So what's the first thing that pops into your mind?
When you think of a ‘Recording Studio’.
And rightly so:
Without such a big, magnificent piece of gear in the middle of the room the whole thing seems incomplete.
So how to choose from a huge selection of mics?
To purchase a microphone you will have plenty of time to poke around on the Internet or in music stores, among the most extravagant ones larded with all kinds of marketing slogans and specification lists.
You must look for a mic that fits your needs!!!
AKG is a brand synonymous with audio equipment including DJ decks, synthesizers, software emulators and more.
As a decades-long competitor, I expect some great things from AKG.
No doubt, they've ventured into microphone land and the AKG C414, with its high dynamic range of 152 db and three different bass cut filters, is just outstanding for almost any studio situation.
The AKG has a very high impedance of 200 ohms. Microphone recording basics first: the higher the impedance the more you need to rely on short cables about five to 10 meters thick.
The lower the impedance, the longer wires you need. With 200 ohms, the AKG C414 is useful for any studio situation.
A frequency range of 20 to 20khz is enough to capture male (usually around 300hz or so) and female vocals (around 500hz or so) with complete character and clarity. Well, its 152 dB dynamic range theoretically guarantees better character or so.
Official marketing by AKG says it has the sonic character of its famous AKG C12, used mostly for lead vocals and solo instruments.
I believe a great way to test a microphone's versatility is to use a cheap audio interface with ample preamplification to see how it performs. Then compare it to a high-class preamplifier and see the difference.
In this case, for all models here, I'm using a Lexicon Lambda and a Universal Audio Apollo Twin that also has a digital signal processor, but emulates in real-time some classic valve pre-amplifications for mics.
Running the C414 through the Lambda Lexicon and I was already amazed. The simple interface can efficiently handle the microphone. Now that it has a transformer (the earlier models didn't have any transformers though they sounded great), it has a warm, alluring top-end.
Remember that this is running through a simple Lambda interface. I sang a bit into it and I got a crispy sound that has ample treble, great roundness in the mids and a smooth bass and low end.
If Lambda can make it sound beautiful, then it should sound better with the Apollo Twin, right? Plugging it in the Apollo Twin and using the first tube emulation I could get, I lost some of the lower bass frequencies I heard using the Lambda.
I think it might be the Lambda's fault. However, I felt the dynamics increase and fluctuate better than the waveforms Lambda had. Indeed, it was a microphone fitting for quieter genres. But you won't appreciate it so much if you're into livelier music (unless you run it through an onboard real-time compressor)
The AKG C414 is recommended for anybody who needs to do a podcast, record an acoustic song or want something that is warm and round at the same time. But if you're not all for fuzzy microphone feels…
The echoes of musicians and vocalists raving about the pure sound of a Shure SM58 could be heard just as soon as you step out of the studio.
If you're like me and the first time you heard it you thought it was overrated, let's prepare ourselves to both be proven wrong.
Vocalists have been telling you dynamic microphones could perform well with live venues. Maybe they're right. Or maybe they're just using a Shure SM58 when their record their songs.
Truthfully, this is as durable a microphone can be. Having multiple patterns while having a rugged, tough feel due to its thick steel-mesh grille, the sm58 still looks like a normal mic.
Or probably you just saw some imitations of the original.
The Shure SM58 could respond to 50hz up to 15khz. Dynamic range microphones may not reach as far as condensers could, but it works in studio applications.
This is the one for you if you're a vocalist with a rough singing style. If you're a country or blues singer, this is what you need. If you're a metal, dubstep or electronic music vocalist, this is the one for you. It's also the microphone for you if you need to get the microphone near your mouth all the time.
The dynamic range and reduced sensitivity might spell a problem for most vocal recording nuts. But through the rule of thumb, with increased advantage is a trade-off on the other side. In this case, one might sacrifice condenser comforts for some dynamic-range goodness.
Plugged into the Lambda, I could hear some digital harshness, partly might be due to the preamp of the Lambda. The preamp could be harsh or trebly in some cases. For the Shure SM58, the Lambda's preamp may have just edged the power swing towards the Shure SM58.
While I could get decent and clear recordings, I could hear it to be lifeless. It seems flat or even clipping to my ears (even if meters say it isn't).
