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Saturday, November 20, 2010

What mic and why?

In the course of my production work one of the issues that will invariably arise is in choosing microphones for the recording. I have had an opportunity to observe choices other engineers might make and to spec mic's myself.

There is a lot of 'mythology' and legend out there when talking about certain mics, some of it much deserved, but as with many things, just because a mic is 'legendary' doesn't mean it's good for everything. Take the Neumann U87 as an example. It is a fine fine microphone, and in certain cases (voice recording, recording sax) it can excel, but the architecture of the capsule imparts a midrange resonance that can color some voices or instruments in a most unpleasant way. IF someone says they do all their vocals through a U87 it's because they are not listening to the recording, but rather reading the press about the U87....or because they always record the same voice with the same mic and that works each time.

There are a few rules of thumb for choosing mics that bear keeping in mind:

- small diaphragm mics have a better transient response
- large diaphragm mics often sound more colored and 'warmer'
- directional microphones will color off axis pickup (room sound)
- directional microphones exhibit increase bass response as you get closer to the mic
- omni (all) direction mics will sound more open
- microphones that rely on a tube amplifier will sound colored and will have a higher noise floor

Not all rules apply all the time for all mics, and of course all of this goes out the window if the tensioning of the diaphragm is not sound. Age will also play a role. There are few microphones built more than 25 years ago that would sound good without re-tensioning and replacement of some of the parts within that become original U67 probably needs help.

If I were stuck on a desert island (with electricity!)and could only have a few mics with me they would probably be:

- Sennheiser mkh-8040 - double dual (small) diaphragm condenser with a remarkably open and relaxed sound. Can easily be deployed as a stereo pickup. (on a budget? Oktava mk12)
- Microtech Gefell U92.1 - Large diaphragm condenser with tube amplifier stage. Sounds warm and open all at once. Fantastic on bass or soprano. (on a budget? Shure KSM 44 or 32)
- Shure SM 57 - classic small diaphragm dynamic mic that can handle hi SPL.
- Shure beta 92 - cause someone will show up on the island with a kick drum at some point, I know it!
- Neumann TLM 103 - for anything the above won't suit....(budget? Oktava of Shure will cover this too.)

There are many other options of course for all the above instances. Happy recording!

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