Alex here, your trusty Voquent audio engineer.
I will discuss the operating systems and software requirements for setting up a professional home recording studio for voice-over recording and post-production.
I'll also be picking out the top operating systems and editing software for your budget. There are only two operating systems to consider, and there is a reasonably basic comparator between them when it comes to audio, so that section should be brief. So far, so good.
However, there are dozens of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations – another acronym for audio editing software), and I have certainly not used all of them for enough time to provide an objective or balanced review of the features of each.
Here is the list of just the 'notable' DAWs from the ever-trusty Wikipedia:
- Ableton Live
- Adobe Audition
- Logic Pro
- Pro Tools
- Sound Forge
- Studio One
There are countless more I have not included in this list since it would be unbelievably long.
Many of the above listed DAWs are geared towards music composition (Ableton, Renoise, Garageband) or mixing (Pro-Tools, Cubase, Reaper), but they all have basic audio editing functionality. And only the most basic editing features are needed for voice-over since you will very likely only be editing in a single track at a time.
There are also additional bits of software that go inside DAWs, called plug-ins, that can be useful. Izotope RX is the most relevant plug-in for voice-over and features an entire suite of noise reduction plug-ins. Other noise reductions/audio treatment options are available, but I will go into more detail for these later. Izotope doesn't work with every single DAW, so it is worth considering this before you buy. First things first, though: to even use a DAW, you need a computer, and that computer needs to have an operating system. So which do you choose?
Mac OS or Windows?
If you want to build a PC yourself and run Linux on it, then be my guest, but you probably know a lot more about computers than I do.
I will aim to avoid the old Apple vs Microsoft/Mac vs PC debates. That’s not the topic of this article. Inevitably, everyone will have a preference, and several people will have a tribal alliance. Wars are raging over this topic, and I will attempt to be Switzerland in this decades-long conflict.
Despite my heroic attempt at diplomacy, it is essential to note the differences between them. One particular distinction that bears relevance to your selection for a voice-over editing/recording set-up is the audio drivers:
These drivers are vital for using the vast majority of the DAWs listed above, with the only one it DOESN'T work with (that I am aware of) being Audacity, which is free and thus slightly more limited than the other options. The critical difference between Core Audio and ASIO is this:
Core Audio is a fundamental part of the Mac operating system, while ASIO is an entirely separate driver made by a developer that is nothing to do with Microsoft or Windows.
These drivers are independent of any software drivers required to run any attached hardware (such as a USB interface or pre-amp). These audio drivers are exclusively used to communicate between the operating system and the sound processing/sound card built into your computer.
ASIO works perfectly well. Mostly. However, with Core Audio built into Mac OS and optimized for the specific Mac hardware in Apple computers, it has a significant advantage.
In my personal experience, using Pro-Tools on a PC crashes a lot more often than it does on a Mac.
Suppose you visualize the signal chain of the audio. In that case, an extra step independent of the operating system, which could cause any number of other errors, is added to a PC signal. Furthermore, Audacity does not even work with the ASIO driver due to some complicated licensing issues. This incompatibility's effect is that you cannot use some external interfaces, which are essential for operating an XLR microphone alongside Audacity if you run it on a PC.
Suppose you are seeking to cut costs by avoiding paying for a DAW. In that case, it may counter-intuitively end up cheaper to buy a Mac (which is generally more expensive) and run Audacity on it than a more affordable PC running Pro-Tools.
However, as I will elucidate later, I would not necessarily recommend sticking with Audacity – there are other better cheap/free options.
Pictured: Audacity in all its glory.
So, Audacity does not work with the Windows ASIO driver, but Audacity works with some PC interfaces using a different audio driver, called WASAPI.
Not every interface will work with WASAPI, so it is essential to check that this is the case before buying an interface if you plan on sticking with Audacity. This difference between the audio drivers of each operating system uses vital to consider when you are looking into buying a computer for your voice-over set-up.
If you are planning on using, for example, a USB microphone, plugging your studio headphones straight into the headphone port of the computer, and using, say, Adobe Audition, and running it all on a PC—then ASIO will be a requirement. Due to it being a third-party piece of software, this could well cause some latency in the signal chain and increase the risk of a crash during a critical edit or recording session. In my experience, alongside most other professional recording/mixing engineers, Core Audio is generally more reliable for recording and editing. Still, it does ultimately end up a bit more expensive having to buy a Mac. I’m sure there are many of you reading this who have successfully used a PC for professional voice-over work for years and never had a crash. Great! You have been fortunate, but this has not been my personal experience.