Using the UA Apollo Twin, I've chosen a mid-rich classic tube emulation after the trebly incident. The mid rounded out that upper mid, about 5khz range that sounded annoying with the Lambda.
The presence was excellent and not harsh compared to the latter preamplification. I guess this is the true sound of the SM58, it has enough presence but enough just to alert you of the sparkle but not make listening to the vocal track tiring.
One thing annoying though is a sudden roll-off of presence. I know that it's around 10khz that feedback comes in and it's the unit's preventive response. But then again, this is a microphone built to be used live and not in the studio. But it can work for small studios though, so it's a great investment.
If you've got more money for more premium stuff, then read on!
Shure sure loves their dynamic microphones (you saw what I did there). But the world only loves the SM58 and not many people know about the SM7.
The SM7 series is renowned for their flat response.
The SM58 and SM7B, due to their flat but characteristic sound that is natural, have applications more than just a live-use microphone, but also for instrument recording and studio vocal recording microphone.
The microphone has a 50hz-20khz response, making it reach a bit more in reference to the SM58's 15khz shortage.
But then again, if you listen to them closely, you'll find they sound similar but with a bit of sparkle for the SM7B (more about this later).
The only difference between the two is that the SM58 is effective live as it is in the studio. The SM7B works more for DJ booths or studios because of its not-too-rugged design.
Due to its low sensitivity similar to the SM58, singers may need to move closer to the microphone to get what they need. As with the SM58, you'll need a pre-amp with great power swing to give your recordings life despite the flat response of the microphone for any type of vocals.
Compared to the SM58, the SM7B is more of a directional microphone perfect for outdoor audio recording. Positioned incorrectly, you get a muddy response. This is sad, but challenging. But look on the bright side; if you've mastered the Shure SM7B to record vocals, everything else should be a cinch, right?
Working with my Lambda, I expected less. But the SM7B decently performed. The sound was warmer than the SM58 although a bit harsher with the presence. But the difference was my vocals sounded rich using this microphone. It had a thick voice than the SM58.
I tried to re-do my results and it took me more than 30 minutes to find the optimal spot I found the thick voice once again.
With the Apollo Twin, the high-mid tube emulation worked effectively to bring out more presence using the microphone. The problem with most dynamic microphones is the lack of presence and power.
While the SM7B worked with my Lambda with almost flying colors, using the UAD Apollo Twin showed me the beautiful interaction of a high-level preamp and a classic microphone.
I heard a great deal of difference (after I found my sweet spot once again) in the singing. There was a lively thickness with rich dynamics. A few rounds with my on-board compressor and I'd say this track was already perfect and didn't need any more plugins.
The SM7B is a great microphone for its price. That is, if you're willing to find the right spot for singing vocals. If not well, there's…
Any vocalist will tell you the way to go is through tube condenser microphones.
The warmth, the thickness, the pronounced sibilance without a harsh or distorted presence, only tubes/valves (if you're British) can do that.
Now comes something from Australia; a friend of mine recommended it to me when I said I wanted something that Shure microphones could do, but had enough sensitivity so that I don't have to eat my words having to sing closer to the microphone.
It was the Rode NTK...
If you see a large-diaphragm microphone, that's almost certainly something Rode made. The Australian company loves making their vintage microphones (and making their vintage parts rare for buyers to find).
However, the new Rode NTK is made from hybrid parts, which include modern ones easier to find out the street or your favorite microphone parts retailer (if that guy really exists I'd really be happy to meet him/her).
Portability wasn't something singers knew Rodes for. They knew the company for its sound and ability to capture an organic vintage vibe with their microphones. They also knew their models for their separate power supplies.
Yup, the Rode NTK wasn't about to use that +48V phantom power from your mixer. Its seven-pin XLR connects it direct to its power supply, which sends the signal back through a regular three-pin balanced XLR.
If you were observing closely, you just read seven pins. The more power, the better the tube quality. I'm starting to think the power supply was solely for increasing the Rode NTK's sensitivity and possibly dynamic range.
It has a frequency response of 20hz to 20khz. Just perfect.
Recording for the first time with my Lambda interface, the NTK disappointed me. But I believe it was just the Lambda. The microphone had a warmth like no other, but its top-end just goes from all-too-present to raspy at some point.
