I first heard this one day while sitting in my studio space. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and a gentle breeze came through the open window. I sat in the sweet spot as the sun warmed my skin, and listened to what I felt was probably the best recording I had ever heard.
Looking at the video I see:
The Source: A studio full of amazing musicians and great gear ✓
Acoustics: The Tracking Room in Nashville ✓
Preamps: Neve, API, SSL, GML ✓
Microphones: the Microphone as the next important link in the recording chain! And it looks like engineer Greg Paczosa knows that, too. ✓
Think of a microphone as a person witnessing an event. Each person present will experience the event in a different way and translate that verbally. Likewise, a microphone “hears” the source in a certain way and relates that to your monitors or headphones. The difference between one mic and another can be night and day.
It’s important to pick the right mic for the job both technically and artistically.
Good and Bad Microphones: how can I tell the difference?
Like preamps, and most gear for that matter, there’s always certain characteristics that distinguish good from bad. And the amount of money spent on a microphone or its name may not determine whether it’s better than its less expensive and lesser known counterpart. To make things more difficult, some microphone company’s build-qualities are fine, but the components may be mediocre. Generally speaking:
Good Microphones are built well, use good to very high quality components, and have pleasing sound characteristics:
realism, warmth, large 3-D like image, air, presence, accuracy, clarity, punch, low self-noise
Bad Microphones are built poorly with low grade components, and have potentially sound distorting characteristics:
fake, hyped, sterile, small 1-dimensional image, brittle, mushy, picks-up radio stations, noisy
In today’s new music industry there are some companies who understand the recording industry’s current economic climate, and are manufacturing stellar products for very reasonable prices. You don’t have to buy a high end microphone to get a high end sound.
Basic Microphone Types and Character:
Dynamic: needs a louder source, less detail in the high frequencies, good bass and often peaking more in the midrange; more expensive models tend towards a flatter frequency response and natural sound.
Small Diaphragm Condenser (SDC): sensitive, can be bright in the high frequencies; clear, detailed, and accurate frequency reproduction from lows to highs; great for sources with quick and sharp transients (acoustic guitar, drum overheads, hi-hat)
Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC): sensitive, clear, detailed, and accurate frequency reproduction from lows to highs; great for just about any source
Ribbon: considered “natural” sounding, slightly to greatly reduced high frequency creating a very warm and mellow sound; needs a loud source unless it’s a modern ribbon mic.
The Right Mic for the Job and Placement:
In my experience, it’s good to know what has worked in the past and to launch out from there. Remember recording is also an art, so feel free to experiment and use your ears: if it sounds good, it is good.
See the chart below listing the standard basic microphone choices for a particular source.
Scenario: You have a drum session and after looking through the chart maybe you’ve come to realize that you don’t have $13,000.00 worth of microphones to mic. up the drums, and the nearby music store only sells a Shure SM57 knock-off which is proudly displayed under the glass cabinet . . . collecting dust. Three options:
1) head to a large music store that rents a variety of good microphones
2) find a recording studio or production company that rents microphones
3) open up a new window and shop on-line for less-expensive, great-sounding microphones:
Shure: SM57, SM58, SM7B, Beta 52A
AKG: D 112
Small Diaphragm Condenser (SDC):
Advanced Audio Microphones: CM-54, CM-28
Peluso Microphone Lab: CEMC-6, P-28
Rode Microphones: NT4
Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC):
Advanced Audio Microphones: CM-12, CM-47, CM-67, CM-47FET, CM414, CM-87
Peluso Microphone Lab: 22 47, P-12, P-67, 22 251
Audio Technica: AT4050, AT4060
Rode Microphones: NT1000, NTK, K2, Classic II
Studio Projects: T3
Avantone Pro: CV-12
Peluso Microphone Lab: R14, SR14, TR14
Shinybox: 46 Series
Cascade Microphones: Fathead II
Remember that the microphone is hearing everything and it’s important to pick the right mic. for the job both technically and artistically. You can rent expensive microphones, and for buying, the good news is that there are a lot of companies offering microphones that sound fabulous for way less than the big guys!
Join me next time for the final part in The Recording Chain series, Part 6: The AD/DA Converters and DAW