After working in the broadcast radio industry for many years and being the recording equipment zealot that I am, many of my colleagues have asked me to help them set up their home voiceover studio and/or suggest the best gear for the job. With the ultimate goal of having broadcast-quality output from home, there are still several options even if you’re on a tight budget.
To do it right, you have to invest a little money, but you can design and construct a broadcast-quality voiceover studio for a fraction of what it cost just a few years ago.
The Digital Audio Workstation
At the center of your studio needs to be a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. The good news is that you probably have a computer that can already handle the processor output necessary. If simple one track voice recording is all you need, you can even get the job done with an iOS tablet or phone (with a few other specific pieces of equipment). I’ve used both PC and Mac as DAWs, and the job can be done well on either platform. You should take into consideration budget, existing software, and your platform comfort/experience.
For PC users, a current radio broadcast standard is often Adobe’s Audition ($349.00) software. With a good amount of computer/recording experience necessary, there’s a learning curve here for beginners. However, Audition is powerful enough to record, produce, and master full multi-tracked productions. If Mac is you platform of choice, Apple Logic Pro ($199.99) is up to par with today’s top standards with similar creating power. Logic Pro is what I’ve chosen to work with in my own home studio. There are many other top tier options (Protools, Reason, Cubase, etc), but I’ll often refer to the two mentioned above. I wanted to be sure and mention these pro studio packages. But, If you’re just beginning or you only need to create simple (single track) voice only recordings, you can still get broadcast quality output with much smaller software packages.
Garage Band is already installed on store-bought Macs. This can help your overall studio budget. It is more than powerful enough to record and produce full multi-tracked productions. Here is an example of a song that I produced solely on Garage Band:
An application called Fission ($32.00), also for the Mac, has received some great reviews (Mac Life) and might be a good choice if you are looking to keep it simple. Fission by Rogue Amoeba, shines for simple voice recording, performing easy edits, and format conversions (for example WAV to MP3).
For iOS users on tablets and phones, you may want to get yourself acquainted with one of my favorite software companies, IK Multimedia. They are at the cutting edge of iOS recording software (and hardware). They have some pretty impressive ways of turning your iOS device into a mobile recording studio for very little money. Another simple iOS option is a free app called Pocket Wavepad HD by NCH Software. It’s simple enough for the beginner yet has all the necessary functions needed to record, edit, and distribute in all the popular audio compression formats.
Analog to Digital Converter
One of the most important components to any modern digital studio is often overlooked. A quality microphone is surely a priority, but it’s very important to have a good quality preamplifier and digital-to-analog (D/A) converter. If (and only if) you need to get your recordings up to broadcast quality standards, you should be sure and allow a nice chunk of your budget for this category. In my home studio I’m using a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 D/A converter which allows me to record up to 8 channels simultaneously. What does it actually do? It takes the analog signal from your microphone (guitar, keyboard, etc) and converts it to a digital signal your computer can understand. Fortunately, many of the new D/A converters have preamplifiers included which can notably increase the quality of your recording. There are several less expensive options that still deliver broadcast quality. If a simple one track voice recording is all you require in your studio, you may want to consider some of the products by Apogee (Apogee One for iPad & Mac $349), or products from IK Multimedia if you are planning on recording on an iOS device. For a more in depth look at this subject, I found the E-Home Recording Studio to be a blog with some great information.
For an even more simple solution, many of the modern USB microphones can plug directly into your computer (DAW) or iOS device. You should be aware that this option does diminish the level of quality, but it’s still an option.
Room Acoustics Control
Suppressing room reverberation is going to give you more noticeable positive outcome per dollar spent than running out and buying the latest D/A converter, microphone, or preamplifier. The best way to attain room echo suppression is with heavy soft material with as many folds and pockets possible. Many amateur voiceover recording rooms are nothing more than a walk-in clothing closet or small room padded with velvet, carpet or drapery. The smaller the space and the less hard (reflective) surfaces you have in your recording space, the better. What you want to do is try and record your source audio and not the reflections (bounces) of sound from the surfaces in your recording space. An example I give often is the difference between a typical restaurant restroom, filled with hard reflective tiles, versus a car interior. The automobile interior is a much better space to record, as it is designed to suppress noise, absorbing sound rather than reflecting it.
This is a huge topic where different people have very strong opinions. There are so many great (and not so great) options for professional microphones, and it’s such a personal choice, that recommending one specific microphone would be unwise. Years ago, a Guitar Center salesman told me something that I believe was very profound. I repeat it to this day. Figure out what you’re comfortable spending and pick the mic that SOUNDS the best to you. Borrow your friend’s mic, ask to demo store mics, and try as many as you can before you zero-in on the one you want to buy. It’s a very personal decision and the truth is that every mic will sound very different with your voice! Obviously you get what you pay for, but it’s ultimately a personal choice.
File Storage and Backup
One other category that will ultimately play into your home studio design is your file storage and backup. I tend to agree with one popular computer specialist who says you’re not truly backing-up your files correctly unless you have a “three backup redundancy system.” Your original, a back up, and a third back up off site (a different location in case of fire or other natural disaster). Of course it’s not as important if you’re recording yourself singing “Thrift Shop” on a Saturday night, but you’ll want to make sure you have secure files if you’re planning to work with paying clients. Audio doesn’t take nearly as much storage space as video (especially HD video) but it does usually require an additional hard drive (internal or external). USB 3.0 will most likely be able to handle several simultaneous tracks of playback.