New York, NY (December 24, 2020)—With the end of 2020 upon us (and not a second too soon), we look back at the year that was, presenting the Top 10 Pro Sound News articles of 2020 that appeared on prosoundnetwork.com, as ranked by the site’s Google Analytics readership statistics. Intriguingly, while the biggest news of the year was the pandemic, virtually none of these articles even mention it. Instead, audio pros like yourself were mostly interested in either looking ahead to when things would get back to normal by checking out the latest gear, or looking back at great moments in audio, whether it was the recording of classic albums or the earliest known stereo recordings. No one knows what 2021 will bring, but for now, enjoy the most popular articles from our site, and we’ll see you in the new year.
8. The METAlliance Report: The Recording of Steely Dan’s Aja By The METAlliance. Widely considered a pinnacle of recording excellence, Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja had an occasionally tortured gestation—but it won the Grammy for Best Engineered Album. Now METAlliance members Al Schmitt and Elliot Scheiner share the inside scoop on how…
6. Inside the Live Sound of Live Aid, Part 1: London By Steve Harvey. We look back at the live sound effort that went into the legendary charity concert Live Aid, held simultaneously in London and Philadelphia. With 60+ acts on the bill and 160,000 in attendance—not to mention 1.9 billion watching it…
3. Tool Tours with Intricate, Immersive Sound By Steve Harvey. Touring the world behind Fear Inoculum, Tool’s first album in 13 years, the prog-metal heroes are filling arenas with a massive audio system that takes a new approach to immersive live sound.
As if facilitating pristine indoor recordings isn’t hard enough, some podcasters seek out harsh audio environments in order to bring adventurous stories to life. We’ve brought together some of the best field recording pros in the business here to share insights they’ve learned on location. Read on to see how they get the job done in the face of wind, water and reverberant warehouses.
Outside Podcast and Outside/In
More than 40 volcanoes in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands form the northern curve of the infamous ring of fire that encircles the Pacific Ocean with hundreds of active peaks. But for audio producers charged with field recording in the region, that’s not even the most terrifying fact about this vast region of fire and ice.
“I don’t know if you are familiar with the Aleutian Islands,” says audio storyteller and podcast producer Stephanie Joyce with a laugh, “but their nickname is, ‘the birthplace of the winds.’”
Smuggled dinosaur bones? Scuba diving under a pyramid? Binaural audio recording onsite? It’s all part of the Overheard at National Geographic podcast’s third season. For the show’s production team, gathering field recordings from exotic locations and subjects is just another day at the office.
“I went to a warehouse in Queens [New York] where a paleontologist had dinosaur fossils given to her by Homeland Security because they had been illegally shipped to the United States,” says producer Brian Gutierrez. “Just following her with the recorder and letting her tell her story, I think brings you into the moment more than just being in the studio.”
The environmental touches that connect listeners to place and setting in Missing in Alaska are the real deal. When producer Seth Nicholas Johnson needed sounds to represent the idea of lowering a search boat into the water, he simply referenced their own collection of curated audio, captured while field recording on location.
“It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re building Alaska, we’re painting a picture of this three-day trip and this search, there’s no need to pretend that just a random soundscape of the ocean that I found online was the Pacific Ocean,’” says Johnson.
Capturing the vibe of a big-budget spy thriller was crucial for Wind of Change, a podcast that asks an intriguing but potentially dangerous question: What if the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency wrote “Wind of Change,” the enormously successfully 1991 power ballad by hard rockers Scorpions, in a bid to bring the Cold War to an end?
While chasing leads and operatives from New York to Russia and Germany, producer Henry Molofsky was tasked with capturing audio in a multitude of environments—a Scorpions stadium concert held in Russia, a boat on the Moskva River in Moscow on a windy night, telephone calls with secret agents, and even random hotel rooms with former CIA spies.
In November, Sennheiser introduced the new dynamic MD 435 and MD 445 handheld vocal microphones for use in live sound settings. The heads on these mics are based on the legendary Sennheiser MD 9235 wireless handheld microphone head, used on the biggest stages and artists in the world. Many of my friends that mix big hip-hop artists rely on 9235s for their ability to handle loudness and their cardioid rejection—great for avoiding feedback from the monitors.
