I was intrigued by an assignment I received at Full Sail University in a course titled "Microphones and Theory" to expand on my assignment for the blog. It has been a while since I have posted anything because I have fine-tuned this article. I encourage everyone to read this in its entirety and to comment on what microphones I may have missed, bad choices I may have made, etc. I am really digging into my education as an audio engineer and would love the feedback.
The premise behind the assignment was to fill a mic locker for a studio owner. The budget was $60,000 and every penny of the funds had to be spent on microphones. What a dream locker! It was such a wonderful assignment. I learned a lot about the internal worth of different microphone types, brand reputation, and personal opinions of users. I spent days on this assignment because I was fascinated by the knowledge I was gaining. I watched shootouts on YouTube to aurally compare the mics I was selecting. I read review after review after review. I checked the specs and carefully considered each choice to ensure I had a wide range for every musician's taste. I even called a few music stores and manufacturers to get direct feedback!
The following blog post is written as if I were actually writing this for the owner to justify the purpose for investing in each microphone. The point-of-view I take is like I am conversing with the owner making this a quick and enjoyable read despite the length of the article. I have provided sources for all of my reasoning in case readers would like to further investigate the microphone being discussed. My goal is to provide serious or beginner audio engineers with a quick reference on various types of microphones. If nothing else this article makes a great launch platform for investigating and researching various microphone types and capabilities. You never know where you will end up surfing once you begin clicking the links I have provided and doing your own digging. I wanted to give a quick shout-out to Central Florida music production facility Starke Lake Studios. A visit to their beautiful production studio only lit the fire under my "you know what" to get this article written and out to the masses of professionals, home recordists, studio gurus, and more!
So...without further delay...let me show you how I filled my mic locker!
Classic Microphone Choices:
1.) Neumann M269C (Vintage Tube Condenser) ~ $7359.08
I like the history behind this microphone. As a collector of vintage tiki mugs, I appreciate anything with a story behind it. This microphone was modeled after the infamous U-67 so it could be marketed to German broadcasters in the 1960’s. I think the Cardioid “F” pattern is interesting because it allows a combination of various polar patterns making it very versatile. It also has a dual backplate and a different vacuum tube than the U-67 that will give our studio a one-of-a-kind vintage sound. The sound is warm and full, a quality all of these classic vintage microphones possess, and the main reason I am selecting this microphone.
http://www.neumann.com/?lang=en&id=hist_microphones&cid=m269c_publications (Brochure Download)
2.) Neumann U47 (Vintage Tube Condenser) ~ $8999.00
I selected this microphone because we had a reworked version of the U-67 and I believe that a U47 would be a nice addition to broaden or Neumann offerings. As far as sensitivity and transient response goes this is one of the finest handmade pieces that I know to exist. Frank Sinatra sang on it and that “crooner vibe” is always desired in the industry. It has a dry tone at times and will shadow inflection. Being the first switchable polar pattern microphone developed this selection would set us apart from the pack. There will be challenges to maintaining this microphone, but extreme care will make this a magical choice.
Ribbon Microphone Choices:
3.) Golden Age Projects R1 MK3 (Active Ribbon) ~ $219.00
This is a nice ribbon mic of the active variety with F.E.T. circuitry and more options than its predecessor with a low-cut switch and a 10dB pad. I wanted to include at least one active ribbon microphone in our collection and for the price I couldn’t pass this baby up! Online tests reveal that it has a suave and pleasant-sounding high end and a divine mid-range frequency sound. The price is considerably low and this microphone continues to be a top-rated seller for Golden Age. My only concern is about the Chinese components, but with proper care this affordable microphone should blow some out of the water and allow us some headroom to purchase a Roswellite ribbon.
4.) Shure KSM313 Dual Voice (“Roswellite” Ribbon) ~ $1074.19
This is a beautiful microphone that sets the standard for durability. The ribbon is made out of Roswellite, a nanomaterial that promises to triple or quadruple the life and prevent an accident from ruining the mic. As a former sonar technician in the Navy it is easy for me to back up the designers, who specialized in medical sonar device development. The microphone will be one of our top requested microphones to use for vocalists. The greatest thing is that it looks really sharp and modern. The rejection is fantastic and will provide us with a tough and quiet microphone.
