Category Archives for "Book Excerpt"

So You Want To Buy A Cheap Microphone

Real vs fake U87

Can you spot the fake?

I’ve received a lot of questions lately about my opinion on some very inexpensive vintage microphone clones. I love finding a great cheap mic as much as the next guy, but there are some things to watch out for before buying. I thought it might be helpful to repost the following from 3 or 4 years ago.

In many ways we’re in the golden age of audio gear. On the whole, inexpensive audio gear (under $500) sounds better than ever and is a much better value than even a decade ago and way better than 20 years ago. The same can be said for mics, as there is a large variety of cheap mics that provide much higher performance for the price than we could have imagined back in the 70s and 80s.

That said, there are some pitfalls to be aware of before you buy. Here’s an excerpt from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition that covers the potential downside of inexpensive mics.

“One of the more interesting recent developments in microphones is the availability of some extremely inexpensive condenser and ribbon microphones in the sub-$500 category (in some cases even less than $100). While you’ll never confuse these with a vintage U 47 or C 12, they do sometimes provide an astonishing level of performance at a price point that we could only dream about a few short years ago. That said, there are some things to be aware of before you make that purchase.

Quality Control’s The Thing

Mics in this category have the same thing in common; they’re either entirely made or all their parts are made in China, and to some degree, mostly in the same factory. Some are made to the specifications of the importer (and therefore cost more) and some are just plain off-the-shelf. Regardless of how they’re made and to what spec, the biggest issue from that point is how much quality control (or QC, also sometimes known as quality assurance) is involved before the product finds its way into your studio.

Some mics are completely manufactured at the factory and receive a quick QC just to make sure they’re working and these are the least expensive mics available. Others receive another level of QC to get them within a rather wide quality tolerance level, so they cost a little more. Others are QC’d locally by the distributor with only the best ones offered for sale, and these cost still more. Finally, some mics have only their parts manufactured in China, with final assembly and QC done locally, and of course, these have the highest price in the category.

You Can Never Be Sure Of The Sound

One of the byproducts of the rather loose tolerances due to the different levels of QC is the fact that the sound can vary greatly between mics of the same model and manufacturer. The more QC (and high the resulting price), the less difference you’ll find, but you still might have to go through a number of them to find one with some magic. This doesn’t happen with the more traditional name brands that cost a lot more, but what you’re buying (besides better components in most cases) is a high assurance that your mic is going to sound as good as any other of the same model from that manufacturer. In other words, the differences between mics are generally a lot smaller as the price rises.

The Weakness

There are two points that contribute to a mic sounding good or bad, and that’s the capsule and the electronics (this can be said of all mics, really). The tighter the tolerances and better QC on the capsule, the better the mic will sound and the closer each mic will sound to another of the same model.

The electronics is another point entirely in that a bad design can cause distortion at high SPL levels and limit the frequency response, or simply change the sound enough to make it less than desirable. The component tolerances these days are a lot closer than in the past, so that doesn’t enter into the equation as much when it comes to having a bearing on the sound. In some cases, you can have what could be a inexpensive great mic that’s limited by poorly designed electronics. You can find articles all over the Web on how to modify many of these mics, some that make more of a difference to the final sound than others. If you choose to try doing a mod on a mic yourself, be sure that your soldering chops are really good since there’s generally so little space that a small mistake can render your mic useless.”

You can read additional excerpts from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook or my other books on the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com.

11 Steps To A Better Overdub Session

Better OverdubsMany times the ear candy of an overdub session can really make or break a song, but sometimes it’s not easy to create to capture that magic.

Here’s an excerpt from the upcoming second edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook that can act as either an outline or as a reminder to check a number of critical points both before and during your overdub session.

“1. Do you have a list of overdub priorities? Do you know which overdubs absolutely must get done and which ones are less important? A list will keep you on track budget-wise and time-wise.

2. Can you record in the control room? Most players prefer to record in the control room because they like to hear what you’re hearing and they like the immediacy of the communication.

3. Are there too many people in the control room or studio? The fewer the people, the fewer the distractions. It’s best to keep all friends, associates, and hangers-on out of the studio when you’re working to keep the distractions to a minimum.

4. Did you move the vocal or the instrument into the big part of the studio? All instruments sound best when there’s space for the sound to develop, so move the vocal or the instrument into the big part of the studio for overdubs (after you’ve done any basic track fixes). You can cut down on any unwanted reflections from the room by placing baffles around the mic and player.

5. When doubling, are you trying to do something a little different on each track? Using a different mic, mic preamp, room, singer, or distance from the mic will all help to make the sound get bigger.

6. When doubling or adding more guitars, do you have a variety of instruments and amplifiers available? Two guitars (a Les Paul and a Strat, for instance) and two amplifiers (a Fender and a Marshall is the classic combination) combined with different pickup choices will allow a multitude of guitar tracks to live in the mix together more effectively.

7. Are you making it sound better, not just different? Changes aren’t always for the better. Is there a big difference between what you just recorded and the original part? Does the new part make everyone in the studio go crazy in a good way?

8. Would it be better to try recording the part tomorrow? You’d be surprised how much more you can accomplish when you’re fresh.

9. Do you have the studio talkback mic on? Can you hear the musicians in the studio at all times between takes? If they’re talking to you but you can’t hear them, they’ll feel isolated.

10. Do you always have the control room talkback mic on? Can the musicians hear you at all times in between takes? Periods of silence can be a mood killer.

11. Does a musician want to play his or her part again? If a player feels strongly about playing it over, he probably can do it better. Be sure to keep the last recorded part before recording again.”

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