A musician wouldn’t step out in front of millions of screaming fans with a toy guitar unless they expected to leave the stage under the onslaught of boos and jeers. Similarly, top-of-the-line voice-over technology is needed for voice artists to lend their readings depth, richness, and variety. Audio recording and editing software programs give voice actors maximum control over their output, but which of the many programs on the market qualifies as the voice-over equivalent of a Fender Strat?
Today, we’ll learn about the different types of recording software, from the free, quick-and-dirty options to the premium ones that cost a mighty buck. As you progress in your voice-over career, you’ll probably work your way up the ranks both professionally as well as in the software you use. In fact, it’s preferable to start off small and consistently improve both your software and hardware (microphone) as your income steadily goes up.
In fact, you’ll find free options are still pretty handy and, with the help of just a few easily-available plugins, they’re no slouches either. They’re also a great way to slowly grow your understanding of how voice-over technology works. At first, it may all seem like a hodgepodge of switches and knows, but soon you’ll be recording, editing, and sprucing up audio in no time. As you get better and the demands for your projects get more stringent, you’ll naturally gravitate towards bigger, badder software.
So, without further ado, let’s get a move on, shall we?
Free voice-over technology: Audacity
When you’re just dipping your big toe into the voice-over technology waters, you don’t want to spend much cash. Audacity offers free recording and editing software that lacks the features offered by commercial programs but still gets the job done. Over the last few months, Audacity has released version 2.4.2 of the program, which includes numerous enhancements like scrubbing and seeking features as well as plugin workflow improvements.
Personally, Audacity was my first foray with voice-over software. The good thing is that it keeps its interface simple so you don’t get bogged down with engineering details that would probably be too much for a newcomer. Sure, it’s not quite as well-equipped as, say Adobe or Logic Pro, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s still good enough to allow you to record and edit high-quality voice-overs, and that’s what matters.
I recommend you download a noise gate plugin if you still don’t have access to a booth or enclosed, insulated recording space. What this does is cut off sounds below or above the frequencies you specify. Try not to go too high or too low, though, because the audio loses quality, complexity, and richness. Many platforms (like Audible) are pretty stringent with their noise gate specifications, so bear that in mind and try not to go overboard. Still, it’s a handy little feature.
CNET gives Audacity four stars (and consumers agree with the editors here). It’s compatible not only with Windows and Mac operating systems but also with Linux. CNET praises its ease of use and the numerous files it supports. Audacity offers the perfect voice-over technology with their recording software for newcomers. While it’s not Fender Strat quality, it will give voice actors the bare bones of what they need to get started.
Alternate free voice-over technology: PreSonus Studio One Free
Writing for Digital Trends, tech journalist Adrian Diaconescu recommends PreSonus Studio One’s free version for voice actors who need a no-cost way to make their recordings. The program offers limited instruments and effects, but that’s just a limitation for musicians. It’s otherwise a full-featured, demo-like version that won’t impose a time limit or frustrate your creativity. None of those annoying “your trial period has expired” messages over here.
The free version of Presonus’s digital audio workstation might involve a steep learning curve. Keep that in mind if this is your first foray into voice-over technology; while it takes a little bit of getting used to, you’ll get there with some patience. There’s a wealth of newbie-friendly tutorials and videos on YouTube, for instance. If you don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by all the newness, you’ll soon be flying through the interface. And the good thing is that all the knowledge you get still applies to more complex programs.
PreSonus Studio One Free works with Mac and Windows, and the drag-and-drop interface makes adjustments quick and easy. It’s like you’re a musician finding a guitar on the side of the road—a little beat up and missing a few strings, but otherwise perfectly serviceable. You’re not going to be Ralph Macchio in Crossroads, but it’ll let you bang out a mean blues tune if you let it,
Best Free Editing Program: mp3DirectCut
Voice actors are just like everyone else—they get a little irritated when they download a software program that contains the equivalent of 3,000 pounds of bloatware. Fortunately, mp3DirectCut won’t leave a computer feeling like it’s just eaten three Thanksgiving dinners in a row. It’s a lean, elegant program that doesn’t cost a dime. If you’re, like me, someone who’d rather reserve valuable RAM for video games or other beefy apps, you’re in luck.
While I generally recommend Audacity as the best free voice-over technology, this is still good software. If you don’t like Audacity’s interface, or find it a little too challenging, this is the opposite. It’s a simple, quick-and-easy program aimed at making editing a breeze. It’s not Tyrannosaurus-stomp heavy, and it’s an excellent choice for beginners. Soon, you’ll be draggin’, droppin’, and removing coughs and “uhmmms” with the best of ’em.
Built for Windows (and operational on Linux), mp3DirectCut weighs in at just 285 KB and has been continually updated since its release. New features as of version 2.3.0 include an improved VU meter, the ability to set recording time limits, and various user-interface upgrades. You won’t get many effects with this program, but a voice-over actor can start using it on day one with no learning curve. While I definitely recommend trying your hand at more complete programs, it’s a great starter software.
