Wedemark, Germany (May 7, 2021)—Swiss hearing-care manufacturer Sonova has acquired Sennheiser’s Consumer Electronics business. The move comes three months after Sennheiser announced it was searching for a new corporate partner that would take over the consumer division—a move that would allow Sennheiser to focus on its Neumann, pro audio and business communications business units.
Sonova Holding AG, headquartered in Stäfa, Switzerland, is a global provider of medical hearing solutions with three core businesses – Hearing Instruments, Audiological Care and Cochlear Implants. Founded in 1947, it has a workforce of more than 14,000 dedicated employees and generated sales of CHF 2.92 billion (US $3.27 billion) in the financial year 2019/20 as well as a net profit of CHF 490 million (US $543.2 million).
As part of the partnership, a complete transfer of the Consumer Electronics business’ operations is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Roughly 600 Sennheiser employees work for the Sennheiser consumer business.
With the takeover of the Sennheiser Consumer business, Sonova is adding headphones and soundbars to its hearing care portfolio, which includes hearing aids and cochlear implants, among other hearing solutions. A “permanent cooperation” is planned under the joint Sennheiser brand umbrella in order to continue offering Sennheiser customers first-class audio solutions in the future, and a license agreement for future use of the Sennheiser brand has been made.
The move to partner with another company for the consumer business was not a rushed decision, co-CEO Daniel Sennheiser told Pro Sound News in February: “Looking at [our] different business units in more detail, we realized we need different strategies to make them successful. How we can develop all four business segments at the same time with the necessary power, so all markets that we’re in have great growth opportunities? We saw that the consumer part can be really driven to the full extent if we can find a partner and focus on the pro part.”
Sennheiser co-CEO Dr. Andreas Sennheiser noted, “The combination of our strengths provides a very good starting point for future growth. We are convinced that Sonova will strengthen the Sennheiser Consumer Business in the long term and capture the major growth opportunities.” Both partners see great potential for speech-enhanced hearables and for true wireless and audiophile headphones.
Arnd Kaldowski, CEO of Sonova, says: “I am very pleased that Sennheiser has chosen Sonova to further develop the well-renowned Consumer Division. We look forward to welcoming our new colleagues and to building on the combined strengths of both organizations to successfully shape our joint future. The fast-growing market for personal audio devices is rapidly evolving. Combining our audiological expertise with Sennheiser’s know-how in sound delivery, their great reputation as well as their high-quality products will allow us to expand our offering and to create important touchpoints with consumers earlier in their hearing journey.”
Los Angeles, CA (April 28, 2021)—After being Grammy-nominated in the best immersive audio album category for 2019’s The Savior, Michael Marquart employed Neumann and Sennheiser 3D technologies while tracking his follow-up, Lifelike.
Early in 2020, Marquart — who records as A Bad Think — entered L.A.’s Henson Studios with engineer Dave Way at the helm of an SSL 4072G+ series console to begin tracking Lifelike. “I thought, ‘How far can we push this, and what if on this album we start at the ground level in a 3D environment — using the Neumann KU 100 and the Ambeo mic?” says Marquart.
The basic tracks involved three drum sets, set up in a half-moon position. “Depending on which track we were recording, we would use one or two of the drum kits to meet the flavor of the song,” Marquart explains. Both a Neumann KU 100 binaural head and Sennheiser Ambeo VR mic were set up in the middle of the room, with the KU 100 pointed towards the primary drum set, located in the middle of the half-moon.
In addition to the KU 100, a Neumann U 47 FET large diaphragm condenser captured the kick drum with several Sennheiser MD 421 II dynamic microphones on the toms. Additionally, a matched pair of vintage U 47 tube mics were used flanking each ear microphone of the KU 100. “Neumann mics are the best, so we had them on practically everything,” Marquart enthuses.
By recording in 3D at the outset, Marquart’s team was able to create a spatially accurate aural rendering of each song as it was being tracked, rather than depending solely on mixing to create an immersive experience. “Back in the day, you could record stuff in a traditional way and then do an Atmos or Surround mix or something, but now we are recording this three-dimensional space — not just mixing,” says Marquart.
Bob Clearmountain handled the stereo and 5.1 mixes, while Steve Genewick and Dave Way handled the Dolby Atmos mixes at Los Angeles’ Capitol Studios. All the final mixes were mastered by Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering Studios. “Working with people I trust takes all the pressure off,” says Marquart. The Blu-ray release will include all these mixes, along with a 22-minute documentary highlighting the making of the record.
New York, NY (February 22, 2021)—Pro-audio mainstay Sennheiser turned heads last week with the announcement it is searching to find a new corporate partner for its Consumer Electronic division. Under the expected arrangement, the consumer division would gain additional resources that a partner could bring to the brand, allowing Sennheiser to focus on its Neumann, Pro Audio and Business Communications business units, co-CEOs Andreas and Daniel Sennheiser told PSN.
