Jump to content

A naive question about microphones:


Recommended Posts

  • Members

I've never really spent any time or money when it comes to microphones because I just play guitar, and that's kinda the extent of it. I know a good deal on the six-string end of the equation, but not much beyond it.

I was surprised when I was a kid to hear that people were paying over $1000 for Marshalls and the like. And I was blown away to find out that boutique amps were (arguably) even better and more expensive. But mostly, I was floored when I recently saw how much some microphones go for.

I'd always understood that recording gear was expensive, but when I stumbled onto some Neumann microphones on eBay, I nearly choked on my black licorice. (I think the model I saw was the U47 fet).

 

So, after a lengthy preface, why are they so pricey?

I know it's silly to ask, and it can't be hard to figure out, but I can hardly imagine that such a (physically) small element of sound reproduction can have such variance in qualities to cost so much. I mean, is there really that much money's worth of manufacturing going into those little guys? I understand that there are different microphones for different needs, but isn't there, like, a condenser mic that is just sufficient, and any fidelity higher is just infinitesimal?

I mean, with speakers, one generally looks for a set that colors the tone well, but isn't there just a simple, "color-free," neutral sounding microphone that works for all needs when micing a specific instrument?

 

Ha ha ha. Sorry to ask such an introductory question, but I've become really fascinated by the recording aspect of music, and this is especially interesting to me.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

You're absolutelly correct - sort of.

It's hard to justify the exponential pricing of microphones when you consider that they all have pretty much the same components inside and do pretty much the same thing. One would think that if you could find one that was neutral sounding and clean it would work on any source - and it would. But, and as with JaLo, it's a pretty big but, there are simply some mics that work better for some sources. And if a particular mic is found to work extremely well on a particular source, and if no cheaper mic will sound exactly the same - then the value of that mic's sound will dictate it's price-point.

You say you're into guitars - then you would agree that though every electric guitar has 6-strings and pick-ups they do not all play or sound the same. And though a First-Act or Squier will actually get the job done - is there any doubt that there is a better tool for the job? And if there is a better tool there must be a 'best' or at the very least, a 'much better' tool for the job.

What generally sets the high-end pieces value is:

Attention to detail in design

Highest quality components

Proven track record

 

with a hint of hype thrown in for good measure.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was floored when I recently saw how much some microphones go for.

I'd always understood that recording gear was expensive, but when I stumbled onto some Neumann microphones on eBay, I nearly choked on my black licorice. (I think the model I saw was the U47 fet).

 

Just be thankful you didn't happen upon a Neumann U47 TUBE mic - you would have really choked. ;)

 

The U47FET is a discontinued mic, and the only way to get one now is used... and since there's a finite amount of them out there, and a fairly high demand for them, the prices go up accordingly - kind of like 1959 flametop Les Paul Standards. Even though they were under $300 new back in 1959, they can command prices of $300,000 today, and occasionally more, depending on condition, who previously owned / played it, etc.

 

There are a ton of great microphones available on the market today. Some are clones of, or based on the classic vintage designs (similar to buying a "custom shop" reproduction of a vintage Les Paul or Strat), and they can tend to be fairly expensive too, although not as bad as their vintage counterparts. Others are new designs, or are more loosely based on vintage designs, and they tend to be a bit more affordable. Of course, there's a wide selection of "new" models available too... some manufactured overseas (China) at very low price points...

 

When shopping for microphones, it's a good idea to consider what you want to use it for, what your budget is, and shop accordingly. Some mikes are better suited to some tasks than others. For example, no single mic is "ideal" for every and all vocalists, and what works best live might not always be ideal for studio use. The same mic you use on vocals might also work well for acoustic guitars, but OTOH, there might be something that would work even better in that application, but not quite as well for vocals...

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

why are they so pricey?

 

Simple - because some people are willing to pay that much.

 

20 years ago you had to pay a lot to get a good microphone. Today they're a commodity item. I recently compared ten small-diaphragm condenser microphones ranging in price from $40 to almost $2,000, and the $40 Nady had a similar response as the most expensive model. I won't say they're identical, but if you're not made of money it's a great value. In fact, most of the microphones had very similar responses. For large diaphragm microphones you can't go wrong with anything from audiotechnica.

