a solid foundation – equipment

I’m an analytical kind of guy. When I want to learn about something new (building a new PC, buying a car, learning a new programming language), I spend a LOT of time reading and researching. This discovery phase can be a lot of fun. Enthusiasm is high, and every search yields good results because I don’t know ANYTHING yet.

So a few years ago, when I started to learn about narration, voiceover, and recording, I was thrilled by the amount of information available. At first. Considering how much of the craft is subjective, it’s not easy to find a consensus among the myriad opinions on every aspect of it. Especially when it comes to equipment.

The first mic I bought, a Samson C01U USB mic, was the result of impatience and indecision. I had read so much about starter microphones, and it seemed like everyone suggested something different. Samson had been mentioned a time or two, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to shell out for a high quality XLR mic and interface. So when I saw a good discount on a kit with a spider mount, I jumped on it. Like a cheap “gift set” of homeowner’s tools, it did the job, but barely. It was enough to record my first book, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which I chose as a learning project.

What I learned is that I should have just saved that money, and invested in a better set of tools. The mic produced a lot of background hiss, which in turn made me learn how to use noise reduction. Even after that, it just didn’t sound good enough. After 7 or so hours finished audio, and countless more recording, re-recording, editing, and learning, it frustrated me to have a finished product that didn’t sound great.

So, lots more reading, lots more research. After much deliberation and overthinking, I finally decided on the RØDE NT1A, and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface, both recommended in a blog post by ACX. I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer for my bank account, and clicked that order button. And I was amazed by the difference a few hundred dollars made.

At first I was dismayed to hear a steady hiss in the raw audio. But applying a quick pass of noise reduction changed everything. Suddenly the recording was rich and bassy and sounded clearer than I’ve ever heard myself. This is the sound I’d been looking for.

I was afraid to spend the money at first, because it’s not a small amount. I also hadn’t convinced myself that voice work was something I would actually spend the time and energy to pursue. But I was only holding myself back by investing in poor quality equipment.

I realize that there are better and more expensive microphones on the market, and that some of them are still a further exponential improvement over the NT1A. But for my current needs, the part-time voiceover artist and narrator, I feel like it’s a perfect balance of cost and quality. The mic and interface have served me flawlessly for two years now.

Job done, or job done well? Tools can make the difference.

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