Alex here, your trusty Voquent audio engineer. I will be talking about the operating systems and software requirements for setting up a professional home recording studio for voice over. I’ll also be picking out the top operating systems and editing software for your budget. Let’s dig in.
There are, basically, only two operating systems to consider, and there is a fairly basic comparator between them when it comes to audio, so that section should be fairly brief. So far so good. However, there are dozens of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations, another word for audio editing software), and I have certainly not used all of them for enough time to provide any sort of 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 that 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.
Only the most basic editing features are generally needed for voice over (see a future article for more detail, and information on how it can get a lot more complicated!), 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 to this trade, and features an entire suite of noise reduction plug-ins. Other noise reduction/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.
Mac OS or Windows?
There are, essentially, only two operating systems to realistically choose between: Mac OS and Windows. If you want to build a PC yourself and run Linux on it, then be my guest, but if that is your aim 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 what this is about. Inevitably, everyone will have a preference, and several people will have a tribal alliance. There are wars raging over this topic. I will attempt to be Switzerland in this conflict.
Despite this heroic attempt at diplomacy, it is important to note that there are differences between them, with one particular distinction that bears relevance to your selection for an audio editing/recording set-up.
That difference is based on the audio drivers:
These drivers are essential for using the vast majority of the DAWs listed, 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 key 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 hardware you may have attached (such as a USB interface); they are exclusively used to communicate between the operating system and the sound processing/sound card built in to your computer.
ASIO works perfectly well. Mostly. However, Core Audio being built into Mac OS, which in turn is optimized for the specific Mac hardware in Apple computers, is a significant advantage.
In my personal experience, using Pro-Tools on a PC crashes a lot more often than it does on a Mac. If you visualize the signal chain of the audio, an extra step that is independent of the operating system, which could cause any number of additional errors, is added in a PC.
Furthermore, Audacity does not work with the ASIO driver. This is due to some complicated licensing issues. The only real effect of this is that you are unable to use some external interfaces (which are essential for using an XLR microphone) alongside Audacity if you are running it on a PC. If you are looking to cut costs by avoiding paying for a DAW, then it may counter-intuitively end up cheaper to buy a Mac (which is generally more expensive) and run Audacity on it, than a cheaper PC and running Pro-Tools. However, as I will elucidate later, I would not necessarily recommend sticking with Audacity, and there are other cheap/free options.
Audacity DOES work with some interfaces on PC using a different audio driver, called WASAPI. Not every interface will work with WASAPI, so it is important to check that this is the case before buying an interface if you plan on sticking with Audacity.
Anyway. This difference between the audio drivers each operating system uses is 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 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 does increase the risk of a crash during an important edit or recording.
In my experience, alongside most other professional recording/mixing engineers, Core Audio is generally more reliable for recording and editing, but 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. Well done! You have been extremely lucky. This has not been my experience. At the end of the day, Core Audio being an inherent part of the operating system 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 video in sync. This can come up in VO projects, and can sometimes go as far as being full on ADR.
If you are planning on a long, varied and wide-ranging career, covering all things from corporate, to animations, to cartoons, to TV and everything in between, then 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 originally thought. I’m sure you’re thrilled about it. Now you have to make the EVEN MORE complicated decision: which audio editing software to use. Such fun!
As mentioned above, there are an almost infinite number of DAWs to choose from. I haven’t referred to all or even most of them here. This is not a review article. The intention here is just to outline some of the most commonly used DAWs for both music and audio editing. Outline a few of their core features and functions for voice over. And most importantly, the price.
Price = FREE
This is definitely 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 there is. It comes with most of the tools needed for a basic dialogue edit (volume automation, fades in & out, EQ, and, obviously a ‘cut’ tool). If 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.), then 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 quite difficult to actually record professional audio in Audacity, unless you have a Mac.
Also, cutting out bits of audio and moving it around is quite tricky in Audacity, and there are fewer shortcuts usable for the tools (fades etc.) as other DAWs, which makes it slightly more difficult to use in that respect.
While Audacity is very good, especially considering it is totally free, it is worth paying for a professional DAW that works smoothly with both major operating systems and has some time saving features.
Audacity does NOT support video playback.
Price = £69 (Download only, so exchange rate determines the price in other currencies)
Ableton Live, in the words of our Talent Manager Andy Langfield, is the “industry leading DAW for Electronic music”. He’s not wrong. Ableton does support basic audio editing functions, but it is not necessarily intuitive, and the DAW being primarily designed for electronic music means it has some features that are not necessarily 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”. This could obviously be a problem!
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
I must confess, I have never used Adobe Audition. However, I have known many video editors and voice artists who have used it themselves, and swear by it.
Professional voice actor Paul Schmidt says: “It’s more than robust enough for VO”.
Others reference it’s significant number of features, integration with other Adobe Suite (now Adobe Creative Cloud) software such as the video editor Premiere, and it’s very high quality 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”
Audition is quite expensive, and exclusively works on a subscription basis, a so it is definitely only worth getting if you get enough work to justify this repeat 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
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, and that particularly feature is invaluable for finely editing audio.
Not many voice actors replied to our ad hoc online survey saying that they used Cubase, since it is quite an old piece of software, although it does still receive updates. Voice actor Sarah Jane Rose was one of the few to let us know that she did still use it.
With a lot of DAWs that can be very similar to one another, often the only major factor influencing your decision is price and personal preference! Most people simply get one DAW and stick with it throughout the years, since it is very difficult to re-learn a new one after many years of practice.
