MicrophoneWithout a doubt, the most important component in your recording setup is the microphone that you use to record the sound. There are hundreds of different commercial microphones available in the marketplace today, all with different features, and each with an advertisement flashier than the next. For general instrumental uses, condenser microphones are your best choice.

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{mosimage}Without a doubt, the most important component in your recording setup is the microphone that you use to record the sound. There are hundreds of different commercial microphones available in the marketplace today, all with different features, and each with an advertisement flashier than the next. For general instrumental uses, condenser microphones are your best choice. 

Get the Response You Need!

You want to make sure that the microphone will pick up vibrations in the frequencies that your band will be playing in. Most pianos, if properly tuned, produce notes of frequencies from 27.50 Hertz up to 4186 Hertz with the A above middle C being 440 Hertz. Most instruments that you are going to record fall into this range. Choosing a microphone with good frequency response in that range will help make certain that your microphone picks up all of the frequencies that are being played.

 

Size Matters

Condenser microphones have inside of them an object called a diaphram that picks up the vibrations from the music and translates it into electical pulses.  The size of this diaphragm is very important to the overall quality of the recording. In my experience a larger diaphragm provides a better overall tone quality, however small diaphragm mics will do nicely for most applications. Smaller diaphragms can be more tinny sounding, although this effect varies greatly from mic to mic.

Beware the Phantom!

Something else to consider when choosing a condenser microphone is how it is to be powered. Condenser microphones require something known as “phantom power.” Whereas  traditional dynamic microphones do not require a power source, condenser microphones do. Make sure that before you purchase a condenser microphone that you have recording equipment that can provide phantom power to the mic. In many cases, you can find condenser microphones that can be powered by a small replaceable battery. The only problem with this is that if you forget to turn off the microphone you will wind up replacing this battery quite often. Your best bet is to purchase a small mixer with phantom power to feed the micrphone and have this mixer dump the audio into your recording equipment. There are other benefits to this setup and they will be covered in other parts of this series.

What about Price?

Condenser microphones will in general cost more than a traditional dynamic handheld microphone. A single, high quality, condenser microphone will cost between $130 and $500. High end studio quality microphones can run as high as $1000 or more. In my experience you can do quite well with a matched pair of microphones (to provide stereo recording) that will cost less than $300 through most suppliers. I have used the AKG C1000S series microphones and the Shure PG81 series. Both work on batteries if phantom power is not available, and both provide excellent results and sell for around $250-$350 for the pair if purchased together.

If you are recording vocals or want to go to the next level of quality, consider the AudioTechnica AT3035 . This is a large diaphragm mic that is often used for recording a single audio source such as a solo singer or solo instrument. It usually comes with its own shock-mount to prevent ambient room vibrations from affecting the recording. Depending on your retailer you can find this microphone for around $200. This microphone's big brother, the AT3060 , promises a more warm, tube-like, sound quality but also boosts the price to around $500 per mic.

I always recommend that you purchase the best possible microphone that you can afford. If you do not, you will always wonder if that strange sound in your recordings is the result of your equipment or the microphone itself. If you use a high quality microphone you can often concentrate on the other items in the chain rather than wondering if it is the microphone's fault.

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