Monday, June 17, 2013


It is hard to describe what makes a good microphone until you are able to record with one or compare some different ones side-by-side.  Many words are used to describe microphones like color, transparency, frequency response, pattern, dynamic range, proximity effect, etc.  There are additional considerations that enter into the sound and tone of the microphone, like the sound source, noise floor (both ambient and circuitry), preamp, compressor, effects, and room acoustics.  I won’t get into any theories on recording or defining the above terms, but I will say this: Color and transparency are opposing ideas.  A transparent microphone and signal chain will deliver a signal that sounds as close to the way it sounds as if you are standing in the room with the sound source.  Color just means that something is changed or added to the way it sounds – sometimes coloring is great, sometimes it is bad, but this also depends on the sound you are going for and the context of the sound.

To make things more complex, people have a preference in what they expect from a sound.  For instance, if you take the sound of a kick drum on a drum set, some people want to hear a boom, while others want to hear a thump or thud, and still others want to hear a click or pop; some want to not hear any snare rattle or pedal noise, while others want that in the mix.  Though much of this has to do with the type of kick drum, tuning,  and hardware, a lot of it can be defined by what type of microphone you use and where you place it.

Over the years, I have been able to try several mics out – both classic and modern, cheap and expensive – and even though I realize that this is mostly a personal preference, I thought I would share a few thoughts:

For a long time now, I have been using a CAD E-100 (original American made model) for my vocals.  Frequency wise, I think it sounds very similar to an AKG C-414 when I have compared them side by side, speaking or singing bore sight to the microphone  (Dynamically, the C-414 is slightly smoother, but not by much.  If you add a compressor to the signal chain, or compress the recorded data, then you smooth out much of the dynamic range anyway and the differences are not very noticeable.

I recently bought a pair of vintage Russian microphones and they sound fantastic!  I think that they might be the best microphones that I have heard and am really impressed with how clear and transparent they sound.  So far, I have recorded some acoustic instruments, a Marshall guitar amp, and performed a number of different tests to compare them between other microphones that I have.  It is amazing how quiet some microphones are compared to others.

For drums, I have various different mics around the kit – many are Audio Technica mics (with a pair of PRO 37's on the overhead and an AE 2500 on the kick drum), and a Shure SM57 on the snare.  I also have some vintage Altec's, Electrovoice, and Shure mics that allow for other tone colors.

I have always wanted a dummy head microphone.  Binaural recordings fascinate me. 
You can find examples of binaural recordings here:  (just be sure to listen to this on headphones)  

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