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[Music] In this episode I want to show you the type of microphones that I use for my own recording projects and hopefully I would like to help you answer your own question of

How do you buy microphones for your studio?

It is often a really big question of what you should buy next and I have some practical advice that is hopefully a down to earth method of narrowing down all the choices to buy microphones that are best for your needs.

[Music fades away]

The episode of today is about how to select microphones that work together. How do you purchase microphones for your studio? That is the big question.

It really is a big question because you have a lot of people online that are asking,

What microphone should I buy next? I have this microphone, what should I buy next?

What microphone is great for this, what microphone is great for that?

Today I want to give you some practical advice and a starting point, if you will, for approaching your microphone purchasing. If you use this advice you will at least have a direction and a starting point. You will have a step-by-step of where you can go next. This will hopefully take a lot of the confusion out and narrow out thousands of options and just simplify the process. And take a lot of the fear on wasting money on gear that is not going to work for you.

What is the first step for buying microphones?

This is a pile of microphones that I have acquired over the past couple of years, and it has really worked for me. It may not be special for somebody else, perhaps somebody else works differently, but if you like the sounds that I have achieved in the documentaries that I have on this channel, these microphones are where it is at. This is what works for me.

Where I start is in the drum overhead microphones. These are the microphones that cost the most money. These can be condenser microphones. These can be ribbon microphones. These are really where it is at. These microphones collect the high frequencies, and they are collecting the most detail. The most sensitive things that if gone wrong can really sound bad.

High end frequencies in mixing can be equated to adding salt to food. Adding sodium. And too much salt can really make it hard to eat. And too little salt makes food flavorless. Food needs salt to bring out the natural flavors in food. And so sometimes you can eat a lot of sodium because it is mixed in and other times the salt is right on top like on French Fries. You can actually taste that salt. And so high end in frequencies is really no different. There are high end frequencies in ribbon microphones, it is just buried in there. It is still there. Whereas high end pencil condensers such as the KM184, the microphone that I am actually speaking in now. You can not see this microphone because it is off screen. There is actually a little bit more high end. The high end is actually boosted and exaggerated in certain microphones. Certain times that is appropriate, and certain times that is not.

For me I always prefer to go easy on the high end, but make sure that it is still there. I do not want it to be void of high end but want to make sure that it is accurately represented.

The way that I have built my microphone collection is around my dual ribbon. It is an R88 and AEA. This microphone is great for drum overheads, acoustic guitar, and for vocals. It is a starting point for my microphone collection.

Although that may not be a starting point for a multi-track session. Maybe acoustic guitar can come later, but it is a starting point for how I strategize the purchasing of my gear. This microphone is really a starting point. It is a multiple use microphone that can be used for multiple applications and this will give me a sense of what else I am missing if it is not covered by this microphone.

This is the microphone that costs the most money. If you have enough money to buy one microphone, try to buy this microphone. This microphone could be a U87, this could be a nice pair of overhead microphones, and this could be just one microphone. Whichever microphone that is just make sure that it is not too crazy of a microphone. It is a utility microphone.

The ribbon microphone has great mid range frequencies. It has a really smooth trail off in the high frequencies. This is how I build my microphone collection is to make sure that the mid range frequencies is accurately represented, and the top end is not too exaggerated but it is there.

Ribbon microphones are great. They are super fast, but they are also a little dark which is sort of like a dynamic microphone. There is a nice trade off. A condenser microphone, something like this one, the M179 by CAD. This is a bright microphone, but it is fast. Something like this dynamic microphone, this is a M88 by Beyerdynamic. Great vocal microphone. Great kick drum microphone. This is a little bit slower though so you would not want to use it on an acoustic guitar, but you could use the ribbon on acoustic guitar. It is really quick and you do not sense that you are loosing any detail whatsoever when you are using it on acoustic.

So whatever your choice is, make sure that you do not go too crazy with it. Ok? Try to spend as much money as possible – This is really the place to splurge if you can.

From there, it builds in to other microphones. So let us take the rest of the drum set. I am looking at kick drum, great microphone, the M88. I already said that this can be used as a vocal microphone. Supposedly Phil Collins used this microphone a lot, actually exclusively as rumor has it. This is a newer version of it, so I do not know if it really applies to this microphone but I have used it for vocal and it is a great all around microphone and great on toms as well.

