How to Make the Most of Microphones in Your Home Recording

By Jeff Strong

Finding a great sound from a mic is key to getting a great-sounding home recording. To do this, you need to use the best mic for the application and place it where it can sound its best. This requires not only knowledge of the different types of mics, but also an understanding of how these mics are used for a variety of instruments.

The most difficult part of getting a good sound by using a microphone is dealing with sudden, extreme increases in the sound signal. These blips are called transients, and they regularly happen when a drum is first struck, when a vocalist sings certain syllables (for example, those that begin with a P), and when a guitar player picks certain notes.

In fact, because you can’t always control the amount of force that you apply to an instrument, transients can happen at any time, with any instrument, and without warning. (Highly trained musicians produce fewer extreme transients because they have a greater mastery over their muscular movements.)

In digital recording, all it takes is one slight, unexpected note to cause clipping and distortion, ruining what may otherwise be a perfect musical performance. Nothing is so heart-wrenching as listening to the perfect take (recorded performance) and hearing the unmistakable sound of digital distortion. Although you can’t eliminate transients, you can tame extreme transients that often cause clipping. You can do this in the following three ways:

  • Set your levels with enough headroom to handle these transients

  • Minimize transients with proper mic placement.

  • Run the signal through a compressor when recording.