The tube in the microphone slightly compresses the sound coming in from the diaphragm to give it that warm sound. Unfortunately, the Lambda couldn't convert that sound properly.
I had better sound using the Apollo Twin. Using the classic vintage tube mixing desk, the sound came out flat, but warmer. If you've heard 80s radio DJs talking, you know it has that certain flat sound that is not too thick, but enough to present all frequencies. It's not an in-your-face sound.
I'd say it goes well for singing acoustic, jazz and some alternative pop songs. Light songs mind you. That flat response can do well with voice-overs too, especially voices with a lot of treble.
Oh, and you could keep them running 24 hours, 7 days a-week. Radio stations in the 80s-90s used this microphone without any sign-off. By replacing the tube and other parts from time to time, the Rode NTK could last decades.
But if you're not looking for an eternal-life microphone, you probably need this!
Neumann won't make you feel like a new man (punny) but it'll make your vocal recording sound like a brand-new you.
Expensive dual-diaphragm guarantees that the U87 stays inside your recording studio, particularly your vocals booth.
The tube also contributes to that steep price.
As a multi-directional condenser microphone, audio engineers know immediately the microphone isn't just for vocals.
But if you loved those warm studio vocal recordings during the 1960s and early 70s, the Neumann U87 is just right for you.
Unlike the Rode NTK, the Neumann U87 has no dedicated power supply. This could suck if you don't have a good pre-amp.
However, it has a battery pack that provides its power. Upon noticing this, I knew the Lambda test for this microphone would fail miserably. Or would it?
Anyhow, this $3,500 microphone has a long-running history with the British Broadcasting Company. I tried watching some Carl Sagan upon writing this Neumann U87 and I've got to admit, the warm sound is calling out to me.
That warmth coming from the midrange is mind-numbing (for audio engineers, you know how much obsession could take over, right?)
As per protocol for this post, I used the Lexicon Lambda. Turning on the onboard battery pack, the midrange sounded fairly nice. However, I noticed a brief lack of treble and beef in the high-midrange frequencies. In short, I have a flat sound without any balls.
If you're using the Lambda as a preamp, you could always add a bit of treble, but the good that will do, well it's better you sell the microphone to another recording engineer instead.
I fared better once again with the UAD Apollo Twin. An emulation of a Class A Tube preamplifer gave the Neumann U87 the boost it needed. While I could notice some digital nuances here and there, the sound is exceptional.
I recorded an acoustic guitar with the microphone and it came out smoothly. If you've listened to some Eagles acoustic (Hotel you-know-what), you know the sound I'm talking about.
On vocals, the brilliance of the presence was sparkling, but not overpowering or exaggerated. It retained the source's true frequency nature. But I wasn't satisfied with the Apollo Twin's sound too.
I hooked up the microphone from a friend's Presonus Studio 192. The sound was amazing with those XMAX preamplifiers. The result was close enough with the Apollo, but delivered better response and sensitivity. Using the Studio 192, however, you expose some of the harshest criticisms a microphone could deliver.
It exposed my bad singing and the microphone's bad angle during the recording. There's no fix-it-in-the-mix for that one. The Shures can help compensate for the bad sound of the source. But the U87 won't be your friend. It's going to be your vocal coach.
Didn't mean to scare you right there. Maybe the U87's predecessor isn't as strict as it is? Maybe? Let's see!
The 'Flea 47' does not intend to make you flee and fear it just like its successor. The moniker with the number 47 was the original Neumann U47 launched in 1948.
You'll only find imitations today, namely ones like Flea's attempt. But Flea has that Neumann seal-of-approval for quality and sound imitation. That is the best that I could find so far.
It's hard to find a brand new Neumann U47 because no manufacturer is making spare parts. Lucky enough to find one? Bet you that it won't last a week without modifying its parts to become a hybrid microphone (which defeats the purpose).
So I settled with the Flea 47 instead.
Unlike its later brother, the Flea 47 comes with its own power supply. It has a seven-pin XLR just like the Rode NTK and re-feeds the signal to the board through a three-pin XLR.
It looks sturdier than its original model (the Neumann U47 was a bit fragile, tube and grille and all). In fact, I think the Flea 47 could take some bit of beating but I wouldn't dare do that to an exorbitantly-priced microphone.
