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microphones
for the home studio

Assemble the Right Group of Microphones for Your Creative Projects

by Tweak

Microphones at zZounds

 

Rode NT 1Tweak's "vocals on a budget" Pick
The NT-1: A true large capsule condenser microphone, like the NT2, using only the highest quality components and state of the art transformerless FET circuitry. The NT-1 is a high performance professional recording microphone which will re-de  fine recording industry standards.  Tweak:  Great all-rounder.  I like it on Vocals.  It picks up lots of bass too. No roll off switch though, so use the HP filter on your board.  I have it here in the lab and have used it on many recordings.  If you only want to buy one mic and don't want to spend a lot, but demand high, detailed sound quality, this is an excellent choice.  Very sensitive mic.  One person wrote on Usenet "Want to hear what your neighbors are up to?  Crank the gain and listen through the cans" lol.

Studio Projects C1 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Studio Projects C1 is a large diaphragm, fixed-cardioid condenser microphone employing a 1.06 in. (27mm) capsule, high quality, low noise amplifier and balanced, transformerless output circuitry. It features switchable -10dB pad and 6dB@150Hz high pass filter for added control in various recording applications and a clear, full response expected from a large capsule microphone design.  Tweak: Known in the industry as a great vocal mic that some say rivals the sound of the famous Neumann U87 which costs over ten times as much. Whether it does or doesn't can't be debated here, but I can tell you its an awesome choice as your home studio's main condenser.

Shure SM81LC Cardioid Condenser Microphone

 

The Shure Model SM81 is a high-quality, unidirectional condenser microphone designed for studio recording, broadcasting, and sound reinforcement. Its wide frequency response, low noise characteristics, and low RF susceptibility have made it a standard for applications involving acoustic instruments, especially guitar, piano, and cymbals. Tweak: For those serious about acoustic, wooden music or anything that needs a full 20Hz-20kHz response.   I want one. Check out the SM81 User Guide  Usenet:  Best Mic for recording acoustic guitar

Audio Technica AT822 Special Purpose Condenser Microphone

The AT822 is ideal for DAT recording as well as television, FM, and field applications. Its compact, lightweight design is perfect for camera-mount use.  Tweak:  pricey, but when you need a stereo mic, you need one.

 Rode NT4 Stereo Condenser Microphone  The Rode NT4 is a stereo condenser microphone with both XLR and mini jack connectors making it great for location recordings with many standard devices. Phantom power is required but ican also be powered via 9-volt battery. The two 1/2 in. capsules are in an XY arrangement, 90 degrees of each other. It comes complete in a case with a stand mount, windscreen, and custom stereo cables. Tweak: here's a great mic for stereo recording whether for close mic'd guitar in the studio or recording a live concert on location on DAT or MD.  I want one. 

Sennheiser MD421II Dynamic Cardioid Microphone This Sennheiser microphone is a low-impedance (200 ohms) balanced output unit terminating in a standard 3-pin XLR-type connector. It features rugged professional construction and a 5 position bass roll-off switch. Tweak: This is a classic dynamic mic with extended frequency response for drums, electric guitars and vocals. Highly regarded by pros for toms, strong vocalists, woodwinds and guitar cabs.  Sennheiser writes: The MD 421 II is one of the best known microphones in the world. Its excellent sound qualities enable it to cope with the most diverse recording conditions and broadcasting applications.

AKG C414 B-XL II 5-Pattern Condenser Microphone
With the introduction of the NeXt Generation C 414 B-XL models, AKG sets new benchmarks for useful features, improved technical specifications, ease of use and available accessories. All of these improvements are answers to requests from ever-demanding recording studios, broadcast stations and concert engineers, but with the basic sonic character of the legendary C 414 unaltered.

Shure SM57LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone (Less Cable)   Tweak: Every studio needs one.  It can do everything, including vocals (thanks to a rich sounding proximity effect).  Perhaps the only issue with the SM57 is that it does not have as much gain as your typical condenser and you have to boost it with the trim at the board quite a bit more.  But, OTOH, the SM57 does not need phantom power, batteries, power supplies.  Just plug it in and it gives the classic Shure sound.  And you can drop it, step on it, whirl it like a helicopter (for bizarre effects, you tweak you) and it will probably survive.  Read the SM57 User Guide

AKG C3000B Single Cardioid Large Diaphragm Mic The C 3000 B is a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone for universal use, designed and made specifically to suit the needs of musicians as well as the rigors of the stage.  Tweak:  A true classic

The Shure KSM27 is a side-address condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. Designed for studio use, but rugged enough for live applications, the KSM27 has an externally biased, 1 in. diaphragm, extremely low self-noise, and an extended frequency response specially tailored for vocal tracking and instrument recording.

