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Home-studio microphone suggestions?


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I'm sure this comes up every now and then but I couldn't find anything recent.

 

So, I've been slowwwly upgrading my laptop-centric recording rig (just upgraded to a USB two-channel input, only samples at 44kbps -- yeah, that kind of slow).

 

I think the biggest missing piece for me right now is a middle-of-the-road mic setup. I have read around on these interwebz for some advice, but honestly I respect and like you folks better than most groups / a lot of you are generally into the same style of music as me.

 

A couple questions:

 

- my crappy USB input thing does have phantom power -- but I have been told that I really need to get a mic pre-amp. Is that really true? The $35 generic "studio condensor" mic I am using actually puts a lot of signal into the laptop, I would think a better mic would have decent output as well? I used to use a small-diaphragm condensor mic from AT that worked pretty-well for me without pre-amp or anything.

 

- the biggie: what do I really need to be thinking about when I'm checking out these microphones? Can I really get what I'm looking for in my price range ($400 - $700), which is to say basically a mic that I can keep for a long time, that can be used in a variety of styles? If it helps, I can link to my myspace so you can see the kind of stuff I want to do. I'd say Uncle Tupelo is a good yardstick -- kinda hick, largely built around an acoustic sound, but with frequent electric guitars that are sometimes pretty loud / distorted. On the mic side, I think this matters a little because it ends up being the case that most of my verses are softish and the choruses tend to be loudish. I kinda feel like when I get to the chorus right now with my current mic, I either overload the thing or else am unsure and back away (maybe too much?) on those louder parts. So I think I'd like to find a microphone that can tolerate a really broad dynamic range without a lot of work on my part -- basically it'll hear my whispery parts on the verses but not lose its shit when I'm suddenly 70 dB louder. (Obviously I normalize in the mixing phase). So clearly I'm talking about something that has a fairly high SPL, but is still responsive at lower levels.

 

Sorry I know this is a really subjective and broad question. But I'm curious as to any advice you'd give to a guy in my situation. I'm also more than willing to read up if you think there's a resource (or thread or article) I need to dig into.

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I have had a lot of success with using a Rode NT-1 on acoustic guitars and vocals. It's a pretty good all-around large diaphragm condenser mic. With the rest of your budget, I'd pick up a Shure Sm-57, which is the industry standard for many miking applications. It's perfect for miking guitar amps, tops of snare drums, guitars, etc...and it's pretty cheap.

 

I think a preamp like this one would suit your needs, with phantom power, etc.

 

Another good investment, if you're going to be recording bass is a good DI (direct input) box. You could omit this and just use the preamp....but a good DI box is a really sound investment.

 

Hope that is of some help.

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Thanks for the tips. I already have a Shura SM-58 that I use for recording my electric guitar amp / playing out, and the Rode is a good tip, I hadn't really looked at that brand. I kinda think this mic from them looks pretty sweet. I dunno if it's wrong on my part, but I have been inclining towards the tube condensor mics.

 

On that note, just from thumbing around the Web, I have been staring at this Mojave tube mic but I dunno if I really want to wait around long enough to save up that kind of cash / drop that kinda dough. This is sort of the basic conundrum for me. I've owned / used mics in that $200-$400 range and I kinda want to venture up to the next (lower-mid-quality) level...

 

Question: how dramatic would the difference be, between the tube pre amp you linked to (ART Tube MP) and this True mic pre? Is it REALLY worth the extra $440 for the higher-end one?? Seems hard to believe, kinda. Also I don't see much talk about upgrading the tubes in these single-channel tube pres, is there a reason why that doesn't seem to be done as much?

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I have had a lot of success with using a Rode NT-1 on acoustic guitars and vocals. It's a pretty good all-around large diaphragm condenser mic. With the rest of your budget, I'd pick up a Shure Sm-57, which is the industry standard for many miking applications. It's perfect for miking guitar amps, tops of snare drums, guitars, etc...and it's pretty cheap.

 

I think a preamp like this one would suit your needs, with phantom power, etc.

 

Another good investment, if you're going to be recording bass is a good DI (direct input) box. You could omit this and just use the preamp....but a good DI box is a really sound investment.

 

Hope that is of some help.

 

Once again, we are in agreement -- this is pretty much exactly what I would recommend.

 

The SM-58 is pretty much just the 57 with a windscreen, so you're all set there. As for the ART, it may not cost all that much, but it gets the job done. With computer recording, I've found that I've gotten much better sound by bumping up my sampling rate by getting a dedicated computer that can handle the load. This had made every bit as big a difference as improving mics and preamps. I know a lot of folks really push buying $500 mics for a home studio and will rant and rave about the difference -- I don't buy it, especially if you're system isn't taking advantage of these expensive mics. Plenty of professional studios use the 57 for instruments. The difference you hear between a bad home recording and the studio is what the mic is running into, not the mic . . . in my humble opinion, of course.