Originally, the Neumann U47 has its own transformer. A gigantic BV8 transformer that converts its signal and probably gives it that vintage edge when it comes to microphones. It's not that bad the Flea 47 doesn't have a transformer but I bet it would sound different nonetheless (for better or worse).
Before I plugged it in, a friend of mine told me to watch or rather, listen to some Frank Sinatra and somewhat 1950s recordings that reminded me of some Mafia movie. The original Neumann U47 in most studios were in full commission with singers recording songs and releasing vinyls. The sound was pure heaven, even by YouTube or Spotify digital streaming standards.
Plugging the Flea 47, I was amazed at how close the sound was when I was just speaking into it. Oh, and I was just using the Lambda for that, sorry. But using the Lambda has lots of disadvantages, namely that the signature thickness did not exist. The sonic character of the vocals was identifiably present.
On the Apollo Twin, classic tube emulation of some great interfaces worked well for the Flea 47 albeit some digital sharpness disrupting the natural warmth and thickness of the microphone. The high mids and mids brightly presented themselves. I could feel some digital artifacts too.
A friend of mine who owns the U47 sent me a demo recording of someone singing some oldies songs on his Universal Audio Audio Interface. Those AIs are well-known for handling vintage microphones efficiently. The sound was tremendously far from the Lambda and Apollo Twin's results. In fact, it sounds like I was listening to some vinyl minus the scratches.
Well, the Neumann 47 or rather Flea 47 can be quite expensive. Add to that that you need an audio audio interface with the best preamps for vintage-sounding microphones, and that's a handful.
But maybe there's a cheaper, much more stable and portable alternative.
Audio-Technica uses cutting-edge technology, tried-and-tested machine and equipment knowledge and years of experience to create:
The Audio-Technica AT2035 is the prominent representative for their devotion to these values.
Compared to the Neumann's and the Rodes, AT2035 is dumb foundingly affordable at $200 ($100-150 street). The thing is, it sounds vintage during recording (we'll discuss that later).
The AT2035 is the successor of the successful AT2020, which had its own powerful sound. A fixed cardioid pattern meant it could take on any kind of sound.
Some recording engineers I know use the AT2035 for instrument and ambient recordings. Every one of them report immense recording results.
With a frequency range of 20hz-20khz, it's enough to hear everything in my voice, or anyone's voice in particular. It must handle instrument octaves accurately. No tube present here, but it's quite heavy and beautiful to look at.
Official endorsement from AT market it as a home, project, professional studio and live performance microphone. The last one could be possible. However, with a -33 sensitivity, it could still pick up some artifacts that could cause some loud venue screeching.
But I believe the sound would definitely be immense especially if proper high-pass roll-offs are used with care.
I know a few college kids who own about five of these microphones. They both use them in their garage studio (which I had years ago) and I listened to some of their recordings. For an untreated venue, the microphone can record instruments without much trouble. We can say the margin of error for untreated rooms and wrong-angles is about 1:3, but the sound I heard was amazing.
It has a nice, slightly compressed middle frequency that smoothen the high end. I'm pretty sure AT engineers aimed to give it a flat sound with some breadth on the presence recognizing a peak at about 10khz.
Using this with the Lambda, It performed fairly well. The Lambda can be a weak preamplifier but the AT2035 compensated the sound with better quality and a great range. In fact, the audio recorded cuts through plenty of mixes, making it a must-have device for any home studio or small studio.
The Apollo Twin delivered better results when used with vintage tube audio interfaces. The sound was gigantic and had great mids. It was singing. Using the low-cut filter, the warmth was reduced but it sounded flat.
The second day I tried it, I realized the flatness while using the filter was because I positioned the mic erroneously. Adjusting for error, the sound still didn't have enough warmth, but it had awesome prominence.
Don’t like a budget microphone like this one? Then let's get back to more expensive toys!
If you say expensive, you've got to say it's Neumann. Those rare tube parts, that vintage sound, that sophisticated-sounding grille, that's all signature Neumann from the golden days of jazz singing, radio announcements and rock and roll.
The TLM 103 is Neumann's masterpiece, well, I'd like to say so myself. It highlight's Neumann's strict attention to detail that made both the U47 and U87 the top of their class.
The TLM 103 is a top-class quality microphone that guarantees a warm, vintage, high mid sound, but it's not friendly to your wallet (you asked for expensive, you got it).
