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The mic situation

Now, I mentioned previously about how I used to have access to a Shure Beta 58... but now all I've got is a cheap Radio Shack high-impedance microphone of uncertain vintage. And a few nasty-looking half-working oddball microphones. And how, while you could assemble for a small amount of money, a decent cheap mic preamp, all we've got on the low-end is crap stand-alone mic preamps and decent preamps built into mixers and certain audio interfaces.

Mic Hardware

There are two major families of microphones that are popular and commonly seen all over the place, plus a few alternative designs.

First, you've got dynamic microphones. They pretty much work like a loudspeaker in reverse. You can build them so sturdily that you can use it and the microphone cable as a blackjack to knock somebody out and it'll still be OK. The Shure SM57 and SM58 are the most popular examples thereof, but there's really a wide variety out there.

You also have condenser microphones, with work by sensing the distance between two very thin diaphragm plates with capacitance. These are the studio standard and have become increasingly popular over the years. They come in large and small diaphragm forms... the large form works better for things like vocals, the small form works better for acoustic instruments. They are less sturdy than dynamic microphones but there are condenser microphones for stage use these days.

Finally, you have ribbon microphones, which use a little piece of metal vibrating in a magnetic field. They are even less sturdy than condenser microphones, but they have some nice working properties if you are building a mic locker.

There are a few others, but they aren't popularly used in recording..

In all cases, it's about consistency and attention to detail. With the notable exception of little things like gold spattering in the right places, these are not exotic materials, you are paying for careful design and for the manufacturer to take the time to make sure the microphone assembled and adjusted properly. That a 6 micron diapghragm is evenly 6 microns throughout and that the push/pull pair of components, out of the stack of them, is within a fraction of a percent different, instead of differing by a few percent. And each type of microphone... and each model of microphone... has its own advantages and disadvantages.

This is why people talk about a microphone locker. It's not like you can buy 16 copies of the perfect microphone and be ready for anything. You may have one mic for vocals, another for guitar, a bunch of specialized drum mics, etc.

Shure cooked up a pair of standard dynamic microphones, the SM57 and SM58, years ago and they've kept them in production ever since. The SM57, with the accessory windscreen, has been the microphone used by presidents for decades. The SM58, which is similar but is more designed for live use, is a standard vocal mic. They pretty much represent the bottom-end of studio-grade microphones... if you buy a cheaper mic, it's guaranteed to be tossed out in the future. But, even if you've got a bunch of high-end mics, the SM57 and SM58 will stay in your mic locker. They have the Beta 57 and Beta 58, which have a different design that's oriented towards sounding "better".

Condenser microphones used to be specialized studio tools costing absurd amounts of money. Eventually, a bunch of manufacturers in China started making them for cheap. You can actually get a condenser mic for less than a SM57, complete with a USB interface. The problem is details. You can "juice" the circuitry so it sounds hi-fi, bose-style, which isn't going to sound right in a mix. Sometimes you discover that they put a medium-sized diaphragm that's cheaper to make and surrounded it by a brass ring so it looks like a large-diaphragm. Or just generally use cheap parts.

I purchased, on the account of Ronan's Recording blog, a MXL V67g and an SM57.

I used to cheap out on accessories. This is how I went for years without a proper mic stand. Eventually, I decided it was more important that I at least have a stand to work with. Since I record in my geekroom in front of my computer, I elected to get a tabletop stand and a boom atop it. This way, I can tilt my monitor up so I can still see the recording status, stand straight, and record, without having to set anything up.

It's apparently important to have a shock mount to prevent vibrations, including thumps from moving it around, from affecting the microphone. Especially when you have a fragile mic that doesn't like to be thumped. Live-oriented microphones tend to have shock-absorption built into the casing, whereas studio microphones assume that the engineer has a suspension shockmount set up.

It's also important to have something to prevent air noise, both from the environment and from aspirated plosives (P's for example). If you look at the SM58, it's got a ball around the microphone element.. and that helps a lot. So I got a two-layer pop-filter.

My intention with the SM57 is to get a good general purpose microphone. The SM58 is more optimized for vocal work, with the ball and better shock absorption. But the SM57 can do a perfectly good job of vocal work when you put a pop-filter in front. Some argue even better, actually, because you can put the vocalist even closer to the capsule with a pop filter and the SM57.

Ronan's commentary about the MXL V67g is that it's a decently priced condenser microphone for if you don't want to spend a lot more on the other microphone he considered to be decently priced... say the Shure KSM32. MXL is a division of Marshall so they presumably know more about what to not do than some random company. Honestly, I think it looks tacky. I'd much prefer that it be all gray like most of the traditional microphones.

I've been doing some recording and I did a bunch of vocal tracks, some with the SM57 and others with the V67g. And I found, both screaming and singing, that I really did like the V67g a lot more. It feels more accurate (which, to be fair, you could probably figure out from the frequency response diagram) both on the high and low ends. And, while it's generally regarded as a "dark" microphone, it feels brighter than the SM57, at least to my ears. Like... I didn't use a single SM57 take because I liked the V67g so much more.

I didn't try any takes without the shockmount... because it just looks sexier in a shockmount... but I did try it without the pop filter and noticed a difference there, as well. I prefer the pop filter.

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