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)“
How many of you have held a reel of 2” tape in your hands (or had one dropped on your toes)? They were heavy (about 11 ½ lbs), and expensive. They used to cost about $200 for enough 24 track tape to record about 16 ½ minutes of audio at 30 inches per second (ips). 33 minutes if you recorded at the noisier 15 ips. It wasn’t unusual for an album-length project to use thousands of dollars worth of 2” tape.
Storing them took a lot of space and care to prevent them from becoming unplayable after a few years. If you wanted to make copies of the tapes for safekeeping it was expensive. Making safety copies added thousands to the budget. The right time to make safety copies was at the end of the recording – when the budget had already been spent. In most cases that meant that the multi-track tapes were never copied. Instead, you hoped that nothing went wrong with the tapes and that the record label knew how to take care of them. It turns out that isn’t always the case, as this article highlights:
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 Neumann U 47 is without a doubt the most sought-after, legendary, and unfortunately rare microphone in the history of the recording arts. Known primarily as a vocal mic, it is equally impressive at a wide variety of tasks: from acoustic guitar to upright bass to room sounds for everything from orchestration to drums. The high end response is silky-smooth and the low frequency reproduction must be heard to be believed.
The history of these amazing mics begins at Georg Neumann GmbH as far back as 1928 with the production of the CVM 3 microphone, sometimes refered to as the “Neumann Bottle” mic and seen in historical films of speeches from that era. During World War Two, the Neumann factory was bombed and they were forced to move to Thueringen, while their offices stayed in Berlin. Eventually, in the 1950′s, the East German Government seized the factory and produced microphones there, at first under the “Neumann” name and then under the name “Microtech Gefell”.