 

As for upgrading the tubes in single channel pre-amps, I think you hear about it less b/c the tubes probably don't matter as much in that you're not trying to get them to break up like in an amp so you have fewer concerns about natural harmonics, etc.

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Question: how dramatic would the difference be, between the tube pre amp you linked to (ART Tube MP) and this True mic pre? Is it REALLY worth the extra $440 for the higher-end one?? Seems hard to believe, kinda. Also I don't see much talk about upgrading the tubes in these single-channel tube pres, is there a reason why that doesn't seem to be done as much?

As compared with guitar amps? Good question...I'm not certain. If I had to guess, I'd say that many of the tonal characteristics in a guitar amp are dictated by the level that the tube "breaks up" or gets overdriven. Some tubes break up lower, some higher. My guess is that a tube in a mic pre is just not being driven as hard as one in a guitar....then I again I could be way off base.

 

A big thing to consider when dropping a good chunk of dough on recording equipment is the entire signal path. My longtime friend and room mate is in music production and has his degree in audio engineering (he has a killer setup,...anyway). I used to always ask him -- "What about this $500 or that one...?" He'd always say that one nice piece of equipment in the chain isn't enough to justify it's cost. It's like a team working together -- the voice or guitar going into the mic, the quality of the mic, the quality of the preamp, and the quality of the bitrate or medium being recorded to.

 

 

In your case, I don't think dropping $700 on a nice mic would be worth it. You could spread your money around and have a much better sounding setup that way.

 

Once again, we are in agreement -- this is pretty much exactly what I would recommend.

Likewise!! :cheers

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Great stuff, thanks guys. Since you raised the issue: what do you think the ideal bitrate for home recording is? Because the only thing limiting my bitrate right now is the el cheapo USB interface I bought, my system does just fine sampling at up to 192 with about five or six tracks (I used to do that when I used a mixer / line-in for recording). However, the 48kbps through the USB actually sounds much better then the 192 line input did -- I think it's because my mixer and cables were inexpensive and added noise but I'm not sure, but it's pretty clear that the vocals sound MUCH better with my el cheapo USB than they did at sampling 5x as much through the line-in. So this kinda led me to think that the sampling rate isn't as important as signal strength / sound-to-noise ratio (again just shooting from the hip on that point). So I feel a little conflicted about the idea that sampling rate is important. I mean, I think a CD only plays at 44 kbps, correct? And trust me, I'd be happy if I could come up with a sound that is ONLY as good as some of the CDs I own. :D

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A great condenser mic for vocals/guitars/drum overheads/bass guitars etc. = the Audio Technica AT4033. You can get them for four hundred bucks or less new.

 

Don't spend a thousand dollars on anything, until you don't know what else to improve for four or five hundred bucks, unless you're preparing to open a studio this summer.

 

No, you don't need a higher bit rate than a cd plays at, at least not until you've spent thousands of dollars on other things.

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Sorry, I wasn't very clear in my previous post. I'm not talking about the bit rate (though I did use the term "sample rate") -- those folks who have noted that 44 kbps is as much as a CD can play are correct; however, the bit depth is very important (again, in my humble opinion). If you're recording at 16 bit, I highly recommend stepping up to 24 despite the increased memory demands. Here's a good discussion of this issue (and a pretty good recording resource generally): 16 v. 24

 

Also note, the author of the article to which I linked specifically points out "Never refer to 16-bit or 24 bit audio as the 'bit rate.' Its properly called the bit depth and the pros will be so irked they'll have to correct you." I made that exact mistake in my previous post. Doh!

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My understanding is that the audio is recorded at a higher sampling rate so that when it is put through the final mixdown it comes out a CD quality, 44.1kHz. The folks I know who do it professionally mostly use 24 bit, 48 kHz. I've recently heard squabblings that 96 kHz is even better....but in today's reality, it's all gonna hit an iPod at 128 kbps, which makes me: :ohwell

 

The upside is that recorded tracks (at least in ProTools) can be converted to 24/48 from 24/44.1 or 16/44.1 when in .wav format. I really wouldn't let the whole bitrate/bit depth thing keep you up at night.

 

I think that if you can record at any of the combinations mentioned above, you'll sound good to 99.5% of the population.

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Thanks a TON guys! Appreciate you dumping the info on me. And yeah, definitely agree I don't need the Mojave. However I am inclined towards something tolerant of higher SPL levels, like I said the only REAL, REAL complaint I have with my cheap $35 Samson condensor is just that it overloads fairly easily on me.