5.) American Microphone DR332 Vintage (Passive Ribbon) ~ $525.00
What a find! This is a reasonably priced vintage ribbon and dynamic microphone that was produced by Western Electric, the first company to introduce the dynamic/ribbon combo. It is like adding an extra dynamic to our collection. The vintage sound it produces will make us an attractive recording option for purists and history buffs. This should be a nice vocal mic for those trying to reproduce the antiquated 1960’s and 1970’s garage rock sounds as it has a very whiny mid-range.
6.) Oktava ML-52-02 (Passive Ribbon) ~ $485.00
This is a Russian beast of a ribbon that is powered actively with 48V technology. The combination of the dual filament and impressive presence make this a $1000 value at half the cost. The sound comes off as very warm and full across the spectrum providing us with a great microphone for strings, horns, piano, and vocals. The vertical grille is sick looking and people will choose this mic like some people choose bottles of wine just for the label.
|Source: Oktava USA|
High Quality Condenser Microphone Choices:
7.) Lucas CS-1 (Large Diaphragm Condenser) ~ $4699.00
These custom-built, hand constructed microphones started out with a simple question of why quality microphones in the style of the 40’s and 50’s classics were not being manufactured at the time. I think this is a great addition because of the wonderful value, the rarity (only 300 were made) and condition of the used piece. The fact that it was designed utilizing elements from all the classics and not just modeling the specs of another from yesteryear makes it all the more attractive. It is a very delicate and comprehensive microphone that shimmers with earnest tones. Norah Jones was the first to record vocals on this mic and we saw the success and acclaim her first album garnered.
8.) Manley Gold Reference (Large Diaphragm Condenser) ~ $4950.00
Manley has strapped on their microphone making boxing gloves and is ready to take on the giants! This microphone is known to have a boatload of presence and capture exactly what it is intended to capture. As a vocal microphone it has stood up to several studio shootouts. The microphone has a sharp look and compliments our vintage selection quite well. Expert craftsmanship combines with gold, gold, and more gold to make this specimen truly shine.
|Source: Manley Audio Australia|
9.) Neumann TLM 103 (Large Diaphragm Condenser) ~ 1069.99
This is a mic that I feel would be used a lot because of its consistently awesome sound quality. The perfect word to describe how this microphone sounds is genius. I worked with this mic one year while recording in a studio and I may be biased, but it is stunning. You can really put this condenser into the thick of things because it has a relatively high SPL range, but if you start taking risks you have to be careful because there are no pads, trims, or roll-offs associated with this piece of gear.
|Source: MannLife Entertainment|
10.) Sony C800GPAC (Tube Condenser) ~ $8800.00
I dipped into the wallet a bit here on this selection. In order to set the standard in our location we needed a real shocker in our collection and investing in this expensive Sony will do the trick. I have listened to some examples and it sounds great at smoothing out the transition between mids and highs without being too metallic sounding. Having it around for the snobs wouldn’t be bad, as they do tend to spend money in the studio.
11.) Brauner Phantom V (Large Diaphragm Condenser) ~ $3059.00
This is the microphone that I selected to bring that brighter, sunny sound to vocalists. It’s got a sleek design and should be fairly easy to perform maintenance on when necessary. Painstaking engineering makes this mic a solid purchase. This should make a fine all around instrument mic as long as proximity effect sensitivity is taken into effect.
|Source: Dolphin Music|
Kick Drum Microphone Choices:
12.) AKG D112 (Large Diaphragm Dynamic) 1 of 2 ~ $199.00
The popularity of this kick drum both in the studio and in live environments speaks for itself. Next to the e604 this is the next “cutest” microphone of the bunch but it sure packs a punch. With an awesome low end boost that can be felt more than heard. I believe this drum was solely designed for use with kick drums and it was done well. This is a no-brainer.
|Source: Reference Point Recording|
13.) AKG D112 (Large Diaphragm Dynamic) ~ 2 of 2 ~ $199.00
14.) Audio Technica AE2500 (Dual Element Condenser/Dynamic) ~ 1 of 2 ~ $499.00
This mic appealed to me on the concept of originality. I really like the Dual Element that houses both a condenser and a dynamic. The only problem is that they take up two channels on kick, but we got it going on with a $60,000 budget on microphones so who cares, right? Assertive and plump tonality is what you are seeking in the low end and this microphone seems like it would capture that like a dream. The frequency response is comparable to the D112 and this mic is rugged giving it a long shelf life.
