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podcast voice

dbx® 286s Review - Part 1 of 2

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dbx® 286s Review - Part 1 of 2

Why do the radio folks sound so much better?

We've all dialed up the radio star blaring through the car speakers, or tuned into NPR to hear the host almost speaking directly into our ears. Whether it’s Howard Stern or Ira Glass, there's that extra something something that seems to make their audio sound WAY better than ours. So what is it?

Well, there is the voice training, the high-end microphone, the awesome sound proofed studio, producer, and post production engineers. But if we can put all that aside for a moment, there is a part of the chain not mentioned here and often overlooked.

Whether you use a mixer, an analog/digital interface, or or any type of USB microphone, there is a built-in component that affects the volume (or gain) of the microphone's signal. This is called the preamplifier. Now for most this is simply a knob you turn to make the microphone "louder". For those with a bit more audio engineering background, it's a chance to manipulate and enhance the sound of your voice before it gets recorded.

 

The dbx® 286s microphone preamplifier.

Enter the secret weapon of broadcasters and savvy podcasters alike - dbx® 286s. There are dozens of great 'preamps' out there, ranging anywhere from $60 to multiple thousands. In today’s example, I’m looking specifically at an industry favorite, the dbx® 286s.

From the manufacturer’s literature: The dbx® 286s is a full featured Channel Strip Processor that delivers a studio quality microphone/instrument preamplifier and four processors that can be used independently or in any combination. Why mic up vocals and instruments through a noisy, blurry mixer? The sonically pristine dbx® 286s Mic Preamp has all the features you need, including wide-ranging input gain control, switchable +48V phantom power, and an 80Hz high-pass filter to remove low frequency hum, rumble or wind.

This sub $200 unit resides, for most, between the microphone and the analog to digital audio interface. For example, my signal chain is as follows: Shure SM7B Microphone > dbx® 286s > Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 > MacBook Pro. Notice that I have the preamp “driving” the microphone as well as preprocessing the signal ahead of converting it to digital audio for the computer.

Now this is where the unit really shines. Not only does the preamplifier sound great, it has plenty of juice to feed the gain-hungry SM7B. After the preamp, the signal is passed to the patented dbx OverEasy® compressor. Here we can really accomplish that “in your face” FM broadcast DJ sound, or dial it back to a warm, smooth NPR style close-mic compression. Next in the chain is a de-esser and enhancer. These controls (used sparingly) can round off the sharp edges of the signal, add a bit of ‘oomph’ to the bottom end, and a bit of sparkle to the top frequencies. Now that we have a big fat, warm signal, it’s time to kill some noise. The expander/gate is a powerful tool to tame the worst rooms. I personally use it two-fold: 1) as a noise gate to mute the channel when there is low or no input (in between speaking); 2) to cut off the echo of my given recording room. Last is the output before sending the signal via ¼ “ to the Focusrite.

Did I lose you? Not to worry. I’ll be showing you how to adjust all these yummy knobs in Part 2, so check back in a few weeks. For now, let your geek flags fly and know that there is a lot of power and sonic goodness in a small package, at a very reasonable price.

 

Don’t put the cart before the horse.

If you’re currently on a low-end microphone, like the Audio-Technica ATR2100 or another dynamic cardioid you picked up for under $100, a preamplifier might not be the best, next equipment investment. Stepping up your microphone quality first is a better way to go.

Consider podcaster favorites like the Shure SM7B or the Heil PR40 as the front of your signal chain. Either of these professional grade microphones connected directly to a nice USB interface such as the Focusrite 2i2, will give you incredibly improved sound over your USB microphone. See here, Podfly client and Podcast Producers co-host, Jessica Rhode’s new set up.

She went from the ATR2100 to the Heil PR40 and Focusrite preamp, and the difference is very noticeable.

So, the first step might be looking at getting a better microphone first. However, at $200 for this preamp, maybe you deserve to take the credit card out for a spin and get both. Hey, you’re worth it.

The sound quality of my podcast sounds so much better with the Heil PR40. The ATR2100 was a great mic, but a year and a half into my podcasting journey, the time came to up-level my game. I noticed that with the ATR2100, while my sound was clear, there was a bit of distortion in comparison to the Heil PR40, with which the sound is crystal clear
— Jessica Rhodes, Interview Connections/The Podcast Producers

 

It’s still all about the instrument (your voice).

Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t polish a turd”? Crude, but true. This applies very well in the audio industry. There has always been a misconception in the record industry that studios somehow can magically make bad singers sound good. There must be some fancy equipment, computer software, and a little bit of fairy dust up the engineer’s sleeve that can make anyone instantly sound like Celine Dion. Not true.

Yes, there are ways to correct pitch and enhance aspects of the voice. But there is no “talent” switch, and definitely no “make me sound amazing” knob. All this incredible technology is designed to elevate the quality of something that is good in the first place.