Core Audio being an inherent part of the Mac OS makes it much more reliable than ASIO or WASAPI for professional audio purposes.
Video playback for ADR
One other thing to consider is how often you will likely need to record your voice alongside a video, synced to a film, animations and more.
Time-synced recording can come up frequently in VO projects and sometimes go as far as being full-on ADR.
Suppose you are planning on a long, varied and wide-ranging career, covering everything from corporate to animations, cartoons, TV, and everything in between. In that case, it is worth considering getting a DAW that can handle video playback.
Each DAW listed below will contain a simple summary of whether they support integrated video playback.
So, you’ve now realized it’s a lot more complicated deciding which computer to get for voice-over recording than you initially thought. I’m sure you’re thrilled about it. Now you have to make the more complicated decision: which audio editing software should I use?
As mentioned above, there is an almost infinite number of DAWs available. I haven’t referred to all or even most of them here. The intention here is to outline some of the most commonly used DAWs for music and audio editing and talk about a few of their core features and functions for voice-over. Of course, I also talk about the price.
Price = FREE
The cheapest option. Obviously. It’s free. The only way it could be any cheaper is if they gave you money to download it. Audacity is one of the most basic audio editors available. It comes with most of the tools needed for simple dialogue editing (volume automation, fades in & out, EQ, and, obviously, a ‘cut’ tool).
Suppose you are on a very tight budget and need to quickly and basically tidy up your recorded voice (by reducing breath sounds, removing mouth clicks and other unpleasant noises, reducing sibilance etc.). In that case, Audacity is perfectly good for the job. However, it is not necessarily compatible with most professional recording set-ups. As mentioned above, it will not work at all with an external interface on a PC. As such, it is tricky to record professional audio in Audacity unless you have a Mac. Also, cutting out bits of audio and moving it around is problematic in Audacity. There are fewer shortcuts usable for the tools (fades etc.) than other DAWs, making it slightly more challenging to use.
While Audacity is very good, especially considering it is free. It is worth paying for a professional DAW that works smoothly with major operating systems and has some time-saving features.
Audacity also does NOT support video playback.
Price = £69 GBP
In the words of Voquent talent manager Andy Langfield, Ableton Live is the “industry-leading DAW for Electronic music”.
He’s not wrong.
Ableton does support standard audio editing functions, but it is not necessarily intuitive. The DAW being primarily for electronic music creation means it lacks some features and is not optimized for editing dialogue.
Andy says, “it can sometimes warp and time-stretch the audio without you meaning it to, or it does some destructive edit, and you lose your audio”.
If you already have Ableton, then you can use it for any voice-over recording work. However, I would not necessarily recommend it if you are looking to buy a DAW for the first time.
Ableton Live 10 supports video playback.
Price = £238.42 ($239.88 / €285.37) per year (prices can vary monthly)
Adobe Audition has a built-in spectrum analyser and noise reduction software, which can help tidy up VO projects. I have never used Adobe Audition. However, I have known many video editors and voice-over talents who swear by it.
Professional voice actor Paul Schmidt says: “It's more than robust enough for VO”.
Others reference the significant number of features, integration with the Adobe Cloud, and the included noise reduction functions, which are almost as good as the professional plug-ins made by Izotope that I referred to before.
Radio host, podcaster and producer John Hammer says: “It's rock-solid stable, sounds great, and does everything I need for VO and mid-weight producing”
Adobe Audition is quite expensive and exclusively works on a subscription basis, so it is only worth getting if you are serious about voice-over jobs. However, you are getting a lot of bang for your buck.
at investment. However, you are getting a lot of bang for your buck, and a lot of voice artists use it.
Adobe Audition supports video playback.
Price = £85 ($87 / €85) for Elements
Price = £480 ($360 / €537) for Full Version
Cubase Elements is the basic version of Cubase and is mainly suitable for voice projects. However, it does feature similar audio editing functionality to most other DAWs. It had the function of clip-based gain (which is the term for adjusting the volume of parts of the audio file internally, independent of the overall volume of the whole file) years before Pro-Tools, the alleged ‘industry standard’, did. That particular feature is invaluable for finely editing audio. Not many voice actors replied to our ad hoc online survey saying they used Cubase since it is quite an old piece of software, although it still receives updates. Voice actor Sarah Jane Rose was one of the few to let us know that she still used it. With many DAWs that can be very similar, the only significant factor influencing your decision is price and personal preference! Most people get one DAW and stick with it throughout the years since it is challenging to re-learn a new one after many years of practice.
