How hard can it be?
So you want to record your new audiobook/ podcast/ broadcast to the nation. You just get the fastest new Mac that you can afford with a built in microphone and off you pop, right? Wrong.
Producing professional quality spoken word entails quite a bit more than that. Your computer is simply a tape recorder and editor. In the recording industry, a popular truism (and please excuse the crudity) is 'shit in shit out'. Thanks to powerful software tools, that isn't quite as true as it used to be, but still and all you want to capture the best quality audio possible from the outset.
The spoken word market is as congested as anything else, and to compete you'll need to sound at your best - that is, without the ummms and errs, the irritating heavy breathing, echoing rooms, popping 'p's, mouth clicks.....it's a long list, believe me.
There'll be a considerable list of purchases that you'll need to make in order to achieve this, and buying the fastest Mac known to humanity won't be at the top of that list - but a good, reliable computer will lie at the heart of everything that you do.
How long's this piece of string?
I'll give you a shopping list now, then we'll break each item down. The prices of some of these items can vary wildly (hence the 'piece of string'), but I'll try to be realistic.
• Refurbished Mac £500 - £1000
• Software £200 - £400
• Audio interface £100 - £200
• Microphone £150 - £250
• Speakers/ headphones £150 - £300
• Mic stand & pop shield £30 - £70
• Multi-gesture mouse £50 - £100
Yes, of course you can do it cheaper, but just like buying anything, it rarely pays to always plump for the cheapest. You can buy a hoover for £50, but it may not hoover very well for very long. Internet research and informed advice is everything.
The need for speed
How powerful a computer will you need?
The answer is, surprisingly, not that powerful. It needs to be able to record audio, obviously, and also to host and run some specialist editing software. What you won't need is a brand new M1 or M2 machine - even though that may be what you want. A refurbished, older machine will be totally up to the job, give you way more bang for your buck and free up cash for the other things that you'll need to buy.
Size vs portability
A refurbished MacBook Pro is a good option for portability. That way, it can come with you once you find that perfect recording space and always be at hand. A refurbished iMac will by nature be more static, but that lovely big screen will be very handy for those long, long hours of editing that you'll be doing. Either platform will work, and if you do go the iMac route, some recording software will allow you to control it remotely via your phone. A third option could be a laptop with a cheap plug-in big screen. Whichever format you choose, though, please consider the hefty editing sessions. and be kind to your eyes.
Pick a refurbished Mac that is relatively recent. Despite the fact that Apple machines are superbly built and maintained via frequent os updates, one starts to get left behind in software world after about 10 years. That said, your power requirements aren't really going to be huge, and you'll still be capable of producing first class audio long after the software cycle has left you behind. That's how good Macs are. I'd suggest looking at a refurbished MacBook or iMac that's around three to five years old. You'll save a lot of money over new.
The first piece of software that you'll need is a DAW (digital audio workstation). All DAWs do pretty much the same job - they enable you to record, edit and mix audio.This is your tape recorder and editor, and you'll be spending a lot of time with it. Every DAW can seem very daunting at first, and you'll have to get used to the fact that it's going to be a steep learning curve. Bear in mind, though, that you don't have to learn everything your chosen DAW is capable of. You simply need to know how to record, edit and output finished files - not how to record an orchestra. YouTube will be your friend, and it's easy to find free courses on whichever DAW you settle on.
All audio professionals (myself included) have their favourite DAW, which is generally the one that they learned on. Mine was Apple's Logic, and it's a natural choice if you're working with Macs. You can also use it remotely with your iPhone or iPad, and at time of writing will cost you around £200. There are many other alternatives out there, some of which are free, so don't be swayed by me on this one. The main takeaway is that recording spoken word isn't a challenge for any DAW.
The other software must-have for spoken word is specialist audio restoration software for all those clicks, pops, rumbles that I mentioned earlier. This may appear to be a luxury, but believe me it isn't. It'll make the difference between ok (but irritating) and truly professional spoken word audio.
Izotope rx is absolutely killer for this. I'm not sponsored - I wish I was, as I wouldn't have had to shell out the £1000 for the Advanced version! There really isn't anything else on the market that does everting this does.
Izotope RX standard will set you back around £200 at time of writing.
A good quality audio interface ports audio in and out of your Mac. You can spend the price of a decent second-hand car on a high end multi-channel audio interface, but you won't need multi-channel, though, and thankfully the budget end of the market has some very high quality offerings. I'd recommend UAD's excellent Volt 176. It comes with an excellent selection of software and a free DAW (Ableton's Live 11 Lite). It has a great software preamp and compressor built in for your....
I'm not going to recommend one here, there are so many good products out there. Go have a browse at something recommended for spoken word at around the price points quoted above. You'll need a mic stand, and at the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum, don't buy the cheapest one you can find. The tightening screws will quickly wear out and it'll become a mic-doesn't-stand. A pop shield will save you hours of editing - you can make one out of an old coat hanger and a pair of tights, but a decent quality one may sound, look (and make you feel) better. It won't break the bank.
This is essential. Judging your work is critical, so just don't use any old ear buds that happen to be lying around. The 'piece of string' comes in here;- speakers and headphones, just like audio interfaces and microphones, range from the absurdly cheap to the eye-watering (my speakers retail at £3.5k). The suggested price range above will get you something pretty good, but spend more if you can. You get what you pay for etc. Browse for headphones and/or monitors that are designed for critical not flattering listening.
What's with the mouse?
Have I already said that you'll be spending way more time editing than talking? I need to illustrate this. I just edited an audiobook for the aforementioned clicks, pops, gasps etc. The book was just over 11 hours in read time, and my editing time clocked in at 31 hours. As I worked in Izotope RX, I had my four most common edits assigned to my multi gesture mouse. In one 29 minute chapter, I counted 190 edits using those commands. That's a lot of reaching for the keyboard saved. I'd recommend the Logitech MX master. It'll save your hands and some (but not all) of your sanity.
I appreciate that all of this is a steep curve, but keep the end goal in mind at all times. I produce music as well as spoken word, and surprisingly I've found that thoroughly editing spoken word can often be more critical than music. Think of it from the listener's point of view - they're listening to your voice for a long time, and no matter how much sense you're making, any audio distraction quickly becomes a turn off. We don't want anyone turning off.
The audio you're after is dead audio. No reverb, no room, it's distracting. Think late night radio presenter. There are plenty of tips and tricks on the internet to help you to achieve this, and you don't necessarily need a bespoke vocal booth (although if you've got one...). Izotope can help you after the event, but remember that old 'shit in shit out' maxim. Get your recording as dead as you can from the outset. It may feel odd recording your opus in a linen cupboard, but the listener can't hear where you are.
All audiobooks released commercially are QC'd before release. In other words, someone else goes through your script whilst listening to your audio for mistakes and distractions. It's an absolute necessity, as when you're spending this amount of time on one voice you sometimes go snow blind. I missed an entire paragraph in that 11 hour audiobook I did, and that's not uncommon. Ideally, you'd get someone else to QC your work, but if it's just you, then leave it for a few days before coming back and giving it a final check.
What was the question again?
Which Mac for spoken word? A refurbished one, every time. Spend as much ££ as you can on the other items on this list.
I record on a refurbished 2015 trashcan Mac Pro. It's great, and if it ain't broke....