15.) Audio Technica AE2500 (Dual Element Condenser/Dynamic) ~ 2 of 2 ~ 499.00
Snare Drum Microphone Choices:
16.) Shure SM57 (Dynamic) ~ 1 of 2 ~ $199.00
This Shure SM57 is without a doubt the most popular microphone for live performance due to its rugged life and toughness. Studios can be rough places and this will be my professional mic of choice for a bunch of unruly individuals. This mic can offer a more masculine tone to vocals as well as murder the snare drum. It’s a tough cookie that has stood the test of time. It’s got to be in our collection just out of pure principle. This mic can be modified for a cleaner more crisp sound as well.
|Source: Yeti Muzik|
17.) Shure SM57 (Dynamic) ~ 2 of 2 ~ $199.00
18.) Audio Technica AT4041 (Small Diaphragm Electret Condenser) ~ 1 of 2 ~ $299.00
The AT4041 has such a flat frequency response and can take a beating from a good dose of sound pressure so it’s got to be great for a snare. It is the Pope of the small diaphragm world because it does such an accurate job of picking up what frequencies are actually being detected rather than coloring it with fancy circuitry. It sparkles like a diamond in the world of electret condensers and that is why I bought it. Nothing fancy about this choice…it’s just a wise choice.
|Source: Derek Spratt|
19.) Audio Technica AT4041 (Small Diaphragm Electret Condenser) ~ 2 of 2 ~ $299.00
Rack Toms Microphone Choices:
20.) Sennheiser MD421-II (Dynamic) ~ 1 of 3 ~ $369.95
Versatility is the key word with the MD421-II. If it weren’t such a great sounding dynamic choice for toms, vocals, and guitars I’d toss it aside on looks alone. It comes with a strange, sensitive clip. I chose the MKII because the center of gravity is different making the clip hold better. However the good things outnumber the bad by far. The numerous options for roll-off, the awesome null angle response, and the numbers of requests we will get just make this a common sense addition. It’s a legend in broadcasting already so we could use it for podcasts to promote the studio and we would have a very nice sound.
|Source: SK Systems|
21.) Sennheiser MD421-II (Dynamic) ~ 2 of 3 ~ $369.95
22.) Sennheiser MD421-II (Dynamic) ~ 3 of 3 ~ $369.95
23.) Beyer M 201 TG (Dynamic) ~ 1 of 3 ~ $299.00
I couldn’t go on without adding a hypercardioid option to our rack tom choices. Just one look at the frequency response and you know that this mic can not only hang with pounding sound pressure levels, but has a booming low end that can really define certain drummer desires. This make is very versatile and can be used with snare, vocals, and just about anything requiring the unique pickup of a hypercardioid polar pattern. One of my gems considering the price point and what it offers.
24.) Beyer M 201 TG (Dynamic) ~ 2 of 3 ~ $299.00
25.) Beyer M 201 TG (Dynamic) ~ 3 of 3 ~ $299.00
Floor Toms Microphone Choices:
26.) Audio Technica ATM25/LE (Dynamic)~ $279.00
This is a Limited Edition version of the discontinued ATM25 to celebrate 50 years of Audio Technica. Limited editions are always nice (another thing I learned from collecting tiki mugs). This guy is exactly like its predecessor and will be our option for recording really close to an instrument. It has a hypercardioid pattern which is good with toms, especially the floor toms. It’s a brand new microphone and not many have been made so this could become a collectible down the road making it a cherished option in the studio.
27.) Shure SM7B (Dynamic) ~ $349.00
What I really like about this option from Shure is the built in pop filter. It should provide a nice touch of sensitivity to floor toms. This flexibility makes it a nice choice for pop-happy vocalists. Desired tones can be sought out and found within its frequency response that adds a shiny brilliance in the mid-range frequencies. It has been used by the industry regularly, which makes it a studio staple.