Those features can be found in these two mics as well: The MD 445 is a high-rejection, super-cardioid microphone and the MD 435 is cardioid. Both microphones are great for loud sound pressure levels (163 dB) like a snare drum or guitar amps, but they can also handle a delicate human voice. They’re not as sensitive as a condenser mic, of course, but each one has a great natural sound in the higher frequencies. After checking out the frequency responses for each microphone, I noticed the MD 435 peaks at around the 5k-7k range in a way that reminded me of the Sennheiser 935, capturing very clean sound with a little help in the higher frequencies for vocals. Meanwhile, the MD 445 has a darker yet slightly fuller sound, because the frequency response has a smoother curve at those 5k-7K Hz frequencies. Both microphones needed a decent amount of gain from my mic pre to get a respectable signal, but there was little to no white noise created.
I’m a big fan of the super-cardioid polar pattern from my live-mixing days—and now in my studio, too, for getting for ultimate rear rejection—and in that respect, the MD 445 really knocks it out the park. The beautiful vocal response that it produces is second to none in dynamic handheld microphones, and I found I like this microphone on male vocals a little better for the darker lower frequencies.
In use, I found that handling noise for both the MD 445 and 435 handhelds was almost nonexistent, as you can hear for yourself on a special episode of The Art of Music Tech podcast that I recorded with my business partner, Denis. We recorded an entire podcast using the microphones, and at one point switched mics to hear them on female and male vocals. I was amazed at the silence of switching hands with the microphone and not getting those weird low-frequency thumps that are heard with all handheld microphones. That truly blew me away—and it’s exactly why I would use them for a live podcast setting: They sound excellent and reject the noise that’s happening behind the microphone.
Out of the two, the MD 435 is my favorite for a female vocalist because of the sweetness around the 8 kHz range. I didn’t need to EQ frequencies as much as I would for the MD 445; I don’t like to tweak things if I don’t have to, so I would definitely have this in the audio toolbox for a female vocalist. As I mentioned earlier, the MD 435 sound reminds me of a richer toned Sennheiser 935, and they share similar frequency responses with the MD 435 at 40 Hz – 20 kHz, and the 935 topping out at 18k Hz. The MD 435 has a silky tone on the top end that’s not too harsh, but lets the vocals sit on top.
Overall, the MD 435 and MD 445 are amazing microphones. The bodies of the microphones are a slick, black finish and have that nice feel and shape that we’re used to seeing from the Sennheiser brand, along with a weight that is solid and but not heavy. Each microphone retails at $499, so it’s not a beginner’s microphone, but well worth it for a road warrior engineer or vocalist. I’d even suggest it to podcasters that record in a non-studio setting. Sennheiser has continued its legendary evolution in the microphone world.
Lightweight and comfortable, Folding design, Super soft lambskin leather, Superb balance and linearity, Strong fine detail retrieval in class, Cable orientation always correct
Less bass extension than some competitors, Not the most spacious or open sounding headphone, Unorthodox cable design, Plastic build scratches easily
The LCD-1 provides a balance of qualities and conveniences unmatched by immediate competitors.
Who hasn’t heard of Audeze? The US-based headphone manufacturer are an icon of the headphone industry, their LCD line-up having both huge success and staying power. If there’s one thing that alienated buyers from these models, it’s likely their price followed quickly by their large, heavy design. The new LCD-1 is their solution to these qualms, and their sleekest LCD headphone yet excluding the on-ear SINE. It implements the same technologies in a compact form factor designed for all-day comfort. Furthermore, the sound signature has been tuned with monitoring in-mind, pivotal as such a balanced sound is not so easy to come by around this price range.
The LCD-1 retails for $399 USD. You can read all about the LCD-1 alongside Audeze’s technologies here and treat yourself to one here.
