Q I was hired by an ad agency to record voiceover narrations for a corporate project. I'm producing the sessions myself and the budget is tight. I can't afford to work in a recording studio. What's your recommendation for the most cost-effective, reasonable-quality microphone that I could use at home to record with my laptop or iPad?
A In your situation, you're cutting a lot of corners, but as long as your client is comfortable with the level of recording quality that you'll be able to create in your home, it sounds as if they understand that a low budget should also come with lower-quality expectations. That said, I think you'll be able to generate an acceptable-quality recording if you follow some basic guidelines.
My suggestion would be for you to try the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB (www.audio-technica.com), which has become popular with podcasters, and if you think about it, podcasters generally have similar requirements to what you're looking for: low cost, low sensitivity to background noise and rugged reliability.
The ATR2100-USB features an analog XLR output that could be used to interface with professional mixers, cameras and recorders, but most importantly to you, it also features a USB output that can be used to interface with iPads, laptops and desktop computers. The ATR2100-USB has a surprisingly high-quality analog-to-digital converter built into the microphone, eliminating possible hum and noise from ground loops when using a combination of balanced and unbalanced connections typically found in computer audio interfaces.
Another challenge when recording using computers and iPads is called latency—the delay between the sound being generated at the microphone and the sound that the engineer (in this case, you) hears after the signal has been converted, routed through and monitored through the laptop and/or iPad. Since it sounds as if you'll be recording yourself, this delay can wreak havoc with your performance since you'll hear a delayed version of your own voice as you record. The ATR2100-USB cleverly mitigates this latency issue with its own headphone jack and volume control, allowing you to monitor your voice with zero latency directly from the microphone. You still need to check your recording device to make sure that it's recording your voice, but once you've verified the recording, you can switch to monitoring your voice from the microphone's headphone jack.
The best part about the ATR2100-USB for your needs is that the man-ufacturer's suggested retail price is a mere $79.95. The microphone sounded excellent when plugged into my iPad, using Apple's iPad Camera Connection Kit that converts the iPad's dock connector to USB for interfacing still cameras. I added Voice Recorder HD from the Apple App Store for $1.99 and was quickly up and running. I would suggest recording in the quietest room in your home and listen carefully for excess background sound. Position your mouth close to the microphone to increase your signal-to-noise ratio, and most importantly, record a sample for your client and obtain their sign-off that the quality you're providing will meet their needs. I think you'll find the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB to be a solid value and a good base to build a low-cost VO recording setup.