While one can say the U87 is more expensive than the TLM 103, the TLM 103 is more flexible.
Where the U87 excels in midrange and is a broadcasting fan-favorite, the TLM 103 could do more than just deliver some beautiful sound for voice-overs and broadcast media and some singing.
First things first. the TLM 103 has a large diaphragm, the signature of both the U47 and U87, Neumman's signature in general!
However, unlike the U87 and 47, the TLM 103 has a fixed cardioid response. Unlike its predecessors, it has no switchable polar pattern. But then, that's what you get for paying for something less expensive than the U87.
Actually, it doesn't have any pads, filters or other features that have extra patterns. For me, that type of simplicity actually sells.
In fact, I rarely use other patterns unless I want to achieve an awesome sound. Now this is a deal-breaker for some because you want to get everything you want or need out of a microphone. But if you could get a great sound out of it, why not?
Testing out the TLM 103 with the Lexicon Lambda, I found it increased in treble more than what other people told me about. I believe it's just the interface; my other tests in this post point that the Lambda may increase the treble or hi-mid characteristic of the microphone.
Despite such increased brightness, the vocals did well. I'd say this works best with baritone-voiced singers if you plug it in Lambda. While it produces a flat, powerful sound with the Lambda, It's still not good enough for today's rock, metal or EDM standards. Classic rock though, now that's where this really fits.
The Neumann sound comes to life when you have an Apollo Twin working with you to preamp it with some classic vintage tubes. Now you might say it's still emulated and digital (yup, I can notice that), this sounds loads better than just using Lambda.
It sounds better to use now with acoustic instruments. I tried it on drums, it was just awesome. For female vocals, I believe the Apollo Twin couldn't do much about that, but it was much more of an improvement than the Lambda.
Didn't have much time to test this with a friend's classic vintage preamp from PreSonus. Will update this post though if I have the chance!
I highly recommend this for people who could work with simple equipment with limited options and can do best with the things they have. Definitely my money's worth.
For more vintage vibes, you'll need…
Vintage means handmade. Handmade means more expensive. When you say BLUE Baby Bottle Microphone, that's a handmade, vintage microphone that's expensive.
I'd tell you right now, this microphone isn't for budget projects. Despite its official brand being the budget line of the Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics (BLUE. You probably guessed it), if you're talking about Class- A Tubes, you're talking half-thousands.
Obviously, they called it the Blue Baby Bottle because it resembles a toddler's bottle with a spherical diaphragm on top. That 'bottle' body consists of all the electronics the microphone has.
If you've looked at the microphone's enclosures, you'll notice the hand-built quality it has.
Running it through my Lexicon Lambda interface, it exposed its vintage sound. But it's not much of a warm vintage. It's more of a trembly vintage but neutral sound.
The Neumann's have that pronounced mid to high-mid warmth. The Baby Bottle has a neutral smooth sound that's punchy for me because I get to fiddle with it in the mix. Neutral = awesome for post-processing for me to be honest.
That endorsed frequency response of 20hz-20khz really does the trick. It's highly sensitive and has a wide vocal dynamic range. I couldn't believe the sound I got out from the Lambda myself.
Wanting to take it further, the Universal Audio Apollo Twin did something spectacular. Instead of that high-mid, neutral tone, my recordings (running through a modern tube preamplification) had powerful mids. Sometimes, it could sound muddy.
But I'd say it's muddy beautiful, to be exact. It has a beautiful midrange powerful enough to sing. Put it up front a distorted electric guitar and you get so much clarity, it's amazing why nobody used it for pop or alternative rock.
Or maybe you'd like something that didn't come from Europe.
I'm pretty sure none of you ever heard the brand Avantone before. Well, yes you may have. It's 2015 and most people have found out about Avantone's audio gear since.
But you have to admit it. When you hear something comes from China, quality is the first thing that comes into mind. Poor quality of make.
Before I took the plunge, I thought about three things.
One, most smartphones are assembled in China. They're partly manufacturers of the product and contribute to the product design (in a way of course).
Two, China's locally-distributed items are the ones that suffer low quality of make. Their import products have a higher standard. Well, somewhat.
Three, China produces awesome songs from their bands. So they use local equipment. Hence, this microphone, probably.