I would like to thank Ari very much for getting me in contact with Audeze and making this review of the LCD-1 happen. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
Style: Over-ear, open-circumaural
Transducer type: Planar magnetic
Maximum SPL: >120dB
Frequency response: 10Hz – 50kHz
THD: <0.1% @ 100dB
Impedance: 16 ohms
Sensitivity: 99 dB/1mW
The Pitch –
Audeze implement waveguides to avoid unwanted resonances and destructive interference. This enables greater high-frequency extension and resolution in addition to increasing efficiency. Audeze also promise greater phase coherence resulting in better resolution and sharper imaging. Furthermore, the waveguides can help reduce turbulence and enhance damping enabling higher driver control and a more agile transient response. You can read Audeze’s description here.
Audeze headphones utilize very strong N50 neodymium magents – the higher the number, the stronger the magnetic force exerted, with N52 being the absolute strongest currently available. This equates to a greater ability to exert force onto the diaphragm meaning a quicker transient response, higher efficiency. This enables Audeze to implement a single-sided array that contributes to the LCD-1’s very light weight design. You can read Audeze’s description here.
Ultra-thin Force Diaphragm
Audeze headphones use an ultra-ligthweight diaphragm just 0.5 microns thick – 1/10th of the thickness of a red blood cell. In turn, the diaphragm is very lightweight which permits quicker acceleration and deceleration – a quicker and cleaner transient response. Alongside the more uniform force application with Audeze’s fluxor magnet array, their drivers offer high resolution and low distortion at high frequencies due to the reduced inertia. You can read Audeze’s description here.
While the box doesn’t have the luscious velour interior of Hifiman’s headphones, the LCD-1 upholds a premium unboxing experience. Sliding off the outer sleeve and opening up the hard box reveals the compact Audeze carrying case. It’s a tough and protective zippered hard shell with rugged fabric exterior. There’s an elastic internal pocket with Velcro holder that enables the user to store cables and accessories without them scratching the headphones. The headphones are comfortably secured within the case, which also showcases how they fold-up for storage. Audeze also includes a 2m cable and 3.5mm to 6.25mm adaptor and papers to verify warranty and authenticity.
Futuristic is one of the descriptors that came to mind when I first lay eyes on the LCD-1. It’s a compendium of clean lines merged with Audeze’s signature faceplate design merging minimalism and the tradition that came before. The plastic construction is a departure from the tanky builds we’ve come to expect from Audeze, however, it is premium where it counts. The earpads and headband make an especially strong impression, employing a gorgeous lambskin leather with plush memory foam on the earpads and soft sponge on the headband. The swiveling mechanism features a metal reinforcement plate that will provide more reliable function over time. Though not the most premium in terms of overall material choice, the LCD-1 feels relatively sturdy and upholds a strong user experience.
The LCD-1 can both fold flat and fold down for storage making them very portable when paired with the included case while enabling them to hang comfortably around the neck. They offer more axis of adjust-ability than most and a nice ratcheting headband slider that lacks position markers but retains its position well. The design of the headband may present issues if you have an especially large or tall head as I found myself using the 2nd largest setting where I usually hover around the middle setting on most competitors. The tolerances are also impressive, with only a slight wobble due to the folding mechanism, but zero rattles, hollowness or creaking indicative of a long-lasting product. The clamp force is slightly higher than average but this is mitigated well by the plush earpads while contributing to strong fit stability. My only personal gripe with the design is that, when folded flat, the earcups are prone to scratching one another.
It is easy to append using some adhesive vinyl, even tape if you don’t mind the ghetto aesthetic. However, competitors such as the Oppo PM3 have small tabs that place the earcups apart, mitigating this issue. It doesn’t help that the LCD-1’s matte finish scratches quite easily even if providing a generally pleasant in-hand feel. The LCD-1 is extraordinarily lightweight in return, especially for a planar. At just 250g it is lighter than most portable dynamic driver headphones. Due to the plastic build and soft leather, I would treat the LCD-1 a little more carefully than most headphones, however, in my experience lambskin wears much better over time than the Faux leather used on the majority of competitors that are prone to pealing.
I am also enthusiastic about the included cable. It’s a dual entry design with TRRS 3.5mm plugs on all terminations. Note, even the headphone side are TRRS which means aftermarket cables are unlikely to fit, and the sound will be in mono if using a regular dual-entry TRS cable. In return, the cable is always in correct orientation since both sides offer stereo that aligns with mono connectors in the earcup jack. The cable itself is of good quality. It’s braided and smooth, but also very supple with zero memory. Microphonic noise is minimal and the cable coils very easily for storage. The metal connectors feel premium and the straight plug has great strain relief in addition to a protruded plug that makes it case friendly.
