DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG Entry #7: Why My Honor Is Questionable…no, I mean why some people in the VO industry question integrity because of choices in audio equipment. What did you think I meant?



“How dare you suggest my equipment is bad!”….

This is the subtext that seems to permeate many discussions on audio equipment…and it concerns me a tad.

Before I go any further, I should make one thing perfectly clear, this particular entry isn’t gonna be about audio equipment. I mean, not really. Kinda. I won’t mention specific names of audio equipment. I mean, I will, but not in the context of recommending them. I mean, I will kinda but I…okay, just….just listen. Or read, if you’re not listeni–I mean…ugh…just move on. Bottom line, it’s more about honor and integrity.

If you’ve been in VO for more than two minutes, you’ll know that there are countless forum posts, forum discussions, Facebook groups, online tutorials, and general buzz about recording equipment. What a microphone is, what a preamp is, what an audio interface is, what a mixer is and whether or not you need one, mic positioning, acoustic materials, proper computer set-up, appropriate noise floor, whether or not Pro Tools is overkill for VO, the best pieces of equipment to buy…the list could make your head explode if you’re not overly interested in the technical details. I wasn’t at first, but came to be obsessed with the technical details. Firstly because I found them interesting, and secondly I wanted to translate the endless chatter that there seemed to be on the internets about this topic.

As I said earlier though, I’m not going to talk about audio equipment. Rather, I want to talk about a subtext that seems to be emerging from all this chatter. You see, what struck me about all this chatter is just how heated it could get. It starts out as general information, then somewhat passionate, then heated, and on select occasions, it evolves into spiteful back-and-forth arguments over what equipment is the best. I like to believe that I’ve never been in an “internet fight,” but the closest I ever got to one happened a year or two ago when someone took issue with a suggestion I made about audio equipment on a forum. I backed out when I sensed that what started out as a discussion began transitioning into a somewhat bitter debate, but I remember being confounded as to why the discussion had taken such a bitter turn…I was just speaking my opinion, right?

Well, ever since then, I’ve been hesitant to participate in discussions about proper audio equipment. I won’t completely shy away from them, but I’ll only talk about them in general terms, because I’ve learned that talking about audio equipment on a VO forum can be like bringing up religion or politics at a casual cocktail party…people get overly touchy about it. I can totally understand why people would get touchy over things like religion or politics, but it took me a while to figure out why people would get touchy over audio equipment.

I don’t claim to know exactly why people get touchy over it…but I have a working theory.

You see, it gradually occurred to me that people who get offended by statements such as “Brand X of microphones really aren’t that great”…are people who use Brand X of microphones. People who get offended by statements such as, “Mixer Y adds way too much noise to your audio chain”…are people who use Mixer Y. Whenever a specific line of audio devices are put down, the people who use that specific line get offended, because they see the unintentional (or sometimes intentional) subtext of, “The audio equipment you use to do your job is sub-par.” In other words, my theory is that people get offended, heated, passionate, or otherwise riled up in discussions about audio equipment because the subtext of honor and integrity in one’s job seems to surface.

So, let me tell you my stance on this: do what works.

I had an acting teacher once who went over the many different methods of acting with us, and during different periods of our class, we would focus on the different methods. At one point, we were focusing on the Stanislavsky method, and it really wasn’t doing that much for me. So the teacher told me afterwards, “I’m telling you to do it just because that’s what the class is focusing on right now. In real life, you should just do what works. If the Stanislavsky method works for you, great. If it doesn’t, then what the hell are you trying to accomplish by using it? Isn’t your primary intend to give a good performance? Do whatever works!”

So, I could tell you that I record in a Whisper Room, and that I took out the acoustic foam in exchange for Owens Corning 703 panels rapped in Guilford of Maine fabric. I could tell you that I use a Blue Baby Bottle mic most of the time (and love it), that I’m a condenser mic purist, that my mics are run through a DBX 286A preamp into a MOTU Ultralite mk3 Digital Hybrid audio interface, into a Mac Pro Tower via Firewire, and that my devices are power-conditioned by an APC H10 power conditioner, and that I listen to my audio through M-Audio BX5a deluxe active reference monitors…

And what have I accomplished in telling somebody this? Relatively little. Everybody’s situation is different. Their voices are different, their recording environments are different, their budgets are different…it’s all so very diverse. So for that reason, I love talking about technical stuff, but you will never catch me defending my choices to the bitter end. I use what I use ’cause it works for me, and you should use what you use ’cause it works for you.