One thing about Avantone though, it's deceiving. It has a frequency response of 20hz to 20 khz. While it's effective for a one-directional microphone, the tube does everything. Upon purchase, you get two extra tubes. Add the tube inside the microphone and you get three. Each of the tubes have different qualities and are easier to replace.
Oh, and it has its own power supply.
Using the Lambda, the dynamics could capture whole ranges with a natural, vibrant sound. The Lambda could have added a little glistening and sparkle here and there, but even with a preamp as entry level as Lambda, quality like this is unheard of.
It has a better range of mids and a great presence sparkle running it on the Apollo Twin on classic vintage tube amp mode. It's unbelievably faithful to the sound of the Rode NTK, except cheaper.
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That's the next question you might ask yourself:
The primary function of a mic is…
...to convert acoustic energy (sound pressure) into electric energy.
This is a simple process…
…but it needs the right tone color, for the sound pressure and character of the specific source you want to record.
If you make a wrong microphone choice it will lead to an unnatural sound with too much or not enough high or low frequencies.
A basic knowledge of microphones and recording with them is a must for the serious producer, musician or recording artist.
This guide is specifically tailored to provide you precisely what you need to know.
The process of a dynamic mic (image right) is actually simple to explain:
It’s actually the opposite of a sound speaker (DJ’s used to MC through their headphones back in the days).
The biggest advantage of this type of mic is that it can handle any variation of sound pressure.
Because of this…
…it can be placed close to the source you want to record.
The dynamic process we explained earlier is less suited for sources that are further away.
These so called condensers (image right) work very differently than the dynamic type.
The process of a condenser explained:
Because there is no cupper wire involved to move this microphone is more sensitive to air pressure displacement.
The advantage of recording with condensers is that you can place it further away from the source.
Ribbons (image right) are almost identical to the dynamic type...
…but with only one big difference:
Instead of a diaphragm with an inductor a ribbon captures vibrations.
There are a number of disadvantages:
Despite of these disadvantages ribbons are known for their “full character” and that’s why they are beloved
Microphones are designed with certain directional characteristics.
So pay attention to the details if you want to buy one.
It can be annoying if a microphone does not only pick up the sound of the amp…
…but also absorbs a large part of the reflections in your room through the back of your microphone.
Microphones are basically omnidirectional but by adjusting (changing) the capsule, it creates several different options (polar patterns).
The different polar patterns:
There are a couple of variations to the four basic polar patterns I mentioned above.
For example: Super cardioid Pattern which is used on “shot gun” microphones (which is largely insensitive to the rear).
Most commonly used is the cardioid.
(graphic representation of several directional characteristics) plaatje
The phenomenon proximity effect, comes down to the fact that if your sound source is closer to the microphone - especially the last 10 to 15 centimeters - the amount of bass in the recorded
sound considerably increases.
You can also notice this the other way around: the farther you are from the microphone, the less low you going to get.
Especially condenser microphones are very sensitive. But it’s not a bad thing
Because by experimenting with the placement of your microphones, you can significantly influence the sound character without…
…having all kinds of buttons to rotate the recorded signal.
Especially low vocals and heavy guitars can greatly benefit from this proximity effect, with the right placement of course.
In the manual of your microphone you will find information about characteristics…
…but also about the SPL (Sound Pressure Level).
This indicates how much sound pressure the microphone can handle and…
…is highly variable for each type of microphone.
And that’s definitely a good thing.
A bass drum can already produce about 135 decibels of sound pressure and that's too much for an inexpensive microphone.
Many quality microphones often have a much higher tolerance, but it’s better to buy a microphone specifically designed for the bass drum and his substantial pressure.
Anyway, when you finally going to purchase a microphone, it is important to make a conscious choice.
Start with a list of answers to the following questions:
Even the acoustics of your recording room may be a factor in choosing the right microphone.
An area with hard materials (wooden floors, smooth walls) would increase the reflections, so you will be less tempted to put a condenser at a distance.
Close miking with a dynamic microphone will be appropriate to above mentioned circumstances.
There is a big variety of microphones you can find on the market…
…and you will have to pay attention to a lot of factors to make the right decision.
Tip: Go to your local music store and make an appointment to test a range of mics.
You will be astonished about the diversity, sound (color) and price range of different types and brands.
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