Category Archives: Studio Gear

A Check List For Traveling Voice Actors

Like many voice over folks, I have my “traveling voice-over rig.”  Besides the Sennheiser 416,  MicPort Pro, cables, collapsible booth and all,  I have the Source Connect software on the laptop.

Source Connect allows you to connect to another studio that also has the software or to a bridging service that facilitates a hookup to an ISDN equipped studio, all via the Internet tubes.

But here’s the problem. The Internet speed needs to be fast and steady.  Firewalls can be an issue.  All of which is pretty easy to deal with at home, but when traveling, one is often at the mercy of whatever flavor of Internet connection provided by the hotel, (or the WiFi at Aunt Molly’s.)

George Whittam of El Dorado Recording (now VOStudiotech) has a great blog post that provides a check list for the traveling voice actor who uses Source Connect.  George provides bridging services between SC and ISDN and knows first hand the problems you can run in to.

Thanks George, for some really useful information.

New Music Director for Musicam?

Musicam Prima LT ISDN codec

Musicam Prima LT ISDN codec

I’ve got a Musicam Prima LT for my ISDN sessions. Sure, it’s entry level but it talks to most of the other boxes out there. (“hardware codecs” for the inner geek.)

A cool feature is that you can compel the purple box to connect with the mother ship in New Jersey to make sure your long distance service is working and test various dial-up protocols the remote studio may need for a session. Quick and painless hook-up equals happy clients.

It use to be that once the ISDN connection with Musicam was complete, some sort of “smooth jazz” would spill out of my studio monitors. To me, that genre made sense, what with a greater dynamic range and low passages in the music that would tell of quiet lines.

But lately I’ve been getting Country, Hip Hop, Hispanic, you name it. It’s loud, compressed, energetic but not useful.

Dear Musicam. When I dial up the test lines I want to hear and judge the quality of the audio coming through the ISDN network, not listen to Kiss-FM. Thank you.

Can a Sennheiser MKH 416 Bring Down a Plane?

Sennheiser 416That’s what the TSA at the little airport in Roswell, New Mexico wanted to know.  I guess it looked like a pipe bomb to them.

I was returning from few wonderful days in the nearby mountain village of Ruidoso, having met up with the wife’s family, and had brought along the traveling voice-over rig.  The Sennheiser 416 was in the carry-on bag.  It went through the X-ray machine and caused a bit of a stir.  I was pulled aside and asked to explain.  Fearing this might happen, I had it in the original case with the windscreen and paperwork which included a photo of it with cable attached.

“It’s a microphone,” I told Miss TSA lady. “See, there’s a picture of it.”

“’s a microphone,” she shouted down the table to her fellow inspectors.

“Ahh, a microphone,” they grunted. “We didn’t know what it was…OK.”

Funny thing is when we flew out of DFW, the TSA didn’t bat an eye.  Either they had seen shotgun mics before, or they didn’t care.

And yes, it’s THAT Roswell. Alien crash landing  museums, Big Bob’s Flying Saucer Burgers and all that.  Maybe I should paint the 416 green. Nah.

“Oh ISDN, You Left Me Just When I Needed You Most”

Since I don’t have promo or imaging clients the ISDN in the home studio gets sporadic use. Those ISDN sessions I do have usually come with a nice stack of US dollars which more than pays for having that tool in the studio. Sometimes much more. So it stays.

Big girls only cry when the ISDN goes down.

Big girls only cry when the ISDN goes down.

But I learned a lesson the hard way a couple of Mondays ago that like any other tool in the shed, you should crank it up once in awhile and drive it around the block to make sure it’s going to run when you need it.

I had an ISDN booking Monday July 6th, one P.M. Central. I went into the studio Sunday afternoon late to make sure everything was working. It wasn’t. The message from the codec was “ISDN Down.” Oh crap. Get on the phone to customer service.

The phone company had a guy out Monday morning at 9:00 with 20 pounds of tools and meters and testing thingys clinging and clanging off his giant leather belt all of which told him nothing we didn’t already know. The ISDN circuit was down. Swell.

The happy news is that I’m in a market with a lot of ISDN studios and I was able to book one for the right time, get myself over there and call the remote studio with the new dial-ups. The session went quickly and the client was happy. Yay.

By the time I got home  the phone guy, with help from his fellow telephony wizards, had found a bad network card on my circuit. They replaced it and my ISDN is yapping again.

