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Selecting Microphones

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Selecting Microphones Powered By Docstoc
					SELECTING MICROPHONES FOR THE “NAKATHON” OR FOR ANY AUDIOPHILE QUALITY RECORDING.
by Kermit V. Gray

INTRODUCTION
Microphones do more than pick up sound and convert it into an electrical signal for you to record. Microphones shape tone in subtle and in dramatic ways that no equalizer ever could. Microphones flatter a sound, covering up unpleasant aspects of the sound. Microphones give an illusion of size or fullness to an instrument that otherwise sounds cheap and small. Conversely, microphones can exaggerate defects otherwise barely noticeable, add harshness that otherwise isn't present or give a recording an overall cheap sound. The right microphone for a job may not be that expensive Neumann, popular electret, or esoteric boutique tube condenser microphone. It may be a more humble dynamic made by AKG, Shure, Sennheiser, Beyer or ElectroVoice. How do you pick the right microphone? Ignore ads, ignore price, ignore specs, and don't get hung up on brands, or image, or some famous person's recommendation. Listen, listen, listen. Borrow, rent or "stop by and try" (in a studio, at a friend's or at a music store), comparing what you hear through the microphone to the actual instrument or musical performance taking place live before you. If the microphone doesn't make the instrument sound as good or better than it does in real life WITHOUT equalization or other processing, then try another. A bass roll-off switch is desirable because it reduces muddiness from room gain (boomy, excessive bass caused by room resonance), proximity effect (excess bass up close caused by cardioid patterns), and reduces pickup of wind noise, traffic rumble and HVAC noise. Attentuators, also referred to as “pads” are recommended for condenser microphones to prevent harshness caused by overloading their internal amplifier during loud sounds or sharp transients.

DYNAMIC RANGE ISSUES
Dynamic range is an issue for some applications. Because of the plucking action of the strings, harpsichord, clavichord and some Asian string instruments exhibit sharp transients that are 40 dB above the level of the sustained sound of the instrument. Similarly, Bosendorfer and Steinway D pianos, some African percussion instruments exhibit similarly sharp transients. This poses a challenge to most microphones and will cause a fair amount of distortion and lack of the bright, rich overtones that characterize these instruments. In these instances, you have THREE problems to solve: the dynamic range (headroom) of the mic, the dynamic range (headroom) of the preamp and the tonal balance of the mic. Problem 1: the dynamic range (headroom) of the mic. In other words, how much SPL can it handle? The SPL specification for a dynamic or ribbon mic are usually referred to some level of THD, typically either 0.5% or 3%. But, the SPL specification for a condenser is referred to either a THD level, which seems to be a different percentage for each brand of mic, or to the onset of clipping. So,

