How to equip your studio

So as not to drive you crazy with too much information. I'm laying out some basic recommendations for those who need to build their voice over booth and studio. Expect this list to be somewhat of a living thing, with updates as needed.

Make your studio look more like this:



Let's avoid this:


I'll put in Basic, Good and Better recommendations for gear (if three choices exist for each recommendation). Most of the links are affiliate links, so AnyVoices may earn a small commission on purchases, but you do not pay anything additional for the products:


Interface:


Basic -The Behringer U-Phoria
This is a basic box, but fairly clean. In my own experience, this is great for a dynamic microphone, or for occasional use with a condenser mic that requires phantom power. In my testing, I did notice that after 12-24 hours of phantom power, some microphones started to develop a 'robotic' sound. The longer it was on, the worse the sound became. If you have this issue, it may be beneficial to turn off phantom power when not in use for long periods of time, however, this may have been a fluke with the model I tested. I have used this for weeks on end with dynamic mics with no issues. In my tests, this has enough gain to power a Shure SM7B, albeit near maximum gain, without another phantom-powered gain device (like a CloudLifter) between the interface and microphone.

   
 
Good - The Focusrite Scarlett Solo
The Scarlett is a well known and loved piece of equipment. I would recommend avoiding the bundles that include XLR cables, studio monitor headphones and a condenser microphone as most people I have worked with found the added equipment did not provide the necessary quality and were often replaced within months. Purchasing them separately ensures you know exactly what you're getting and can easily exchange or return a piece of equipment if it's not performing adequately.

   

 Better - The Audient iD4 Mark II
This is an amazing piece of equipment. plenty of gain, no issues after extended use. My Audient iD4 is in my studio and road kit. Need two mics? Try the Audient iD14 Mk II https://amzn.to/3rMHgVQ 

   


 Microphone:


Basic - The Audio Technica 2035
I have a hard time recommending the Audio Technica AT2020 as I have found it to be a microphone with too much self-noise, even for a beginner. However, with a very slight bump in price (usually about $50) the much better big brother AT 2035 can be found for a street price of around $140. I can't link directly to the mic, but this 'kit' has a few addons. The cable looks to be more for musical gear than for critical work like voice over, but it could be a backup in a pinch or a gift to a musician who doesn't mind an inexpensive cable.

  

Basic - Studio Projects B1
This was my first microphone and the specs listed this as being surprisingly quiet. I was able to return the first one purchased, which actually had higher than advertised self-noise. The replacement had lower than advertised. I purchased a second one online and it also had lower than self-noise. I still have my first mic as it earned a special place in my heart, and earned quite a bit for my voice over career as well. 



Good - Rode NT1
The Rode NT1 and NT1A are a source for endless discussion and debate - but I'll err on the side of one I've tried and liked the sound of - the NT1. 



Better - The Sennheiser MKH-416
This is an 'industry standard' mic for good reason. It rejects quite a bit of sound to the side and behind the microphone. This deluxe package includes a shock mount to minimize any handling of your mic stand or boom arm.


Better - Neumann TLM 103
Another Industry Standard. It's a very pleasant sounding microphone for many voices. While fairly rare, a small amount of people find the slight presence boost makes some voices sound a bit harsh


Better - Neumann TLM 193
In my opinion, and several engineers I work with - this is a better mic than the TLM103 and U87 as it has a capsule design similar to the U87 and has a later response than the TLM 103 and actually has a slight presence dip. This, however, makes it very favorable to post-production effects and can be tweaked using some preamps or other effect that are handled in the chain between the microphone and interface/computer. Unfortunately - this does not include the Shockmount this mic needs. While I prefer the EA-2 shock mount, it appears to be hard to get (several weeks lead time) but the Neumann EA1 shock mount will fit the TLM 193


BEST? - The Neumann U87
This is a mic I have only used in a few studios and it somehow takes all the best of the TLM 103 and TLM 193 in the same package, offers multiple polar configurations (cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure 8). This kit includes the shock mount as well. 




 Studio Monitor Headphones:


 Studio Monitor Headphones are not headphones. The price of a pair of headphones does not indicate quality, nor does heft. Testing, a flat response (hearing the sound as it was recorded), and comfort are what to look for. The best way to find a great pair is to try them out, see what fits and sounds 'right' to your ears. I now wear headphones much less often than I used to, as I do most of my bulk of editing/listening with nearfield studio monitors (speakers).