 

I know I could control that through technique to some extent, but I'd really just like to find a mic that can tolerate my dynamic range without a lot of thought. So I do a lot of searching around, reading specs, etc. Come to find that the Rode NT-1 you recommended in your first post is one of the best bangs for your buck there. A few of the tube mics have significantly-higher SPLs (like the Rode NTK for example) but they also cost twice as much. So, that's my contribution as I see things now, with your help and education. Basically, I think my main spec that I am hunting for is actually just a mic that's tolerant of too-close singers, HA. Maybe I should've spent my money on some damn vocal technique lessons when I started out.

 

Really appreciate you guys walking me through this stuff. Will definitely let you know where things end up (not in a real rush). I'm not sweating the bitrate / depth stuff toooo bad right now. I did experiment a bit with the 24k when I was using the line in jack, but it ended up being a tad confusing for me, since you need to convert it back to 16 (or whatever the CD rate is) to play it as either a .wav from cd or mp3, as I recall. Also neglected to mention that I'm stoked to try out the tube amp you mentioned.

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The use of a heightened bit (rate or depth) is used to accomodate for a very real degradation of signal during digital processing. This degradation is difficult to explain, but is centered around the processed information being reincoded using longer number (in binary). The higher bit ("rate or depth") allows your computer or digital workstation to avoid having to round off so many encoded pieces of information; which alters the audio file (it also alters audiophiles).

 

This result in its typically moderate state is scarcely identifiable to an avid listener, but a running headache for a mastering engineer preparing to complete your work.

 

In short: if your running demos on your laptop with an Sm 58- don't sweat it.

 

If your preparing to make the leap to a high quality, mastered, mass produced, product- get everything at 24 bits at a rate of 48khz if possible. If your demo studio doesn't have the capability (which these days most do) its ok.

 

Just focus on getting that cool Rode mic. I'm still a pusher for the Audio Technica AT4033 though. Steve Albini likes it. I like it. What else you need to know?

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This result in its typically moderate state is scarcely identifiable to an avid listener, but a running headache for a mastering engineer preparing to complete your work.

 

If your preparing to make the leap to a high quality, mastered, mass produced, product- get everything at 24 bits at a rate of 48khz if possible. If your demo studio doesn't have the capability (which these days most do) its ok.

 

regrettably, in many cases, the mastering process itself will degrade from the originally set rate...while there are many different definitions of what mastering is, in generally it consists of compression, EQ (notch volume), and formatting

 

I have the argument with friends all the time...with the advent of currently available recording/mixing devices and playback devices, i contend mastering is a waste of money and time if your mixing is done correctly

 

also, if at anytime your music goes from the 'master', to CD, DAT, or other files such as MP3/M4u its a moot point...all of these formats compress in diffferent fashions

 

 

I despise the traditional recording process in general, so forgive my rant...my focus in music is in writing and live performance, and since there will never be a 'definitive' version or recording of any of my work, the nit picking involved in the 'quality' of recordings is unimportant

 

j

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On topic, i often recommend the AKG perception series condensers, starting at $150 each...i have 2 for basic room and instrument recording--a very good perormer and value

 

in most cases, used microphones are a huge value as well...its hard to break a quality dynamic, and as far a s ebay goes, condensers are dimes on the dollar...just make sense of buy feedback, terms of sale, etc to protect against a lemon

 

 

 

 

 

 

j

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I despise the traditional recording process in general, so forgive my rant...my focus in music is in writing and live performance, and since there will never be a 'definitive' version or recording of any of my work, the nit picking involved in the 'quality' of recordings is unimportant

 

j

 

Having reached a period in my life where I no longer have the time to play music with others or play live, I have grown to love recording. I love exploring all the possible ways to put together a song, taking it apart, putting it back together, and finding it become something new and different. It's great when some throw-away bassline, guitar lick, keyboard vamp, or whatever I've put down suddenly becomes the heart of an entirely new version.

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Having reached a period in my life where I no longer have the time to play music with others or play live, I have grown to love recording. I love exploring all the possible ways to put together a song, taking it apart, putting it back together, and finding it become something new and different. It's great when some , keyboard vamp, or whatever I've put down suddenly becomes the heart of an entirely new version.

 

Yea...i feel you...i have the extreme luxury of having many very good musician friends, and the sense of the unknown when doing your music with folks who know/like it but dont rehearse it is much like that throw-away bassline or guitar lick you mentioned...anything to keep it alive and fresh...and the idea of a song capturing the moment is very appealing

 

 

 

j

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So here's the problem with this forum: here I am, all happy with my current studio set up. I've been happy with my mics -- SM57, SM58, and a so-so MXL condenser (the top end can be a little harsh/brittle, though it's still better than using the 58 on vocals, I guess). After this discussion, however, I am now thinking about upgrading as well. It would be nice to have a better condenser. This forum is becoming responsible for me spending way too much money on gear. Maybe I can find a deal on a used mic . . .