This is also a classic – more for live use. But if somebody request it, I have it. It is also great for different kick drums. Not every kick drum likes this microphone, the M88, they sometimes like this a little better. This microphone is much more even sounding. The low end is much more even on this microphone.

Low end is almost like sugar in cooking. You have salt on the top end and you have sugar on the low end. So you can really over sweeten the low end with this microphone.

But this microphone is still going to capture the low end, but you still get everything. And in fact, this is a large diaphragm dynamic microphone and Beyerdynamic claims it goes up something crazy. I forget the number now, but it does capture all the high end and it is there. And so like the ribbon microphone behind my shoulder here it is a very even keeled microphone. Even keeled, general purpose, but still starting to carve out niches for the microphones.

From there we go on to snare. And snare I have a couple options that I like. I actually use the Audix i5 a lot, I use a modified Shure sm57 with no transformer. I have a video for that if your interested in hearing these on a guitar cabinet.

And I have another transformer-less shure sm57, but I just took the back park out of it. So I can just squeeze this in by the hi hat if needed.

This is a standard Shure SM57, just good to have. Another standard sm57, and sm58.

These are actually really great if you take the windshield off. It is a really great sounding microphone, and the capsule actually if you line up the seams right here on the side of the microphone you can see that the capsule is able to get about a centimeter closer to a guitar cabinet speaker. So if you line these up on a grill or fabric of a guitar cabinet, this would be able to get more proximity effect in the same type of use.

This is using microphones for multiple purposes. So you have the overhead which can be used for acoustic guitar, vocal, electric guitar cabinets, and room. So you have all these different uses and this also can be used for multiple things. I have even used sm57 for room microphones. It is not idea, but I have done it. So multiple uses here. This could be used for vocal if at the right distance and with a windscreen. I have done it successfully.

There is a song called Late by Flint Zeigler. I will put an annotation on the screen for you if you want to check that out. But the main vocal of that song was a Shure SM58 surprisingly. And once again – multiple uses.

So those are the ordinary stuff and we can see that all of these microphones have great mid range. The mid range frequencies is king. Mid range is where everything happens. You always have systems between ipads, ipods, ear buds, you have small radios, car systems.

No matter what, people will always hear the mid range frequencies. It is where the human voice sits. The vocal. Everything is tied together from the mid range. And then the low end and the high end is just the sugar or the salt. The middle is like the flour of the bread and then we sweeten it or salt it to taste.

So this is all about the mid range and multiple uses. As we go further we are going into more specialized things.

These are great for toms. Comparing these for some reason they sound terrible if you use them as a room microphone. They really don’t work.

SM57, they actually could work. So these really can adjusted to get the shapes and tones out of the toms that you want. You can point them in the center or towards the rim to get more harmonics. I can really make these do whatever I need to, and they blend pretty good with my ribbon overhead.

Now a lot of these I keep the clips on as much as possible. If you notice on a sm57 I keep the clip on. This is just practical thing to do. I do not use a sm57 with the clip, so I just keep the clip on.

This is a great little jewel this is an Electrocvoice 635a. This is something that my father gave me. He bought this when he was an engineer in the 1970s so he can testify that this was from 1976. And it really does sound like 70s if you throw it on a guitar cabinet. It has a great mid range tone and it complements the Shure SM57. So this microphone [635a] actually makes this one [Shure sm57] sound hi-fi.  If you can imagine that.

The 635a is great for a room microphone if you compress the heck out of it. It sounds really cool. This is something that you can find for cheep at garage sales, or music stores. This is something that you keep a look out for, and if you find one, grab it.

Moving onward, here is a really old Electrovoice RE20, and it is a great general purpose microphone. This needs some repair but these microphones are really use to a beating and you can do a lot of work to maintain them and they still hold their value. Great general purpose microphone for vocal, kick, guitar cabinets. This is really a great choice.

You can see in the download for today the Gear Buying Strategy this is one of the things that I mention. If you can not buy a really expensive condenser microphone, at least purchase a top of the class dynamic microphone. At least then you have something that is worth what it can do, and it does not have any compromises. It is full of potential of what it can do. This is a respected microphone if you are doing indie rock bands, or recording in live setups. Even Radiohead, they use this microphone. Great microphone…enough said.