 

--Ethan

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

Besides "vintage" microphones there are plenty of "new" microphones that are also exceptionally good... and rather expensive. I gladly paid upwards of $9.000 for a Brauner KHE a few years ago... the Crowely & Tripp "el diablo" is $2,750 for a ribbon mic... but it uses a ribbon element that is different from any other element ever designed... it employs a "nano-fiber" that will not stretch or break under the most severe conditions of use [you can poke your finger through it... but as far as we can tell, you can't stretch it or break it with sound pressure level]. This material cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to refine and develop... hence, the price.

 

There are hundreds of examples... much like guitars and amplifiers these things are instruments too... better instruments cost a pretty penny... cheaper instruments don't.

 

Jeff Beck will sound like Jeff Beck on whatever he plays to you and me... but to Jeff Beck the "right" combination of guitar and amp will get him "the sound" he's looking to get... same thing with a recording engineer and his microphones selection.

 

Ethan's cute little test [sorry Ethan, I still say your methodology was way flawed... but I think we've talked that into the ground at this point] was about "measurement" microphones... not recording microphones... so please don't come to a conclusion that a $40 Nady mic will give you results that even begin to approximate the results that can be attained with any of the "high end" condenser microphones in our studio's mic closet [click on the "Meth Lab" link in my signature file for details].

 

Peace.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

Okay. Here's another opinion for you. (to be treated as such).

 

Fletcher is a purist. He talked me into spending too much on a preamp. Then he bent over backwards to give me the best price he possibly could, and that preamp was one of the best purchases I ever made. But I can't always afford to follow his advice.

 

I have a number of mics. None are really high-dollar objects. I try them all out and often find one that gets the sound I'm after. My best bud doesn't mess around like that. He buys fewer mics, but better quality. I went to his studio, and he set a Neumann U87 up for my vocals. Then he left it in place for acoustic. Then we used it for the shaker. While none of those tracks are stellar, they all sound great, and we didn't spend hours trying out different mics. That U87 is very close to the neutral, all-around mic you sought in the first post. It is not cheap, but what you seek is not available for cheap.

 

I AM cheap, and would try using my Cascade Fathead at two to three feet distance. Then I would try the CAD E200 very close with the pad engaged. In the end, I will make a good recording and have lots of fun. I can afford to try different mics all day because I have no paying clients.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

.

I don't disagree, and I was careful to point out in my article that we didn't even try to assess the microphones for recording music. I did record music with that Nady microphone a few times and it was "fine." But again I don't disagree with your main premise when "best" is the goal. In the context of the OP, I got the feeling $9,000 or even $2,750 is out of the question. :D

 

--Ethan

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

For large diaphragm microphones you can't go wrong with anything from audiotechnica

 

+1.

 

Another point -- knowing your mics well will give you some leeway. I love the sound of a 4050 through a Great River pre for example, and I can get usable tracks from almost any source with these given a familiar environment. Of course this wouldn't apply to classical -- but I never record classical, so...

 

Whatever mics you get, spend some time learning what they do in different scenarios so that getting the most out of them becomes second nature. :thu:

 

I understand where Fletcher is coming from but I also believe that in true triple-blind testing he/we wouldn't be able to discern certain differences. I'm also certain that audiences don't give a flying rat {censored} -- the criteria they use to assess music couldn't possibly be farther from all that... :thu:

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

but I also believe that in true triple-blind testing he/we wouldn't be able to discern certain differences. I'm also certain that audiences don't give a flying rat {censored} -- the criteria they use to assess music couldn't possibly be farther from all that...
:thu:

 

You've obviously never been in a session where the performer is inspired to perform a little better than they're actually capable of performing because they've heard their voice through ___ mic and ___ pre and are so into the tone they're hearing in the cans that they give the performance of a lifetime.

 

When you've experienced that phenomenon you get hungry for it... you get greedy for it... you want to experience it every time you hang a mic to cut vocals.

 

When you've experienced that phenomenon... get back to me and tell me about "triple blind tests" and that the audience doesn't give a {censored} [they'll give a {censored} once they hear the performance... that's for damn sure!!].

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

You've obviously never been in a session where the performer is inspired to perform a little better than they're actually capable of performing because they've heard their voice through ___ mic and ___ pre and are so into the tone they're hearing in the cans that they give the performance of a lifetime.

