I’m frequently asked to recommend a microphone and I have to say that it’s a difficult request to fulfill. The reason is that so much revolves around your budget and musical tastes that it’s difficult to get too specific. Instead I’ve come up with some general categories that I feel are essential to a microphone locker. You can plug and play as you wish.
Those new to recording often make the mistake of purchasing only one mic (usually the best they can afford) then recording all their tracks with it. The problem there is that every microphone has frequency response irregularities and those irregularities build up on a recording the more tracks you use it on. That’s why it’s nice to have a few alternatives available.
Here are the 5 types of mics that you should have to start your microphone locker with.
A Dynamic Microphone
When you think of a dynamic studio mic you automatically think Shure SM57 on a snare or guitar amp. Yep, great choices there but it can also be effective on any source that’s bright or brittle (like a banjo, for instance) by naturally taming the transients. You don’t need to buy a new 57 though. If you’re already using an SM58 as part of your stage rig that will do too, since it’s basically a 57 with a built-in windscreen. Of course there are plenty of other alternatives from just about every mic manufacturer that can work equally as well.
A Ribbon Microphone
This is often the last mic that people buy but it should be one of the first. You won’t be using it on drums, but you can use it on anything else. These mics have a response that’s faster than a dynamic yet tend to soften transients like dynamic mics do. They also take EQ really well, and just have a pleasing sound in general. Good ribbon mics can be expensive but something like the Royer R-10 sounds great and is reasonably priced.
A Small Diaphragm Condenser
These microphones often get overlooked in favor of their big large diaphragm brothers but that may be a mistake. They usually have a flatter frequency response, more low end, and can fit in places that an LDC can’t. Besides working well on snare drums and cymbals, they can shine on acoustic instruments, percussion and even vocals (yes, give it a try). Prices vary wildly these days but some surprisingly good sounding mics can be had for as little as a hundred bucks, just be aware that the quality varies wildly from mic to mic. You may get a gem and you may get a something much less – it’s the luck of the draw unless you go upmarket a bit. By the way, a favorite of mine is the Advanced Audio CM1084, a takeoff of the famed Neumann KM84.
Large Diaphragm Condenser
It’s certainly worth having one of these but be aware that they may not be as useful as you might think, especially if the one you choose is fairly inexpensive. Most LDC’s have frequency bumps that could be well-pleasing on certain source elements (like vocals) but might not be a fit on others (like anything that’s already bright or edgy, like. . .a banjo). Again there’s a wide variety of cheapies and clones as well as the real deal to choose from in just about every price range, but remember that the less you pay, the more hit and miss the product might be quality-wise. One of my favorites here is the Mojave Audio MA-1000. It’s not inexpensive, but it sounds great.
Low Frequency Reproduction
There are times you need to capture the girth of a source element and that calls for a specialty product. Although a sub-kick mics like the Yamaha SKRM-100 or DW Moon Mics are popular for kick drum, I’ve found those somewhat limited to those applications. If you want something that’s a little more general purpose you can’t go wrong with a Shure Beta 52, which will be right at home on bass or even a guitar amp while providing a nice presence peak. There are other options from other manufacturers (like the Heil PR40) that can work as well, but it’s always nice to have something that will capture some of those heft-giving frequencies around.
And The Alternative – A Modeling Microphone
We’d all love a mic locker full of choice vintage classics, but that’s an impractical wish, both from the standpoint of trying to find a working model for sale, paying the high price it demands, then hoping that the mic you purchased is in good working condition. It’s getting more and more difficult to find a vintage mic that doesn’t show the effects of 50 plus years of age, and harder to restore them to their former glory as well.
That’s why the new class of modeling microphones are so interesting. Not only do they provide the sound of the real thing, but in some cases, even let you change the sound after recording. A good example of this is the Townsend Labs Sphere L22, which is a large diaphragm two channel condenser mic. The supplied software allows you to not only change from a C12, U47, 67 or 87, M49, 451 or even an SM57, but also change the polar pattern, the placement around the axis of the mic, and the proximity effect after the fact. Another example is the Slate VMS Virtual Modeling System, which includes the preamp as well.
The sound and versatility that modeling microphones provide open up new sonic possibilities for users with a limited budget, along with unprecedented versatility.
The whole idea with a microphone locker is variety. There’s no one single mic that will shine on every source, and like I said before, those imperfections build up the more tracks you use it on. If you want your mix elements to fit together better, the first place to start is by having a few options in your microphone locker to choose from that allows you to closely match the mic to the source.
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.