I'm a gearhead. I love talking about new plugins, hardware, the best mic for what kind of job, and the argument of old vs. new when it comes to AKG C414/C12 models (I write as I eagerly await my new AKG C414). So when it comes to figuring out what hot new item I need to improve my sound, I'm all about research, trying things out, and consulting with my fellow engineers Dave and Mike. There are different thresholds of gear when it comes to voiceover, and I'd like to try to map those out today.
Your Phone (Or a Tape Recorder)
Obviously, at the very least you need something to capture the sound of your voice, record it, and spit it back out to you. A simple tape recorder will do this (or, to update this past 1995, an iPhone can do this). I recommend, if you're at the very outset, starting there. Record yourself, listen back to your voice, and practice. Show people your recordings and get feedback. The performance is by far the most important link in the chain, so make sure you have chops before investing any further.
USB Mics and Laptops
Next would be the increasingly popular laptop and USB mic combo. It's likely you already have a computer with USB ports, so you only have to invest in one thing. But now that you have a mic, you're invited to the world of arguing over what sounds better. It's the first step into an endless journey of compressors, EQ's, condenser and dynamic mics, and much, much more.
In other words, on to the fun stuff. A USB mic like the Blue Yeti will make it so you can work. You can get a free DAW like Reaper or Audacity, make tracks, and send them to clients. In essence, that's all you really need, at least at first. Coming from a music and engineering background, I came into VO with the bug for better stuff. At the studio at which I interned, I got to play with the Neumann U87, the AKG C414, the Blue, and a host of great preamps and plugins. I saw firsthand what a difference hardware compressors and EQ can make over plugins, and why things like authentic tape emulators are so hotly sought after.
There's a legacy of sound to live up to, and a USB mic and some plugins aren't going to cut muster.
Down the Rabbit Hole
When you get to the point where you want to be able to dial in very authentic tones, or expand your abilities to audio production, it's time to get the ole wallet out and make friends with places like Craig's List and Sweetwater.
At this point, the sky's the limit. There are a handful of classic mic choices. The Neumann U87 is a near ubiquitous choice for smooth, clear, authentically replicated male and female vocals. There's the AKG C414, the son of the legendary C12, which is widely used in broadcast and audio production. Other mics in more modest price ranges include the Shure SM7B, which can take a beating and half, the Audio Technica 4050 Broadcast, and Sennheiser's MD 421 II. These are a few mics I've used over the years and ones I recommend trying out. There's something worth using in every budget bracket, you just need to do your research.
Currently, my setup is an Apogee AD-8000 AD/DA converter, two API VP-26 class-A preamps, Cubase Artist 7, and my trusty new AKG C414 XLS. This is in addition to a ton of plugins that I go through different rotations with, but I can definitely recommend Waves' SSL and L series compressor plugins. I'm already planning on my next big purchase, which will be a 500-series compressor/EQ with tape emulation, made by the people who made my favorite compressor in the world, the Distressor. The hard part is just waiting until I can justify another gear investment into my business. But hey, you feed the monkey, the monkey feeds you, as the old saying goes.