Opting to team with an outside entity is no small decision for the 75-year-old company; the consumer electronics division, which introduced its first headphones in 1968, comprises roughly half the manufacturer’s business, said Andreas Sennheiser. The partnership search, then, is the result of “actually having more opportunities at hand than we can give all the full potential [under our current] setup.”
The decision came after an internal assessment of the company’s divisions, said Daniel Sennheiser: “Looking at the different business units in more detail, we realized we need different strategies to make them successful. How we can develop all four business segments at the same time with the necessary power, so all markets that we’re in have great growth opportunities? We saw that the consumer part can be really driven to the full extent if we can find a partner and focus on the pro part.”
In recent years, the company has sought to make the various business units more independent, creating separate sales forces for each. “Now this is the next level,” said Andreas Sennheiser. “[All four] need investment in technology and audio competency, but also in sales and marketing. We believe that we can do this very well long term on the pro businesses, and a partner will help us accelerate the growth on the consumer business.”
While the CEOs are open to discussing a variety of approaches as they begin the search, one scenario that’s off the table is the possibility of selling the brand outright, said Andreas Sennheiser: “It’s our family name, and therefore we’ll hold that close to the family.”
As the manufacturer plans to focus on its other three business units once a partner is in place, plans are already afoot for those divisions. Daniel Sennheiser noted, “We’re looking forward to the pandemic lifting, especially now for live and broadcast, where we believe that we’ll see a renaissance of the industry; the public is really waiting for live events to come back. It’ll still be a little bit difficult for this year, we believe, but then in 2022, we’ll see great growth.”
The CEOs noted that the pandemic has aided their MI-based efforts, with the rise in home recording and home studios creating an upswing for both the Sennheiser and Neumann brands. “That area has actually grown significantly and gives us more opportunities to also invest into R&D and more products,” Daniel Sennheiser added. The pro-audio division’s broadcast and audio-for-video offerings, will be an upcoming focus, too, as they are the subjects of “strong plans and strong pipelines.”
Sennheiser isn’t letting the consumer division sit idle during the search either. “Every plan, every strategy that was in place prior to this announcement is still there,” said Andreas Sennheiser, “so we’re still driving the business strongly. With a new partner on the consumer side, we can even grow stronger there, creating therefore a better future for all sides.”
“We Come From The Land Of The Ice And Snow…” Denmark may not be Iceland (or wherever Mr. Plant was wailing about in that song) but latitude-wise, it’s good enough for my literary purposes. Seriously, what is going on in those northern European (and Canadian) climes to produce such amazing speakers? With the Audiovector R 6 Arreté (website), these Danish loudspeaker veterans have produced yet another ultra-performer to add to the Legends of Scandinavian Speaker Craft. The Audiovector story begins with figurehead Ole Klifoth, who founded the company in 1979. Ole set out to make the kind of natural-sounding speaker for music lovers that he felt was missing in the marketplace, a speaker that he wanted to listen to. With the debut success of Audiovector’s first model, the Trapez, Ole’s ears and design concepts found an audience and the rest is history. Today, Ole’s son Mads Klifoth is the Audiovector CEO and carries on the tradition (with continued R&D input from the Old Man) while taking Ole’s original design objectives to new heights. As a Dad myself, this story warms my heart. So did listening to the Audiovector R 6 Arreté. Description Unless I am particularly fascinated by some aspect [...]
As a music producer, Rick Rubin is known for stripping away the clutter and guiding artists to focus on what they do best, whether it’s Johnny Cash’s deep baritone voice, the primal energy of Danzig’s guitar riffs or Run DMC’s iconic breakbeats. Broken Record, a podcast that fosters conversations between musicians and their audiences in the way album liner notes once did, follows the same premise by keeping the setup simple.
“The main focus of Broken Record is the conversation,” says Leah Rose, producer of the Pushkin Industries podcast. “Because the conversations go so deep, when you do hear the music, you hear it in an entirely new context. You might hear things that you didn’t hear before, and learning about the artist’s motivation or the backstory really adds a lot to their music.”
Producing Broken Record, which bills itself as “liner notes for the digital age,” is a bicoastal endeavor led by Rubin, co-interviewer Malcolm Gladwell and host Justin Richmond, from Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California and Pushkin Industries’ studio in Hudson, New York. The podcast’s guest list has included Industry veterans like Bruce Springsteen and Don Was, as well as newer artists like FKA Twigs, and conversations are free-format affairs that can include playbacks of recorded music and even live, off-the-cuff performances.
In a recent episode, Rubin and artist James Blake dissected Blake’s recording and creative process, and how he often records a single vocal phrase, then stacks it and manipulates the pitch while playing along on the piano. “He lays out that entire process while he’s tinkering around on a piano during the interview, which is just really special and incredible when you hear it,” she says. “It’s like all of a sudden you have this new information to hear the song with, and it makes for an incredible experience.”
Face-to-face interviews like the one used for the Blake episode, which was recorded at Shangri-La on Neumann U87s using Neve 1073 mic preamps into an API console, are typically the most productive. [Rose says Rubin has a doctor onsite who does rapid COVID testing.] The raw audio from the Blake session clocked in at two and a half hours, giving Rose plenty of material to use when building toward the final edit.