 

No human in history has ever exceeded their own capabilities. Spending $2K on a mic won't change that. Nor will spending $9K on a mic. Nor $15K. Nor will a big fat wheelbarrow of hype.

 

BTW are these the same performers you seem to refer to so consistently after the session as "morons"?

 

When you've experienced that phenomenon... get back to me

 

First thing on my list of priorities.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

No human in history has ever exceeded their own capabilities. Spending $2K on a mic won't change that. Nor will spending $9K on a mic. Nor $15K. Nor will a big fat wheelbarrow of hype.

 

 

I'm sorry, but I have to completely disagree here. We are trying to use equipment that inspires. We're not talking about how much money we throw at something here. We're simply talking about achieving a sound that inspires the artist to new heights, to emote, to communicate. And to do better than before. If we didn't do better than we did before, we'd still be {censored}ting in our pants and crawling on the floor.

 

We get a microphone and a mic preamp because they sound great, they sound inspiring. We give the singer a monster headphone mix and make them sound great because we want them to be inspired and to emotionally express themselves.

 

This is the {censored} I live for. I don't give a rat's ass WHAT I'm using as long as I'm inspiring the artist, or as the artist, I'm inspired. And whether that's an SM 57 or a 251, it doesn't matter, as long as it sounds great and we all feel inspired.

 

I hope we haven't forgotten that this is about music, and music is about emotion, not about how much money we're throwing down for a mic.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

I'm sorry, but I have to completely disagree here.

 

Argue with the dictionary, not me:

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=capable

 

Saying someone, "exceeded their capabilities" is Don King's territory. Magnificous microphone! Your one-way ticket to Utopia!

 

The fideistic bull{censored} that drives this industry... :rolleyes:

 

And I reject it as a sell that great mics "inspire the morons".

 

Of course I know the value of great gear in inspiring performers and creating great tracks which make a mix -- you folks do not live in a vaccum. But the notion that it's necessary to make great music is absolute bunk -- and there are tons of less-than-ideally-recorded bestsellers to prove that point, no doubt many of them in and amongst your favorite music.

 

Every studio I've ever been in had certain low-cost favorites in the locker, and they get used every single day... :thu:

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

If you read my post, you'd realize that I never said "exceeding their capabilities", but instead used the word "inspire" quite a few times. If you disagree that a great sound and great headphone mix will not sometimes inspire the vocalist to reach new heights or sing better than s/he ever did before, then we'll have to agree to disagree.

 

You'll also note that I also wrote:

 

And whether that's an SM 57 or a 251, it doesn't matter, as long as it sounds great and we all feel inspired.

 

YOU'RE the one who brought up the expensive microphones, not anyone else. Bear that in mind.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

No human in history has ever exceeded their own capabilities.

 

Great... change the context to literal.

 

Brilliant!!

 

Obviously no one has ever exceeded their capabilities... but as Ken pointed out, you do get those magically inspired moments. Sometimes it's an audience that inspires a singer to give an unbelievable performance [for some odd reason Cleveland actually has something of a track record for doing this... at least they did back when I was touring, I have no idea about now] other times it's a sound the performer hears in their cans.

 

Until you've heard the transformation it is difficult to believe... but having heard the transformation a few times during my career [it doesn't happen all the time... but there are days when you can indeed catch lightning in a bottle!] when all of a sudden you hear a performer really bearing their soul... giving one of the most inspired performances of their career [as much as you seem to love to argue semantics... at some point in EVERY career their is one piece of work where their inspiration level is higher than all other examples of their work].

 

I am very happy to have the luxury to have the tools in my world as they will often help. It ain't the tools that do it... it's the performer who does it... sometimes the tools help get them to that mental place is all I was trying to point out.

 

There have also been times when no matter what mic, pre, :blah: combination you try you'll never beat the performance of the singer with a handheld 57 in the control room after a basic track laying a "guide vocal". My point being you never know where it's going to come from... but every day I'm in the room it's my "goal for the day". (made bold so you don't miss the actual crux of the biscuit)

 

You referenced the client to whom I referenced as a "moron"... frankly, I still feel like he's a moron. Took a fairly decent song and {censored} all over it with too many tracks, incompetent recording, mediocre performances all to have me "run it through my machines" and deliver a "flat as a pancake" mix... which was exactly what the guy wanted.

