Microphones Are ForeverNEW LARGE-DIAPHRAGM CONDENSERS 3/01/2010 7:00 AM Eastern
If we examine a listing of gear used on a particular recording, the recorders and signal processing may offer a clue as to when the session occurred. However, it can be more difficult to pinpoint a particular date from the mics that were employed that day. As an example, a session using a D-12 on kick, SM57 on snare, U67s on overheads, AT4033s on toms, C414 on hi-hat, Ela M 251s on vocals, RE-20 on bass and MD-409s on guitar amps could have happened today or 15 years ago. And with proper care, mics can remain useful for decades, so it's little surprise that audio pros develop a fondness for their mics. (It's hard to muster up the same excitement about finding an old DAT machine!)
The digital revolution may be in full swing, but in terms of microphones, analog clearly is still king. After the past decade filled with mics trying to look like vintage models, a major trend today is models that emulate the actual sound of those classic originals. A few of these include Neumann's TLM 67 (which re-creates a U67 sound); AKG's C 414B-XL II, with its C-12 voicing; the Ela M 251 tone of ADK's Cremona-251-AU; and JZ Microphones' Vintage Series, which includes a U47-sounding model. Or for something completely different, there's the Pearlman Church Microphone, a reissue of the 1950s Stanley Church/MGM mic, complete with a Neumann capsule and 6072 tube. But the race is not simply based around tube emulations. New mics targeting that desirable early FET sound include Audio-Technica's AT4047 mp or Wunder Audio's CM7 FET.
Some companies are offering single-pattern versions of more expensive multipattern mics in their line, which makes the high-end models available to a wider clientele without having to downgrade quality. A few examples of this include AKG's C 214 and Brauner's new “Pure Cardioid” Valvet X, VM1 and VMX units. If truth be told, a great majority of all studio recording is done using a cardioid mic — or a mic set in the cardioid pattern. There's nothing wrong with that, but the versatility of additional patterns opens up a lot of creative (and technical) possibilities. Sliding that pattern switch for a wide cardioid or (gasp!) even an omnidirectional setting can make your life a lot easier when tracking vocals for a singer who likes to move around while performing. In the chart accompanying this text, we found a dozen models that offer five or more patterns.
A useful side of pattern versatility comes from using the often-neglected figure-8 setting, which is ideal when paired with another mic for stereo recording using the Blumlein technique or mid-side (M/S) miking. But the figure-8 pattern also comes in handy for more common studio chores. On a recent session, I used the figure-8 setting to record snare hits for drum replacement. The front side captured the attack, while the back picked up the room for a huge sound.
On another session, I put the same mic (in figure-8) placed between two 4×12 guitar cabs that faced each other. The backside of a figure-8 mic is out of phase with the front, so I wired the speaker cable feeding one of the 4×12s out-of-phase and ended up with a massive guitar sound.
Clearly, the main attraction to large-diaphragm mics is in vocal applications. Engineers are always scouting for new microphones — particularly ones that will add a certain je ne sais quoi to a source, whether it's an instrument or voice. Matching the right mic to a particular vocal takes a bit of experimentation. And the most expensive mic (vintage or current) isn't always the right choice. On one particular client at my studio, the choice is frequently an inexpensive ($399 street) tube mic that adds just the right snarl to male vocals. It's far from flat, but on the right voice it works.
Large-diaphragm condenser mics — whether solid-state or tube — represent the lifeblood of most studios, and new models just keep coming. In fact, in surveying large-diaphragm mics that debuted during the past 18 months or so, we encountered more than 50 new entries (priced from $149 to more than $10,000), and this doesn't include variants such as versions with USB or AES 42 digital outputs. There's a lot out there and hopefully the chart listing new models will suggest some new entrees for your palate. Bon appétit!
Mix executive editor/avowed mic junkie George Petersen operates a small record label at www.jenpet.com.