Cubase does support video playback.
Price = FREE (Mac only)
Pictured: a garage band, not Garageband.
If you have an Apple Mac, then you will already have Garageband. Neat! It has very similar functions to most other DAWs in audio editing and recording, with the only real difference coming from the multi-track recording/mixing and musical effects side of things. However, from personal experience, editing an audio file is quite fiddly. It can lead to some strange digital audio artefacts when exporting audio, which usually only come from a lossy compression algorithm (i.e. converting from WAV to MP3). It also ONLY EXPORTS IN STEREO, which is a bit tedious, but not the end of the world.
If you do plan on getting a Mac anyway, then it coming with free software that is easier to use and easier to set up with an interface is a huge advantage.
Garageband does support video playback.
Price = £199 ($199.99/€229.99) – Mac only
Logic is the “fancy” version of Garageband, much like how Nuendo (see below) is the fancy version of Cubase. From voice-over recording and even complex ADR to sync projects, the functions are very similar. The editing tools in Logic have advanced options which you can optionally enable.
With these turned off, the editing features are the same as Garageband. The primary reason to buy Logic Pro X, when Garageband comes free, is for the ENORMOUS amount of free samples, loops, software instruments and plug-ins that come with Logic.
Logic is more aimed at music creation.
Voice actor and former musician Brandon Henning says: “I’m on Logic Pro X. Basically started as a musician, then voice acting sorta just came outta nowhere. I am comfortable with Logic so I just keep on using it “.
This raises an important point.
When choosing a DAW, one of the most important things is going for whichever one you are most comfortable using. If you have experience using a particular piece of software in the past, then you will probably be better off sticking with the updated version in your voice-over career. Sessions, where the client is participating live, are typically reasonably swiftly moving affairs, so ensuring you know your way around the DAW and not encountering any technical problems during the session is vital.
Logic Pro X does support video playback.
Price = £1,615 ($1,900 / €1,689)
Created by the same people who make Cubase (Steinberg), Nuendo's audio engine is identical to Cubase. However, there are numerous features unique to Nuendo optimized for film & TV post-production, which is slight overkill for voice-over recording.
For example, there are features optimizing video editing, game audio, and copious pre-sets and plug-ins related to editing dialogue and sound effects for broadcast.
If you plan to set up a full-on studio that you hope to use to record lots of voices and provide finished mixes directly for broadcast, or even sound effects & dialogue for video games, then Nuendo is a good bet.
Before doing this, there are other things to consider; since Nuendo is quite pricey, it is not necessarily a good 'entry level' DAW and represents a significant investment.
Nuendo clearly supports video playback.
Price = from FREE to £298.80 ($299 / €334.80) per year to £1,006.80 ($999 / €1,114.80) per year
I like to call it 'old reliable'.
I left this section until the end because I was unsure what to write. I use Pro-Tools all the time for editing the audio that is sent in after a project here at Voquent.
It is much easier to remove noise, fade in and fade out, and finely edit the internal gain level of each file without resorting to any largely unnecessary overall compression.
I love it.
But, it crashes all the time on PC due to the difference mentioned above between ASIO and Core Audio. And this can sometimes happen in the middle of a recording session, although it is rare if it's correctly set up. Every DAW comes with a certain amount of risk, but Pro-Tools is a very comprehensive piece of software. Voice artist Kerry Hutchinson says: “Pro Tools full. Maybe overkill for my mono single channel voiceover needs.”
So the trade-off of crashing risk vs features is not necessarily the most balanced for voice-over purposes. There are three main versions for Pro-Tools, the two paid ones being paid yearly, much like Adobe Audition.
Pro-Tools & Pro-Tools|Ultimate DO support video playback.
Price = $60 (unless you earn over $20,000 a year as a professional using REAPER, then it is $225. Download only, so exchange rate determines the price in other currencies)
Full disclosure: I have never used REAPER. However, it is one of the most popular DAW's among voice talents based on our very unscientific survey on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Musician and voice actor Joshua Du Chene says it best: “I use Reaper for all session recording, editing, and mixing, whether it's VO, vocals, guitar, etc. It's snappy and very customizable, plus the licence is super cheap, and the community is excellent. You can also easily set up your macros and key commands from numerous tutorials – my favourite one for VO automatically trims silence between takes and fades the beginning and end of each cut. That one macro alone has saved me countless hours of editing. It's also effortless to set up batch exports with auto naming. If you're doing VO for anything more than just casual personal usage, it's worth taking an hour or two to learn the basics and set up your customizations. Good systems pay dividends in time and energy saved in the long run.“
So the short version is: it is endlessly customizable and excellently affordable! I have to say; I am tempted to try it myself now, having read that!