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comparing the specification sheets can be quite difficult! Two microphones can both quote 128 dB SPL but one may be referred to 0.5% THD while the other is referred to the onset of clipping. The first mic will be able to handle higher SPL than 128 dB, while the second one can't, so the two microphones aren't equal despite the same SPL specification. See? The low-level detail of harpsichord demands an almost impossible mic: sensitive with awesome transient response yet free of overloading. Close microphone placement close exacerbates the problem while distance microphone placement, such as what occurs with stereo microphone arrays, gives you a greater range of choices. Many studios close mic and choose the wrong microphone as well, assuming that the seemingly soft sounding harpsichord requires a sensitive FET condenser, ignoring those 40 dB transients. Knowing these things, you can immediately rule out any condenser mic lacking an attenuator. IF you use a true condenser, the vacuum tube/valve units usually have an edge because tubes don' hard clip as a rule unlike FETs. But these are pricey microphones. (Beware cheap tube condensers like PPA, MXL, Nady and others — they're electrets with starved-plate head amps. These are good microphones, but they lack the headroom needed for harpsichord, clavichord and some Asian string instruments.) Fortunately, if you're on a budget, some dynamics and ribbons have a good balance of SPL handling and low-level detail. Don't be tempted to use the high-SPL dynamics or condensers sold as drum kit microphones (like the drum kit mic packages offered by Beyerdynamic, AKG, Shure, Peavey, Nady, CAD, Carvin, Audix, or ElectroVoice). True, they have the SPL capability, but they're pre-equalized for kick drums, toms, or snares. You need a flat response mic, not an equalized mic, of course. Problem 2: the dynamic range (headroom) of the preamp. In other words, how much signal can it handle and how noisy is it? This is a big problem: the preamp must be able to handle those 40 dB peaks without clipping yet be quiet enough that you can set a reasonable level. Because the perceived loudness of harpsichord is 40 dB below the peak level many recordists will overgain the preamp. Yet, too many preamps force you to overgain to stay far enough off the noise floor to get a clean take then promptly clip the transients because they lack the headroom. Tube preamps have a real edge with harpsichord as a result; in fact, they'll gently round the transients and behave as a sort of peak limiter, easing the dynamic range demands on the recorder itself. Then, tape compression can give you a bit more peak compression. Here's where analog, even Nakamichi cassette decks, have a real advantage over digital! Another PDF on this web site describes an excellent, yet simple and inexpensive to make do-it-yourself tube/valve preamp that possesses the needed dynamic range. It uses a single 12AX7A/ ECC83 per channel, has 50 to 55 dB gain, and is battery powered for both simplicity and noise superiority on a budget (yes, two of the batteries are 67-volt B batteries). As designed, it has no phantom power, unbalanced inputs and outputs, which should be no problem for dynamic microphones and mic cable runs of less than 10 Meters/33 feet. Anyone wanting phantom power or balanced inputs and outputs can easily add them, of course. Problem 3: the tonal balance of the mic. In short, flat, flat or flat — only. Any mic that has a problem with sibilance will make a harpsichord sound tinkly if you know what I mean. This means that don’t grab the studio's Neumann U87 (sibilance is a well-known problem with the U87) or any of the Chinese-sourced clones. Harpsichord is the one application that the U87 isn't ideal for — YET it's often the first mic a studio will pick. Now you know one reason why so many commercial recordings of harpsichord aren't that great. Many microphones have a presence peak between 5 kHz to 7 kHz; Shure is well known for this. Strangely, the small-diaphragm Neumanns, albeit excellent microphones, aren't flat enough and will sound tinkly or jangly with harpsichord, clavichord and some Asian string instruments.
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Following is a list of tried-and-true microphones perfect for use with the Nakamichi 500 or 550 (or any Nakamichi with built-in microphone preamps, the Nakamichi 610 preamp, or any of Nakamchi's

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stand-alone microphone preamps or portable microphone mixers). Taken from first-hand experience in professional studios and live commercial audiophile-quality recording. The following are chosen for balanced natural sound and "big label" feel. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every microphone ever made.

DYNAMIC MICROPHONES
AKG D125E cardioid — slightly bright but clear. Perfect for guitar, woodwinds, cello, viol da gamba. AKG D190E cardioid — sweet yet very natural sounding. Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! All around good general purpose microphone. Perfect for guitar, harpsichord, clavichord, woodwinds, cello, viol da gamba. Fragile windscreen, meager rumble suppression. The fragile windscreen isn’t a big negative. Just be aware of it and don't drop the mic. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. In fact, it was used to develop the Bird Foot array. AKG D200E two-way supercardioid — smooth yet sweet, very natural sounding, sounds like a condenser! Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! Perfect for piano, saxophone, and just about everything. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. AKG D202E two-way supercardioid — very natural sounding, sounds like a condenser!, darker sounding than D200E, bass rolloff switch. Fragile windscreen. The fragile windscreen isn’t a big negative. Just be aware of it and don't drop the mic. AKG D224E two-way supercardioid — very natural sounding, sounds like a condenser!, bass rolloff switch. Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! Perfect for pipe organ and just about everything. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. AKG D1000E cardioid — sweet yet very natural sounding, bass rolloff switch. Same sound otherwise as D190E. Fragile windscreen. The fragile windscreen isn’t a big negative. Just be aware of it and don't drop the mic. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. AKG D1200E cardioid — sweet yet very natural sounding, bass rolloff switch. Basically a restyled D1000E. Fragile windscreen. The fragile windscreen isn’t a big negative. Just be aware of it and don't drop the mic. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Altec 683B cardioid — slightly dark but clear and detailed. Perfect for guitar, woodwinds, cello, viol da gamba, piano. Beyerdynamic M201 dynamic supercardioid (also sold as Revox M3500) — a very detailed microphone, wide dynamic range, extremely flat, detailed and rugged. Ideally suited for all acoustic instruments, including those with difficult transients. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. ElectroVoice 635A omnidirectional — recommended more for folk, bluegrass, non-orchestal acoustic; bass rolls off below 80 cps, treble above 13 k/c; yet very smooth and natural. Built like a tank. ElectroVoice 660 cardioid variable-D — recommended more for folk, bluegrass, non-orchestal acoustic; bass rolls off below 80 cps, treble above 13 k/c; yet very smooth and natural. Built like a tank. ElectroVoice DS35 cardioid — recommended more for folk, bluegrass, non-orchestal acoustic; bass rolls off below 60 cps, treble above 13 k/c; yet very smooth and natural. Built like a tank.

