Large or small diaphragm? Omni or directional response?
Valve or solid state preamp? Yes, we’re exploring the varied and often overwhelming
area of microphones!
Whilst there is a huge choice of products to choose from,
there are really only two buying factors which, when carefully considered, can
dramatically narrow down the right microphone for you – budget and application.
Big money does not mean better results. Fact. So much of
your sonic results rely on how and where a microphone is used. We have all
heard tales of well-known low cost microphones having been used as part of the
main vocal chain on legendary records. And it’s true (well, most of them).
By getting to know your microphones, frequency, polar
response and off-axis characteristics, you will be surprised at how versatile
and usable one mic can be.
Nowadays you can purchase the main-three types of
microphones (dynamic, condenser and ribbon) within the same price range.
However in terms of general price hierarchy you can expect to pay the most for
condensers and ribbons whilst dynamic microphones are readily available with
reasonable and even cheap price tags.
How you drive your mic should be considered as much as the
microphone itself. If finances allow then consider what preamplifier you can
also afford. For most of us we may only be armed with an audio interface to
handle all of our I/O without the luxury of a mixing desk or dedicated preamps,
but many of today’s audio interfaces include mic pres as standard and are engineered
to be flexible enough to effectively drive high and low impedances for both
gain-hungry ribbon microphones and not-so-demanding dynamic mics.
But the benefit of the perfect microphone and dedicated
preamp cannot be ignored when you find the right combination.
So you know your budget, but you can’t begin the search
until you know what you are capturing…
There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to audio, if it
sounds good, do it! All musicians sing and play differently and recording them
must be with an unbiased approach.
However there are some tried and trusted ways to capture and
record with microphones which are used over the years and we are well aware of:
- Overheads – condenser or ribbon, directional
Sensitive enough to pick up the whole kit from a distance
and good HF response for cymbals. When using a pair ensure they are matching
and watch their positioning to ensure good phase coherence between mics.
- Snares and Toms – dynamic, directional
This will reduce overspill from adjacent drums and dynamics
are generally rugged with high SPL to handle loud signals close to the source.
- Kick drum – dynamic or condenser (with high SPL)
The inherent loudness of a kick means spill isn’t as much of
a problem as with other parts of the kit. Your main concern is having a
microphone that will handle the loudness without clipping and can compliment
the unique frequencies you get from a kick. Fortunately there are dedicated
microphones for this!
- Hi-hats – condenser, directional
Directional to minimise spill. Like for overhead
applications condensers have good HF response perfect for hats. Don’t be shy
with the high pass EQ to isolate the hi-hats further.
- Room mic – condenser, omnidirectional
Not common on home recordings but when positioned well, away
from the drums can really compliment your mix. Because rooms have a sound too!
- Live – dynamic or condenser, directional
Whether for a live studio recording or on stage a
directional mic will limit spill from other instruments or stage monitors –
this can be applied to any instrument in a live situation. Historically dynamic
designs were the only usable tool but these days there are very suitable
directional condenser microphones for live.
- Studio, isolated – dynamic, condenser or ribbon,
More often than not we record vocals separately meaning
spill is a non-issue, meaning we are free to use omni or directional mics and whatever
works for the vocalist.
Whilst large capsule condensers are the most go-to studio
vocal mics (due to a typically flattering sound), small capsule condensers and
dynamic microphones are more common that you might think and sometimes better
*got a vocalist who
moves around a lot? Try an omnidirectional microphone to avoid proximity
- Dynamic, condenser or ribbon, any response.
Guitars can be treated in a similar way to vocals as they
sit in the same, or very close, frequency band as one another. As a result it
can be common to see a range of mics and positioning on a single setup and
mixed together to blend the best characteristics of each mic for the ultimate
There has been a big resurgence of ribbon microphones in
recent years and are particularly popular on guitar cabs combining the broad
range of condensers with the directionality and mid-range of dynamics.
Of course we could go on but then this wouldn’t be a Kazbar
Systems quick buy guide! For more information and advice about your
Useful mic accessories
Don’t risk falling mics, buy a quality stand.
Isolate your mics and recordings with mobile sound
reflectors and isolators.
Tame those plosions and booms with a pop shield.