Do you own a Mac or wish that you did?
Perhaps you’ve been curious about making the leap from a PC to a Mac and would appreciate an insider’s look at how the Mac operates and what using a Macintosh computer could do for you and your voice over business.
James T. Dawson joins us today as a new contributor to VOX Daily, and as a Macintosh Technical Support Specialist, is writing from the perspective of someone who knows more than the average Mac enthusiast about how they work.
In his debut article, James discusses some basics and gives you a lovely introduction to working with Macs to make audio recordings.
Recording VOs With a Mac
Recording voice-overs with a recent Macintosh computer is relatively easy given the number of high quality and affordable audio interfaces available, and Garageband, the Apple application for recording audio that comes as part of the iLife Suite that is included with most new Macintosh computers.
(Note: PC users tend to refer to software as programs, Mac users as applications.)
Let’s begin by looking at the signal chain and how your voice winds up as a computer file ready to be sent to a client.
Microphone > Audio Interface > Computer > Software > MP3
The first element in the signal chain is the microphone. It captures the sound of your voice, which is facilitated by the preamplifier. Preamplifiers raise the signal level so as to compatible with the next element, the digital converters.
In most recording studios the preamplifiers (sometimes contained within the mixing consoles) are separate from the digital converters, but with computer based recording, often referred to as Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs, the preamplifiers and the digital converters are contained in the same unit. These are called audio interfaces.
So the second element in our chain is the audio interface. Audio interfaces facilitate the input and preamplification of the signal, monitoring of the signal via headphones or powered monitors, and conversion of the signal into a digital format compatible with the software you are using to record and edit.
The audio interface will connect to your Macintosh through a cable like the one you use to connect your printer, a USB cable. Or via a slightly different cable referred to as Firewire, or IEEE 1394.
Once the signal has been converted and present within your computer, the third element in our signal chain, the CPU sends it to our software, in this case “Garageband,” the forth element in our signal chain.
Garageband offers high quality, multi-track recording capability with the added benefit of predetermined tracks designed for male and female vocals. These “presets” remove some of the guesswork from recording your voice, and make it easier to choose from all the options available.
Once the sound is recorded in Garageband, you can easily edit the file, removing mistakes, adjusting audio levels, alter the sound through equalization or even adding effects such as compression. And when the file is to your liking, you can easily export or “share” the file to iTunes. And in iTunes, you can select the appropriate file format your client prefers. i.e. MP3, WAV, AAC, etc. This is the fifth and final element in our signal chain.
As the computer is often the most expensive element in the signal chain, lets look at what you really need to purchase or own in the way of a Macintosh computer.
Computers and their capabilities are often judged by four distinct areas:
1. The processor speed
2. The operating system
3. The available RAM (or memory)
4. The amount of hard drive space
The minimum I would suggest for recording voice over would be as follows:
à¹ Processor: 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo
à¹ OS: OS X 10.4.7
à¹ RAM: 2 Gigabytes
à¹ Hard Drive: 160 Gigabytes
Please be aware, that there are many studios running much older systems with slower processors, but they are not always compatible with latest audio interfaces.
How Can You Tell What Your Mac’s Capabilities Are?
To determine the capabilities of a Macintosh you currently own, or of one you are considering purchasing, click on the Apple icon in the upper left hand corner of the screen, and select “about this Mac” and it will list the processor speed and RAM. Clicking on “more info” will provide a detailed list of all the features of the computer.
If your present computer does not have enough memory or RAM, do not worry! RAM prices are at an historic low with 4 gigabytes of RAM for many Macintosh computers being much less than $100 US.
Now that we have a computer sufficiently powerful to record with, let’s look at the audio interfaces that are available and have been designed specifically for Macintosh computers.
In an audio interface there are several things to consider:
1. The method in which it connects to your computer, i.e. USB or Firewire
2. The quality and features of the preamplifier(s)
3. The quality of the analog to digital converters
The quality of the preamplifier will profoundly alter the sound of your voice, just as an inexpensive or inappropriate microphone would. Noise can be introduced. Highs and lows can be attenuated. Distortion can occur. The quality of the converters, will as well affect the quality. Lower quality converters lack detail and definition and can mask the qualities producers want from your vocal performance.
In the under $500, two channel category two models I would recommend the Apogee “Duet” and the new “One.” Apogee has worked closely with Apple and their products are very well made and executed. They integrate seamlessly with Garageband and Apple Logic, which means more efficient operation. Less time spent configuring software means more time recording for clients.
The Apogee “One” and “Duet”
The Apogee “One” is a single channel audio interface with a built in microphone and an input for an external microphone. It provides the quality of the more expensive Apogee Duet, but it does not provide phantom power, which is often referred to as “48+” or 48 volts.
Phantom power is necessary on most large diaphragm microphones but not on less expensive condenser mics. The microphone you chose will determine whether or not you need phantom power. I use a BLUE “Blueberry” and the Neumann TLM 103 microphones, which require phantom power, with the Apogee Duet, and it has worked flawlessly. The current “street price” for the “One” is $249, and the “Duet” $495.
The “Duet” is a two channel audio interface complete with breakout cable and 48 volt phantom supply for both channels. I have used these for studio recording, field recordings and for home use for voice overs. The preamps are excellent, as are the digital converters. I even use the Duet as my Digital to Analog converter for my home stereo system which is built around a 20″ iMac.
Food For Thought
This should provide some food-for-thought for those considering a Macintosh for recording voice over in their home studio.
If you’re near an Apple Store or a Best Buy, I would recommend you stop by for a demonstration of the latest Macintosh computers and Garageband. I think you’ll be surprised how easy it real is to set up your own home studio!
In part two we’ll look at Garageband and Logic, Apple’s affordable and extensive audio production software.
About James T. Dawson
James T. Dawson is a voice over artist and Macintosh Technical Support Specialist. He is a former Program and Promotions director for five Fox affiliates, and an Addy Award winning video producer, editor and animator. He was a featured speaker at the Fox Network convention at BPME (Broadcast Promotions and Marketing) in 1991.
Look for his voice over demo soon on Voices.com.
Looking forward to hearing from you!