“With Rick, nothing is linear,” she says. “As an editor, my job is to look at the entire thing as a puzzle and figure out how the pieces fit together, [to] take something that could be completely non-linear and make it linear.”
As the main facilitator and producer, Rose is on standby via Zoom during recording sessions to cue up recordings for the host and guest. Many of the episodes released in the last year were recorded with the guest at home, with mixed results. Sometimes they get lucky and the artist has a world-class studio at their disposal—as was the case with Springsteen—but often Rose works directly with the guests to ensure their recording setup will be up to standards. She’s even shipped gear to some guests.
After the interview is done, Rose compiles the audio files into an edit that gets reviewed by Richmond and Mia Lobel, executive producer at Pushkin Industries. Once the edit is locked in, she sends it to engineers Jason Gambrell and Martin Gonzalez for mastering.
Producing audio on behalf of one of the most successful and enigmatic producers of his generation might intimidate some, but Rose says Rubin is hands-off for most of the process. “He trusts us,” she explains. “We take the finished product, the conversation, once it’s done and then it’s really up to us to figure out the best way to present it.”
Berkeley, CA (November 19, 2020)—Mastering engineer Michael Romanowski recently completed a new facility at Coast Mastering that is outfitted to handle projects up to Dolby Atmos 9.1.6.
The new mastering room was designed by Romanowski along with acoustical consultant Bob Hodas, who also tuned the room. California-based audio engineer and studio design consultant Bob Levy worked closely with the build-team from the beginning of the project.
Coast Mastering features equipment chosen over Romanowski’s 30 years as a recording, mixing, and mastering engineer, both in Nashville and the San Francisco Bay Area. On the audio software side, Romanowski has been mastering immersive audio projects using the Steinberg Nuendo software for many years.
A main feature of the new studio are the Focal Scala Utopia EM speakers for left, right, and center channels which tower at almost six feet tall, and Focal Utopia Diablo Evo speakers for the six surrounds, which are all paired with Bricasti amplifiers and converters, and Wireworld cables. The subwoofer is by Meyer Sound, while the six height speakers are by Neumann. Stillpoint Aperture acoustic treatment was used throughout the new studio.
“As a music fan, I have really been enjoying the variety of styles of music that I have mastered in Atmos, with Alicia Keys, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The U.S. Army Field Band, Fantastic Negrito, The Devil in California, and a local Bay Area Latin fusion band, Vibrason, among many other projects,” said Romanowski.
“I built my first mastering room in 2000 for 5.1 surround with Paul Stubblebine, then moved to immersive sound adding height speakers in 2018. My new mastering room was built specifically for immersive formats including Dolby Atmos. It’s such a joy to work in and to really hear the music as it is, so I can make the best decisions for my clients.”
New York, NY (November 19, 2020)—There are complex podcast productions, and then there’s Story Pirates. For technical director Sam Bair, editing the acclaimed Gimlet podcast isn’t about simply picking the best content and shaping a narrative—it’s about finding the best takes from a half-dozen actors reading their lines from a script, and then filling the audio spectrum with sounds that advance the story and appeal to kids.
“It really is a true post-production compilation of recordings,” says Bair, whose role includes sound design, producing, and recording and mix engineer. “We’re recording all the takes and pulling specific lines from different takes. We’re also taking whole sections from different takes.”
The Story Pirates podcast—named the 2020 Best Kids and Family Podcast by iHeartRadio and with more than 20 million downloads to its credit—is brought to life by a collective of comedians, musicians, writers and teachers who interpret original stories written by kids into sketches with original songs in each episode. Two cast members, Lee Overtree and Peter McNerney, pull double duty as executive producer and co-producer, respectively.
“Peter is the main producer during recordings of stories,” Bair explains. “He and I work together to pick the best takes of each scene and then fine tune the pacing. Then, over the course of mixing and sound designing, we are still, by the millisecond, really pacing it out to get what we think is the best comedic effect.”
Under conventional circumstances, Bair records the cast live in a studio, with the actors standing in a circle “cartoon-style” around a Neumann U67 with Warm Audio WA87 and WA14 microphones in front of each actor. Since COVID-19 hit, however, they have recorded the podcast over Zoom with live reads as before, and each cast member records locally through a WA87 or WA14 into a Zoom H6 recorder.
For the show’s frequent guest actors—they’ve had 40 since the pandemic hit—Bair gets in touch in advance of the recording session to help them prepare. Some have nice home studios, while others have a simple USB microphone.
“I have a little document for all the actors, [saying], ‘Hey, here is the recommended mic setup for you. Here’s the recommended room setup for you,’” Bair says. “A lot of these actors have no technical experience whatsoever, so we have them send some sample recordings. I critique that and we work together over email to get the best possible quality out of their home systems.”
