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Portable Voice-Over Studio - What You Need to Know


By Alex Harris-MacDuff | 11th September 2019

We're going awol with portable voice-over studios. Strap yourselves in.

Howdy folks, Alex here. It's that time again – time for a haranguing article about audio stuff.

We record most voice-over projects in the comfort of our own homes without needing to spend up to USD 20,000 building a professional recording studio

So, if you can affordably record from home, indeed, recording on the move should be possible too. Yes! 

Nobody expects you to dismantle and transport your recording booth, whether it's a DIY homemade acoustic booth or an off the shelf professional isolation booth. 

However, there are plenty of other options to record while you are away from home, whether you're on holiday in a hotel room, staying with family or any of the other reasons ordinary people leave their homes from time to time.

 

The Tech

Whether or not you need any extra audio equipment for a portable voice-over studio depends on what you already have in your typical setup. 

However, you will need all the same parts. 

If you plan to travel a lot, then it could influence what equipment you decide to get. In short, you will still need:

If you're travelling, you'll need portable versions of each of these. Are you getting a flight or a train? In which case you need to be able to fit everything in your suitcase comfortably. You wouldn't fancy lugging around a gigantic Pro-Tools HDX interface plus a mixing desk, would you?

 

Microphone 

Any condenser microphone is portable; they're not that big. But do you want to risk an expensive Neumann U87 being confiscated by security? Or your bag getting lost? Or battered around in the hold so much that something breaks? I know I wouldn't! 

It would be less risky to use a low-to-mid priced microphone, such as the RØDE NT1-A, for travel. Keep your expensive gear at home! 

Many people will already have a more affordable microphone brand in the, so if that's you, you can take this part of your standard setup to travel. 

 

The Rode NT1-A is the perfect microphone for a portable voice-over studio

 

Another option for travelling is a shotgun mic, like the Sennheiser MKH 416. These microphones have hypercardioid polar responses, which means they only pick up audio directly in front of them within a very narrow range. The limited coverage is ideal for minimising background noise in a non-optimal environment, like a hotel room. 

Shotgun mics are primarily for recording on film sets, but they are suitable for VO too. 

NOTE: I recommend you avoid USB microphones at all costs. 

While it may be easy for portability since you can forgo the need for an interface altogether, getting a USB microphone will usually compromise quality. USB microphones will increase background noise on your recordings and are less sensitive in picking up quiet vocal performances.

 

 

The Sennheiser MKH 416-P48 microphone is perfect for travel. 

 

Interface

As with microphones, audio interfaces with 1 or 2 mic ports are generally all portable too.

A single-track Behringer U-Phoria interface has more than enough inputs for voice-over and is tiny enough to fit in a coat pocket. I wouldn't recommend recording in a coat, though. It'll be too rustly. 

 

The Behringer U-Phoria Studio recording bundle represents excellent value and is highly portable.

  

However, if you have something more substantial in your home studios, such as a Pro-Tools HDX interface, or a 500 series Lunchbox with a load of fancy analogue pre-amps, you will probably not want to be packing that all up and taking it with you.

It takes a lot of time to install and cable up more significant bits of equipment, so you'll want something light and small for travel. 

Sticking to a one or two-track USB interface is wise. 

 

Headphones

Next, we have the headphones. Most of you will take headphones with you while you are travelling anyway. I can't imagine how bored I would be on a flight without them. 

However, easily portable earphones like Apple EarPods are unsuitable for listening back to voice-over. I go into more detail about this in my best headphones for voice-over article.

Cardinal rule:  avoid all earphones, noise-cancelling headphones, and wireless headphones

In the interests of portability and the inevitably temporary nature of any travelling setup, it is acceptable to use some of these headphones if that is all you can take. I would always recommend using decent over-ear headphones.

My recommendation is the Sennheiser HD 25 Lite headphones for everything, including listening to music while travelling. 

 

I love my Sennheiser HD 25 Lite headphones and will wear them anywhere.

 

Laptop & Software

Now. Finally, the computer. Arguably the most complicated purchasing decision you will have to make. Some of it comes down to your choice of audio recording software. But there is one key thing to consider if you want to travel: portability. 

I would always recommend getting a Mac over a PC for audio recording and editing purposes, for various complex reasons outlined in my separate article dedicated to the topic. Still, you have also to consider which type of computer to get. 

For single-track audio recording for VO, an average, low-priced PC laptop will be perfectly suitable. 

Even the cheapest Macbook will be considerably more expensive. 