Fit & Isolation –
I am a huge fan of the LCD-1’s fit and comfort, the lambskin feels superbly soft and supple, while the heat-activated memory foam conforms perfectly to the head over time. They are an over-ear headphone and, as others have stated, the pads are on the smaller side, measuring in at approximately 3.5 x 6 cm but with a larger cavity behind. As the pads are quite deep, they did fully engulf my ears so I didn’t personally find this to form discomfort over time. As always, YMMV here. The headband is reasonably thin but well-padded. Due to the lightweight design of the headphones, they don’t wear on the head like many other either, so I was able to wear them for hours with no issue. For professionals, this will be a prime selling point of the LCD-1, their all-day comfort and the excellent wearing properties of the lambskin leather. Of course, being an open-back design do expect sound leakage in addition to minimal noise isolation. Though compact and fold-able, this makes them less ideal for portable use.
I don’t listen to headphones like the Focal Stellia (website). Okay, let me back up—I listen to headphones all the time, just not for pleasure, but rather to check my work in the studio and occasionally to make eq decisions on a master. Words by Dave McNair and Nan Pincus When Eric Franklin Shook asked me if I wanted to review some headphones, I said “Uh, I don’t think so.” “Wait, these are special ‘phones—the Focal Stellia AND their killer headamp the Arche,” he says. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot,” I reply since I know Eric to be the best at deciphering the fake news you can trust. Dave McNair’s Take So here I am with these gorgeous, French-made beauties. The Focal Stellia headphones look like they’d be at home on location at the season’s showing of the new Chanel or YSL line. Not too blingy but a certain unmistakable French elegance in fit and finish. After I whipped up a batch of Coq au Vin and got out a bottle of vintage Bordeaux, I sat down to listen to some Serge Gainsbourg. Tonight, the headphones will deliver you the words I can’t say The first thing I did [...]
Recording microphones have been flying off the shelves at retail all year, but that hasn’t stopped pro-audio manufacturers from introducing a new studio microphone every few weeks this Fall. Some are high-end products aimed at the upper echelons of the recording world, while others are intended for down-and-dirty use in home studios, but they’re all worth finding out about, because every new mic is a potential new tonal flavor for your sonic stew. Sift through our ICYMI rundown of new mics from the last six months and see what’s new!
Aston Element Microphone
Aston Microphones has clearly had a blast this year developing its new Aston Element by having potential users vote on sound samples to determine the way the microphone would ultimately sound. The Element incorporates new capsule technology, a new chassis design, a magnetic pop filter and custom shock mount, and a backlit-LED logo 48V phantom power indicator. According to Aston, the studio microphone has been rated by NTi Audio as the world’s quietest mic and the frequency response, which extends far below 20Hz and above 20kHz, as the widest of any electromagnetic microphone.
Audio-Technica has released new limited-edition AT2020 Series microphones—the AT2020V (standard) and the AT2020USB+V (USB model), each featuring a reflective silver finish. The side-address condensers are equipped with low-mass diaphragms custom-engineered for extended frequency response and transient response. The mics’ cardioid polar pattern reduces pickup of sounds from the sides and rear, improving isolation of desired sound source. All models in the AT2020 mic line are aimed to provide a wide dynamic range and handle high SPLs. Both of the limited-edition V models come with AT8458a shock mounts to attenuate noise, shock, or vibration transmitted through a mic stand, boom or mount.
Aiming to help drummers capture the ultra-low end of their sound, Avantone Pro has introduced Kick, a sub-frequency kick drum microphone that aims to capture the subsonic signature by using a low-frequency driver. The AV-10 MLF sports a single continuous press-formed cone, and in the Kick’s case, the 18 cm cone acts as a microphone element. The microphone itself is of a moving coil dynamic type, with a 50 Hz to 2 kHz frequency response, 6.3 Ω output impedance and figure-eight pattern, plus a male XLR connector.
