Some recent thoughts on mic shootouts from the (alleged) mind of Jim:
“One procedure we find very useful in the recording process is microphone selection. Choosing the best microphone for a particular application can be a valuable contribution to the sound quality and effectiveness of any recording. Different microphones each have their own strengths and weaknesses. With so many different types, brands, and technologies available, mic selection can be a daunting and even confusing process. To help clarify the right selection, we will sometimes “shootout” microphones when starting with a new client or when looking for a unique vibe on a particular sound.
In these pictures, you can see how we ran a mic shootout on vocals with Danny Langfield from the band Pinball Hustlers using (ordered from brick wall to door) a modern tube-based condenser Mojave MA-300, the universal classic Neumann U-87, a revolutionary new condenser design by Audio-Technica the AT5047, and of course the grandfather of high-quality tube mics, a vintage Neumann U-47 (circa 1952).
We look for a) what the singer feels the best performing on and b) which microphone’s characteristics bring out the most desirable qualities in a singer’s voice. For example, are we looking for more high frequency clarity? Richer lower frequencies? Better control over the mid range?
We have found there are some straightforward techniques we can use to help streamline the process:
- Be patient. If you try to hurry through this, you will either skew your results or sometimes even fail to get useful results of any kind.
- Level the playing field. In trying to track a similar or even identical performance on different mics, spend the time to match the recording levels carefully. Sometimes a mic that sounds “better” was actually just “louder”. This is an easy way to deceive your ears.
- Choose preamps that are the most transparent and “colorless”.
- Match the mic preamp. When I do this, I make sure to use identical preamps for each mic. This requires, of course, that you have a sufficient number of identical mic preamps, like you can see below:
(For those curious- we ended up choosing the vintage Neumann U-47)“
When Jim and I were playing in a band together during our college years, we had the chance to take our band into a recording studio to record some cover songs for our club demo, as well as take a stab at a couple of original songs. We fell in love with the creative process. Neither of us could think of much else for a long time after that experience. We both decided that if we ever got the chance to somehow have our own recording studio we had to do it.
At the time (late 1970’s early 1980’s) there was no way put together a decent recording studio for less than a few hundred thousand dollars. 24 track reel-to-reel analog recorders were the state of the art – and cost in the neighborhood of $50k. A recording console was a necessity – and cheap ones were close to $100,000. Then you add the mics, cables, sound treatment, headphones, etc. It was a big buy-in.
Over the past 15 or 20 years, the recording industry has undergone a paradigm shift, in process and procedures.
In the past, a truly professional recording studio required many large, expensive equipment choices: multitrack tape machines ($55,000 or more, each the size of a washing machine, weighing in at around 400 or so pounds), large format mixing consoles (from $50,000 to $800,000 and more, up to 15 feet long and weighing as much as a small car), racks and racks of outboard processing gear (EQ’s, compressors, reverbs, delays and more, each likely ranging in the thousands of dollars). Not to mention the physical, “brick and mortar” building for the studio itself. Recording procedures were limited by the constraints of the technology available. The traditional setup involved a studio room where the majority of the musicians would perform, some isolation rooms for separating individual players and singers, and a control room to contain and isolate the enormous amount of gear required. Every session was preceded by an hour or so of tape machine cleaning and calibration, in addition to cabling and microphone setup and placement.
The AKG C 414
condenser microphone has been in production since 1971. It evolved from the
tube classic C 12 which
first appeared in 1953. The C 12
and its close sibling, the Telefunken
250/251, are still coveted by recording engineers around the
world. The Telefunken 250/251
were manufactured by AKG
and sold by Telefunken
with their nameplate and used the same capsule and, in some models, the same
tube and transformer.
The C 12 had two
models, the C 12 in
1953 and the C 12 A in
1962. The C 414
came about with the introduction of solid-state amplifier technology powered by
a DC voltage ranging from+12 to +52 instead of an external supply.
“River Runs” was recorded and co-produced at Morrisound Recording by Tom Morris. Here is the most recent article featured on usf.edu about this exciting and innovative project:
Call it the journey of a lifetime. When USF Distinguished Professor Chuck Owen wrote his new CD, River Runs, he was inspired by his own personal journeys down America’s most iconic rivers. Now, he has been nominated for one of the nation’s most iconic and prestigious music industry awards.
At the 2014 GRAMMY Award nomination announcement on December 6, Chuck Owen was among the nominees in two separate categories: Best Instrumental Composition for Bound Away, and Best Instrumental Arrangement for Side Hikes: A Ridge Away. Both tracks are part of Owen’s newest CD, River Runs: A Concerto for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone & Orchestra(MAMA Records) – a five-movement concerto, more than an hour in length, combining a full symphony orchestra with a jazz ensemble (The Jazz Surge) and jazz soloists on guitar and saxophone.