Basic - The Sony MDR7506
This is not what I call a true Studio Monitor headphone. To my ear these color some sound and are a bit 'off' - plus I am not at all a fan of coiled cables. However, They are considered an industry standard and are a good entry into professional headphones for less than $100.

   
 
Basic - Audio Technica ATH-m30x
This is an entry into the Studio Monitor headphones and I prefer Audio Technica's flat response in these for quick editing. These are in my road kit and I have no plans on replacing them. These are not as comfortable as the Sony MDR7506, but I find I don't need to wear them for long as I don't monitor with them live, only use them to edit

   
 
Good - The Audio Technica ATH-m50x
This is my preferred studio monitor headphone. I haven't found a reason to replace as I find them comfortable and they give me all the sound I need for critical listening and editing

 

 Good - the Beyerdynamic DT770
These are a great set of studio monitor headphones. I swapped out my ATH-m50x earcups to velour after wearing some on a project. I like the sound nearly as much as the ATH-m50x, and would absolutely consider purchasing them if I need to replace my ATH-m50x's.

 
Better? Custom made headphones and high-end headphones (upwards of $300) made for your ears and your head are where you may spend your money if it's worth it to upgrade. I've never wanted a pair of headphones over the $150 - 200 mark. Even my custom-built ones were all built for about $200 while sounding and feeling like heaven. If it's in your budget, try them out and buy what you like!

 XLR Cables:


I made the mistake early on, to buy XLR cables from a local music shop. It created a lot of noise in my recordings. Swapping out XLR cables to something better is a great improvement you can make and it's not as expensive as you might think... 

 Basic - Kopul 3000
This is what I have been keeping in my road kit. Inexpensive, shielded, good quality cables.

 

Basic - Hosa HMIC
These also offer good shielding and a great price 


Good - Kopul 4000
For only a slight bump in price, with better quality components. It's hard to not purchase these as upgrades


Better - The Canare Star Quad
This is very well shielded, has 4 conductors, and is amazingly well priced. It's often compared to the next entry

 

Better - Mogami Gold Studio Pro
The name to beat. Their cables are well built, shielded, and as silent as a cable can be. Though they are twice the price of the Canare, many believe that the price is absolutely worth it as they are hand-assembled and tested individually. These cables are not designed for being handled and moved as frequently as some other cables, though Mogami does make a Gold Stage mic if you insist on having them in your road kit (though they are only available in longer lengths) 


Even Better? Audioblast is making bold claims that their cables provide better quality than Mogami and Canare! Testing seems to indicate it might be true and the price is amazing. I plan to purchase and compare!



DAW (Digital Audio Workstation Software):


Basic - Audacity
As the site at https://www.audacityteam.org/ says - "Free, open-source, cross-platform audio software". It's easy to use, has a wide amount of plugins supported, has a great community behind it to help you if you're stuck and is stable (but save often as it still does crash occasionally in my own testing)

Good -Reaper
Reaper is great software (and what I largely use now) that is fairly easy to use and has a generous demo program. It's also cross-platform and purchasing the software is only $60. They routinely update. http://reaper.fm/

Better - Adobe Audition
This is the software I know best and I am the quickest when editing with. It's a vastly powerful program, yet has a fairly short learning curve for non-linear editing. It's easy to start recording and editing, an easy transition from programs like Audacity. It can be used for simple one-track recording, supports many plugins, and has the depth to grow with users who need to do complex multi-track mixes and full broadcast quality production.

 

Better - ProTools
This is THE studio recording software. It's incredibly powerful and complex. You will never outgrow this software. However, the software has a high cost of entry and seems to require upgrades every few years to support new plugins and features. However, I still run ProTools 9 on an old MacBook with a wide array of plugins, so upgrading may not be *required* for many years.

 


Sound Treatment:


This is not "Sound Proofing" which is unaffordable and near impossible for some. Sound Treatment allows you to work out of a space that has many reflective surfaces. Echos, also called 'reflections' and reverberations, are what make singing in the bathroom pleasing to our ear and yet unpleasant in recordings. By having less reflective and 'live' surfaces in a room, better recordings can be made - even in a bathroom with its hard reflective surfaces. There are a myriad of options and so not all types or brands are included here

Basic - Acoustic foam. This is a sticky issue as many brands will include 'soundproofing' right in the top level of their description. The acoustic foam helps to absorb and diffuse some early reflections and provides options for decoupling studio monitors from other surfaces. Look for Acoustic Foam that has at least 2" in thickness and only expect it to make a minimal impact on your space, even if you are surrounded by it. You may have good results, but you may also need more sound deadening or a little bit of a more 'sound proofing' material to prevent outside noises from coming inside.