Despite their efforts to get clean audio, occasionally an anomaly or two will sneak through the iron-clad system Bair and McNerney have established. In a recent episode, the actor playing the lead character, who had 80 percent of the dialogue in the story, “sounded like she was in a tin can” with a distracting buzz through the entire recording, Bair says. “We were kind of up against the wall. What we’ve found works really fast, considering the circumstances, is [to give the actor] an assembled take of the entire story with sound design and everything in it. They put that into, say, GarageBand and give us two or three takes, and we’ll massage those new takes in.”
Story Pirates also employs a live band with guitar, bass, drums and keys to perform a new original song for each episode, which Bair tracks in the 800-square-foot live room at his Chelsea (NYC) studio, The Relic Room. Bair builds out the fictional world of each episode with audio from sound libraries as well as a live piano underscore.
“When we’re tracking in the studio with the cast, there’s a live piano player,” he says. “Now that we’re not in the studio, I send [the pianist] an assembled version of each section of the episode and he’ll underscore the whole thing. It really helps with the actors at home [because] that piano underscore helps mask various room tone differences.”
What do you do if you’re a working voice actor in a big city, and all of the studios you visit to do your work are temporarily closed? While some actors already had solid home setups at the start of 2020’s lockdown, most had cheap USB mics which had previously been just for auditions. Bad-sounding audio has never served anyone well, even at the audition level, but it was forgivable since on the day of the job, the actor would be in the studio in front of a professional voiceover microphone. With that scenario off the table, however, VO artists were suddenly scrambling to get “broadcast quality” from home. The question on everyone’s mind was “How do I create a home studio that’s solid but won’t leave me with a pile of expensive gear I may not need again when studios reopen?”
The truth is, a dependable voiceover microphone is a great thing to have around, regardless of whether there’s a worldwide pandemic on or not. There are wonderful mics at every price-point that will serve you well into the future. Not only can you affordably provide broadcast quality from home, but you will also forever have better-sounding auditions. Quality is now more important than ever, since it has to be assumed that what is heard in the audition is what should be expected for the actual session. Quality matters.
There are a couple of voiceover microphones you see in every professional VO booth. They are the well-known, large diaphragm condenser microphones that cost a few thousand dollars, or the shotgun mic you see in film sets and ADR studios that happen to sound excellent for voiceover work, running around a thousand dollars. That’s great for the big studios, but for the working actor or VO artist, that kind of money for a mic might be a stretch—especially when you factor in treating a space to record in (which in many ways is more important than the mic itself), plus a decent interface and other peripherals.
So how do you sound big on a budget? If you want to stay with the brand you know from the studios you’ve worked in—and if your budget allows—you might consider the Neumann TLM 103, which retails for around $1,300. You can save even more by looking at the very popular Neumann TLM 102, which sells for $699. Both of these mics skip the selectable polar patterns of the larger U 87 (which you don’t need as a voice actor anyway), as well as the roll-off switch. Neither of those things are critical for recording voiceovers at home, and help lower the cost of the mic.
Low-cost large diaphragm condenser microphones are nothing new, but their quality and competitiveness has grown steadily over the years. Røde has been a hero for voice actors recording from home. Both the NT1 (which retails for $269) and the NT1A (which sells for $229) come with a shock mount and a pop-filter attached. The NT1 typically comes with a metal mesh pop-shield, but lately has been popping up with the more traditional round, nylon pop-filter. These both give an impressively warm and rich tone for the cost. Critics will point out that there is a harshness on the high frequencies, but as an NT1A owner, I have not found that to be the case for my voice. Both mics can deliver a wonderful proximity-effect bass boost when needed. In fact, in a recent national radio spot, knowing that the actor was using an NT1A, I directed her for one particular line to lean-in and talk directly into a corner of the mic to take advantage of that sound. These microphones were so popular at the start of the 2020 lockdown that for a time, they were hard to find!
Having heard a demonstration in a YouTube video, I was very curious about the Stellar X2 mic from TZ Audio. This led me to reach out to the company via its website, and they assured me that they had plenty of inventory and were open for business. The Stellar X2 costs $199.99, and includes a sturdy carrying case, shock mount, wind screen (not a pop-filter) and a pouch. I am truly impressed with the sound coming from the actors that have it. It is comparable to the Rode NT1 in terms of smoothness. It is less bright, but still shimmers—and has a little less proximity effect than the Rode NT1 or NT1A. It is a solid little mic with a big sound!
The Synco Mic D2 is an impressive shotgun-style mic, weighing in at $249. This has been a hero for actors that do more than just voice recording at home. Given that it’s designed for distance and focus, it’s perfect for self-taping for on-camera and keeping the mic out of the frame. Because of its hyper-cardioid directional condenser design, it does a great job at rejecting background noise and reflections. For many actors converting small city closets into voiceover booths, this can really help minimize reflections that cause comb filtering. Obviously, there is more to that issue than just the microphone, but the shotgun mic helps tremendously. As a point of reference, during lockdown, I recorded several national TV spots with well-known actors who sat in their cars in my driveway while the clients listened in via Source Connect and/or Zoom. With some careful placement in the vehicle, we got booth-quality sound while working in everything from Toyotas to Teslas—all thanks to the nature of a shotgun mic!