Check the price of Apple Mac's on Amazon >

However, it gives you reliability and scalability that a cheap PC laptop would not. Suppose you are planning on travelling a lot. In that case, you need to be agile in your recording setup (this could also apply to impermanent home setups if you need to dismantle your studio between recordings, for example). 

It would be best to get a laptop even if a desktop provides more power, typically for the exact cost. There are other options, such as the Zoom H6, which is a portable recorder. However, these are costly to the extent that it's better to get a cheap PC laptop and a free DAW like Audacity or Pro-Tools first. 

Audio recorders also don't have audio editing capabilities, so you'll still need a computer anyway! 

 

You can't beat the portability of a laptop, like this MacBook Pro. Invest in a quality machine, and it will last years.

 

Quick Recap

You need:

  • a decent, but not super pricey microphone (along with a small portable mic stand and pop shield, as usual)
  • a 1 or 2 track audio interface
  • a decent set of headphones (preferably), or at least earphones
  • a laptop (preferably a MacBook)

But what about the recording environment? Well, I’m glad you asked. 

 

The Recording Environment

You may be thinking, "how can a recording environment be portable"? Well, that's not an entirely unreasonable thing to believe, but it's really beside the point. Of course, you can't transport a recording environment. That'd be ridiculous. The fact is: it is possible to create a decent recording environment wherever you may find yourself, and there's a few things you need to consider to achieve this. 

First up: location. If you're on holiday, you need to find somewhere quiet to record, and this may be tricky if you're on the ground floor in a hotel room. 

Try and find the most tranquil bit—even if it may be the bathroom! Shut the windows, and do your best. If it is impossible to find a quiet environment wherever you are, whether it's in your hotel room or somewhere else, then sorry to break it to you, but you cannot record there. 

Never accept a job saying you can record without checking the suitability of the location first.

 

 

Once you've sorted out your site, you need to consider the acoustic treatment and sound quality. 

Naturally, you won't have as much control over it as you would in your professional home studio, but the principles of acoustic treatment basics still apply. 

Some basic sound absorption from duvets and pillows will work perfectly well. The old reliable sE Electronics RF-X will often be good enough if you're in a room that's not too reverberant. Remember that the gap at the top and the bottom of these filters still leaves room for some reflections. 

If you're in the bathroom, for example, because it's the most isolated area of the house or hotel room, the tiles can cause unpleasant reflections.

 

 

Hanging a duvet over your head, keeping very still, and taking regular breaks if you get too hot, can be a viable recording practice.

Hanging a large-diaphragm condenser microphone upside down, over the top of something like the SE Reflexion Filter, can reduce the ceiling reflections and mean you only need a rug or carpet underfoot.

This works because the microphone's body absorbs many reflections before it gets to the diaphragm, which picks up the audio. 

The video linked below shows how this works.

 

 

The other vital thing to consider is good microphone technique which underlies everything about capturing quality vocal recordings. 

If you are in an unfamiliar environment, watch your distance from the mic more carefully. Some voice actors have suggested recording in their car as an ad-hoc environment. While the sound quality (more on that below) of a vehicle may be alright, due to its lack of flat, reflective interior surfaces, there's no space to stand up, and your equipment will all be close together. And where will power come from? You'll have to rely on your laptop battery. Your laptop will also have to be in the car with you, and the fan will inevitably be vociferous. There's no point in having an environment that blocks all outside noise if there's noise inside it. 

Your microphone technique will also suffer as a result of being unable to stand. You can't open your diaphragm the same as when standing.

For this reason, I don't recommend recording in a car, but a big truck or bus might be ok!

 

Environment Summary

So when using a portable studio, you need to consider the space.

You need:

  • a quiet location in the room/building
  • acoustic treatment of some sort (get creative!)
  • your best microphone technique

If you follow these points when recording remotely, then you can do it cheaply and effectively with much of the same equipment you'd use in your home studio! 

 

What's the point of a portable studio?

Being available to record whilst on holiday or visiting family or friends will increase your chances of landing lucrative voice-over jobs. We've spoken to voices who've travelled the world whilst still winning commercials, video game roles and more.

For this reason, creating a travel VO kit with portability in mind is strongly recommended.

 


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Alex Harris-MacDuff

Alex Harris-MacDuff

Some people say rock ‘n’ roll is a matter of life and death. I can assure you, it’s much more important than that.

About Author

Alex Harris-MacDuff

Alex Harris-MacDuff

Some people say rock ‘n’ roll is a matter of life and death. I can assure you, it’s much more important than that.






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