The Shure KSM32 is a side-address, cardioid condenser microphone for highly critical studio recording and live sound productions. It offers an extended frequency response for an open, natural sounding reproduction of the original sound source. review of the KSM32/SL at Pro Rec

The KSM44/SL is a multiple pattern (cardioid, large diaphragm condenser microphone with extremely low self-noise (7dB). Developed to meet the needs of studio recording musicians, the warm, rich sound of the KSM44 delivers exceptional performance, tailored to deliver vivid reproduction of voice for the most critical recordings. Read the KSM44 User Guide   Official Shure site    


Drum Mics n Stuff

AKG D112 Large Diaphragm Microphone
This microphone was developed for clean kick drum and bass guitar performance with a powerful, punchy sound.

AKG Deluxe Drum Mic Package (Includes D112, 3xC418, C419 in a Case)
 This Package includes everything you need to bring out the sound of your drumset, whether on stage or in the studio

Studio Projects C4 Condenser Microphone
Recommended uses are, spaced pair omni,  piano, guitar, drum overheads and room miking.  Tweak: This set is a pair of mics, designed for stereo recording.  Its a small condenser that comes with both Omni and Cardioid heads, making the set truly useful many instrument and ambient recordings.
 

 

Neumann KM184 Cardioid Small Diaphram Microphone
Because of its optimized mechanical construction and conscious omission of modularity, which is unnecessary in many cases, the "Series 180" is predestined for economy-minded production and home recording studios. The tremendously successful KM 184 cardioid microphone has become a standard within the global studio community in just a very short time.

Shure Drum Microphone Package

Tweak:
3 classic SM57s and the Beta 52, includes the A56D drum mounts which can mount the mic to rims, cymbal and mic stands.

Audix DR456 Drum Microphone Combo Pack (4xi5, 1xD6, 4xDVice)
American-made instrument microphones designed for live and studio performance. Excellent dynamic kick, snare, and tom mics that also shine on bass and guitar cabs.

The Neumann TLM 103

 

Welcome to Tweak's class on Microphones! Will the newbies please sit up in the front few rows? Sorry dudes, only the pros can sit in the back. They know all this stuff.  None of it is rocket science, even those sweaty drummers can figure it out.  Any drummers here?  A few ape-like figures make a displeased grunt. "Oops!" But you'll be glad you came, there's a new section on basics for miking drums.

 

Browse Microphones by Type in Tweak's Microphone Room

 

Okay! Now that you are up close, this Mic here can pick up any sound you make.  By getting close to the Mic more of the direct sound is recorded and less of the reflected "hall tone" or room tone.  Do rooms make a sound? Yep!  Once you start using a quality microphone, you won't believe how noisy your home studio is.  So tip #1 is always to get as close to the source as you can and do your best to remove unwanted sounds from creeping in.  The best mics in the world can't help--they can actually make it worse because they are so sensitive, they pick up everything, even the sound of "air".  You can improve the sound of any microphone by proper placement and reducing environmental noises. 
 

With all the modern marvels that have been introduced in the last decade for our studios it may seem strange that the microphone has changed the least.  A quick peek to the high end shows that some microphone designs used today were formulated in the late 60's, that's thirty-five years ago!  Since then countless models have been introduced, copied, repackaged with small refinements.  Few areas of the recording studio have been as hotly debated as to which is "best" for a particularly recording application.  Some of this is hype and some of this is not and it can be difficult to sort through the mazes of issues.  What I hope to do here is to give you some common references so you can at least talk about mics and their differences, and give you a useable roadmap for making decisions for your studio. 
 