I am only including Auralex products as there are so many untested and 'copy-cat' products out there - so it's difficult to know you are actually getting what you paid for with other brands.

 Basic - Auralex Roominator kit. This has enough for a vocal booth with 36 square feet of coverage.

   

Basic - Auralex 2 inch thick 12 inch by 12 inch squares. With a total of 14 total squares, it's not a room full of acoustic foam. So - if you need to place some on each side of your mic, above you, and behind you - this might be a good option. 

 


Basic - Auralex Bass Traps - the average booth will need 4-8 in corners to work properly, if not more

   


Blankets
OK, let's also talk about blankets. Often, people talk about moving blankets. Yes, moving blankets can also stop *some* early reflections, but not as much as you might think, and the only bonus is that you can get several for free or low cost to layer them up. The good ones are typically not actually moving blankets as they're stuffed with recycled cotton and might have a thicker material cover, with a tighter weave. These are industrial strength moving blankets. Whatever blankets you pick up, they should not be placed directly against a wall, and should have several inches between the wall and blanket. This way sound has to pass through them twice (this is also true of wall-hanging acoustic panels which I'll link to later). 

Basic - Producer's Choice Sound Blankets I doubted these would work well, but I looked at the info and bought two. I still have them and use them. One is hung on a wall of my vocal booth/recoding space that faces a road, the other is over the door to my booth. There is a marked difference with these up. They may work for your space



Better and Good - work with an audio engineer or booth supplier. Interestingly, some booths still need quite a bit of audio treatment (Whisper ROom) and some are ready to go out of the box (Studio Bricks) and many swear by the DIY or contractor-built booths they have. Facebook has several communities based around building your own!

Acoustic Panels

OK, the last type of acoustic treatment is an acoustic panel - these are typically made of rigid fiberglass, again at least 2 inches thick, and would be mounted in a 3-inch or 4-inch wide frame (so the sound waves need to pass through them, hit the wall, and then pass back through).

If you want to DIY - Corning 703 panels are a great option, plenty of videos and tutorials exist on how to make high-quality frames

 

 Building your own from rock wool insulation are another affordable option



ATS are another option for a prebuilt rock wool panel



ADW has 24-inch by 48-inch rigid fiberglass panels - while more expensive some prefer fiberglass over rock wool. 



Need to fill an entire room, the Primacoustic London 8 (room kit) has 8 total pieces of fiberglass panels at a price that's hard to beat. I previously purchased Primacoustic Nimbus clouds (ceiling mount) for a studio and was very happy with the results.




Accessories!


Now that you have the basics, let's add on a few things that might finish your studio...

Power Conditioner

This literally saved me from loads of expense and I wish I had picked it up sooner. I had ground loop issues in an apartment that cost me one device (and a lot of headaches). As soon as I plugged this device in, my headaches stopped. In another apartment, I had what's often referred to as a '60 Hz hum'. I realized I had used a standard power strip, swapped out to this, and, again, my headaches were gone. This is a purchase I wish I made on day one - especially for how inexpensive it is and how much of an immediate difference it made.


Mic Stands

Two good options are a floor standing type with a boom arm which allows flexible placement and this has replaced most of the plastic parts with metal. A surprisingly durable and affordable package that is less prone to tipping over with your mic on board 



There's also a mounted boom arm type. This can be mounted or clipped onto a desk or shelf, or use the mounting block or clip to attach this to a block that's connected to the wall of your booth.


One of my favorite accessories is this 'Silent' mouse from Logi (formerly Logitech). Logi claims it has 90% lower volume than typical mice and I can attest that my microphone does not pick it up as an audible click. The scroll wheel and side buttons are also silent. It wasn't my first, but it's lasted the longest and is the quietest of the 'quiet' mice I own. This also uses the 'Unifying' technology, so you can have other mice and keyboards all connected to the same unifying receiver on your computer - great for those of us with a computer outside the booth at a desk where we do non-recording work




Are we missing your favorite equipment? Leave a comment to share your recommendations with others!

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