by Phil O'Keefe
I can hear it now. "Microphone accessories??? I can understand an article on guitar accessories, bass accessories, or even one on amp accessories, but how many accessories can there be for a microphone? Isn't this going a little far?" Well possibly. There are certainly not nearly as many accessories available for microphones as for guitars, but there are a few - maybe even a few you haven't considered previously - and some of them can be very useful. So let's take a look at what you need to have to get the most from your microphones….
Acoustic Screens and Shields - These mini-gobos reduce acoustical reflections and improve the acoustical environment directly around your microphone. They became popular for use with vocal microphones first, but models are now available for use with instruments and amplifiers, such as the sE Electronics guitaRF.
Covers - I'm of the opinion that when a studio microphone is not in use, it should either be covered up, or put away. This is particularly important for condenser microphones since their electrically charged diaphragms tend to attract dust, but it's also good insurance for ribbon microphones and even dynamic microphones too. While large, inexpensive plastic food storage bags with a desiccant bag taped inside will work fine, there are also classier-looking, commercially available custom cloth bags.
Preamps - Just as an electric guitar without an amplifier is only part of an instrument, a microphone also needs a good preamp as a partner. The right pairing can make a big difference in how your microphone sounds.
Pop Filters and Wind Screens - There's a huge variety of designs out there that help keep environmental wind noise, breath wind blasts, and vocal plosives from causing unwanted problems on your recordings. Fur-covered zeppelins are often used for recording outdoors to protect the mic in high wind conditions, while roam windscreens have been commonly used on stages and even in studios for decades. There's also the "disk type" pop screens that use either metal screens (like the Stedman ProScreen 101) or nylon fabric to divert and prevent wind blasts from ruining your recording. If you record vocals, consider this a must-have accessory.
Cables - Unless it's a wireless model, your microphone isn't going to be of much use to you without an audio cable. While some vintage microphones used different types of cables, by far the majority of microphones today use cables with XLR plugs at each end to connect the microphone's output to the mic preamp.
A Different Type of Mic Needs a Different Type of Cable - Tube microphones typically use multi-pin connectors and multi-wire cables to connect the microphone (which houses the tube electronics) with the microphone's power supply box, which powers the microphone and houses the XLR output jack for connecting to an external mic preamp or mixing board. While most tube mics come with the necessary cables and accessories so you won't need to buy them separately, be aware you'll need the right type of cable, especially if you're considering buying a used tube mic.
Stands - Not everyone needs a mic stand - some vocalists don't use them live, and I've even done recording sessions with the singer holding the vocal microphone the entire time while performing… but those are the exceptions. The rest of us will want a good stand to go along with that mic. There are tons of different types of mic stands available… desktop models, short stands, straight and boom stands, decorative ones for live shows, new high-tech models like the Triad-Orbit stands and heavy-duty stands capable of holding the largest and heaviest studio microphones, such as those made by Latch Lake. They now even make motorized microphone stands that will let you change the placement of a microphone out in the studio from the comfort of the control room.
Mic Clips - Most hand-held mics come with a clip that screws onto a stand and can hold a mic, but because they break occasionally, it never hurts to have a few spares on hand.
Quick Release Mic Clip - What if you're a vocalist who likes to hold the mic in your hands a good portion of the night, but you also like using a stand too? This is for you.
Shock Mounts - Many high-end studio microphones come with suspension-style shock mounts, and similar mounts are available as after-market accessories for a wide variety of microphones. These can go a long way towards keeping stage and studio floor vibrations from being transferred to, and picked up by, your microphones.
Mic Sleeves - Want to accessorize your mic to match your stage clothes? Mic Sleeves give your stage mic a bit of bling or attitude.
Cases, Bags and Storage Boxes - These come in a variety of different styles, from inexpensive vinyl and cloth bags that some microphones come bundled with, to foam-lined touring-type cases with die-cut cutouts for multiple microphones, to deluxe velvet-lined hardwood cases for your most cherry studio microphone. All of them will help protect your microphones from scratches. and some will protect them from drops too.
Stereo Bar - Nothing makes stereo setups easier than a good stereo bar. DPA makes the nicest one I've ever used, but there are others on the market that cost considerably less.
A New Grille - replace that battered, bashed and dented "ball end" grille with a new one.
Stand Add-Ons - Do you need to use two mics at once (such as when singing and playing an acoustic guitar at the same time), but only enough floor space for one stand? Add a clamp-on stand boom attachment to the main stand for the second microphone.
Well, that's all of the microphone accessories I can think of for now. Admit it - there were more of them than you were expecting, right? And if not, and you can think of some microphone accessory essentials that I've left off the list, please make sure you stop by either the Studio Trenches forum or the Vocals and Voiceovers forum and tell us about them!
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.