 

My job, as an engineer, is to deliver what the client requests... no matter how {censored}ed up and horrid it may be. Why is it my job? Because they hired me to present their music [and I took the gig]... and it's not my music... and if this is the presentation they want, then that's the presentation they'll get [no matter how abhorent I think what they're asking me to do to the music may be]. It's not like I'm torturing a small fuzzy animal... though at times it feels painfully close... they purchased my time, if that's what the client wants, that's what they get... and I will deliver to them the best product I can possibly deliver... because again... that's my job.

 

I do draw the line at times... I will not add auto-tune [i may obscure the pitch, but I'll never "fix" the pitch]... and no, I will never torture a small fuzzy animal [no matter how much she begs].

 

Peace.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

If you read my post, you'd realize that I never said "exceeding their capabilities", but instead used the word "inspire" quite a few times. If you disagree that a great sound and great headphone mix will not sometimes inspire the vocalist to reach new heights or sing better than s/he ever did before, then we'll have to agree to disagree.

 

Headphone mix made the singer perform better than ever before? I think this is wishful thinking -- I don't think there's a single competent studio vocalist who will credit their best performance to an inspiring headphone mix.

 

frankly I still feel like he's a moron.

 

That you continue to publicly say this is just unprofessional. You weren't saying that to his face when you took his money, right? = Weasely {censored}.

 

My job, as an engineer, is to deliver what the client requests...

 

He requested you call him a moron? :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

Well, this got a little off topic, didn't it? But I think it's clear that "good mic" doesn't always equal "expensive mic" and vice-versa. The SM-7b is one of my favorite vocal mics; lately, so is the Microtech Gefell MT71-S (I hope I'm remembering the model number correctly). One of them is about a third of the cost of the other, and I couldn't tell you which is the "better" mic because it totally depends on what I'm recording at the time and what kind of sound I'm going for, etc. The SM-57 is one of my favorite mics for snare drums and guitar cabs, and it costs less than a hundred bucks.

 

You don't have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get a good-sounding mic. But if you want the absolute tip-top, the very last 1% of possible quality and you're recording in a great facility with a room designed and treated to give the absolute maximum of sound fidelity with players and singers that are at the peak of their game, then yeah, you might find that those uber-high-dollar microphones give you that last little bit of clarity and precision that you need to go from "really good" to "un-freaking-believable."

 

If you're recording in your spare bedroom with your college bandmates and you're going to be uploading the files to your MySpace page ... probably not so much reason for you to spend thousands of dollars on a single microphone. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

Well, this got a little off topic, didn't it? But I think it's clear that "good mic" doesn't always equal "expensive mic" and vice-versa. The SM-7b is one of my favorite vocal mics; lately, so is the Microtech Gefell MT71-S (I hope I'm remembering the model number correctly). One of them is about a third of the cost of the other, and I couldn't tell you which is the "better" mic because it totally depends on what I'm recording at the time and what kind of sound I'm going for, etc. The SM-57 is one of my favorite mics for snare drums and guitar cabs, and it costs less than a hundred bucks.


You don't have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get a good-sounding mic. But if you want the absolute tip-top, the very last 1% of possible quality and you're recording in a great facility with a room designed and treated to give the absolute maximum of sound fidelity with players and singers that are at the peak of their game, then yeah, you might find that those uber-high-dollar microphones give you that last little bit of clarity and precision that you need to go from "really good" to "un-freaking-believable."


If you're recording in your spare bedroom with your college bandmates and you're going to be uploading the files to your MySpace page ... probably not so much reason for you to spend thousands of dollars on a single microphone.

 

Well said. :thu:

Link to post
Share on other sites

No human in history has ever exceeded their own capabilities.

 

No, we all have limits on what we are capable of... but not everyone realizes where those limits are, or more specifically, that those limits are probably beyond what they "think" they're capable of. Sometimes it just takes the right motivation, and other times, it just takes the right inspiration.

 

If you've only heard yourself through crappy PA systems and beat up SM58's all your life, and someone sticks you in front of a good 251 or 47, it's probably going to be a bit of an eye opener for you... and it may indeed be inspiring.

 

Headphone mix made the singer perform better than ever before? I think this is wishful thinking -- I don't think there's a single competent studio vocalist who will credit their best performance to an inspiring headphone mix.

 

Maybe not (although I'm not willing to fully concede the point), but a BAD headphone mix can absolutely DESTROY a performance.