Overhead/Hi-Hat Microphone Choices:
28.) Neumann KM-85I (Vintage Small Diaphragm Condenser)~ $1295.00
I paid a lot of attention to the overhead and cymbal selections because minimizing bleed is crucial and the entire kit must sound good for optimum sound. My first selection was of a vintage breed sure to impress. I like the fact that it has a low roll-off that will bring out the tones of the cymbals, rides, and crashes. This roll-off does a great job in minimalizing proximity effect as well allowing a greater range of placement around the kit.
29.) Peluso CEMC6 [Stereo Pair] (Small Diaphragm Condenser)~ $679.66
Boutique brands are nice. The intriguing option on the Peluso CEMC6 is the ability to adjust polar patterns by changing capsules. This is an investment in a solid transducer that functions as multiple microphones for a small additional cost. These microphones set a high mark and have impressed many. I intend to add this to our menagerie for the “Wow Factor” as they are rare finds and shockingly brilliant in the way they capture pure sonic quality. I tried to pick resourceful overheads so we could utilize them in many creative ways on a variety of instruments and I believe with this choice I hit the sweet spot.
|Source: Peluso Microphone Lab|
30.) Nevaton MC49C (Small Diaphragm Condenser) ~ $899.00
Even though the Cold War is over there is a war among many microphone enthusiasts as to why the Nevaton website is down! A spectacular mic and a victor in several shootouts that I explored this mic had just the subtle differences I was looking for in my second small diaphragm condenser overhead. It offers a very flat frequency response and rises just a few precious decibels to give an even tone to the entire kit. I’ll drink some vodka to that!
|Source: Audio Vengeance|
31.) Royer R-121 [Stereo Pair] (Matched Ribbon) ~ $2640.00
Not everyone in the world wants a condenser as an overhead. This dual ribbon microphone is one I had to drop some money on when I found it. One thing that shocked me was that the diaphragm is similar in thickness to a condenser meaning that the care taken during production is stellar. This microphone will give a surreal and warming tone to a kit or cymbals and totally change the mood of a music selection. The phase ports offer some truly amazing cancellation and it’s just a dazzling decision on my part to add the pair despite the cost and novelty of the selection. I can’t wait to hear these on a guitar session! We will have to use extreme care with these if they are too close to the kit…that is a given.
|Source: Sonic Ranch|
Additional Instrument Microphone Choices:
32.) ElectroVoice RE-20 (Dynamic) ~ $389.63
This mic was chosen for use in special applications that may arise. What shocked me in lab is the lack of a proximity effect and the fact that you can hear virtually nothing at the null angle directly behind the mic. Rush Limbaugh has a gold-plated one; kind of a turn off initially, but nevertheless ours will not be so cocky. I see it being used in creative ways by musicians seeking to step outside of the fold. This is another excellent mic for publicity podcasts due to its popularity in broadcasting.
|Source: Musician's Buy|
33.) Shure SM81 (Small Diaphragm Condenser) ~ 1 of 4 ~ $349.99
I have a special place for this mic in the cockles of my heart. It is such a well-engineered microphone in every way. It’s adaptability, pure tones, and longevity of use is unparalleled. It has stood the test of time and is a standard for home recording. Many clients will be familiar with this mic and desire it out of comfort alone. I won’t waste time describing its uses because this is one you will constantly see set-up in session recording. Some pretty outstanding modifications can be made to these as well making them all the more useful.
34.) Shure SM81 (Small Diaphragm Condenser) ~ 2 of 4 ~ $349.99
35.) Shure SM81 (Small Diaphragm Condenser) ~ 3 of 4 ~ $349.99
36.) Shure SM81 (Small Diaphragm Condenser) ~ 4 of 4 ~ $349.99
37.) AKG C414-XL II (Large Diaphragm Condenser) ~ 1 of 2 ~ $839.00
I couldn’t see a reason not to purchase two of these for stereo applications. With 5 switchable polar patterns it is very handy and can suit any musician’s taste in noise response. There is a very shiny and metallic quality to this mic. It is very particular and must be used right. Just one hour on YouTube and you can see musicians from Ryan Adams to Phoenix utilizing these for very bright and emotional solo performances.