As previously mentioned, the right voiceover microphone is only one part of the equation. Your voice and recording space play a major role in the overall sound coming from your home to the world, but the mics mentioned are proven winners when used properly. With a price range from $199.99 up to $1,399; there is something for everyone, and you will sound excellent.
Frank Verderosa is a 30-year veteran of the New York audio industry, fighting the good fight for film studios, ad agencies and production companies, but secretly loves mixing music most of all. These days, he plies his trade at Digital Arts in NYC, and is also a noted podcast engineer.
So you’ve purchased your first audio interface, got some recording software, splurged on a pair of pro headphones (hopefully some near field monitors, too) and you’re driving your first DAW (digital audio workstation). You’re finding that good results are pretty easy to get, that this is seriously fun stuff and are wondering where to go next with this whole audio production thing. Allow me to suggest one thing: Get some microphones.
It’s easy advice to give, as mics are the window to worlds of audio understanding, enabling the most impactful ability and choice in audio production, using mic technique and selection to capture sound of all varieties in the most accurate, or at least the most useful, way possible.
Every studio microphone is the “ears” of your audio recording kit and no single model will ever do, no matter how perfect or expensive it is. As you’ll soon see, audio capture isn’t so much about mics that pickup sound waves perfectly; rather, it’s about microphones that pickup sound waves in a manner that your ears “want” to hear and about the microphone technique required to create euphony—the ability to recreate sounds better than how they are heard in real life, in ways that will delight and astound listeners of all varieties.
The cold, hard—but exciting—truth is, you’ll need at least five different kinds of studio microphone to be able to utilize proper mic techniques, have flexibility and be able to pursue artistic choices in your endeavors.
Let’s dive into the different mic categories and look at what applications and techniques are typical, what classic microphones we would have used in the past and what modern-day mic options may offer a twist on such time-proven and tested formulas.
For many fledgling engineers, their first studio microphone is a dynamic mic, as much for the low cost as anything else. Totally adequate dynamics start out in the “less than $100” range; they’re simple to use, rugged, consistent and aren’t that sensitive to loud sounds, so it’s hard to “blow them up” and force them to distort. Many people start out with a dynamic handheld mic—the one with a long handle and a ball-shaped windscreen/pop-filter that helps to reduce those dreaded popping “P” plosives that blow-out PA systems, distort speakers—and which are the delight of hip-hop beatboxers everywhere.
Another nice thing about dynamic mics is their taming of sibilance, or the “S” sounds that are part of S’s and C’s. They’re important sounds that have to be heard in order for you to understand speech, but for certain people (and certain instruments), these sounds can get unruly and downright nasty when picked up by a mic. Dynamic mics typically have an appropriate amount of sibilance; in fact, they are often considered a little dark and need a slight treble boost to perform ideally with intelligibility, detail and clarity.
Your typical dynamic mic has a cardioid or hyper-cardioid pickup pattern—that is, the mic is sensitive directly in front of it, not very sensitive on the sides at all and rejects sound coming from the rear rather well (a hyper-cardioid pattern is like a cardioid, but even narrower on the sides, with a just a touch of unwanted sensitivity at the rear, oddly enough). You’ll sometimes see dynamics with an omnidirectional pattern (sensitive equally in all directions), but these aren’t very common, even if they are occasionally useful.
How To Use Them
Technique-wise, dynamics are quite good at the modern technique of miking a source from a very short distance and getting a touch of proximity effect (or bass boost)—“close miking” as it’s obviously called. This technique rejects room sound by bombarding the mic with up-close volume, so that it sounds very “in your face”—even more aggressive than the reality of listening from a close distance—and conveys lots of power with thickness from bass and low-mids. Dynamics can easily handle the high volumes of such placement, convey those low frequencies with power and substance, and reject unwanted off-axis sound pretty well, too (sounds like cymbals, guitar amps and degrading sound reflections off of the walls).
Dynamics excel on any job with excessive volume like drum kits, percussion, guitar amps, sound effects, horns and loud vocals. Their ruggedness allows them to perform even in temperature, humidity and vibration extremes, so they’re great for difficult tasks like news gathering, harsh environments and “zero-failure tolerance” gigs like press conferences.
Using a dynamic mic is easy; just aim it at your sound source, get in close if you want some extra punch and proximity effect, or back off if you want some “air” and room sound. You likely won’t have to worry about mic overload, so turn up your preamp’s gain, and EQ/compress to taste in the mix. Look to filter out low-end if you got in too close with proximity effect, dip out some boxy midrange around 300 – 400 Hz and possibly brighten up the top-end around 8 kHz if more detail is needed.