Like any other piece of gear, the same microphone can give tremendously different results depending on how it is used.  There is a bit of expertise and experimentation that needs to happen when placing the microphone to capture a source.  Even the best mics in the world will sound boomy and unusable if the vocalist gets too close.  This same mic might fail miserably if recording an acoustic guitar if placed too far away, or off axis (angled away from the source).  An inexpensive mic, placed optimally for the task at hand can capture exceptional nuances, and once a track is treated with EQs, compressors and plugins, the results can be outstanding.  Yet a great mic given the same care during setup and post-treatment can be absolutely stellar. 
 

Like anything worth doing, getting the best results takes a bit of practice, experimentation and work.  Yet the chances of getting a great take are consistently better with a high quality microphone.  Yet price and quality do not always match.  Moreso in the area of microphones than any other piece of gear, you can spend a lot of money and get something that you don't like, or spend a modest amount to get something you like a lot.  What are the duds?  Which are the truly great finds?  None of the mics listed to the left are duds, though the prices vary from under $100 to over $2000.  Note that I have not listed low-priced "value" mics.  If you are tempted to go to the sub $50 range of mic, I highly recommend saving up and going for an SM57,  Here's a page listing all the mics under $100
 

Poll:  best large condenser mic around $100
 

Basics of a Home Studio Mic Cabinet

First of all, lets get real.  Your home or project studio is not a pro studio.  You probably don't have to be ready for any recording situation that comes up.  Also, you studio is probably not in competition with the Record Plant or Abbey Road.  You probably record the same instruments over an over.  Probably vocals, guitars, drums, amp cabinets and perhaps a few unique instruments you have.  At the TweakLab, for example, I record vocalists, my guitars, various world percussion and some exotic flutes and strings.  For my needs, a large condenser for vocals, flutes, a small condenser for acoustic strings, drums and delicate things, a dynamic for general purpose stuff and miking amps, an omnidirectional stereo mic for location and sampling suit my needs just about perfectly.  Being more into synths and samplers, I've tended to put my hard earned bucks there, rather than into mics.  Now that I am getting into delivering super high quality samples of world instruments, I am upgrading my mics. The Neumann TLM 103, Rode NT4 and Shure SM81 LC are probably in my future.  But if I were just recording my own music as a hobby, I would stay with my Rode NT1, SM57, Octava M12 and Sony DAT Mic probably forever.  So consider your needs, and what you actually do.  Then get a good sounding mic for each thing you do.
 

Poll: Best All-Purpose Condenser Mic for $200
 

Setting up Microphones
 

Is this an art or a science?  A little of both, but often, just a matter of experimenting till something grabs you.  I've done extensive mic placement when sampling instruments for my sample cd roms and recording vocalists.  For every sample that makes the final cut on

 

Do Mics really sound different?

Yes.  Every mic "colors" the sound in one way or another, much like the way speakers color the sound of your home stereo.  Some mics try to be "transparent" but this is not always desirable. With vocals and many instruments, for example, you want a mic with some presence boost for that pro-sounding "sheen".

What is this directional pattern nonsense? 

What are you? a Drummer? Then you above all need a uni-directional mic so when close miking they pick of what it is pointing at, not everything in the room, like an omni directional mic does. Cardioid mics are directional because they pick up everything in the heart-shaped pattern in front of the mic. A Bi-directional pattern is also called a "figure 8" pattern cause that is how it looks on a graph. You can record from the front and back but not the sides.

What is Phantom Power?

Condenser mics output a weak signal that must be boosted so the mixer's preamp can boost it further into a useable signal.  Some condenser mics use batteries to do this.  Other's rely on getting this power from the mixing board.  Boards that feature phantom power send a voltage down the mic cable to the mic which is used to amplify the signal there.  The signal then arrives at the preamp and is further amped. Dynamic mics do not need phantom power.  You can read more in the forums about it and in this article by Shure

What's a -10 pad?

A Pad refers to attenuation, or a lowering of volume, output or loudness.  A -10 pad reduces the sensitivity of the microphone by 10 decibels so it can withstand louder sounds like drums, cymbals, screaming vocalists and other awfully loud things.  Some mics may have -20 pads or -15 pads.  You normally cannot adjust this--its on or off.

What's Bass Roll-off?

