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Doing Professional Quality Voice Overs In The Comfort Of Your Own Home

Stick with the hardware and software I suggest and you can't go wrong By Kevin McAuliffe

Being an editor who works out of a home office, I have a few major advantages over large and small post production facilities. First, I can beat the price (even a discounted price) that any post facility can offer. Second, my rates include both SD and HD editing, motion graphics, sound mixes and DVD creation, and finally, I am there for my clients not only during the day, but evenings and weekends as well. I do, however, run into a few issues that larger post facilities don't have, and the biggest one that I run into on a regular basis is that I have no means of recording voice overs. In this article, I will take a look at what gear is required to record a voice over in the comfort of your own home. Since I also do video tutorials and training, I'm going to throw in an added bonus of looking at a couple of great screen capture programs that you can purchase (one for Mac and one for Windows), and in my opinion, the sound quality can either make or break your video podcast/training.

Software
Most editors who work out of their home have an editing program. I primarily use Final Cut Studio 2, and I like doing all my recordings with Soundtrack Pro 2. For all you Adobe Production Premium CS4 and Master Collection CS4 users, Soundbooth is a great program to capture your audio. But, what do you do if you are just starting out, and don't have the money to fork out for a $700 to $2000 editing package (you could pick up Soundbooth CS4 for $199 at Adobe.com if you wanted to, but I'm going for something a little cheaper)? How about Audacity? It's cheap, simple to use and available for both Mac (10.1 to 10.5) and Windows (98/ME/2000/XP/Vista).


I think that covers just about every possible user out there. Like I said before, chances are that if you are working at a professional post production level in your home, you already have a program that you can use to capture audio with (you could even use FCP, Media Composer or even Premiere Pro CS4 if you wanted to), but if you are just starting out, Audacity works great for VO and podcast recordings alike.

Microphone
Obviously, once you have your audio capture program, you need a microphone. To be perfectly honest, there are hundreds of microphones out there that range anywhere from fifty dollars all the way up to thousands of dollars, so which one do you choose? I really had no idea. I'm an editor, not an audio engineer (all you Trekkers can chuckle now!), but I will say this, being a tech writer has a few advantages, one of which is that when you talk to companies about writing about their products, they go above and beyond what they would do for normal consumers. I decided I wanted the best "mid-range" microphone that I could get, and I know that one of the best microphone designers on the market today is Sennheiser, so I called them up, told them who I was, and that I was looking for an "excellent sounding, mid-range priced" microphone to record voice overs and podcasts with. As soon as I said that, the press rep knew the perfect microphone for me, the Sennheiser MD 421 II, and you know what, she was absolutely right. At $598 MSRP, it not only is very affordable, but it sounds awesome as well. This professional level microphone is perfect for both studio use, as well as television voice work. Here's a little sample of the MD 421 II.

See what I mean. The sound quality is spectacular, and the price is very affordable. Now, there are two more things that you are going to need with your microphone. One, is either a desktop microphone stand, or a full sized studio stand. I decided on the desktop version, as I am sitting in front of my computer when I do my video tutorials, but if I needed to, I would take a trip to any music store and pick up a full sized version if I had clients coming over. The desktop mic stand cost me $15 Canadian. Finally, you will NEED a windscreen to cut down on your "P's" and "T's". Trust me! The windscreen you see here cost me $20 Canadian (yes, more than the mic stand, believe it or not). You can make your own windscreen if you really wanted to. All you would need is a metal coat hanger, and one of your wife's or girlfriend's panty hose. Simply bend the coat hanger into something that resembles a circle, and pull the foot of the panty hose around it, and tie it off with an elastic band. Voila, you've just saved yourself $20! One last thing that goes hand in hand with the microphone is an XLR cable. If you can, try to get the longest one you can find, as you never know when you might need it!


Audio interface
Now you might be thinking to yourself, why would I need something like this? Well, there's a very simple answer. If you purchased an audio capture program, and a microphone, you will find out very quickly that there is no way to plug your microphone into your computer, as your computer does not have an XLR input, and your microphone does not take a USB cable for an output, so you need a happy medium. Well, that's where your audio interface comes into play. Again, for the audio interface, I didn't want to go cheap, and I didn't want to go super expensive either, but I knew which manufacturer I wanted to go with, and that was M-Audio. I have heard really great things about M-Audio's Fast Track Ultra ($449.95 MSRP), and I had to try it out! The first great feature that I like about M-Audio is that it is owned by Avid (yes, that Avid), so I know that it makes a quality product. Second, the Fast Track Ultra is supported on both Windows and Mac (big bonus), and last but certainly not least, it has four XLR microphone inputs (of which two are XLR/TRS combo inputs for mic or instrument level inputs), built-in phantom power, six balanced line inputs, six balanced analog outputs, a S/PDIF digital input/output, a built-in MIDI interface, two independent headphone outputs with individual volume controls, and finally, it connects to your computer via USB cable.

Again, once installed, this unit is very easy to use, and will appear in the "Input" area of your recording application of choice.

If cost is an issue, M-Audio also makes a lower end version of the Fast Track Ultra called the Fast Track USB with one XLR microphone input and a switchable 1/4" instrument/line input for $129.95 MSRP. If I'm going to do this right, I'm going to go with the FTU, as I want the flexibility of having four microphone inputs in case I have multiple talents reading at the same time. Oh, and by the way, you can also monitor 5.1 surround sound with the FTU as well. Bonus! 

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