Gear Talk: Universal Audio LA-610 Mk. II

I love gear mostly because most things have crazy anime robot names. The UA LA-610 Mk. II is, in picture form, this:


Ignore those guys on top. We're not talking about those guys.

This sleek, sexy little unit is what I was primarily trained on at CCM Studios in Denver. We used on vocals, guitars, as a bass was used on pretty much every session in some capacity. A lot of folks beat up on it because its compressor can be too dark, too extreme, too flattening, and those are valid concerns. But since we're focusing mainly on VO, I can attest, it treats the voice very well. In my humble opinion.

So on the left side, you've got a gain knob, which adds tube warmth to the sound. I like a little bit to help fuzz out otherwise offensive mouth noises, and to give my sound a little character, since that's what I paid so damn much for. (By the way, I'll say this now - if you're starting out, or are ONLY interested in voiceover, this unit is too much and not really what you need. It's just awesome and does a lot, and I'm very familiar with it, which is why it's in my house.) Experiment to taste; works well with some voices, other benefit from a more solid-state sound. 

The big knobs are your input level, compression, and output. For voice, I go .5-1.5 on the compressor, depending on what I'm doing. Sometimes I turn it off entirely. I can't imagine a voiceover situation that would require more compression than that going in, unless your voice is an actual bass guitar. 

This unit's served me very well over the years. I've given it some different output tubes to open up the sound a bit, giving it more headroom and letting the compressor breathe a little more. It does come on very strongly very quickly, and there aren't any controls like knee, attack, or release to fine-tune, as they're all tied into the unit's algorithm. It's definitely not the most intuitive unit in the world, and for voiceover, you can get away with a lot cheaper and easier to use. When it works, it's solid as hell, and it works well on singing vocals and it's a wonderful bass DI. Consider it a dark chocolate preamp flavor in the world of similarly metaphorically-flavored gear. Not for everyone, but you can get a lot of really cool sounds of it. 



Gear Talk: AKG C414 XLS

I assure you, that smattering of letters and numbers means something. I'm talking about this guy right here:


I have two of these in my studio; one is my main VO mic, the other is my backup. Needless to say, I rather like the sound of these on my voice. I've also seen its ilk out in the wild, recording on it in several studios before deciding to pick one up. They can be found used for very reasonable prices. I say reasonable when in fact I mean microphones probably cost a lot, but I collect guitar and studio gear so my sense of reality is, in fact, warped beyond repair. 

This small condenser picks up a ton of detail. It's fairly flat, with a little too much hiss at around 3.9 khz and too much butt somewhere between 250-500 hz, where one would expect butt to be. I cut both of these as a default template in my VO sessions, and with those two frequencies cleaned up (I also hit 4.5k hz with -1.5 to -3 dB on the way in with my UA LA-610, which I'll talk about next time), It sounds clean and balanced, with a pleasantly even low end and a non-grating, if not exactly shimmering, sibilance. They've been great for podcasts, trailer work, explainer work...I've even done a few national commercials with it. Now, of course it won't transform a starter DIY space into a multi-platinum (what the hell does that mean, btw?) studio on its own. Proper treatment of the space around it is also key, as is what it's running into. But I will say, I've used this guy in a lot of different rooms with different rigs, in basements for podcasts, in whisper rooms for cartoons and audiobooks, and out in the field, and it's never let me down. Everyone sounds good to great on it, it's got detail to spare, and it's small and cute.


Beyond the couple of not-so-great frequencies mentioned earlier, I will say this mic has almost too much detail. Make sure to pair this mic with an excellently treated room if you're to do any kind of compressing or limiting of the source audio. I can catch dogs barking down the street if I'm not careful. I've been upgrading my studio around this mic for years, and room #4, aka, permanent room because I bought it, is going to be undergoing some drastic changes this year as I basically build a big booth around my mixing desk/recording area. 

Also, this particular model, of which there are several others including the XLII and XL, does not seem to have any fixable parts. It's a circuit board, and that's about it. I took my first one to a tech when it started making weird mechanical hissy sounds, and he couldn't do anything about it. I later fixed that problem with some of those little salt packets they put in the pockets of coats and such to pull moisture off the capsule, but yeah. Word of caution: if it breaks, you pretty much have to toss it. 

All in all, it's cheaper than spending a ton on a mic. You get a great sound that sounds consistently great in many different applications. It also has a low end rolloff and dB reducer if you're recording drums or something. I don't use either unless there's something low end-y going on outside my door. They're handy and very noticeable. Pro tip for the baritones - don't roll it off to affect a teenage voice then forget to turn it back to 0 for two weeks. Your trailer work will not sound quite so impressive. 

Next week I'll tell you what I like and don't like about the Universal Audio LA-610. Good times.







My Voiceover Equipment Setup

I'm often asked about my audio setup, especially after Meanwhile, at the Skull Base dropped on Tuesday (by the way, Meanwhile, at the Skull Base dropped on Tuesday!). So today I figured I'd talk about gear for a bit. It's one of my favorite things to do.

Baltimore Radio Play Podcast about Super Villains

Get this in your earholes, via





Firstly, and probably most importantly, my mic is an Audio Technica 4040. Not the greatest mic in the world, but it's an affordable wide condenser with a 75 hz rolloff and a nice, flat response. So it gets rid of the low band energy and doesn't make any bumps in mid or top range, which makes it easy to sweeten without too much corrective EQ. Good times.

Next, that runs into one of a pair of API VP 26 preamps (which you can have custom built for you by the incomparable Michael Zucker). These are class-A preamps, so they're super clean, lots of headroom, and sound great without adding too much color. In fact, I have a red and a blue one for different, albeit subtle, levels of aggressiveness. Great for guitars too.

Next, we have the Apogee AD8000 that I picked up for a song at the Nice Package Recording Studio (a song being several monies) during their renovation. This AD/DA (Analog/Digital and vice versa) converter is a powerhouse. It sounds fantastic and I've never had a single issue with it.

Finally, we run into my Lynx AES16 sound card, which gives me sixteen channels of audio. The Lynx was recommended to me, so I got it. That's the end of that.

On the PC side, I custom built a tower that runs Cubase 7 artist, mostly because Pro Tools is too damned expensive and it limits what kind of hardware you can use with it. I didn't have money for an Aurora converter, and I'd been using Cubase more and more over the years, so here we are.

You may notice that this sounds like overkill for voiceover. It is. I also record my band, so it was important to me to have versatility and options for expansion down the road. If I had the space, I could probably record an entire band with this setup. You don't need all this. A simple (but decent) mobile preamp with a USB out, a solid mic, and a laptop are all you really need. But where's the fun in that?

Oh, be sure to use decent cables too. A Mogami sounds a hell of a lot better than some kinky, no name cable from Radio Shack. Definitely worth the investment. Mike Z can build those for you too. He's a handy fellow.

For audio sweetening, I use a handful of plugins for EQ, compression, mastering, delay, reverb, and any other effects I may need. More on those later.