Some mics have a switch that cuts the lower bass frequencies that the mic pics up.  Why? When you record with a quality microphone you will find there is more bass in your environment than you thought.  If you are recording close to an ventilation system vent you will find that even a normal rush of air coming out is enough to make a thundering wind boom.  Traffic, railroads, airplanes even if far away can be picked up.  Finally, a big problem in the mix is getting rid of unwanted bass.  it sometimes makes sense to get rid of it at the source.  Many mixers have bass rolloff switches on preamps, so if the mic does not have it it is usually no big deal.

Check out all the Mics at zZounds

 

one of my cd roms, I will have over 100 source samples recorded.  Consider the microphone to be an ear.  To hear the finest nuances of any instrument, you have to point the ear in a way that the sound vibrations "hit" the diaphragm of the mic jus right.  So I put my wave recorder in record and go to the instrument, play some hits, move the mic, play some hits, move the mic, play some hits---get the idea.  When I get back to the waveform editor, I will find that one position sounded better than all the rest and within that position there is one sample that rings clear and true with unmistakable quality. 
 

Ambient and Close Mics

With drums in particular, having 2 mics set up is ideal.  Recording in stereo, the close mic, which captures all the nuances close to the instrument, may be set up within 6 inches of the source, depending how loud it is.  The Room Mic might be a few feet back and pointed anywhere.  The farther away it is, the "longer" the sound becomes.  If you are trying to get killer snares and rock toms, for example, you want to move these out quite a bit.  This will give you a natural sounding reverb that only expensive effects boxes and plugins can deliver.
 

Matching the Microphone to the job.

Vocals  The human voice evokes our attention like no other sounds.  Are ears are acutely sensitive to very tiny inflections in the air around the vocalist. The goal of the microphone is to capture the innermost soul of the vocal.  Our ears are conditioned to want to hear a slight treble presence coloration on a typical voice.  So accuracy alone  is really not the name of the game hear.  Its accuracy plus good sounding coloration with high definition presence that is not bright, but warm.  Large capsule condenser mics often get the call.  So do dynamics, especially with vocalists that get loud.  Condensers can distort if a loud vocalist gets too close. Dynamics are also a good choice for rooms with a lot of ambient noise.  
 

What you need to watch out for when buying a Mic

Assuming you understand the basic mic differences, make sure of two things before you buy. 

1. If buying a condenser mic, be sure you have +48v phantom power on your preamp.

2. If buying a dynamic mic, you don't need phantom power, you need gain on your preamp.  The SM57 and other dynamic mics need plenty of gain to get a good level, about 55-60 db.  Some of the newer inexpensive audio interfaces are designed for condensers which need about 40-45db.  Most mixers can handle the SM57.  A typical preamp with 60db of gain is fine.

 

Acoustic instruments   I can talk about acoustic guitars best as I have been recording them a long time with numerous techniques and types of microphones.  I shoot for 3 things when recording acoustic guitar.  The sound of the pick hitting the strings, the "wooden" sound of the body and a sense of pressure and movement coming from the strumming hand.  Though it breaks with studio wisdom, I have found awesome results mixing and matching different mics, such as PZM with dynamics, condensers with electrets when trying to capture a stereo image of the acoustic, taking time to experiment and place the mics to get the most out of them. And it pays to try the traditional techniques such as the X-Y technique, where two mics have their capsules very close (without touching) pointing to the instrument at a 90 degree angle from each other.  There is also the stereo 3-1 rule, which has it that if the Left Mic is 1 foot from the source, then the right mic must also be 1 foot from the source but three feet from the 1st Mic. Finally, there is ORTF, where the mics cross each other ay a 110 degree angle, (instead of pointing at each other at a 90 degree angle like XY) which is good for recording at a greater distance, like in front of a stage.  I've also realized great results with a single condenser.   
 

Sampling and "On Location" Recording  Samplists need a stereo Mic.  Or need to set up 2 mics to capture what the are sampling.  Back in the studio, when editing samples, you might decide that either the left side or the right side or both are keepers.  But you do want to have the option to 2 takes per sample.  Your odds of getting a better sample are increased.  Recording ambient environments is also a job for stereo.  Here a matched stereo pair or a stereo mic is important because you know you want to preserve the stereo image in the final sample.  I've tried many techniques with great results.  One favorite, though hard to do, is with 2 PZM mics taped to opposite sides of a big piece of plywood.  That's separation!  For outdoor ambience, try placing mics as far apart as your cables will let you.  Objects in the stereo field appear extremely wide due to the delay from one source to another.  Finally, you don't always want people to know you are recording.  For stealth mode sampling I've attached tie clip mics to my trouser pockets, stuck stereo condenser mics in backpacks with the head sticking out a little, and used minidisk recorders and cassette recorders with small cheap mics. 
 

