2001 and Abbey Road and Maida Vale Studios were opened up to 250 new musicians for a chance to to get up close and personal with some of the industries biggest names. This week British band Kaiser Chiefs give an insight into their experience in the music industry.
With an huge number of models on the market these days trying to find the best microphone for your needs is no easy task. This guide will provide you with a solid foundation for making an informed choice when choosing the right microphone for the job.
The most common type of microphone are dynamic mics, they are hard wearing and resist distortion which makes them ideal for use in a live setting. Look at any lead vocalist performing live and you can be sure they are using a dynamic microphone. Since they can handle high SPL (Sound Pressure Level) dynamic mics are great for close miking loud instruments like drums and guitar amps. Stick them up to the amp grill crank the volume and they’ll easily go to levels where most condensers cant compete.
Condenser Microphones are the mainstay of the recording studio, although many newer condensers are now being used in a live situation. They typically have a greater frequency and transient response then dynamic microphones. Condensers uses a capacitor to convert acoustical energy into electrical energy. Condenser microphones require power to operate this usually comes in the form of a battery or 48v phantom power delivered through an XLR mic cable from an mixing desk or audio interface. The resulting audio signal is stronger signal than that from a dynamic. Condensers also tend to be more sensitive and responsive than dynamics, making them perfect for capturing the subtleties of a performance.
Ribbon mics have long been sought after for their warm smooth sound. In the past they where prohibitively expensive, putting them out of reach of the project studio owner but nowadays they are more affordable then ever. Ribbon mics were the industry standard for recording and broadcast in the early part of the 20th century and most of those cool looking vintage mics you see in footage from the era are RCA ribbon microphones. A ribbon mic uses a thin sheet of metal (the ribbon) placed between the poles of a magnet to generate voltages by electromagnetic induction. Most ribbons utilize a figure of 8 polar pattern.
Microphone Polar Patterns
Every microphone is designed with its own polar pattern some are fixed and some or switchable and knowing your cardioid from your omni can really help improve your recordings.
Types Of Polar Patterns
Cardioid:These have a heart shaped directional pattern meaning they pick up sound from the front and reject most sound from the rear. This pattern can be used to your advantage, for example when recording a drum kit you could position a cardioid mic so its null point or rear points towards the high hats and its front at the snare. This will significantly reduce the high hat spill into that mic.
Omnidirectional Microphone Pattern: As the name suggests this type a polar pattern is sensitive to sound from all directions. These microphones are good for capturing an ambient natural sound. Because omni mics don’t exhibit proximity-effect, you can position them right up to a sound source without picking up an unnatural boost of the low-mid frequencies but obviously they are not good where separation between sound sources is needed.
Figure of 8 (bi-directional): Figure of 8 microphones are sensitive to sound from the front and rear and have null points on opposite sides.
Hyper-cardioid: These Microphones have a similar polar pattern to the cardioid mics but are more focused and pick up less from the side. This tightly focused directional attribute makes them good for isolating sound sources although you should be aware they have a narrow hyper-cardioid tail which will pick up sound directly behind.
These graphs are great for illustration but in practice a microphone picks up sound in a 3 dimensional array around the microphones diaphragm. It would be better to think of these diagrams as a slice through the center of this array. This illustrations from the Shure website show exactly what I mean.
Which Is The Best Microphone For Me
When it comes to capturing a great vocal there are no rules as to which mic to use. Some professional singers record using relatively inexpensive dynamic mics like an SM58, rather than a condenser mic, because the dynamic mic gives them a warmer, more punchy sound. While other more delicate breathy vocals can benefit from the detailed highs of a condenser microphone. Also, be sure to use a Pop Filter when recording vocals.
Popular Vocal Mics
A common setup for drum recording is individually close miking each drum with dynamic microphones, then augmenting these with condenser mics for an overhead pair and a hi-hat mic. Using mics with a forward firing polar pattern on toms can help isolate them from other drums. For snares, a dynamic mic such as the Shure SM57 is a popular choice, at just $99 it could the best microphone purchase you make. Small diaphragm condenser mics are have long been popular as drum overheads, a great choice on a budget are Rode NT5 Condenser Microphones. The kick drum needs a mic that can handle high SPL and has a good low end response. While experimenting with different mics types is a good idea, the kick drum usually benefits from a dedicated kick drum mic like the AKG D112.