38.) AKG C414-XL II (Large Diaphragm Condenser) ~ 2 of 2 ~ $839.00
39.) Shure SM58 (Dynamic) ~ $99.00
The SM58 has been around for a long time and live vocalists love its refreshing sound. It captures voice nicely with a distinct cardioid pattern. What do I like about it you ask? It’s consistency. I have seen on in every studio I have been in. I only chose one since we are a studio and not a concert venue. We have plenty of options should an outdoor event arise. It’s durable and tough. This guy will ride out our years with us.
|Source: DVE Store|
40.) Sennheiser MD-441 U (Dynamic) ~ $899.95
How does this supercardioid dynamic gem sound? Just dandy. It is touted as the most accurate and from what I’ve seen in lab I believe it. It offers the same flexibility for vocalists as the MD-421 thanks to the 5-position roll-off, but there’s a marked difference in sonic quality. If you check out the polar pattern you can see just how good it is with rejection. We can utilize that quality with positioning if there are particular sounds we want to dissolve in a mix. Unlike other mics this has a very flat response and a unique drop around 3 KHz given a low end to screeching vocals that is very, very nice.
|Source: Audio Analysis New Zealand|
41.) Sonotronics Sigma (Active Ribbon) ~ $405.13
With the rising popularity of ribbon microphones in recent years I found it a diligent move to stock up on a wide array of these. Sonotronics Sigma is different in many attractive ways. Low self-noise is what really sucked me in to this model. It’s got a period and somewhat historical feel that I love and the sounds that it picks up are sure to reflect that trait. Although this is something I thought I would be more likely to spot on an episode of Boardwalk Empire, I was impressed with the sugar that it can add to a voice that may need it.
|Source: Sound on Sound|
42.) Sennheiser e604 (Dynamic) ~ 1 of 2 ~ $139.95
This is the mic that my wife would choose if she had a band. Obviously not for it’s sound characteristics but because it’s so adorable! Drummers will love this because of the convenient clip, the proximity with which it can be positioned, and the ability to dampen or nullify bends and buckles on the low end. What shocked me was that after checking the polar pattern versus the frequency response plot it appears that the e604 can become a supercardioid mic above 2 kHz. Could this be Stevie nicks next mic of choice? Umm, I doubt it…but we’ll take a pair for our studio and probably collect a few more over the years since they are so easy to store.
|Source: Bananas Music|
43.) Sennheiser e604 (Dynamic) ~ 2 of 2 ~ $139.95
44.) Neumann KM184 (Small Diaphragm Condenser) ~ $849.00
This is a mic that I would pay careful attention to placement with during sessions. If placed properly it can sound wonderful. The reason for this is the cross-slit capsule and if not placed properly it just doesn’t sound right. Technical artists will appreciate the effort of making this microphone shine. It also takes a special sound to use this microphone effectively because the frequency response is noticeably dissimilar from other Neumann models. I’m stocking the silver finish just because it’s so sweet looking.
|Source: Saturn Sound|
45.) RCA 77DX [Restored Collectible – Not Functional] (Vintage Ribbon) ~ $2195.00
Every studio needs a classic look and a show of ultimate respect for the device that captures all the music. Whether it is on display on the owner’s desk, in a display case in the control room, or at the counter where customers pay for finished product. The RCA 77DX is a famous broadcasting ribbon from the days of Ozzie & Harriett and The Honeymooners. This beautifully restored RCA has an ABC shield on it and caught my eye. It sure is a beauty and something that will get clients talking to others about!
|Source: Cellar Dweller|
46.) Nady SP-33 (Dynamic) ~ $19.99
Ha! For the karaoke machine at the after parties following post-production and mastering!!
|Source: Musician's Friend|
GRAND TOTAL SPENT: $59,995.33
So, how do you think I did? I'm expecting to get some serious debate on my locker selections! Please leave comments below and share this article with beginners or experts alike that you feel would enjoy this read! Want to take on the challenge yourself? Please do! Post your own mic locker choices in the comments section below! Be sure to hit me up on Twitter because I will be frequenting the blog more often in the upcoming weeks.