“USB” is NOT a Type of Microphone: A Guide for Podcasting and Home Recording

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all “nice microphone“. There are different types of mics for different types of recording jobs. If you’re looking at podcasting, spoken word, interviews, or voice over recording, here’s a quick primer on some of the microphones you might want to consider!

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#ATTDevSummit: Random House playing with AT&T Speech API to eliminate human Audiobook Voice Over recording

Disclaimer: My primary job when I’m not tech blogging is commercial, animation, and video game voice over casting in Hollywood.

attdevsummit random house audiobook speech api demonstration cesOne interesting side discussion during this year’s Developer Summit was the utilization of new speech API’s from AT&T. It’s based on the Watson engine, which you heard as the HAL-like voice which spanked a couple of flesh bags on Jeopardy back in 2011. It’s an alpha API, but is already light years ahead of the basic Text to Speech engines in use for audiobooks.

As a voice over director and producer, I completely understand some of the challenges in recording with people. It’s an endurance match recording a 30 second TV spot, let alone a whole book. I’ve always been shocked by people who listen to the books recorded by artificial voices, devoid of any performance, and with tragically awful emphasis. Those older speech engines will say all the words in the right order, but they can’t tell you a story.

This new speech engine is working to change that. It’s still wholly artificial, but it can now represent several different characters instead of just one voice type. Plus it can be programmed to follow punctuation and energy levels for urgency and emphasis. It makes the act of listening to an audiobook a lot easier when there’s some sense of through line or narrative.

It’s obviously years away from replacing the terrific actors whole labor over these kinds of projects, but computer voices are improving rapidly. We all make jokes about Siri, but Google and Apple have delivered mobile data assistants with voices we would’ve thought impossible at the consumer level even just five years ago. And then there’s Watson, which can even learn the nuance of language well enough to pick up on swearing and other colorful metaphors.

Seth Stell from Smashing Ideas was on hand to demo some of the work they’re doing with Random House to replace humans. I shot video of the demonstration, but unfortunately the Galaxy S4 Zoom I used ate the audio, which is like the most important part of demoing a speech engine. Thankfully there’s a Livestream of the event embedded below.
Skip to 22 minutes to begin the piece on Speech hosted by Random House.


Using the Surface RT 2 for Podcasting and Voice Over Recording (RT not Pro)

surface 2 audio recording mobile home sound USB microphone Zoom h4n somegadgetguyIf you’re into mobile audio, field recording, voice over, or podcasting, it’s been the dream for a while. The ability to use our consumer tablets as recording solutions.

It still hasn’t come to Android. Plug a USB mic into an Android tablet, and it’ll likely power up, but Android wont know what to do with it. Microsoft might have the hardware to offer up a solution for us mobile audio junkies. Let’s take a look at how recording works on a Surface 2, and what happens to the files you create after you’re done editing.

Ask Juan: Yeti USB Microphone for Youtube Video VO?

Screenshot (88)A question from Timi on Twitter:

How good is the Yeti mic. $149. Looking for something to dub review videos.

I’m a big fan of the Yeti. I recently reviewed the Yeti Pro (black version) here on the site. It’s one of the more versatile USB mics you can pick up.

But do you need that versatility?

If your main use is to record yourself for the voice over behind video, the Yeti might be overkill. Having variable polar patterns which change the “shape” of what the mic will pick up probably wont be necessary if you’re recording videos with similar tone and if you’re in a consistent space while recording those voice overs. I’ve also produced a video explaining polar patterns if you need more info.

The Yeti also makes for a fine interview mic, so maybe it’s worth grabbing it if you think you might want to do that. If that’s not really on your radar however, you’ll be spending cash on features you wont be using.

Some alternatives? 

Taking a step down to Blue’s Snowball can save you some cash, and it now comes in fancy new colors.

You could also take a look at Audio-Technica’s lineup. The AT2020 USB is an entry level standard, and many have started their home recording careers with that mic. If you don’t mind the price tag bump, A-T recently updated the AT2020USB Plus to include on-mic volume and headphone controls. Compared to the Yeti these mics aren’t as versatile, but in my opinion they do their one job better than the Yeti does that one job.

Now all of these will be fine options for dubbing a review video, but in terms of maximizing your bang-for-buck, you just need to be honest with yourself regarding what capabilities you actually need.

Happy hunting!