Beyerdynamic has introduced two new additions to its TG series. The second-generation TG D70 dynamic kickdrum mic is meant for capturing the impact of bass drums and similar low-frequency intensive instruments, while the TG 151 instrument mic is a lean microphone with a short shaft that can be used on everything from snares and toms to brass instruments and guitar amplifiers.
Swedish audio manufacturer IsoVox has introduced IsoMic, a new studio microphone created in conjunction with fellow Swedish company Research Electronics AB, owners of the Ehrlund Microphones brand. The new microphone is based around a triangular capsule with a 7 Hz to 87 kHz frequency range. The IsoMic itself features an aluminum body with glass bead-blasting finish. Its triangular capsule reportedly has a SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) of 87 dBA, DR (Dynamic Range) of 115 dB, and a maximum SPL (Sound Pressure Level) peak performance of 0.5% THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) at 116 dB or 1% THD at 122 dB.
Hot on the heels of introducing its Revelation II studio microphone in the Spring, MXL Microphones has launched its new Revelation Mini FET, aiming to provide intimacy and warmth of a tube mic, but built around a FET circuit with a smaller footprint. MXL’s Revelation Mini FET utilizes a 32 mm center terminating, gold-sputtered capsule combined with a low noise circuit. The mic focuses on the midrange and lower frequencies, resulting in recordings with less hum and more music. Additionally, the inclusion of a three-stage pad (0, -10 dB, -20 dB) is intended to provide the flexibility needed for recording high SPL sources, such as horns and kickdrums. The mic features black chrome accents as well as hand-selected FET and capacitors
First announced earlier in the year, Sanken Microphones is now shipping its new CUX-100K Cardioid or Omnidirectional super wide range professional microphone. The new microphone builds on the history of the company’s Chromatic omni-mode CO-100K, adding the ability to change modes with three settings: Cardioid (Far), Cardioid (Near) and Omni modes. The CUX-100K is intended for a variety of high-resolution, high-sample rate recordings, both in spatial or close-miking applications.
Scope Labs, a new pro-audio manufacturer based in Finland and operating globally, has introduced its first mic, the Periscope Microphone — an omni-condenser microphone with a built-in compressor that gives the mic a unique character. The Periscope is based around an omni capsule followed by a compression circuit intended to highlight textural nuances that the mic captures, with the aim of providing a hyper-realistic sound. The Periscope is manufactured in-house at Scope Labs Ltd. in Finland.
Sennheiser has introduced two new vocal microphones—the MD 435 large-diaphragm microphone, bringing the company’s dynamic MD 9235 capsule to a wired vocal microphone for the first time; and the MD 445, an LDC with a tight super-cardioid pick pattern. Ostensibly intended for live sound use, they reportedly hold their own in the studio as well. The MD 435’s lightweight aluminum-copper voice coil is intended to provide fast transient response, according to Sennheiser, in an effort to provide detailed, transparent sound. The large-diaphragm microphone features dynamics of 146 dB(A) and can handle sound pressure levels of up to 163 dB/1 kHz. The MD 445 is designed with a high-rejection, super-cardioid pick-up pattern, it reportedly offers uses considerable gain before feedback. Dynamics are wide at 146 dB(A) and the microphone is said to be able to handle sound pressure levels of up to 163 dB/1 kHz.
The TF11 is the company’s first large diaphragm phantom-powered condenser mic. The CK12-style edge-terminated capsule is a single membrane version of the capsule featured in the TF51, and the amplifier is a proprietary take on the FET mic amplifier similar to the M60, coupled with a custom large format nickel-iron core transformer by OEP/Carnhill made in the UK. The mic’s through-hole components include UK-made polystyrene film capacitors, Nichicon Fine Gold electrolytic capacitors, and a high-performance, ultra-low-noise JFET amplifier.
Wedemark, Germany (November 17, 2020)—Sennheiser has introduced two new vocal microphones—the MD 435 large-diaphragm microphone, bringing the company’s dynamic MD 9235 capsule to a wired vocal microphone for the first time; and the MD 445, an LDC with a tight super-cardioid pick pattern.
