my stuff up to a walk-in closet attached to a guest bedroom that hardly ever gets used. The clothes in the walk-in closet were perfect for dampening sound, and it’s on the other side of the house from where most people are living so I can close the door to the closet and the room and have a pretty quiet environment without any sound treatment which is great. Recording in the closet studio has seriously improved the quality immensely.

Of course moving to that location wasn’t without issues. I had to install a monitor in there because the fan from my laptop was making too much noise. So now I have my laptop sitting outside the closet on the other side of the door where it can make all the noise it wants and it doesn’t get picked up by the mic. Meanwhile I have a bluetooth keyboard, magic trackpad, audio interface, microphone on a boom arm, and my iPad set up on a little laptop desk that faces a monitor bolted to the wall.

It works surprisingly well aside from an uncomfortable folding chair, but what can you do?

Learning Adobe Audition

I started out with Audacity and I really wanted to like it, but there were just too many things about it that annoyed me. I’ll probably do an entire post of its own comparing the two, but suffice it to say the difference between Audacity and Adobe Audition is like night and day and well worth the $20 a month Adobe charges. Plus I’m already familiar with Adobe and how their software works so it wasn’t much of a learning curve there.

It was a learning curve getting used to working with audio though. I worked through the entirety of Adobe Audition Classroom in a Book because I wanted to do this right and make sure I knew the software I was using inside and out. I was working through that around the time my daughter was born so it took a month or two to get through the whole thing, but that book is indispensable for anyone considering getting into audio.

Another book I picked up more recently is Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks by J. Daniel Sawyer. He goes into just about everything you’ll want to know if you’re interested in doing audiobooks, and all his lessons work just as well for podcasts. Which is great for me since I’m going to be trying out a podiobook model to start and see where things go.

Get used to the idea that yes, that’s what my voice sounds like

This was probably the biggest hurdle of the whole experience. I hear these narrators with these clear voices that don’t have much in the bass range, and with my voice I just didn’t like how it sounded. I tried a couple of different microphones and messing around with settings in Audition and eventually…

I came to have peace with the way I sounded. My wife told me it just sounded like me, and she eventually got annoyed when I would play two different files from two different microphones or processed two different ways. She claimed they mostly sounded the same, and I realized that I was overthinking things and I needed to get down to recording and working rather than spending time obsessing over making everything absolutely perfect.

Totally worth it

I’d say all that effort was worth it. I finally have an audio product that I can be proud of and that doesn’t have any lingering audio issues I encountered when I was working with Audacity. Sure I had to learn a whole heck of a lot to get to this point, but if you’re in the independent creator business you have to have a lifelong love of learning or you’re not going to make it very far in the business.

And I’ve discovered that I love working with audio. I enjoy getting into Audition and editing things, and I’m stoked about future projects and hope that all this investment will be worth it as I try to break into audio. Today wasn’t the first step in that process, but it was a big step!