Acoustics is the science of sound waves. When voice actors talk about acoustics, we are referring to the way sound travels inside our recording space.
The acoustics of your voice acting room are crucial—they will make or break the quality of your recordings. The last thing you want to happen in the voice-over business is for a client to like your voice but not hire you because your files have unacceptable acoustic artifacts.
Recording spaces have two basic types of acoustic problems: echo and reverberation. Echo happens in large spaces, where sound bounces off a wall far enough away that the source and the echo are noticeably separated in time. Reverberation happens in small spaces. It might sound like you’re in a tin can or a box, which I call “boxiness”. Either way, it’s a problem of reverberation.
Whether you have echo or reverberation (or a combination of both), the solution is to apply acoustic treatments to your environment. If that sounds highly technical, don’t worry! It’s just a fancy way of saying that you’ll need to put sound-absorbing materials on your walls. Sound bounces off any hard surface, and parallel surfaces are especially problematic.
The goal is to have a “dead” space. This means the sound reaching the microphone is coming from you—not from your walls.
Acoustic Treatments for Your Voice-Over Space
You don’t need to hire a professional to install high-tech commercial acoustic treatments. Covering a few walls with common (cheap) materials you have at home, such as a quilt, cotton towels, or carpeting, may do the trick. If you want it to look better and you have a budget, check out the pretty panels Audimute makes. And they’re eco-friendly!
You probably won’t need to cover entire walls to eliminate echoes and reverberation. Sometimes just a few square meters of material, strategically placed, is enough to control the sound reflections.
The geometry of every space is different, so I can’t give you a formula. It’s all trial and error. Start with placing treatments on a few walls. In most spaces, like rooms or closets, you won’t need to have anything near the top or bottom of the walls. You can often leave the ceiling intact and put some carpet on the floor. Ultimately, what works for you will depend on the shape of your space, the materials it’s made of, and what you’re using to absorb sound waves.
Are you in a closet full of clothes? You might not need any additional acoustic treatments (I’ve worked in many closets full of clothes that sounded great). Or you might find that your voice is too muffled and that it sounds better when you remove some of the clothes or arrange them differently.
Yes, you can have too much of a good thing—too much absorbent material can make you sound muffled. In a dead space, your voice should still sound natural and resonant and clear.
Microphone Placement is Everything
An additional strategy for minimizing acoustic problems is to place your microphone in the center of the room. This puts it as far away as possible from acoustically active surfaces to minimize reflected sound. If your microphone is too close to a window, for example, you’ll get reverberation off the glass, and it will make your recordings sound like you’re in a tight space. Also pay attention to the direction your microphone is pointing, to take advantage of your microphone’s polar pattern and minimize unwanted sounds.
Improving Acoustics Is a Process
Hang up a few sound-absorbing materials on your walls, set up your microphone in the middle of the space and take it from there. Test the quality of your space by recording it with your microphone. Take photos to keep track of what you did. You can then add or rearrange material and test the recording again. Keep refining until you can’t hear sound bouncing off the walls or ceiling or floor—but don’t go overboard so that you sound muffled. Stop when you have a nice dead sound that preserves the natural resonance of your voice.
That’s it! If you haven’t done so already, check out my companion article on soundproofing.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them as cleverly as I can.