The Classic and Current Models
The classic mics here—the proverbial dynamic duo—are arguably the most popular mics of all-time: the Shure SM57 and SM58. They’re nearly identical in their performance, sounding only slightly different due to their different windscreens—the ball-ended SM58 is ideal for vocals, while the ultra-rugged, narrow-tipped SM57 is perfect for instruments. They’re mostly known for rugged success on-stage, but 57s see lots of studio work, too, especially with snare drums and guitar amps.
The Electro-Voice RE-20 is the essential mic that radio DJs have relied on for decades, and it has now become an essential mic for podcasters for all the same voice-massaging features. The updated RE320 brings a hotter output and optional mid-sculpting.
Perhaps the most desirable dynamic ever for instrument recording is Sennheiser’s MD421-U. These wedge-shaped, Sixties mod-looking mics (and their modern MD421-II counterparts) have brought thickness and warmth to countless trumpet, horn, guitar amp, bass amp and tom tom recordings.
Today, the dynamic mic scene is dominated by the ubiquitous Shure SM7B. What was once a mic for DJs and announcers has become the “mic du jour” for indie crooners, popsters, singer/songwriters and metal screamers, too. For blistering loud screamers and yellers, the SM7B smooths out shrillness and the built-in variable high-pass filters (HPFs) allow careful filtering out of unwanted chestiness.
Heil Sound’s PR40 (with a big 1” diaphragm and wide frequency response) and its handheld PR35 are both top studio performers that hold their own onstage, too. Also, British newcomer Aston brings a clever new wrinkle to choices in dynamics—its ultra-versatile Stealth offers not only four different tonal voicings but also the boost of active circuitry (with increased sensitivity and output) when 48 V phantom power is applied.
Large Diaphragm Condenser Mics
Your first mic might have been a large diaphragm condenser mic instead of a dynamic and they can be a much better choice for voice work, whether singing, talking or rapping. Compared to a dynamic mic, a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) offers a much more defined sound—one laden with more treble and detail, with hotter output from the mic requiring less gain at the preamp. It also has circuitry that requires external power, such as the 48-volt phantom power that is provided by the mic preamps in your interface.
In addition to their identifiable sonic properties, many LDCs are also larger and often side-address (they’re sensitive to sound on one side of the windscreen, not directly in front like a handheld) with multiple variables to sculpt the sound.
LDCs have a somewhat larger diaphragm than dynamics (and a capsule to house it and the backplate), and multi-pattern LDCs have two diaphragms and can therefore combine their outputs in various ways, creating useful polar patterns like directional cardioid, figure-8 dual-cardioid, omnidirectional and sometimes even hyper (or super) cardioid.
LDCs with multiple polar patterns, pads, filters and more are “fully featured”—you’ve got to own at least one of these versatile performers or you’re going to miss out on a lot of great possibilities.
How To Use Them
You can use LDCs for close miking, but be forewarned—the output will be excessively loud. You’ll need either a mic preamp with a pad to decrease sensitivity (often -20 dB) or a LDC with a built-in pad (sometimes -10 dB, sometimes -20 dB, sometimes both). Also, be warned that off-axis sound from other sources are picked up quite a bit by LDCs—more than with dynamics—and the sound is not pleasant; it’s often brittle and harsh.
But LDCs handle room, area and distance miking much better than dynamics do, picking up incredible detail, ample low-end and crisply defined high-end. Many people say that a pair of properly spaced LDCs in a stereo technique closely approximates human hearing and “being there.”
A pair of LDCs can be used to achieve a number of stereo techniques that can present a very wide, deep and interesting sound field; exactly which one to use for any given task is the stuff of artistry. You can go with X/Y for a strong center image and great mono compatibility; ORTF for more width and excitement but less mono accuracy; a spaced pair for extreme width with less center and less power; or M-S (Mid-Side) for a raw capture of center and side information that requires some complicated post-production manipulation after the fact but yields great imaging and superior flexibility.
LDCs are going to excel wherever detail and sensitivity are more important than volume handling or power—for instance, acoustic instruments of all shapes and sizes, vocals of all types, pianos, rooms and ambiences, and anywhere where the priority is a capture of full frequency response and a big life-like sound.
Usage can be complicated, but offers great flexibility if you employ the typical wealth of features. Use the pad if loud sources are causing distortion, even if only on occasional loud peaks. To tame muddiness, try the high-pass filter (HPF – only highs will pass, filtering out lows) and experiment with close-positioned proximity effect, with or without the HPF. Most importantly, experiment with polar patterns, as you’ll be delighted to find the sheer number of tonal options provided by omni, figure-8 and hyper-cardioid patterns.
The Classic and Current Models
There are two classics that have defined excellence in LDCs through the decades: the Neumann U87 and the AKG C414, both in numerous, slightly different iterations. The U87 is truly utilitarian, with three polar patterns, a pad and a HPF making it capable of most any instrument or voice job, even if it has become most iconic for vocal work. The 414 is even more versatile, with more patterns, pads and filters making it legendary as a sort of a Swiss Army knife of audio capture.
Many modern LDCs have taken all the things we love about their predecessors and added forward-thinking versatility. The Roswell Colares is a favorite for vocals with built-in saturation (mild- and warm-sounding distortion) that is more useful across a berth of styles than you’d ever imagine, and it’s defeatable too.