Cubase does support video playback.
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Price = FREE (Mac only)
If you have an Apple Mac, then you will already have Garageband. Neat! It has very similar functions to most other DAWs in terms of audio editing and recording, with the only real difference coming from the multi-track recording/mixing and musical effects side of things.
From personal experience, however, editing an audio file is quite fiddly and can lead to some strange digital audio artifacts when exporting audio , which usually only come from a bad compression algorithm (i.e. converting from WAV to MP3).
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
From the perspective of voice over recording, and even complex ADR to sync projects, the functions are very similar. The editing tools in Logic have advanced options which can be optionally enabled. With these turned off, the editing features are exactly 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 usin it 🙂
— Brandon Henning (@BrandonHVoices) February 27, 2019
This raises an important point. One of the most important things when choosing a DAW 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 normally fairly swiftly moving affairs, so ensuring you know your way around the DAW and will not encounter any technical problems during the session is vital.
Logic Pro X does support video playback.
Price = £1,615 ($1,900 / €1,689)
Nuendo is actually made by the same people who make Cubase (Steinberg), so in terms of the audio engine powering the software, it is identical to Cubase. However, there are numerous features unique to Nuendo. These are really optimized for film & TV post-production, which is slight overkill for voice over recording. There are features optimizing it for ADR, including some moderate video editing, game audio, and copious pre-sets and plug-ins related to editing dialogue and sound effects for broadcast.
If you are planning on setting up a full-on studio that you hope to use to record yours’s and other voice actors’ voices, use to provide finished mixes directly for broadcast, or even sound effects & dialogue for video games, then Nuendo is a good bet. There are other things to consider though, before doing this, and 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
Or as I like to call it, ‘old reliable’. I must admit, I left this section until the end, because I was unsure what to write. I personally 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. This is due to the aforementioned difference between ASIO and Core Audio. This can sometimes happen in the middle of a recording session, although it is rare if it is set up properly. Basically, 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.
— Kerry Hutchinson (@Kerry_Voice) February 28, 2019
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 on a yearly subscription basis, much like Adobe Audition. There is also a completely free version, called Pro-Tools First.
Pro-Tools|First has every audio editing feature you will plausibly need for basic VO recording projects. However, it does not support video playback. The full versions of Pro-Tools do. For more comprehensive comparison details check here.
Pro-Tools|First does NOT support video playback.
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 artists based on our very unscientific survey on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Musician and voice actor Joshua Du Chene says it better than I could!
“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 great. You can also easily set up your own macros and key commands from numerous tutorials – my favorite one for VO automatically trims silence between takes and fades the beginning and ending of each cut. That one macro alone has saved me countless hours of editing. It’s also very easy to set up batch exports with auto naming. If you’re doing VO for anything more than just casual personal usage, it’s totally 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 enamored with it, saying:
REAPER. One time purchase $225. You can edit 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.
— Lance Blair (@V01C30V3R) February 28, 2019
It’s comprehensive features and affordability make it a top choice for 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)
Both Reason and Renoise are, like Ableton, specifically music software.
Reason is fairly pricey ($299 to download exclusively, the exchange rate is the only factor influencing the price in your currency, whether pound, euros, or yen), but it’s 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 miniscule click from within your voice.
Renoise (€68/$75, price in pounds depends on the exchange rate) also has a unique, difficult to describe ‘top down’ view, which is entirely unlike any other DAW I’ve seen. It is specifically optimized for music production, so it would be best to avoid as well.
However, if you already have both of these DAWs for any reason, you can still use them to record voice over, it’s just slightly harder
Reason & Renoise do not support video playback.
– Price = £49.99 ($59.99 / €59.99)
I must confess to never having used Sound Forge either. However, our reliable and robust Voquent Talent Manager, Andy Langfield, used it in the early days of the company for editing many of the voice samples on the site!
I asked him for some notes on what is good about it, 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 processes that are commonly repeated. For example: normalisation, EQ low end roll off at 30Hz, Limiter set to -3db, de-esser, compression.
- Batch editing, treat a number of 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!
There are further versions, such as Sound Forge Pro 12 (£189 / $249 / €249) which comes with the excellent noise reduction plug-in Izotope RX Elements that I mentioned previously (which is $129 by itself normally), and supports multi-track recording. This version is still affordable, and you can upgrade at a later date, so Sound Forge is a very good, cost effective choice.
Sound Forge (all versions) does support video playback.
– Price = £85 / $99.95 / €89) and Studio ONE Professional (£344.40 / $399.95 / €389)
Again, here is a piece of software I’ve never used, so I can’t provide much commentary on it’s features and usability. But it is very affordable, and the Artist version is actually included with the Pre-Sonus Audiobox iOne (£77 /$99 / €88) that was mentioned in my audio interfaces article.
The interface itself is very cheap, so Studio ONE Artist is definitely budget friendly for absolute beginners.
There are differences between the Artist and Professional versions, just like there are between the different levels of Pro-Tools. For more detail, check the website. The most important difference is that the Artist version, just 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.
What’s the top DAW for voice over?
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|
Author: Alex – Producer and Sound Engineer at Voquent
Join the conversation on Twitter:
#QuickQuestion What software do you use to record AND edit your voice? Audacity for everything? Auditions in 'Adobe Audition'!? Are you a pro with Pro-Tools? Let me know what audio software you use and what you LIKE about it. Your comments may be used in a forthcoming blog – Alex pic.twitter.com/uE4R66r6vZ
— Voquent (@Voquent) February 27, 2019