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ElectroVoice PL5 omnidirectional (same as 635A). ElectroVoice PL6 cardioid variable-D (same as 660). ElectroVoice PL95 cardioid (same as DS35). Sennheiser MD421U-II supercardioid dynamic — Has 150+ dB SPL capability and 40 - 18,000 Hz response. Excellent for all instruments, including classical guitar, kick drum, snare drum, toms, percussion, harpsichord, clavichord and some Asian string instruments. It is ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Sennheiser MD441U supercardioid dynamic — Has amazing 150+ dB SPL capability and nearly 20 - 20,000 Hz response. Excellent for all instruments, including classical guitar, kick drum, percussion, harpsichord, clavichord and some Asian string instruments. It is ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Shure 545 unidirectional — natural with presence peak. Contrary to rumors, it is not voiced the same as SM57; it's more neutral and natural; BUT has lower output than most dynamics. Shure SM53 or SM54 unidirectional — natural with presence peak. More for rock or country. Shure SM57 unidirectional — punchy bass with presence peak. More for modern country, hard rock. Snare, toms, vocals, electric guitar amplifier. At one time, the SM57 was widely preferred over the SM58, and is the official mike of the Office of the President of the United States since Nixon. Shure SM58 unidirectional — punchy bass with presence peak. More for modern country, hard rock. ACTUALLY it has the SAME frequency response as the SM57! Alas the ball windscreen robs it of quite a bit of low-level clarity, so the SM57 has the edge. Shure SM59 unidirectional — very natural sounding, with no presence peak. Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! One of the most accurate microphones ever made yet often overlooked or ridiculed as a "televangelist mic." Perfect for piano, guitar, all string instruments, woodwinds and jazz combos; also as overheads. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Shure SM60 omnidirectional — very natural sounding. Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! Perfect for piano, guitar, all string instruments, woodwinds and jazz combos; also as overheads. Try it on kick drums and it'll change the way you record drum kits forever. Turner 510 cardioid — very natural sounding, but almost dark. Perfect for piano, guitar, all string instruments, woodwinds. Turner S500 cardioid — very natural sounding, but almost dark. Perfect for piano, guitar, all string instruments, woodwinds.

RIBBON MICROPHONES
AEA R88 Large Ribbon Stereo Microphone — Essentially a stereo, modernized version of the classic RCA 44 and as such as that "big ribbon" sound. Ideal for recording combos, brass instruments and choruses. AEA R84 Large Ribbon Studio Microphone — An outstanding general-purpose microphone based on the classic RCA 44, and it is ideally suited for vocals, brass instruments and violins. Beyer M130 — Figure-8 pickup pattern. Ideal for M/S or Blumlein arrays. Incredible clarity, amazing transient response, condenser-like sound. Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! One of the few microphones that is never screechy with violins or harsh with brass instruments. Flawless for vocals and in many ways beats the Neumann U87! Often used on scoring stages in the strings sections. Beyer M160 — Cardioid pickup pattern. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Incredible clarity, amazing transient response, condenser-like sound.

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Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! One of the few microphones that is never screechy with violins or harsh with brass instruments. Flawless for vocals and in many ways beats the Neumann U87! Often used on scoring stages in the strings sections. Beyer M260N and M260.80 — Cardioid pickup pattern. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Incredible clarity, amazing transient response, condenser-like sound. Excellent for use with the Nakamichi 500, 550 and 610! One of the few microphones that is never screechy with violins or harsh with brass instruments. Flawless for vocals and in many ways beats the Neumann U87! Often used on scoring stages in the strings sections. The M260.80 has a low-cut characteristic when positioned more than two feet away and is fitted with an XLR connector. The M260N is more linear in the bass and is fitted with a DIN connector. Best phase response of any microphone other than the more expensive Beyer M130 and M160 ribbons. Royer R-121 — Excellent for guitar, trumpet, flute, kick drum, and vocals. Essentially the Bang & Olufsen ribbon microphone modernized. Royer R-122 is the R-121 with a built-in phantom powered pre-preamplifier. Royer SF-1, SF21 and SF-24 — An ultra-compact, monaural ribbon microphone, exhibiting flat frequency and a well-balanced, panoramic soundfield. Exhibits superb transient response and its frequency response is excellent regardless of the angle of sound. Royer SF-12 is a stereo version of the SF-1. Royer SF-24 is a stereo version of the SF-1 with a built-in phantom powered prepreamplifier.

