Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From The Twitters: How Much Money Should I Save For a Home Recording Setup?

My first microphone - An old beat up audiotechnica mic. Just holding on to it until I can permanently mount it somewhere.I usually get the "what's the least amount of money I can spend to get that pro VO sound" question. The question where basically they want me to validate the purchase of a SnowBall, and they tend to get a bit spiky when I suggest they set a budget instead.

So, when I get the "what should I buy" question framed by asking about setting a proper budget for recording equipment, I like to spend a little time answering that question.

From Twitter user @kirstynjohnson I received the following tweets:
okay, @. trying to get an 'equipment' savings account set up. I figure just starting with a single mic is the best route, aha.(@ cont.) so, what would be the best choice for a beginner like myself? I'm not limiting price range, as it's an investment.
You're asking the right question here. How much SHOULD I save up? Yes. Set a budget. This is a business investment, and no business can succeed if it just throws money around willy-nilly, or if it spends too little on producing its product.

Where you're going to run into a problem, the mic is only ONE piece of your chain. How are you going to power that mic? You could spend thousands on a Manley reference mic, but if you haven't considered the rest of your chain, your recordings will sound awful. From the room you're in, to the source you're recording (namely you), to the preamp/compressor/digital interface, to the computer, and then to playback, if you plan for EACH of these pieces of your chain then your recordings will sound MUCH better than if you over-buy on one link.

One of the reasons people start to think mid range mics don't sound as good, or are noisier, or any number of other faults, is that they are only being powered by the preamp built into an interface. Moving to a dedicated preamp can usually mean more recording signal at a lower noise floor. Spending around $500 on a preamp (like a Grace M101 or an FMR Audio RNP8380), and then picking out a mid-range mic like the AKG C214, Rode NT2000, AudioTechnica AT4040, or Shure KSM32 will almost always sound noticeably better than just spending $1000+ on a mic.

If your space is really noisy, you might also want to consider a dynamic mic solution, like from my video review of the Cloudlifter CL1. A Heil PR40, EV RE20Shure SM7b, or even just a lowly SM58 can sound pretty great when properly driven (which the Cloudlifter will help with in providing clean gain), and will be MUCH more tolerant of less than ideal recording spaces (which is why these types of mics are used in radio).

So, as you may have figured out by now, mic selection alone can start to get a little overwhelming with all of the genuinely good options available to us. If it's me, I think I'd set a budget around $2000 for everything. That gets me a good interface, a nice preamp, great mid range mic, and some cash left over to do some room treatments. The sum total of your chain at that point should be a marked step above entry solutions like USB mics.

As to exactly which mic I would buy, that's as personal a selection as picking out your undergarments. Realistically you should sound fine on ANY of the choices listed above, but if you're really exacting on tailoring your mic selection to the specific qualities of your voice, you might need to spend a little time and cash on booking some studio time to play with a couple different mics, or on hiring someone like me to actually go out to your place with a couple different mics to do a shootout.


  1. Ksm32 is my favorite mic right now. Great article. Honestly, when someone with zero audio knowledge tells me they're getting into vo's and buying home recording equipment, my gut tells me that may turn disastrous. My opinion is, people should get into voice work initially by marketing themselves locally and regionally. That's assuming they're actually a skilled voice actor. Then as they also acquire audio knowledge worry about an home studio.

  2. Money for the wrong mic is a terrible thing to waste. While not going into great detail, my first was a huge mistake and I only figured it out after several months of pain. I wasn't armed with any information when I made the purchase.

    Argh! I thought I knew it all and did the newbie thing of buying something that "looked cool" Stu-pid me!