And plus…we all have to keep in mind, that when we send our audio off to clients, they’re not thinking, “Oh it could use a little bit of a boost on the lower ends to give it more umph and bass power.” They’re just listening to it and going…

“Uh……………yeah. Yeah, sounds good.”

PS: Yeah, I know “internets” is not an actual word, but if our President said it though…it counts.


8 thoughts on “DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG Entry #7: Why My Honor Is Questionable…no, I mean why some people in the VO industry question integrity because of choices in audio equipment. What did you think I meant?

  1. I’ve found that a number of forum discussions end up with bitter accusations and, sometimes, personal attacks. I’ve tried to keep myself on a positive level when replying to a forum discussion, but rather than having to defend myself all the time, I chose to ignore the vast majority of e-mail invitations I get. I’ve read some rather nasty replies that involved name-calling, so I steer clear of most of them, period. It’s a time-waster and I could make better use of my time working.

    • Ugh, tell me about it Kent. Life’s too short for that kinda stuff, you know? My feeling is, I go to discussion groups to do just that–discuss. When I feel the discussion is no longer a discussion, then I politely say my last words and leave. I’ve got better things to do than argue. For that matter, don’t we all?

  2. Great insights, Dave. As a relative newcomer to the VO world, I have read a lot of these types of posts and cringe when it starts going down that path. What’s worse is the OP who started the discussion is usually another newbie who just doesn’t know that there are myriad “right” microphones and setups and studios. I wonder how many of these people are turned off by the whole thing when they – unknowingly – opened a can of worms of “what equipment do you use,” thinking that they might learn something or glean some insight into what the pros use. Instead, they find that it’s a wide open field full of personal preference.

    • Indeed, Laurel, it can be intimidating. A buddy of mine was interested in getting into VO, so he–to use his words–“googled some things about it and stuff.” He came back to me and said, “So…Dave…who do I listen to? I have no clue where to start.” I feel that can be a huge difficulty in VO, because it is–like you said–a wide open field full of personal preferences. On the one hand, that’s not helpful to newbies, but on the other hand, that really is all we have to go on. Not just with regard to audio equipment, but everything. Everybody’s journey into VO is so totally different and personal, so there’s never a “one size fits all” solution to anything in VO. It’s for that reason that I never give advice, only opinions. If I ever were to give any piece of advice, though, it would be what I mentioned earlier: do what works. What works, though? I dunno. It varies from person to person, so I can only give people my opinion based on what worked for me. In the mean time, everybody will have to dig around a bit to see for themselves, using the opinions of others as a point to jump off of, not as gospel.

      • “What works, though? I dunno. It varies from person to person, so I can only give people my opinion based on what worked for me.”
        And there-in lies the problem with people asking other voice-over actors for advice on how to setup a studio. But, I also understand that we all gotta start someplace! I only hope more people can find expert help BEFORE spending countless hours (and dollars) getting it wrong, or almost right. That’s why I do what I do for a living. I saw a need for someone who specializes in this particular niche of audio support, which is unique from all others!

      • @George

        Yet another reason I’ve dropped your name a couple times when people ask me questions about home studio set up. I’ll give my opinion, but end it with something to the effect of, “That’s just my setup, though–if you really want to save money and time, the guy you gotta talk to is George Whittam at eldorec.com.”

        On that note, thank you again George for doing consultations on audio equipment with specific regard to VO people. Most of us, in the beginning, have to ask “the music store guy” would mic would sound the best, and that’s not always the best path to take. I told someone else on a Linkedin discussion that I was duped several years ago into buying a new mic based on a baloney claim from a music store employee who, in hindsight, was probably just looking for a sales commission, brownie points with his boss, or something like that. He said, “Well, the reason the mic you have doesn’t sound as good as it could is because you’ve been positioning the mic upright. And, y-you know, you like…can’t do that. ‘Cause like, heat rises, as I’m sure you know, and eventually the rising heat melts the interior wiring of the mic over time, causing audio anomalies. I think you should just get a new one.”

        On the one hand, I’ve been using the new mic he talked me into getting to this day, and I really like how it sounds on my voice. On the other hand, I’m still facepalming myself over the fact that I bought it based on a baloney claim, and I probably would not have bought a new mic were it not for his baloney claim.

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