SMALL DIAPHRAGM CONDENSER MICROPHONES
AKG C451E, C451EB — This was one of the all-time great studio condenser microphones for overheads, acoustic guitar, classical guitar, woodwinds and stereo microphone arrays (ORTF, XY, KVG Labs Bird Foot, Nakamichi 3-Point). The reissue is the C451EB; it has a bit more brightness than the original. AKG C 535 EB — A handheld condenser microphone for vocalists, it has a slight rise in high-end response. AudioTechnica AT813A — sounds like vintage Nakamichi CM-300 microphone and typically sells for about $150 each new. Can use ordinary AA sized alkaline battery instead of phantom power with slight loss of dynamic range. Has that 1970s sweet-ish but almost brittle treble sound that characterized electret microphones, yet very detailed, balanced and natural if not used up close. I had three and enjoyed them until they were stolen. Slightly too noisy for quiet chamber music or classical guitar. Crown CM-700 Cardioid — The CM-700 is a studio classic for recording all acoustic instruments, especially classical and acoustic guitar and drum overheads. Slightly crisp sounding and low noise performance. Ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. DPA 4003 Omnidirectional Hi-Voltage Condenser — This microphone has extremely wide dynamic range of the 4003, together with the wide range of acoustic pressure equalizers and protection grids puts the 4003 in top league of studio quality microphones. Unexcelled for all acoustic instruments, especially harpsichord, classical guitar, banjo, zither and dobro. DPA 4006 Omnidirectional and DPA 4011 Low-Noise Transformerless Cardioid — These microphones have become a worldwide studio standard for all acoustic instruments, especially harpsichord, classical guitar, banjo, zither and dobro. Earthworks SR77 Cardioid and SR78 Hypercardioid — Unlike most directional microphones, these

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do not sound hollow or "boomy," making them excellent for classical guitar and for use in XY, ORTF, KVG Labs Bird Foot and Nakamichi 3-point microphone arrays. Nakamichi CM-300, CM-700 and CM-1000 — These microphones have great clarity and good sensitivity, but they also have a real-world signal-to-noise ratio of about -50 dB and would handle only about 125 dB or so before clipping. Loud, true, but the cause of the reported harshness as the microphone clips briefly on loud transients. Common complaints were harshness when recording loud music, excessive noise and reliability problems (drop one and it often never sounds as good). Others complaints are that the microphones lose sensitivity after being used out of doors for months, a problem with early electrets because humidity can degrade their internal polarizing charge. Unless its owner was very diligent and careful, any old electret may have lost some output and frequency response. Neumann KM 183 Omnidirectional, KM 184 Cardioid — These microphones are precise and clean sounding, making them excellent for a variety of acoustic instruments, including acoustic guitar, wind instruments, strings, percussion and drums. Oktava MC-012, Mk-012 — A good Russian-made budget microphone for general uses. the MC-012 is sold only by The Sound Room and is very clean, detailed and sweet sounding. The Mk-012 was sold by the Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend; it is bass heavy in the extreme, almost dark and noisier than the MC-012. Neither excel at any particular application. Shure KSM109 Cardioid, KSM137, and KSM141 Switchable Omnidirectional — Each of these are neutral sounding, detailed, low noise microphones for general purpose studio recording. They do not seem to excel at any given application, however. Shure SM-81 Unidirectional — This is the studio standard for choir, overhead cymbals and acoustic guitar, and classical guitar recordings. Bass roll-off switch. Ideal for use in XY, ORTF, KVG Labs Bird Foot and Nakamichi 3-point microphone arrays. Studio Projects C4 Stereo Pair — Full, punchy sound, obvious coloration yet low noise and clarity. These microphones are more suited to pop music, rock, and country. Not recommended for any application that requires low-level detail.