Popular Drum Mics
Just about every mic you can think of has been used to record guitars but in most cases a dynamic mic like the SM57 on guitar cab will sound great. Dynamics cope well with high SPL which is another reason that they sound so good in front of an amp cabinet. A condenser mic used on it’s own or in conjunction with a dynamic mic can reveal the high end detail of the guitar. Although, once you have a half decent microphone the positioning of the mic is probably the most important element of the sound, even the best microphone ever wont sound much good if it’s not positioned well.
Popular Electric Guitar Mics
Small diaphragm condenser mics are usually the first port of call when recording acoustic guitars and cardioid polar pattern models are helpful for reducing unwanted room reverberation. Of course, in the right recording environment a large diaphragm condenser with an onmi pattern can produce great natural results.
When bass amp is cranked it’s going to produce plenty of volume, and a good large-diaphragm dynamic mic can work well for capturing the range of tones a bass can produce without overloading. Often, a dedicated kick drum mic can can also sound great on a bass amp cabinet. The
AKG D112 provides excellent low-end support with plenty of punch and could be one of the best microphone in your arsenal.
Cardioid dynamic mics with a smooth, flat response and the ability to handle high SPL, are good choices for horns. The Audix i5 Instrument Microphone is a good budget choice for brass that can also turn its hand to guitars and other instruments.
So What’s The Best Microphone Then?
People often ask questions like what’s the best microphone for recording vocals or what’s the best microphone on snares (it’s the Shure SM57 !!!) but the truth is it’s all a matter of opinion and taste. So it’s probably become clear that there is no such thing as the best microphone, because it all rather depends on the application and how some microphones excel in some situations versus others, plus of course we are talking about music after all and what sounds good to me might sound pretty awful to you.
The snare drum is the star of your drum mix and deserves some special attention. Engineers and producers have for years obsessed over the perfect snare sound so today we going to look at some common snare drum eq and compression settings for getting you there.
Snare Drum Eq
I typically high pass filter the snare at around 100hz, this tightens up the low end and removes any low level rumble or mic bleed that’s not really helpful when mixing.
Body: The body of the snare is usually found in the 150- 400Hz range. A little boost here can help a underweight snare. If you find the snare is overly resonant or conflicting with the kick or bass cutting this area can increase clarity. I typically used a standard peaking band with a Q setting of about 1.
Crack: The majority of the snares smack or crack can be found around 1-2k range. A boost here can help to get your snare cutting through the mix.
Stick Impact: If your looking for a little more stick in the snare sound or for that matter if your looking to cut some it can usually be found in the 5k range.
Wire Rattle: The wires or snares on the underside of a snare drum are what gives it it’s distinctive sound. I usually start my search for snare rattle around 8k.
Snare Drum Compression
Too many new engineers as a matter of course slap a compressor on the snare drum without even thinking but as with eq you should have a clear idea in your mind what you are trying to achieve instead of just searching in the dark. That being said in modern rock or pop consistent dynamics is desirable on the snare drum and a little bit of compression can keep the snare sitting just where you want it. Over do the compression or get the attack and release settings wrong and you can stifle or flatten the sound.
Often we want to emphasize the attack of the snare and give it a little extra punch. Longer/slower attack times around 10ms allow the initial snare attack transient to sneak through the compressor without being squashed, the compressor then wakes up and starts to act on the rest signal squashing the decay. The overall volume will probably have to be increased with the make-up gain or output control.
If you are having difficulties hearing the subtleties of compression try setting the ratio for about 6:1 and bringing the threshold way down till your getting massive gain reduction. You will have to increase the make up gain or output to”make up” for the drop in volume. Set the attack to the fastest it will go and the release to a medium setting. Now slowly start decreasing the attack control, sure enough the attack transient will start to pop through right at it’s sweet spot. Unfortunately the snare will now sound awful so start returning the threshold to a more sensible setting.
A typical setting for some light Snare compression may be as follows, bear in mind this is just a guideline and it’s more important to understand how and when to compress then to be just randomly applying recommended settings.
The bass guitar can often pose the biggest problem when mixing audio. Along with the drums it provides the bedrock of a song and can make or break a mix. Today I’m going to take a look at a few key elements that can get your bass sounding great.
We’ve all heard them old Beatles tracks with the vocals on one side and the music on the other but they were different times and they were doing the best with what they had. In modern pop, rock or any other style of music 99% of the time the bass is panned dead center and thats what we are going to stick to.
Bass Guitar EQ
In most situations you can probably add a high pass filter at around 35hz to the bass guitar, too much sub-bass can eat up the head room on your track and there usually isn’t very much happening down there anyway.