Austrian Audio’s OC818 has taken the capsule and concept of the C414 and added futuristic enhancements, like polar pattern, pad and HPF control from an app on your phone, as well as recording the output of each diaphragm separately and then selecting polar patterns in post-production. Lewitt offers its multi-pattern LCT 940, which has both tube and FET amplifiers within, as well as the ability to blend them in any proportion for fine-tuned versatility.
Fear not if you’re on a budget—there are numerous entry-level LDCs that perform adequately and affordably: Audio-Technica’s AT2050, Behringer’s C3 and Rode’s NT2-A are all more than capable for very little cost.
Alternately, a modern modeling mic (which uses software to emulate numerous classic LDCs) may be an ideal choice for your first LDC, especially if you’re still searching for that perfect match for your voice or tonal preferences. A modeled studio microphone can sound great, with believably authentic tones and they’re only getting better as advances in their software and preamp modeling further close the gap between the “real deal” and digitally imitated signal paths. The Slate Digital VMS and Townsend Labs Sphere L22 are good examples here, even if you might want to purchase the actual hardware after the models stimulate your tastes.
Small Diaphragm Condenser Mics
Having just a large diaphragm condenser mic isn’t going to be enough versatility for your kit—not with a world of small diaphragm condensers ready to spice things up. Like a painter with numerous brushes, you’ll find the “stroke” of a SDC has a unique focus, clarity and punch that LDCs (or dynamic mics, for that matter) just cannot provide. Though detailed like a LDC, SDCs are even more exacting than many LDCs, and when used in pairs, provide some of the most accurate reproduction possible. Sure, SDCs can be a little self-noisier than LDCs, but their transient capture (that sharp leading-edge of a sound) is oh so accurate and lifelike, and their off-axis pickup is typically smoother than LDCs, too.
How To Use Them
Use this kind of studio microphone for acoustic instruments, drum overheads, orchestras, choirs, pianos, percussion arrays, natural ambiences…. The list of superb SDC apps goes on and on. Used up-close, the sound can be kind of rude or even overload the mic, but SDCs excel when pulled-back a bit at moderate and long distances. They’re generally really good at stereo techniques, too, and are often easier to position than a pair of bulky LDCs. Using SDCs is a lot like LDCs, except pads, filters and patterns aren’t typically offered (if your SDCs do actually have them, use them by all means).
SDCs often come with foam windscreens which are useful for not only outdoor applications and preventing plosives, but also for taming bright, high-end response in what can sometimes be rather thin, bright mics. Most of all, experiment using stereo patterns with your SDCs, where the realism and air greatly benefit drum overheads, pianos, vocal groups, acoustic guitars, strings and much of anything with width and dimension to it.
The Classic and Current Models
The classics in this studio microphone category are once again built by the Germans and Austrians. Neumann’s KM84 and subsequent KM184 are wonderfully focused and euphonic, with a high-end that is sparkling, crisp and to die for, while AKG’s C451 (cardioid, but often fitted with interchangeable omni or hyper-cardioid pattern capsules) is a utilitarian’s dream, with a life-like midrange reproduction and surprisingly impressive low-end. Shure’s SM81 is also a classic SDC favorite, especially for drum overheads.
Worthy of mention is a category of SDCs known for their stark accuracy, reference consistency, availability in omni configurations and high price—Elite SDCs if you will. DPA 4006s, Schoeps Colette series, Earthworks’ super time-coherent models and Bruel & Kajers’ (B&K) measurement microphones are standouts in this apex group, which you’ll find recording orchestras, jazz and in the hands of picky uber-producers.
Modern variants are plentiful at all price points and in my many years as an educator, I must say I’ve tried literally dozens of brands/models of SDC pairs and found them all to be adequate, if not exactly stellar. You’ll get less sizzly high-end and nastiness, and more smooth treble with less ear fatigue as you move up the price scale. I’m fond of the Vanguard Audio Labs V1S stereo kit with its interchangeable cardioid / hyper-cardioid / soft-cardioid / omni capsules (wide-cardioid is perfect for when you want to hear a little more of the room).
Today, there are pairs of SDCs with amazing price-to-performance ratios, notably Lauten Audio’s LA120 (with high- and low-pass filters) and Audio-Technica’s AT4041, which will outperform the lowest price models with a smoother high-end response and less self-noise.
Now let’s do a 180 degree swing: What about those times when you want less precision and less excruciating detail? What about when things sound way too harsh for a dynamic mic, much less a condenser mic or two? The answer, of course, is the slow-moving, dull-sounding, bottom end-creating warmth of a ribbon mic. Whether a short or a long ribbon, most ribbon mics are figure-8 in their polar pattern, lean naturally towards accentuating low-mids, slightly dull their transients and smooth out their peaks, rejecting sound in the nulls of their “8” to an amazing degree while accepting EQ (especially of the high-end boosting variety) surprisingly well.