The MD 435’s lightweight aluminum-copper voice coil is intended to provide fast transient response, according to Sennheiser, in an effort to provide detailed, transparent sound. The large-diaphragm microphone features dynamics of 146 dB(A) and can handle sound pressure levels of up to 163 dB/1 kHz.
Meanwhile, the MD 445 is designed for use in a large, loud, live sound atmosphere. With a high-rejection, super-cardioid pick-up pattern, it reportedly offers uses considerable gain before feedback. Dynamics are wide at 146 dB(A) and the microphone is said to be able to handle sound pressure levels of up to 163 dB/1 kHz. It also features a metal casing and has a shock-mounted capsule, while a hum-compensating coil protects the microphone against electromagnetic interference.
For use with Sennheiser’s wireless transmitters, the capsule of the MD 435 is also available as the MM 435 microphone head, and will soon replace the existing MD 9235 capsule. Likewise, the capsule of the MD 445 is also available as the MM 445 microphone head. Both capsules can be used with Sennheiser wireless series ranging from the evolution wireless G4 and 2000 series to Digital 6000 and Digital 9000.
The MD 435 microphone and MM 435 microphone head retail at EUR 499 (roughly $591 US) each, while the MD 445 microphone and MM 445 microphone head retail at USD $619 each.
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!
New York, NY (October 15, 2020)—The premise of Earios podcast The Alarmist may be farcical—host Rebecca Delgado-Smith uses her “superpower” of catastrophizing to assign blame for infamous moments in history—but the show’s sound design isn’t all lighthearted.
While shifting weekly from topics like who’s to blame for prohibition to episodes on the NASA Challenger space shuttle disaster and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, producer Amanda Lund bends standard stock audio to her creative needs.
“I have music that I pull from a royalty-free site, but I actually really love it,” Lund says. For the Challenger episode, she employs “very intense but almost neutral music, like drone beats,” while for other serious topics she plays the audio straight and digs up news clips if available. “Usually if there’s no news clips available, that means the tragedy happened like 100 years ago and it’s probably okay to be a little bit lighter in tone with it.”
Case in point: upbeat percussion and boozy horns usher listeners into the speakeasys of the 1920s for the episode on prohibition, while a stately church organ and Middle Eastern music set the tone for a discussion on who’s to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But each episode carries at least a bit of the team’s sense of humor.
“I knew I wanted to [make the] sound design a little bit tongue-in-cheek, because I feel there are a lot of really straightforward history podcasts and true crime podcasts that use this robust soundscape in a really sort of sincere way,” she explains. “With The Alarmist, we try to mimic that—but undercut it with some humor.”
Lund has spent most of her career on the talent side of the business, as an actor in TV shows like The New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She wrote and created the critically acclaimed audio series The Complete Woman (Earwolf, Earios), where she also began to hone her editing chops. But while that series is a more tightly produced package, working on The Alarmist is a looser affair.
“You can manipulate so much in editing,” she says. “It’s amazing what you can do by taking out a split second of silence or adding a split second of silence. But I don’t do that too much with The Alarmist, just because Rebecca and Chris [Smith, live fact checker] are both improvisers and comedians.”
Conversations are presented more or less the way they occur live. Delgado-Smith prepares for each topic and commits to the arc of the episode, which makes Lund’s job easier.
“I try not to rearrange because I feel like it’s a house of cards, and the minute you start moving stuff around, you make 100 times more work for yourself,” she says. “I really try to just take out full sections if I [have to edit]. I really don’t have to worry about manipulating the conversation that much.”
Recording remotely hasn’t taken the fun out of producing the comedy podcast. The setup is straightforward, with the show’s host and guests communicating over video conference. Lund runs a Sennheiser E 845-S dynamic cardioid mic into Avid Pro Tools via a Behringer U-Phoria UMC404 interface. Delgado-Smith and Smith use the same mics, with a Tascam DR-70D audio recorder. Guests record locally, typically to QuickTime, and then Lund assembles the episodes. So far, she says she has only had to remove minor background noises in iZotope RX.
“We’ve been pretty lucky,” she says. “You never really know what you’re going to get, and you can’t control it because you don’t know really how it’s going to sound until you get the file. It really is a kind of crapshoot.”