Bottom: Bass guitars get the majority of their low energy weight in the 80-100 Hz region. Too much boost here could result in a muddy mix. Pay attention to how the bass interacts with other low end elements of the track, for example if both the bass guitar and the kick drum are peaking at 80Hz it may be wise to cut one by a few db in that area to better compliment each other. A warmer bass tone may be found in the 100-300Hz area.
Attack/Character: The 500Hz-1.5k region typically defines the overall sound of the bass, a boost here can provide more attack but overdoing it doing could introduce a boxy sound to the track.
Notes/Snap: A more snappy string sound typical of the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be found in the 2.5-5k region.
An important point that a lot of home studio owners overlook is that the bass guitar isn’t all about low end and you would be surprised by how much top you may have to dial in to get the bass sounding right. Remember, it might not sound too hot when it’s soloed but when it’s mixed into your track it can be just the ticket.
Bass Guitar Compression
In modern rock and pop music, compression is used on the bass guitar to lock in the low end by limiting it’s dynamic range. It’s important that the bass is solid from note to note otherwise some notes will blow your ears off and others will disappear altogether, unfortunately even good players can be a little uneven at times.
Setting the compressor on bass guitar is all about experimentation, particularly with regards to the attack and release settings. Firstly dial in a ratio of about 4:1 and then adjust the threshold till the meter is showing about 7-8Db of gain reduction at the loudest parts. Set the attack time so the initial transient of the bass passes through without getting compressed (around 50ms), then set the release as fast as it will go with out the compressor pumping too much, this will give a punchy sound to the track.
Experiment with the attack and release times, this is where you can really shape your sound, if your after a smoother bass dynamic try setting the attack time faster and the release time slower. You have to judge this on a case by case basis and ask yourself what each song calls for.
A wimpy kick drum sound can really suck the life out of an otherwise good mix. If your want your mix to stand up to today’s modern rock and pop songs it’s important your have a killer kick drum driving your track.
First off , what you can do in most situations is high pass filter the extreme low end somewhere around 20Hz with a fairly steep slope. The majority of home studio systems are not going to reproduce these low frequencies yet this subsonic energy will still rob your track of important head room.
There are a few primary areas that we should look at when eqing a kick drum. Although I should say at this point there are no strict formulas for eqing anything but some of these suggested settings should get you in the ballpark.
Thud: This is the low end thump or boom of the kick drum and the part you can feel as much as hear. I will usually use a peaking band for this area boosting somewhere around 50-60Hz for that modern sound, a more traditional or natural sound can be found a little higher in the 100Hz region. A low shelving band may be worth experimenting with if your kick is feeling particularly puny but try not to overdo it, the frequencies in this area can get smeared really fast.
Smack: this describes the attack portion of the kick and can be found in the 3-5kHz range. It’s this area that contributes most to the character of the kick drum. I typically use a peaking band with a Q of about 1 to 1.5.
Click: does exactly what you might expect. You may not think it’s a sound quality desired in a kick drum but just listen to today’s modern rock songs and you’ll be surprised at just how “clicky” the kick drum is. The click of a kick drum usually hides out in the 6-8K range, a peaking band with a Q of about 1.5 is a good starting point but experiment with a shelving band if want to get a bit more of the snare wires into the mix.
Mud: this is the enemy of kick drums and clouds up our mix. Cutting with a wide Q peaking band in the 250Hz-300Hz range can really clean up your kick drum sound.
Kick Drum Compression
OK so you’ve got your equalization under control now lets try and get some punch into our kick. Insert your compressor on your kicks channel, any bundled DAW compressor will do fine. I will usually set the ratio about 3:1 and adjust the threshold for just a few dbs of gain reduction. The important controls here are the attack and release.
If the attack control is set at zero for default increase it to about 5ms otherwise the compressor is going to be squashing the attack portion of the kick before it has a chance to poke through. If you are having trouble hearing how adjusting the attack is affecting the sound pull the threshold way down and then set the attack, the setting at which the kicks transient is loudest should really pop out .
When you have the attack where you want it return the threshold to a more sensible level. It’s vital that you experiment here using your ears as too short attack time can suck some of the body or weight out of the kick drum. Set the release so gain reduction has returned to zero or close to before the next kick hit arrives. If you can time the release control just right you can create a kind of pumping effect that can sound great in certain genres.
I hope you enjoyed this article and remember the most important thing is to use your ears, experiment, spin them dials around see and what happens.