Alternate free editing program: OcenAudio
Some musicians have a guitar manufacturer that might as well be their life partner. Similarly, voice actors who wouldn’t think of touching a device without the Apple logo will appreciate OcenAudio. It’s an elegant—but stripped-down—audio recording program that gets regular updates from the developers. It’s also ideal for voice-over artists who work with big files because, despite the non-existent price tag, the program doesn’t limit the length or size of files. As far as voice-over technology goes, it’s pretty good.
Plus, OcenAudio supports numerous file types, so actors have more flexibility in how they work. It comes equipped with a full-featured spectrogram and multi-selection functionality.
Best value voice-over technology: Adobe Audition
Musicians without much cash sometimes rent or lease their instruments so they don’t have the financial outlay involved in an initial purchase. For voice over actors, Adobe Audition provides the same opportunity. The actor doesn’t buy a software suite; instead, he or she pays a monthly subscription fee of just $20.99 in the yearly plan. If you’re going to pay month-to-month it’s $31.49. It goes without saying that I recommend the yearly plan.
It’s not a huge investment in a voice actor’s future, but it provides an excellent stable of tools that includes recording, editing, restoring, and exporting audio files of all types. Top Ten Reviews gave it a score of 9.13 out of 10, citing its lack of DV video conversion capabilities and non-existent email support as potential downsides.
Adobe Audition is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems and the user interface is easily navigable. It’s ideal for fine-tuning poor-quality audio; voice actors don’t always have time to re-record projects. Audition allows the user to filter out ambient noise for a more pristine recording.
Alternative best value recording and editing program: Acoustica
Although Acoustica comes in a free, stripped-down version, the standard version introduces the most value. It’s like the budget-conscious guitarist who wants a Gibson more than anything else in the world but settles for an Epiphone. The Premium edition probably offers too much power under the hood for most voice-over artists, and at $120, it’s cost-prohibitive. The standard edition, however, gets you a suite of powerful tools for just under $40.
The processing tools are some of the most intuitive in the industry, and the plug-in support expands its feature set by a considerable margin. Users can also edit multitrack audio files and the clean-up tools help polish audio for its public debut. Considering it doesn’t have as steep a learning curve as other programs and its affordable price tag, it’s a steal.
Remember, voice-over technology doesn’t have to be prohibitive in order to get the job done. If you’re not going to produce complex multi-layered tracks with effects, you won’t need a full suite. Of course, if you need to create a track with five different harmonies, vocal effects, and certain sound quality, more is better. For most of the meat-and-potatoes work of the voice-over artist, a program like Acoustica is just fine.
Best professional full voice-over technology: Sound Forge 14
With plenty of rave reviews and awards under its belt, Sound Forge 14 leads the pack as the Fender Strat of the voice-over technology software. Like a Strat, it’s the priciest of the bunch, but artists get maximum control over their audio recordings with this software and the production quality is the best in the business. It’s the one white guitar that Wayne would’ve tried to play “Stairway to Heaven” on in “Wayne’s World.”
Sound Forge 11 will set aspiring and enterprising voice artists back about $400. In exchange, they’ll get refined editing tools, powerful restoration processes, and convenient one-touch recording. The audio editing tools streamline a voice artist’s workflow, which allows him or her to dedicate more time to recording than to processing. Sound Forge 11 is an excellent investment in a career that will only get better after the artist installs this program.
Studio Daily’s David English gives Sound Forge 11 a “Sweet” rating, citing its massive improvements over previous versions. Sound Forge has a lengthy and illustrious history in the voice-over and recording industries, and for good reason. Sony hadn’t issued a new version since 2010, so the eleventh edition is feature-packed and a major boon to the careers of voice over professionals.
Just like a rock star riffing on the stage, voice artists can make Sound Forge 11 sing.
Budget-friendly professional voice-over technology programs
Of course, not everyone can afford $400 software for their voice-over careers. It’s understandable. Like a Fender Strat in the window display of a musical instrument store, Sound Forge might remain forever out of reach for some professionals. Fortunately, there are more affordable alternatives that don’t serve up quite the richness and texture of Sound Forge’s output but will nevertheless suffice.
WavePad, for example, deserves a shout-out in the honorable mention category. Top Ten Reviews gives it a gold star award and recommends it over all of the audio recording and editing software its reviewers have tested, citing its customizable UI (user interface) and its wide range of audio file compatibility as reasons for the decision. At a $50 price point, it’s an affordable choice for pros who want to keep their cash in their wallets.
Know your voice over technology
Each of the voice-over technology options mentioned above will please beginner and veteran voice actors alike. Voice actors can decide which will serve them best based on their budgets, workflow, and technological preferences.
And, of course, this doesn’t cover all of the possible bases. You could achieve grade-A professional results with a program like Logic Pro if you’re an Apple diehard. It’ll only cost you around $200, far less than Soundforge, but you’ll be tied to the MacOS gods.
Overall, we covered a really good overview of the available voice-over technology. If you’re looking to take the plunge, there’s no better time than now — your burgeoning voice-over career awaits!