Now we go into. Ok. This is also a great microphone. This is a 421-N. 70s maybe early 80s, I am not sure. But it is 421 that is older version of it, and it really does sound a little bit different from the black ones. And I had to buy it and make some modifications to it to get it working properly. It is a great all around microphone. So this is kind of my go-to for guitar cabinets if I am not using the ribbon or the 57.

From here, we go into the condenser microphones. This is a new standard of toms. They sound great on toms. They are an alternative to the AKG 414, but I do not think they sound anything like the 414s. Some people call them the poor mans 414. But it is the m179 by CAD, and it really is a bright microphone. So compared to everything else this has a lot of bright character to it. And it is like a slap in the face if you try to blend it with something else here it is a totally different sound.

If you are going for a really modern acoustic sound with tons of acoustics and you have guys jamming out and soloing on acoustic, this would be a great choice. Modern Bluegrass recording. Great choice for that type of sound. Clean crisp, small diaphragm type sound. This would be obviously a medium diaphragm choice.

But this is a great choice for toms. It is a real quick and kind of bright. You can adjust it to sort out the bleed from the cymbals so it is not a bad choice but it is a little more difficult to use than a microphone like the e604. These you are just going to get a lot of the meat of the toms and really count on the overhead to pick up that attack, whereas this I typically get the meat and the attack and it sounds really huge. This is a great microphone for toms. You just have to spend just a little bit more time dialing in the position on them.

Then from there, we go to the classic 414B-ULS. This is a microphone that I bought for five hundred dollars and it turned out that the capsule needed to be replaced so I had to spend five hundred more to get it replaced. So I have a thousand dollars invested in it. It is the cost of a new microphone but for me it is a transformer microphone so it is not transformer-less. It is an old style 414. I think it sounds great. Great general purpose. It does not work for kick, but it sounds really great for a lot of other things.

The omni setting on it is great for vocal when you want to get really close Pomplamoose type vocal where it is really close and intimate vocal sounds. So great all around microphone. I wish I had two of them, but I do not want to have to go through the process of buying an old microphone and spending another five hundred to get the capsule replaced so I am not really sure what to do with it to pair it up with a like microphone. But great microphone.

Another microphone I use a lot is the Audio Technica 4040. This microphone is not expensive but it does have a nice all around sound. This microphone, I actually can use for kick drum. It has a quick sound. It is cardioid only and for whatever reason in the design of the microphone it is able to really focus the sound a lot better.

So if you were to set these two microphones up in the room across from a drum set, the 4040 sounds like it is a meter closer to the kit. So it just has the ability to tune out a lot of the room sound. If the room sounds a little bit noise, the microphone just sounds a little bit more focused on the source in front of it.

This microphone has a little bit more equalized sound, obviously more than this. It obviously is not as high quality as the 414, but it does have more ready to go, strait out of the box sound.

You have to mind your positioning on it. The angle down or directly in. Even the height compared to the vocalist mouth. But really it can work great for a lot of different vocalist. For me I find that a high pitched male vocalist, such as a tenor vocalists, think Radiohead Thom York, that kind of vocalist would be great for this sort of microphone.

Ok so that is really the summary of what I use and maybe you have a totally different opinion and that is totally cool. I trust that you will do a good job at it, because if I were in your shoes I would make the same decisions.

If I had a bunch of microphones that sounded like this then I definitely would think that this microphone has something wrong with it. It is just so dull in comparison. But when I have a microphone like the ribbon microphone, and then I fire up a microphone like this it seems to work a lot better.

So each situation is totally different and your perspective is going to influence the way you look at microphones and how you make additions to what you already have.

The idea is to really just start with your best microphone. Focus on your best microphone.

If you do not have a great microphone yet, what is something you can plan for and really build around that microphone. Try to purchase the best possible thing that you can afford and then work down from there using your most intensive instrument that you record.

For me it is the drums. It uses the most microphones and I really have to make sure that it is all hands on deck for the drums.

I do not have two of the 421s. I do not have two of the m88s. And so those both would be great tom microphones, but unfortunately because I do not have two of them I typically just use the 421 for guitar. I do not use it for toms.

I could use the RE20 for kick if I wanted to, to free up the m88 for use on toms. You just have to start with your most intense use of microphones and then see from that use what you can use with other things around the studio.



Hello, my name is Ryan Earnhardt. I am a personal mentor to audio engineers, and a debt free studio owner, Lumen Audio, located in the mountains around Asheville NC.

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