 

Headphone mixes are absolutely CRUCIAL IMHO. I spend as much time as it takes dialing them up to the singer's satisfaction. If you can't hear what you're doing, you can kiss pitch accuracy goodbye. You can also say bye bye to any kind of inspired performance - if the singer is the least bit distracted and spending any time and effort thinking about the cans mix, then they're distracted from what they SHOULD be doing - which is feeling the music, laying down a great performance and SELLING THE SONG.

 

Give them a great mic that is suitable for and that brings out the best attributes of their voice, give them a killer headphone mix that lets them hear what they're doing, and suddenly they are not only inspired, but they also have the tools available to start reaching further towards the limits of their potential. They can hear themselves better, which means they can tell what they're doing and start controlling it more accurately and expressively. The sound kills, so instead of being distracted and spending time thinking about the bad headphone mix, or how they're bummed out, they are happy and inspired and focused on the song and their performance...

 

It most definitely has a positive effect IMO.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

Well, this got a little off topic, didn't it? But I think it's clear that "good mic" doesn't always equal "expensive mic" and vice-versa.


You don't have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get a good-sounding mic.

 

Isn't that what I've been saying? No one has said otherwise.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Members

That you continue to publicly say this is just unprofessional. You weren't saying that to his face when you took his money, right? = Weasely {censored}.

 

You're right captain semantics... I didn't say "moron" to his face. I did tell him I thought the track sounded like ass to his face. I also mentioned to the label guy that I'd prefer to be credited me as "Alan Smithee"... but I never used the word "moron" [and I got $10- says you're about to google "Alan Smithee" so you can understand the reference].

 

As to your saying I'm behaving in an "unprofessional manner"... not quite right. As long as I don't mention the name of the artist or the name of the project, and the {censored} doesn't end up in "People Magazine" it's OK to whine about a client.

 

You should have heard another friend of mine go off about a "legend" who left him a voice mail that they should use a 'track ball' instead of a mouse because that's what was making the album take so long to get finished [this was 3-4 years ago... the album still isn't done!!]. My buddy quit the project after getting that voice mail... but he's got so much work lined up he filled in the time with a phone call.

 

Interestingly, the artist and I have had this kind of relationship through most of the last year as we've been working on this record... and interestingly, he's well aware of the fact that I don't want my name on the record because I don't like the "sound" of the record... and interestingly he keeps coming back to have me work on the record because somehow I keep delivering him what he wants [even though I think it's far from what is best for his music].

 

The really funny thing is that he keeps authorizing the label to pay me top dollar to work on the stuff [and take my {censored} during the process]. Ours is also the 4th or 5th studio where he's worked so far on this project. I'm like the 7th or 8th engineer who has worked on this project... and if the money wasn't so good I would hope to get fired like the others... except I'm getting paid REALLY well [and I'm a single mom].

 

He's back in later this week [they're doing more tracking at their "studio"]... I reckon [in an effort to make sure all the cards are on the table] I'll tell him he's a moron then. Perhaps I'll even bring up this thread for him [and the other one where I originally called him a moron]... he usually likes to [annoyingly] hang in the control room while I'm mixing... it'll give him a good 20-30 minute hobby [who knows... maybe I'll get fired!!... doubt it, but there's always a chance].

 

In the meanwhile... if you go back to my first post on this thread... the one with the Jeff Beck reference [seeing as the OP was talking about understanding the value of guitars but not microphones]... that statement still stands... it's what I've been trying to reinforce while you've done your best job of trying to misconstrue my meaning [which is simply, machines don't make music, people make music] and guide the thread away from it's intention.

 

BTW... Phil, ever the voice of reason, did a great job of re-explaining my original explanation in words that could hopefully be understood by the "Music Calgary".

 

Peace.

Link to post
Share on other sites

You should have heard another friend of mine go off about a "legend" who left him a voice mail that they should use a 'track ball' instead of a mouse because that's what was making the album take so long to get finished [this was 3-4 years ago... the album still isn't done!!].

 

I catch flak occasionally because I use a mouse. I never did get along well with trackballs, and it seems like that's what nearly everyone else in LA uses. I suppose if I had a client who hated mice and was going to do some of the computer work, I'd go buy them a trackball to keep them happy... but saying the project is going slow because you're using either instead of the other... wow. :freak:

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...