Recording drums

Here's the basics in 3 paragraphs.  I'll cover as much as possible, but note this is just a primer. Opinion varies widely on the best way to do this.  How many mics? What gets its own mic? You might be surprised to find out if you could poll some top engineers that some famous rock songs have been recorded with as few as three mics, one directly in front of the kick drum and two overheads panned hard left and right to capture a natural stereo image.  However, if you plan to do extensive processing of kiks, snares and toms, you may need to have a mic for each.  Also, note that you don't have to capture the drums all at once.  You can overdub the snare later. 

In general, you need a mics that, above all, can handle a high SPL (sound pressure level).  The loud dynamic hits will cause distortion at the output.  This is really the case with sampling drums, where you want to stick the mic as close as possible to get the high frequencies of the "Thwack".  Some mics come with a -10 pad.  This may be in the form of a switch or an additional capsule you screw in to the housing.  Either way, the pad will filter down the input into a more reasonable useful signal. 
 

The Kik Mic has to be able to handle hi SPL and low frequencies.  Many a condenser will distort like madness here, so dynamic mics get the call. Popular Kickin' mics are the AKG D12, Shure SM57 and Beyer M88.  It can be placed a few inches away from the front kick drum head or sometimes engineers place them inside the drum. The Snare mic too has to handle hi demand, SPL wise.  And it should be rugged.  Drummers pack a real wallop into their hits and many times they will accidentally slam right into the mic, if placed anywhere near the snare (a good argument for placing the mic under the snare).  The SM57 is a great mic for this. Other fine mics for snares are the AKG 414eb and the Sennheiser MD421.  Overhead mics need to pick up the whole kit from a greater distance, so they can be more sensitive, but it still helps to have one with a pad.  Condenser mics usually get the call.  Small condensers are a good choice.    For Toms, the Sennheiser 421 is usually a top recommend.  Miking cymbals can be done with condenser mics to capture the hi frequency shimmer, but again be advised to get one with a -10 pad and cymbals have a lot of sustained sound energy.
 

Take the Poll

For the Studio which dynamic mic under $130

  Shure SM57
  Shure SM58
  ElectroVoice ND267A
  Sennheiser e835
  Sennheiser e840
  ElectroVoice ND767A

View Results

 

You might be wondering how studio keep the hi hat sound out of the snare mic, something called "bleed".  The mics directional pattern comes in here.  You want your close drum mics to reject all sounds except the drum its pointed to.  There will always be some bleed, but you work to minimize it when you set up the mics.  That is the art and science of drum mic placement made simple.  Some producers use noise gates after the Mic preamp.  The gate can be set to cut out all of the signal unless it get a really loud burst.  That takes a bit of trial and error to set up, but if done well it can improve the separation at the board.  That way you can, for example, add a big sounding reverb to just the snare as many 70's rock ballads did, or further process your snare with lower mid frequency eq for a contemporary trash sound. 
 

Decisions...

All these choices!  The difficulty for may startup home studios is deciding whether to go with just one super quality microphone or getting several less expensive mics.  If your option #1 was to get the Neumann U87, for the same money you could get a CAD e200, Sennheiser MD421II, a Shure SM81 LC, an AT 822 stereo, and half a dozen SM57s, enough to get a pro studio off the ground.  But a home studio doesn't need lots of mics, particularly if you are not recording drums. In that case, maybe just a couple of good ones will make on happiest in the long run.  Another buying issue is going with a lower cost large condenser, say, the Rode NT1a.  If you one day decide to get a better large condenser, the Rode may become unused or a dead investment.  Fortunately, mics, unlike synths, samplers and computers,  retain their resale value quite well, especially on the higher end.  Some solid advice for a newbie is to get a Shure SM57 first.  It will do it all.  Then as funds permit, get a large condenser for vocals, a small condenser for delicate instruments.  You will have the majority of recording situations covered and you will appreciate how each different mic contributes its own signature to the final mix.

 

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