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CHOOSING A MICROPHONE

One of the questions I get asked most frequently by musicians and budding sound engineers is related to the kind of microphones that would be best for their studio or gigs.

The kind of microphones you choose will depend on 3 main factors...
1. Your budget.
2. The kind of sound you want to record with it.
3. Studio or Live.

Fortunately, you have entered the business at a time when good quality microphones are abundant and are available at much lower cost than in previous decades.

So let's look at the first factor...

BUDGET
If you have enough money for more than one microphone, you'll want to divide the kinds of sounds you want to record into groups...
1. Very loud sounds.
2. Quieter, detailed sounds.

Some microphones are considered all purpose. If your budget is low, you would be better off buying one mid-priced all purpose mic, than 2 or 3 cheap mics.

WHAT KIND OF SOUNDS DO YOU WANT TO RECORD?
It will benefit you considerably to try out a selection of mics from different manufacturers on the specific sounds that you wish to record. Sound is a very personal experience, so you will want to explore a few options in order to find a sound that you like.

What kind of sounds are they?
1. Full range sounds such as Piano or Acoustic Guitar.
2. Restricted range sounds such as Vocal, or Bass.

There are mics that are specifically tuned to give better results for certain frequency ranges, such a s bass mics, or vocal mics.

STUDIO OR LIVE?
Generally, the more expensive the mic, the more natural and detailed the result will be. You'll also find that the more expensive mics will have differences that require a trained ear to tell them apart. Therefore its no use spending a small fortune on a mic if you're only going to use it at live concerts, as no-one will notice the benefits.

As a general guide, Dynamic mics are best suited to loud sounds and live concert applications. Condenser mics are best suited to more detailed sounds and studio applications.

In a concert situation with on-stage monitors, you will get a louder response and less feedback with a good cardiod mic such as a Shure SM58. Cheaper mics may sound similar, but you won't get the volume in your monitors. Cheaper mics are also less robust and can suffer considerable damage if dropped, or carelessly handled in transit.

MANUFACTURERS
Whatever your budget, try to stick with the industry standard manufacturers such as Shure, AKG, Beyer, Electrovoice, Rode, Neuman, Sennheiser & SE Electronics.

Most of these manufacturers produce a wide range of products to suit most budgets and applications. Your own preference will eventually tell you which mics, and from which manufacturers, are best suited to your uses.

For specific uses, my personal favourites are as follows...

Vocal: Live - Shure SM58, Electrovoice DS35.
Studio - A good large diaphragm condenser mic (Preferably a tube mic) - Rode are good at the lower price end, S E Electronics make very good value tube mics.

Bass - Usually I use just a Direct Input for Bass. However, if you have a bass amp with a specific sound, go for a bass mic such as an AKG D112, or Beyer Opus 99.

Guitars: Heavy rock sound - AKG D190.
Any overdriven guitar - Shure SM57.
Acoustic Guitar: Live - AKG D224E (with bass roll-off filter).
Studio: Any large diaphragm condenser, or any condenser mic with a bass roll-off filter.

Piano: Stereo pair of condenser mics.

Brass: Shure SM57 (Saxes), AKG D190 (Trumpets), Beyer M69 (Trombones, Baritones), Beyer Opus 99 (Tubas).

Drums: Bass Drum: AKG D112.
Snare: Beyer M201.
Hi-Hat: Live - AKG D224E. Studio - AKG condenser mic.
Toms: Shure SM57, AKG D190.
Cymbals: AKG condensers (For live application, overhead mics are only required for large venues in excess of 600 people)
Studio: AKG condensers.

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