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Listen: In Voice Overs And Your
Studio, What Do You Really Hear?
September 9, 2013 

Note: The author presents the home studio training session, Choosing Your Voice Over Microphone, at the Voice Over Virtual conference, Sept. 18-20, 2013. For details, please visit

By Dan Friedman

Voice Actor, Producer & Engineer

While out on a hiking trip on a recent weekend, I took the time to simply listen to nature. For several minutes, not a single device of modern technology could be heard. It was truly music to the ears.

Listening… truly listening, seems to be a lost art.

When was the last time you sat down and listened to an album? I don’t mean casually, with the music playing in the background as you perform other tasks. I mean sitting down in front of some speakers, or putting on headphones, and simply listening.


I’ve been around many younger people lately, high school and college age, and they just don’t listen. I’m not talking about, "Hey, pick those clothes up off the floor and put them away”… and they don’t do it, kind of listening (although that is certainly an issue as well).

I’m talking about truly using their ears and hearing the world around them.

This isn’t limited to young people, of course. When teaching home studio classes (mostly to adults), I’m often asked, "How do you know which (whatever piece of gear) sounds better?”

The answer is, you have to listen and compare in order to know.


This isn’t entirely the fault of today’s typical listener. Tiny and inefficient earbuds, computer and television speakers have become common place. These are all truly terrible devices for critical listening and are barely good enough for enjoyable listening.

Then of course, there is the mp3 format. Listening to an mp3 of a song and then listening to that same song on a record or CD (on decent speakers and in a decent environment) is a truly ear-opening experience.


When it comes to voice overs, I’ve often said that listening is more important than speaking. The best voice over coach is your ears.

But in order for your ears to guide you properly, you must train them - by using them. Take the time to open your ears when listening to commercials, audiobooks and any voice over you hear.

Ask yourself, "What do I hear?”
  • Is the delivery speaking to you? Why?
  • What words are emphasized and how?
  • How does it sound? Harsh and edgy? Dull and muddy?

By the way, want to know what your studio sounds like? Record yourself and play the recording in your car.

Mix engineers and musicians have been referencing their mixes in cars for years. It makes perfect sense; the car has traditionally been the place where we do most of our listening. Furthermore, modern cars are well-designed for sound.

Take the time to listen. Notice what you hear. Compare sounds and learn what sounds good to you.

It can be like opening a door to a world you barely knew existed. You’ll be surprised to discover the difference between what you think you hear… compared to what you actually hear.

You may even benefit from the experience in ways you never thought possible.

Remember: You have two ears and one mouth to remind you to use your ears twice as much.
Dan Friedman is a voice talent who began as an audio engineer in 1994, working with live sound and then in radio and recording studios. He has been a producer with ProComm Voices for over 10 years, and since 2005, a voice talent with a growing list of of clients including radio and television campaigns. His comprehensive book, Sound Advice - Voiceover From An Audio Engineer's Perspective, provides an excellent foundation for understanding voice over audio and equipment.

Sound Advice book: Click Here

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Comments (5)
Bobbin Beam
9/9/2013 at 12:57 PM
Very wise, especially when you state, "discover the difference between what you think you hear… compared to what you actually hear. "

Words to live by!
Elizabeth Holmes
9/9/2013 at 11:53 AM
Thank you, Dan, for these wonderful reminders. I'm delighted to know that I'm not the only one who carries earplugs with me wherever I go. I started this habit about six years ago when I attended a commencement address by an audio engineer at my niece's college. His parting wisdom to this group of newly-minted sound technicians? "Really listen to Nature whenever you can," and "protect your hearing." Sound advice indeed, Dan!
Dan Friedman
9/9/2013 at 10:18 AM
Thank you Reuven for your comment and for reminding readers about the importance of protecting their hearing. I also carry earplugs everywhere I go. :-)
Jim Conlan
9/9/2013 at 10:11 AM
Dan, I had to laugh when you mentioned listening in the car. It has been the same in the ad industry, going back decades. We'd record and mix in a professional studio, using thousands of dollars of equipment, then ask the engineer to stick the commercial on a cassette so we could test it in the car. So I guess the ideal test of a recording is to have a great playback system in your studio, then give the project the acid test in your car.
Reuven Miller
9/9/2013 at 6:27 AM
Sound advice indeed! When I worked for an A&R (Artist & Repertoire) company many years ago I was taught how to pull apart a mix - as I was listening to it. Listening to music has never been the same since. Though those were the days of analog, it was the concentration on the task at hand that made the difference (the studio-quality speakers certainly helped as well!).

I would partially disagree with one point; sometimes it IS the fault of the typical listener - who uses those "tiny and inefficient earbuds" at ear-splitting volume, thereby slowly destroying his/her sense of hearing.
These days I carry earplugs with me everywhere I go, as I never know when (like today) I'll have to wait at a bus stop while being subjected to heavy earth moving equipment being deployed nearby, not to mention passing ambulances, fire trucks, etc.

I'm over the age of 60, and I'm already losing some of the higher frequencies. It's more than worth making an effort to preserve what remains.
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