Have you ever met someone and their voice simply floored you? They start speaking and immediately something in you says, “wow, you have a great voice!” Well, that’s not coming out of a $200 preamplifier.

Remember that upgrading your equipment can improve your audio quality. It cannot, sadly, improve your voice. That said, you wanna be sure to be making this purchase to improve what's already good, rather than try and fix what might be broken.

 



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How to Improve Your Podcasting Voice

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How to Improve Your Podcasting Voice

Our voices paint a very vivid picture to who we are as people for our listeners, which is why improving your voice and strengthening your vocals can only be a good thing for your podcast. A strong voice gives you the ability to sound powerful, knowledgeable, and assertive. We all want that when trying to convey an important message or topic on our show. Below are a couple of tips to improve your voice and get the right tone across to your following.

 

The Four Voices

There are four types of voices you can fall under, so please do a quick self-assessment and see which one classifies you: 

The 'Nose' Voice - Everyone has heard this voice at some point in their lives. It's often high pitched, whiny, annoying, and in general very uncomfortable to listen to. 

The 'Mouth' Voice – People who use this voice often feel like they don't exist. The noises they make from their mouth are not powerful enough to attract a lot of attention. 

The 'Chest' Voice – A majority of the population uses this kind of voice. It is voice that sounds pleasant, can hold control over a long conversation, and is probably the one you use right now. There's nothing bad about this voice, but it doesn't beat our last category, which is...

The 'Diaphragm' Voice – This is our most powerful, attractive, strongest, and natural voice that comes straight from our diaphragm. Radio guys often have this type of voice and this is the best sounding voice you can have no matter if you're male or female. 

 

How to Reach Your Inner Voice

It all starts with breath. People who don't use their diaphragm voice also don't breathe from their diaphragm. It doesn't mater in which category you fall under above, in order to really reach your full vocal potential you must learn how to breathe correctly. Learning how to breathe in a new way can be challenging for some because they have been training their body for decades on how to breathe a certain way and that decade-long training can be hard to undo. 

The good news is we breathe so often (at least I hope you do) that we can often catch ourselves several times a day and re-program the body to breathe correctly. To breathe from your diaphragm, inhale a large amount of air and let your belly rise; not your chest; and then exhale and let all the air out from your belly. This technique is often used during yoga classes, so take up a yoga class and re-learn how to breathe again! 

 

Other Tips

Breathing correctly is only a foundation to proper vocal control. Posture also helps project your voice to higher levels. Again, yoga is excellent for this too. When you've gotten the diaphragm breathing down, then start to make sounds using your belly. Try speaking, laughing, etc to develop the habit of taking energy from the diaphragm and projecting it out loud. 

It might not sound pretty at first, but keep in mind you've never used your diaphragm before in this way, so keep practicing. Eventually when you've got the hang of it, start to enunciate your words clearly and slowly. Like a child trying to learn how to speak. Open your mouth wide like a hippo to help with your volume levels and enunciation. You might look ridiculous at first, but eventually you'll have the methods down where you can resume back to looking like a normal person when you speak. 

When you've gotten the hang of things, practice with voice levels. Play around with a flat or soft voice, a loud voice, and then try projecting your voice. Projecting your voice will not strain your vocal cords as long as you are properly using your diaphragm. A great way to practice is by laying down on the floor and using your ab muscles to shoot your voice to the ceiling. 

 

How to Sound Like An Authority Figure

When you've got your vocals under control and you are actively using your diaphragm, then there are some tips you can use to make your speech sound more like an authority figure. If you are someone who ends sentences with inflections, you will sound like you're asking questions when you shouldn't be. Which, in turn, will make you sound uncertain. To prevent this, try having more of a firm, downward inflection to make your statements sound more concrete. 

If you often use words like kind of, sort of, maybe, just, like, you know, hopefully, etc. This will also make you sound a bit uncertain. For example: “Did you, you know, get his attention? I will hopefully be able to see him later.”

As you can see, just by removing those words, your sentence will be a lot clearer, more direct, and easy to listen to. The same applies for filler and non-words like um, uh, ah, and improperly pronounced words such as shoulda, coulda, woulda, goin', gonna, etc. Speaking the full word out loud and eliminating filler or qualifying words will make you sound better, more professional, and like someone who knows what they're talking about. 

 

About Podfly

Podfly works closely with podcasters and helps their show sound professional, clear, and great. We are a group of audio engineers that help develop amazing shows for you and your audience. Feel free to contact Ayn@podfly.net for more information or come back here every Wednesday for a great Podfly blog post! 

Until next time,

Ayn. 


"Tweetables"

It might not sound pretty at first, but keep in mind you've never used your diaphragm before in this way, so keep practicing. Tweet this!

A strong voice gives you the ability to sound powerful, knowledgeable, and assertive. Tweet this!

The good news is we breathe so often (at least I hope you do). Tweet this!


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