Microphone Luxuries for Your Home Recording Studio - dummies

Microphone Luxuries for Your Home Recording Studio

By Jeff Strong

As your home recording microphone collection grows, you’ll probably start looking for a vocal microphone that works best for you. In this case, you may look at large-diaphragm tube condenser microphones or even a ribbon microphone.

Choosing a vocal microphone is a personal thing. If you’re a singer, audition a bunch of microphones by using your voice to see what sounds best to you. If you record more than one singer and each has a different type of voice (tenor or soprano, for instance), you may need to look for more than one vocal microphone.

After this, consider buying a stereo pair of small-diaphragm condenser microphones for drum overheads (mics placed over the drum set) or other multi-instrument applications. You may also want to start adding some higher-quality (and more expensive) microphones to your collection. The following details microphones that offer a good bang for the buck.

Dynamic microphones

Here are a couple of higher-end dynamic microphones that are in wide use:

  • Sennheiser MD421: This is arguably the industry-standard tom microphone. It’s been used on tons of recordings over the years. If you intend to record drums with more than the basic 3- or 4-mic setup, having a couple of these tom microphones is a necessity. They aren’t cheap — at about $350 each — but for their purpose, they are worth every penny.

  • EV RE20: This is a common kick-drum microphone that is also used for amps and some vocals. You can get this microphone for about $400 to $450.

Large-diaphragm condenser microphones

You can find a ton of good large-diaphragm condenser microphones, and the sky’s the limit on how much you can spend on them. That said, consider the following reasonably priced options:

  • Shure KSM-44: This microphone is a multipattern microphone that offers cardioid, figure-8, and omnidirectional configurations. The sound is pretty neutral by today’s standards — many manufacturers like to boost the top and bottom ends of their microphones to make them sound “sexy.” The KSM-44 doesn’t have this feature, and as a result, the microphone is very versatile. This microphone costs about $650.

  • AKG C414B: This is another industry-standard microphone that sounds great on a lot of sources — vocals, acoustic instruments, drums, and others. Like the KSM-44, this microphone has selectable polar patterns. In this, you have five choices: omnidirectional, cardioid, wide-cardioid, hyper-cardioid, and figure-8. This microphone sells for about $800.

  • Soundelux U195: This is an awesome microphone for a lot of sources, including many vocalists, percussion, and drums. This microphone isn’t cheap — at about $1,200 — but you’ll never need to upgrade it.

Ribbon microphones

Ribbon microphones used to be very expensive and required a great preamp with lots of clean gain (volume) because they don’t produce a very strong signal. This is changing. You can now find a ribbon microphone for just a few hundred dollars, and if you don’t have a high-gain preamp, you can find a microphone that produces a stronger signal (called an active-ribbon mic). Here are some ribbon microphones you should consider:

  • Octava ML19: This is the least expensive ribbon microphone available, and it sounds pretty good, especially for the price (roughly $400). For the budget-minded recordist who needs a ribbon microphone, you can’t go wrong with this one.

  • AEA R84: This is one sexy microphone. It looks gorgeous and sounds great. For classic “silky” vocals or to take the edge off instruments such as trumpets and other horns, this microphone is awesome. Of course, awesome doesn’t come cheap — about $1,000 plus a good high-gain preamp.

    Still, if you like the vocals sound that you can get only from a ribbon microphone or if you record a lot of horns, you need to try this microphone.

  • Royer Labs 122: This is the first active-ribbon microphone. It has electronics that boost the microphone’s signal, so you don’t need a super high-gain preamp to get a good sound. Royer Labs’ ribbon microphones are known as great microphones, and this one costs about $1,500.