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Yea...i feel you...i have the extreme luxury of having many very good musician friends
I really took that for granted when I had the same good luck. Now I've been in a five-year dry spell of not really having any collaborators who live close enough to make it work. Appreciate those guys while you got 'em around!!

 

to BWW:

 

No crap man, no freaking crap!

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Incidently, (and off topic) I have always found that a musician or bands relationship between recording and live performance to be one of the most interesting balancing acts in all of the creative arts. Some people excel at one over the other, while less obviously a bands personality tends to lend different highlights and low points between the two. Wilco is a fascinating example of these two facets.

 

I have had many debates with a band mate who believes I steer the ship too strongly towards writing, demoing, recording and not enough attention to live performance. I know repeated performances can offer an instinctual tightness and stronger energy (again Wilco comes to mind), but I feel that having solid material with an intimate knowledge of the arrangement (humblingly enough also true of Wilco) is more important in a live performance than mediocre material that is so well rehearsed that you can pound through it with your eyes closed.

 

Sorry to lose course, I've just been thinking about this alot, because my band is going into the studio next month and we're trimming down 20 tracks to form an album. It becomes an obsession.

 

P.S. Buy an Audio Technica AT 4033 on Ebay. (Everyone(?))

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That's really interesting, Lost Highway. You know how I can tell that I'm a songwriter and not a performing artist? Because no matter how good a song I write is, I just don't give a shit about it after maybe 200 plays. NO MATTER how intense the lyrical content, no matter how challenging the parts -- I just can't get into it after some point.

 

Anyway still soliciting mic recommendations and as always, really appreciate the education you folks give out for free.

 

My current leaning:

 

This Studio Projects low-end tube mic that runs $250 new, and the tube pre recommended on the first page. I'm slightly concerned that using a tube-mic-into-tube-mic-pre will end up too colored, but I'm also thinking I can just use the tube pre with my guitars etc (basically as a DI unit for recording with my acoustic). Or maybe to color up the sound as I go electric --> pedals --> amp --> the Shure mic I am trying to break --> tube pre --> USB interface / recording element.

 

The other thing I have considered is to buy this mic-pre that has both solid state and tube (there's a dial you turn to add in the tube sound / color). It's more expensive than the one you recommended, but I figure if the tube sound doesn't work that well with the mic, then I can dial it down and use the solid-state. Curious for thoughts on that? On the other hand, one thing I like about the tube mic-pre you recommended is that it's portable so it'd be easy to take along to a show for use as a DI... Which I'd never really given a ton of thought to, but might actually be great. I have a Martin with the Fishman Aura system, and it sounds OK-to-good out of the line, but I'd like to warm it up / see how it sounds with the tube pre. It might dial down the artificial vibe of the Aura (which I can kinda hear a little more than I'd like most of the time it's plugged in).

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OK so I played a low-key show tonight, couldn't wait so I ran out and bought the PreSonus TubePre (ART wasn't in stock anywhere within a two-hour drive). Fucker didn't work at all, I think the power supply was jacked up or something. Damn.

 

So I think I'm going to return the little bugger and see how it goes from there. Pretty disappointing though, my PA is pretty flat/tinny and I was hoping to add some flavor to my vocals with the little guy. Whatever though, show went pretty well.

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so I ran out and bought the PreSonus TubePre

Fucker didn't work at all, I think the power supply was jacked up or something. Damn.

 

strange, ive used this unit for a few years now, never such an issue....this is the blue one with VU meter, right??

 

 

 

 

j

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strange, ive used this unit for a few years now, never such an issue....this is the blue one with VU meter, right??
Yep, that's the one. Kinda my fault though, I knew it was a display unit, I should've known it would have a blown tube.

 

The power supply is definitely broken as well though, I got it to work by using the power supply from my Korg board. Just tons of noise, no matter where I turn the dials. Superloud static, random pops. I tried it with both my condensor and dynamic mics, same deal with each. Also really quiet (the mics are louder going into my USB device by themselves than with this thing).

 

Pretty frustrating, but I blame stupid Guitar Center rather than PreSonus. I'm going to take it back today (if they're open) and see what shakes out. I am almost 100% sure it's a blown tube -- even though I've never used tube stuff before.

 

Edit: got the new unit -- it was the tube but I'm not taking any chances, got a whole new one. First impression is that this thing sounds good. However, I bought a groove tubes 12ax7c to swap in. I think I will change the tube out and keep the stock as a backup... Will let you know how that goes.

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