LARGE DIAPHRAGM CONDENSER MICROPHONES
Be aware that big diaphragm microphones like the Neumanns require some care in positioning to get that "magic sound." They can also be prone to sibilance. No big deal, just think before you place...and practice. AKG C12, C12A, C414 Series and the Telefunken ELA M251 — These microphones excel at recording anything. These are truly “big label” microphones. The C12 uses a miniature vacuum tube, the C12A uses a nuvistor and the C414 Series are FET microphones. Telefunken ELA M251 is essentially an AKG C12 rebadged with minor component changes. These microphones excel at recording anything. These are truly “big label” microphones. Beyerdynamic MC 740 — Has 5 Switchable Polar Patterns, this is one of the most versatile studio microphones in its class. Beyerdynamic MC 834 — Cardioid Transformerless Microphone has an exceptionally high signal-to-noise ratio and a broad, natural frequency response making it excellent for every application from critical vocal work to percussion overheads. B.L.U.E. Baby Bottle, B.L.U.E. Blueberry, B.L.U.E. Cactus, B.L.U.E. Dragonfly, B.L.U.E. Kiwi, B.L.U.E. Mouse and B.L.U.E. The Bottle — An excellent range of hand-made microphones that are excellent for any purpose. CAD Equitek E-100 cardioid and E-200 switchable omnidirectional/cardioid/figure-8 servo con-

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denser — These have a built-in battery supply to boost their dynamic range, fast transients and quite flat response. Excels at classical guitar, kick drum, percussion, harpsichord, clavichord and some Asian string instruments. Unusually for a large diaphragm mic, it is ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Neumann U47, U87 and U89 are the vocal microphones that all others are judged against in pro circles. These microphones excel at recording anything. These are truly “big label” microphones. Neumann M 147 Cardioid Tube Condenser Microphone — Low self noise and high dynamic range makes this a very good all-purpose studio microphone. Neumann M 149 Tube Transformerless Tube Condenser Mic with Switchable Polar Patterns. — An updated version of the M49 omnidirectional that was once the standard for motion picture sound. A very good all-purpose studio microphone. Neumann TLM103, TLM 127, TLM 170R and TLM 193 — These are all very good all-purpose studio microphones. Shure KSM27 side-address cardioid — Externally biased 1-inch diaphragm, extremely low selfnoise. Frequency response has a presence peak for vocals. Sounds like the dynamic Shure SM57 would if it was made into a condenser microphone. More for modern country, hard rock. Snare, toms, vocals, electric guitar amplifier. Shure KSM32 Cardioid — Has a sweet open sound that is subtly flattering and detailed, yet somehow it feels rich, neutral and accurate. Frequency response has a slight presence peak for vocals. Excellent general purpose microphone or for close microphone placement on acoustic guitar, as an overhead on drums; and most string, woedwind and brass acoustic instruments. Unusually for a large diaphragm mic, it is ideal for M/S, ORTF, Nakamichi 3-point, and KVG Labs Bird Foot microphone arrays. Shure KSM44 Multi-Pattern Dual Diaphragm Condenser Microphone — Clean, open sound that is subtly flattering but its unique coloration may not be suited to exotic instruments, classical and chamber music genres or classical guitar. Studio Projects C1 Cardioid, C2 Omnidirectional, C3 Multi Pattern — Full, punchy sound, obvious coloration yet low noise and vcery good clarity. These microphones are more suited to pop music, rock, and country. Not recommended for any application that requires low-level detail or neutral, natural sound.

INSTRUMENTATION STYLE SUBMINIATURE CONDENSER MICROPHONES
These “super-omnidirectional microphones” provide incredibly realistic pickup, accurate harmonic structure and fast transient response. Excellent for classical acoustic guitar, strings, as overheads or for overall pickup of orchestra or combo when used in a 3-microphone spaced array such as that described in the Nakamichi Literature or in widely-spaced onmidirectional microphone stereo technique, exotic stereo arrays such as the Borud Shadow technique or Jecklin Disc technique. These microphones often lack attenuators, making for a tendency to sound harsh or brittle with harpsichord, clavichord and some exotic percussion. Also, these microphones are free-field calibrated, not near field calibrated like most microphones. They sound best when they are 3 feet to 25 feet away from the source, making them a good match to the Nakamichi 3-microphone method. To use such microphones up close, take a wooden ball about 5 or 6 inches diameter, drill a hole through it to match the caliper of your mic, assuming your microphones is omnidirectional, then push the microphone into the hole so that the end of the microphone is flush with the surface of the ball. This acoustically equalizes the microphone so that it behaves more like a traditional omnidirectional and doesn't brighten up so much when positioned up close.

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Earthworks QTC1, QTC30, SRO, TC20K and TC30K omnidirectionals — Rapidly becoming favored by audiophile labels and big labels alike for recording full orchestras and acoustic instruments that have complex harmonic structures or delicate sounds, including classical guitar, piano, and other exotic and Asian instruments.

KVG Labs
16371 Lake Point Drive Bonner Springs, KS 66012 USA 913-422-0957 http://www.woods-and-waters.com

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