You’ve reached the point where you’ve made a few bucks in VO and you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s finally time to lay down some cash and upgrade your studio. Where to start? What are some good decisions when it comes to upgrading your equipment and Voice Over studio? After many decades dealing with audio in broadcast environments and the last few equipping my own VO studio, here’s a few hard-earned lessons I’ll pass along.
- Upgrade your space. Before you spend a grand or so on a Neumann mic or an Avalon preamp, get your space in order. Maybe it’s time to move out of the closet. There are quite a few folks that have come up with some very novel solutions to building a better space. Here’s a whole list of ideas on Pinterest. The other day I came across a booth built from a stand-alone wardrobe, insulated with Roxul and foam. Pretty nifty. Let me tell you what I did. I found a bunk bed with a built in desk underneath at Faith Farm. First I laid moving blankets over the open sides and entrance, but later upgraded to Roxul. Moved the computer out of the room (no fan noise) moved a monitor in. It’s no super-duper pro specs, but it works. The best advice, think outside the (vocal booth) box on this one.
- IMHO, the only piece of equipment not to skimp on is the mic. Think of it this way: If you move from a USB mic (never buy one for VO) to CAD E-100 (great mic) and then decide it’s finally time to get that Neumann TLM-103, you’ve already spent 600 bucks to get there (about 2/3 of the price of a new one). One piece of advice is that if you have a ‘gold standard’ mic in mind, save for it and purchase it. If someday you decide that VO is no longer for you, or you really want to splurge on a U-87 or something, you’ll always get your money back (or damn close to it) on that 103 or Sennheiser 416 you bought years back. Good mics hold their value. A good mic is an investment, in your craft and your pocketbook.
- Do you really need an external preamp? Maybe. Some of the good audio interfaces out there these days have really good preamps already built in. Apogee, Antelope, Audient have great preamps. Even the lower-end Focusrite boxes have acceptable preamps. Do you really need to plop down 2 grand for an Avalon? Probably not. If you decide you really have to have an external preamp and don’t want to spend an exorbitant chunk of coin, the Focusrite ISA One is an excellent choice. It’s based on the circuitry that legendary recording console designer Rupert Neve built for George Martin at Abbey Road. For 500 bucks or so, you can’t go wrong with the ISA One, that is unless you have an extra 2 grand for an Avalon.
- Your audio interface, do you need to upgrade it? Maybe, maybe not. If you’re happy with your Focusrite 2i2, keep it. I still have one and use it for mix-minus when sending ISDN signals and the like. For everyday use I decided to upgrade this year. I was finding that I was just coming across too may digital facets when editing with the Focusrite. I upgraded to the Antelope Discrete 4. Always wanted an Antelope and the Discrete 4 finally put one within monetary reach. Antelope’s have the best clocking on the market, stellar discrete preamps, DSP and FPGA effects that don’t chew up your computers cycles when used as plugins in your DAW (with the upcoming AFX2DAW plug-in) and mic-modeling if you purchase Antelope’s Edge mic. Other interfaces to consider if your hell bent on upgrading include: Any of the Apogee’s, Audient and the Universal Audio Twin. Happy spending.
- DAW Software. The bottom line is, if what you’re using works for you, keep it. All DAW software pretty much does the same thing, allows you to edit audio. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Me, I’m a Pro Tools guy, been using it for so many years that if I switched to anything else, my productivity would go down the toilet. I’m so used to it and have so many hot keys ingrained in my brain, it would take months to move to something else. Some folks swear by Adobe Audition, I totally find it crippling. But if it works for you and your productivity, more power to you. Other software to consider if you feel you’ve outgrown Audacity include: Reaper, Logic Pro, Sound Forge, Ocenaudio and many, many more. The bottom line is, whatever works best for you.
- Do you need to upgrade your computer? Again, maybe maybe not. If you’re a Mac user, consider buying a Macbook from 2011 with an i7, upgrade the ram to max it out to 16 gigs, upgrade the 2.5 inch drive to an ssd and you’ll have a perfectly great audio editing box for somewhere between 5-8 hundred bucks. Pretty much any PC or Mac on the market will work great for audio editing. I would suggest as much ram as possible and an ssd. But an entry level i5 processor will do just fine. Unfortunately, computers aren’t an investment. They’re like cars, depreciating in value from the moment they leave the showroom.
- Consider used equipment. Check your local Craigslist in the musical equipment section for just about anything under the sun and Ebay is solid too for both recording and computer equipment. I’d also suggest Reverb for audio gear. A quick search on Reverb for Neumann mics turned up a TLM-102 for $475.00, a 103 for just over 700 bucks and a Focusrite ISA 1 preamp for $325.00. Reverb is a great resource, use it.
Well, that’s my two cents, I hope yours is well spent on your equipment upgrade path.