Voice actor Lance Blair is similarly enamoured with it, saying: “REAPER. One time purchase $225. You can edit the video with it. Customizable commands. Comes with great effects. Spectral peak rainbow waveforms. Works with @SourceElements like all the top DAWs. Non-destructive editing. If I make a bad cut I can fix it later. Punch & Roll.”
Yep, its comprehensive features and affordability make it a top choice for our voice actors.
REAPER does support video playback, and even supports video editing to a limited extent.
Price = $75 – $299 (Download only, so exchange rate determines the price in other currencies)
Renoise is entirely unlike any other DAW. I have no idea what is going on in this picture. Both Reason and Renoise are, like Ableton, specifically music software.
Reason is pretty pricey ($299 to download exclusively, the exchange rate is the only factor influencing the price in your currency, whether pound, euros, or yen), but its audio editing window is not the best. Much of the view is taken up with MIDI (music information) and effects views, which can be tricky when finely editing a waveform to remove a minuscule click from within your voice.
Renoise (€68/$75, price in pounds depends on the exchange rate) also has a unique, complex ''top-down'' view, entirely unlike any other DAW I've seen—optimised explicitly for music production, it's best to avoid Renoise as well. However, if you already have both of these DAWs for any reason, you can still use them to record voice-over; it is just slightly more challenging.
Reason & Renoise do not support video playback.
Price = £49.99 ($59.99 / €59.99)
Sound Forge, or as I like to call it, 'fancy Audacity'. I must confess to never having used Sound Forge either. However, our experienced Voquent Talent Manager, Andy Langfield, used it in the company's early days to edit many of the voice samples on the site! I asked him for some notes, and he sent me the following:
- It is an industry-leading audio editor
- Can also record, but not multi-track
- Very efficient editing tools
- User-configurable shortcuts
- Can set up processes and effect chains that can be recalled and applied quickly from a drop-down menu
- Great for saving time on commonly repeated processes. For example, normalisation, EQ low-end roll-off at 30Hz, limiter set to -3db, de-esser, compression.
- Batch editing, treat several individual files with the same processes for EQ, Compression, limiter
- Renaming batches of files using XML spreadsheet
- Convert files to a different file format whilst maintaining folder structure
Sound Forge is very much a “quick” audio editor, with the basic version only supporting a single track of audio at a time. It is best for small, swiftly moving projects. Think of it as a more comprehensive version of Audacity. It's great for beginners and people who regularly do short projects. It has plenty of features and even supports video files!
Sound Forge (all versions) does support video playback.
Price = £85 / $99.95 / €89) and Studio ONE Professional (£344.40 / $399.95 / €389)
An ideal choice for a beginner, with the DAW coming free with the PreSonus AudioBox iOne interface. Again, here is a piece of software I’ve never used, so I can’t provide much commentary on its features and usability.
There are differences between the Artist and Professional versions, just like there are between the different levels of Pro-Tools. For more detail, check their website. The most crucial difference is that the Artist version, like Pro-Tools|First, DOES NOT support video playback. The difference being, Pro-Tools|First is free, and Studio ONE Artist costs money. Not that much, it’s true. But still.
Studio ONE ARTIST does NOT support video playback.
Studio ONE Professional does support video playback.
So, what's the top DAW for voice-over?
In summary, there are several things to consider when buying a DAW, but the main three are:
- Does it support video playback if I need it?
- Will I easily be able to use it in a time-constrained session?
- Does it run on my computer?
If you bear these things in mind and make sure you carefully read the specifications before you buy something, it'll be plain sailing!
Here's my roundup of the top DAW's depending on your budget:
|Best value||Sound Forge||£49.99 / $59.99 / €59.99|
|My personal favourite||Pro-Tools||£298.80 / $299 / €334.80|
|Money is no object (reassuringly expensive)||Nuendo||£1,615 / $1,900 / €1,689|
There are dozens more DAWs to choose from (check Amazon), and no doubt I have missed off someone's go-to.
Feel free to contact us on Twitter if you think we've missed your personal favourite, and we'll take a look!
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