AUDIO TIPS: Microphones


There are four basic types: Dynamic, Condenser, Ribbon and PZM. Both the dynamic and condenser mics have a thin membrane that vibrates sympathetically with the sound source, be it guitar, piano, or human voice. This vibration is translated into an electronic signal, which in turn gets amplified and sent to the recording source. Generally speaking, condenser micas will be brighter sounding and have a broader frequency response, but they are considerably more fragile than the dynamic micas.

The signal coming out of the mice is very small, and in most cases needs some kind of boost before it gets sent to the board. This is your second opportunity to color the sound via the mice preamp. A mice preamp will increase the signal to what known as 'line level.' A good mice preamp will definitely affect the sound of your recording.

There is no such thing as ‘flat response’ mic, just as there is no such thing as a flat response speaker. This means that some micas will be better suited for some applications, and not so good at others. This also means that everyone is going to have his or her 'favorite' mice and mice preamp, depending on the application. Trust your ears, and remember classic recordings were done when some of the rules were broken.

Remember this: there are no wrong mics for any particular instrument. Your choice may be unusual, but it is not wrong. All engineers will have preferences, usually based on micas with which he/she is familiar. Each different mouse will have its own different sound and unique set of characteristics. Each artist will have his/her own conception of the sound of his or her own instrument (which may or may not be accurate.) It is the job of all engineers to deliver the sound that the artist thinks they hear, not the sound that they actually have to tape. Frequency response and mice placement will help you to exaggerate the sounds that your client is looking for.

It is important that the engineer be able to focus his/her attention on the main issues and not waste time with interesting but minor technicalities. It is important that the engineer know what the main issues are. An example is the noise/distortion tradeoff. Most listeners are willing to ignore a small amount of distortion on loud passages (in fact, they expect it), but would be annoyed by the extra noise that would result if the engineer turned the recording level down to avoid it. One technique for encouraging this attention is to listen to recordings over a variety of sound systems, good and bad.

You're not alone if you've heard a difference between the bounced or rendered files vs. your live mixing sound. There are plenty of folks who will tell you that a One is a One and a Zero is a Zero and it should sound perfect, but others will point out jitter issues, cable issues, drive issues, vibration issues and more. There's a lot to digital and it's crucial that it's set up just right. Don't take anything for granted in digital. Look into the situation until you are satisfied. Use science and time-tested method along with some "outside the box" thinking. Be open-minded and don't settle for so-so sound. It may take going to another studio, looking up a good discussion forum, calling a manufacturer, or just regular experimentation!

Here's a cool trick. Take your PT or other DAW into the mastering studio and compare your mixes with commercial CDs. Then if the mastering engineer is "reaching" for the kick, just bring it up in the mix till he/she isn't reaching in that direction any further. Extra bonus: Have the mastering engineer send you word clock or a signal to your digital input, and then set your master clock on "digital input" instead of "internal." It will smooth up the sound of your computer and (so long as your computer isn't fussy) avoids the mix engine. Here's the caveat. Mix-style

tweaking can add to your mastering bill, so know in advance what's appropriate for your budget.

With today's, sometimes too hot CDs, it's good to make extra (alternate) mixes when in any doubt. Make a mix that you love, and then make another one with the kick up a dB or 2. If you're unsure of the vocal level, make an alternate mix in the same fashion, but more like vocal up 1/2 dB and then one up 1 dB. Keep in mind the teeter-totter principle - the element that you bring up will off-set (or lower) some other element.

Adding kick can seem to reduce the apparent snare level; adding vocal can seem to reduce the apparent bass level, etc. No matter where you are recording and no matter what level you're at in your career, hold your project as being important enough that no one "gives you a blank stare" when you question the sound. When you A/B your project against a commercial CD be aware of the fact that any issues that may arise may be the result of different preferences between you and your engineer. It's also possible that your engineer doesn't listen to commercial CDs over his monitor system and he's comfortable with his environment.these, you need an outboard (meaning not built-in) mice preamp. Some have phantom power that will allow the use of more sensitive condenser microphones (phantom power is a 48-volt current that is sent to the mice to power its electronics).

Many folks have a tough time with the logistics of how to set up proper A/Being so that you can make fast referencing moves. The other trick is to level-match what you're referencing to, otherwise it becomes a volume contest, and volume always wins. How do you get the commercial CD levels and yours to match? There is gear available (either available now or available soon) from Nautilus Master Technology. They're a new company with 4 pieces of pro audio gear intended to make A-B easy and extremely high-resolution. With the proper tools, you can take as much time as you need to train yourself to be an awesome mixing engineer. If you think about it, every engineer trains himself or herself, even if there's a coach standing over them with tips and tricks. All the tips are only as good as the people who retain and use their ears to get the desired results.

Sending tracks to a speaker in a room is an interesting way to create an additional minced source to re-record back into your tracks. Try putting a chorus or flanging plug-in on a track and pan the original and the chorus' to opposite sides. Another thing to know is that width is relative. That means if you pan some things 'in' a bit (like toms) it makes other things seem wider. Then compare your mixes to commercial CDs and adjust, experiment, re-listen, repeat. The trick is to make instant comparisons so that you retain the "sonic imprint" of what you heard from the commercial CD.

Like any other piece of gear, the same microphone can give tremendously different results depending on how it is used. There is a bit of expertise and experimentation that needs to happen when placing the microphone to capture a source. Even the best micas in the world will sound boom and unusable if the vocalist gets too close. These same mice might fail miserably if recording an acoustic guitar if placed too far away, or off axis (angled away from the source). An inexpensive mice, placed optimally for the task at hand can capture exceptional nuances, and once a track is treated with Esq., compressors and plugging, the results can be outstanding. Yet a great mic given the same care during setup and post-treatment can be absolutely stellar.

You might be wondering how studio pros keep the hi hat sound out of the snare mic (bleed). The mics directional pattern comes in here. You want your close drum mics to reject all sounds except the drum it's pointed to. There will always be some bleed, but you work to minimize it when you set up the mics.