How To Use Them
Ribbons are quite sensitive, so you’d best not drop the mic, or blow into the ribbon or expose the mic to excessive SPL (sound pressure level), so close-miking isn’t possible on many drums or loud sources. That figure-8 pattern is often viewed as a liability, but I tend to disagree; it’s a useful feature. A ribbon mic for room ambience is great, as it picks up the source directly and the reflections coming in from the rear; just carefully position the mic’s distance from the source to get an ideal room balance, maybe even room reverb in larger spaces. Try placing the nearest sound source that you’re trying to reject with your ribbon mic right smack in the 90 degree (or 270 degree) off-axis position, and the polluting sound will seem to disappear from your ribbon’s track, especially if you can get your ribbon in fairly close to the sound you do want to pick up.
Don’t forget to try a ribbon where a smooth and silky top-end is needed. Try close miking a vocal for intimate detail and first carefully tune a HPF to filter-out just enough unwanted rumble without losing fullness. Find the spot where the mic is resonating in the mids (likely around 400 to 500 Hz) and notch out a few dB, put a high-frequency shelf at about 8 kHz and start boosting it until the vocal is sweetly detailed and crisp without sounding lispy, irritating or unnatural (you might have to boost a lot, maybe even a whopping +12 dB; just don’t add too much noise in the process).
The Classic and Current Models
Classic ribbons are still used today despite their fragility, ancient design and expensive cost; they simply sound gorgeous, huge and lush (words truly cannot describe). RCA 44s and 77s from the post-WWII era are the holy grail of ribbon mics, but slightly newer Coles 4038s (a long-standing favorite of the BBC and anglophile recordists) and Beyerdynamic M160s (that iconic drum intro to “When the Levee Breaks” by John Bonham of Led Zeppelin? Yep that’s the sound of 160s) carry the classic tone in to the modern era.
Today, we’ve got ribbon mics that are sturdier, handle more SPL and have more high-end response (at least on some models), like Royer’s guitar-cabinet favored R121. AEA—maker of vintage throwbacks and post-modern designs, too—offers up passive or active-electronics R84, and there’s also the sE Electronics RNR1 Rupert Neve-designed ribbon, which is perfection on guitar cabinets and vocals, surprisingly enough, with sweet high-end response.
Even on a budget, there’s worthy choices out there in this category of studio microphone, like the sE Electronics X1R, a solid performer. A favorite among my students is the MXL R144, which is voiced with prominent mids so it sounds warm yet defined on drum room and electric guitars. Cascade makes a line of ribbon variations at great prices, allowing a little experimentation if you get sucked down the whole ribbon mic rabbit-hole as so many people (rightfully) do.
Low Frequency Enhanced Dynamic Mics
Then there’s “bass mics” or “kick mics” or “large diaphragm dynamic mics” as they’re often mistakenly called (It’s not so much that they have bigger diaphragms as they do bigger bodies with resonant chambers and features to enhance low-frequency reproduction). They aren’t exactly versatile, but when low-frequencies are what you need, low-frequencies are what you get. These mics are dynamic and are always amply windscreen-protected so they can handle the brutal SPL of a kick drum no problem. In fact, foley and effects recordists will often use these mics to record jet take-offs, guns, explosions and engines without distortion.
How To Use Them
You’ll find uses for this category of studio microphone on kick drums, floor toms, bass guitar amps, tubas and anything that needs more “boom and butt” than “bite and crispness.” I’ve also put them under pianos to add some thickness, on baritone guitar amps and behind cajons (when paired with a condenser to grab the highs). Listen in solo if you dare, but don’t be surprised if the sound seems oddly unbalanced; check your track again without solo (or PFL) and note how your track actually blends into the mix naturally. Furthermore, getting the bottom-end just right usually takes some EQ and compression to notch out resonant frequencies of excessive bass response, careful EQ boosts to make up for any hollow holes in the response and the application of some compression to help smooth out, congeal and increase consistency.
The Classic and Current Models
Back in the day, AKG absolutely owned this category of studio microphone, starting with the D12, the world’s first bass-enhanced mic. It followed that widely successful mic with the ubiquitous D112, the green-rimmed egg that was found on countless stages and in countless studios through the 90s. Today, AKG carries on the tradition with the D12 VR (with three voicings and phantom power-activated active electronics). All the major players have worthy “kick drum mics” today, with the V Kick from sE Electronics being a favorite amongst touring players, while other top performers include Sennheiser’s E902, Heil’s PR48 and Avantone Pro’s Pro Kick (actually a small speaker wired in reverse to be a large bass drum mic).
The Ever-Evolving Studio Microphone Locker
Now that you’ve got all your bases covered (including your basses), don’t be surprised if you find yourself craving the specialized abilities of a more exotic studio microphone. Shotgun mics for tightly focused vocals, vintage mics for throwback tones, body-worn mics for unique perspectives, stereo mics for their wide perspective and easy placement, contact mics for direct pickup…. The list, and the adventures, go on and on!