So now I’m checking the ISDN circuit with greater regularity. I’ve set up a speed dial entry that uses one line to call the other and I can hear myself back on the loop. The codec manufacturer has music loops you can dial up to make sure the long distance service is good.

It’s like starting up that extra vehicle now and then to make sure it still runs.  Best to know in advance if there’s going to be a problem.

Using Source Connect with Pro Tools

George Whittam of El Dorado Recording Services has produced a most excellent video tutorial for voice actors who use Pro Tools and need help setting up a Source Connect session.

You can also find session templates and written guides on the Source-Elements website, but I found that George’s video takes you through the steps quickly with less heavy lifting . Thanks George!

We’re Liking the MicPort Pro

When working out of your private studio, you want noise in your session files like you want geese in your jet engines.  Delivering consistently noisy voice over tracks can bring down a career.

The acoustics of my room are pretty good.  Room within a room with thick walls, dead space between them, double doors, non-parallel walls, plenty of studio foam and all that.

I picked the Prima LT for ISDN because it has no fan (noise).  The computer is a MacBook that sits  in a wooden box within a box and is as quiet as an  AIG executive with a million dollar bonus check.  The pick up pattern of the Sennheiser 416 short shotgun mic is a big help in keeping out noise from the environment.  So the last thing I wanted was noise from my electronics.  And that’s what I was getting from the mic pre-amp section of my M-Audio Mobile Pre USB.

I get around that by using different mic pre-amp and patch it into the line in/out section of the Mobile Pre.  That half of the box is pretty quiet.  The mic pre-amps, not so much. Audible hiss.

So needing a USB pre-amp when I travel, and after reading some good reviews, I ponied up for a CEntrance MicPort Pro.

Photo of MicPort Pro

Photo of MicPort Pro

It is much quieter than the pre-amp section the Mobil Pre.

Take a listen for yourself:


The link is a high res mp3 file (oxymoron alert).  The first half was recorded with the Mobile Pre USB pre-amps.  The second half was recorded via the MicPort Pro.  I think you can hear the difference.  If you open the file in your audio editor you can see the difference in the wave form.

The last time I was in Guitar Center, the kid said a new generation of the M-Audio Mobile Pre was on the way and it would be quieter. Then a piece of metal fell out of his face and I left.

The Bridge to Somewhere

What a pleasant surprise. The other day I was perched on my studio stool watching my Prima LT ISDN box light up with connection indicators, when who in my wondering ears should appear, but Dave Immer.  Mr. ISDN himself.

I was doing a voice over session for BBDO Detroit and hooking up with Ringside Creative who uses Apt-X as their ISDN codec. These two boxes don’t talk to each other and that is where Dave comes in.

Dave has a company called Digifon.  One of the his many services is providing a “bridge” between incompatible ISDN codecs and IP schemes like Source Connect.  Ringside connected with Digifon then Digifon called my box and Dave popped open a mic just to let me know what was going on.

If you are a voice actor wondering about this ISDN thing,  Dave has a website is a go-to source for information. And a very melodious voice.

Sennheiser 416 Microphone

I’ve actually had the Sennheiser 416 short shotgun microphone in the home studio for about a month now. I recorded a couple of political spots with it in late October. And yeah, I like it. At least for commercials and promos.

It has an upfront “in your face” sound to it that seems to adds some crispness and presence to my voice.  And this is with an absolutely flat dry audio chain. No other processing or EQ is needed, which is why a lot of studio engineers like it.

I still need to experiment with it some as to microphone placement.  A common positioning is to have the shotgun tube in front (duh) and above the talent and pointing down so the tip is on axis with the upper lip.  Distance is a matter of how loud the voice is, I think.

I’ve never had one of those big booming voices, never been a “loud talker” and take the “less is more” approach anyway on most projects.  When I’m at an outside studio I can usually tell if some radio guy has been the last talent before my turn.  The engineer has to bring the microphone back in much closer for me.

So I’ll be playing with the new 416 to find the “sweet spot”, just how big that spot may be (not very) and a good distance for the particular read I’ll be doing.

My other microphones include Beyer-Dynamic ribbons which have a very warm sound and an Oktavamod from Michael Joly which I think compares very favorably with other common voiceover mics such as the  AKG C-414 or  Neumann TLM-103 for much less coin.

The very attributes of the Sennheiser 416 for commercial and promo work are what makes me think of using one of my other mics for long form projects. The question is, will narration of, say training material, recorded with the Sennheiser 416, become a little tiring on the ear ten minutes into the program? I suppose it will depend on the project and the copy. It always does.