Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Answers to Questions

One person who asked for advice on home studios is responding to me via email, which is why you don't see her comments on this blog. That's OK. She asked a few questions I thought I should post here for everyone's benefit.

The Audix OM3 is a good choice, but don't pay too much for it. Comparison shop against the Shure SM58 for the best price. Since bands and major road tours order SM58's by the dozen, Shure can afford to sell them at lower prices. And CAD wants to undercut Shure, so there's a real bazaar going on for handheld dynamics. Take advantage of the free market.

You'll want a some kind of pop filter. Ask for a windscreen when you buy the mic. If possible, you want one made for that mic. Although they cost more, it's worth it. If there isn't a custom muff, a generic will do. Quick lesson:

Windscreen: aka "mic condom" fits over the mic itself. They tend to "warm" the sound. The way to go for most dynamic handhelds, since you want to get close.

Pop Filter: an annoying screen that is attached to the boom stand and held in front of the mic. Some are nylon, others are metal. They are more sonically transparent than windscreens and have no effect on the mic's frequency response. One pop filter can serve all your mics. Highly recommended for touchy condensers, and a must for ribbons. See the photo of Don LaFontaine.

Blast Filter: the internal screen built into a mic by the maker. Some are quite good. Most are not enough for close vocal work. Fancypants boutique mics barely put one on, that's why you can see the capsule through the screen from across the room. My Trion 7000 basically has a metal grid around it to protect the innards and that's all.

I recommend a good solid boom stand because it'll let you put the mic right where you want it. Quality stands won't tip over easily. Straight stands can be hard to position around a music stand, and I tend to to step on the feet while working, which creates rumble and knocking in the recording. Table stands can pick up rumble from the table, but they're nice if you have limited space.

Handheld dynamics roll off the low end of their frequency response usually at about 80 Hz. That means the mic itself is designed to ignore the sub-sonic rumbles of being handled on stage, and the thunderclaps of dancing and cavorting about on stage - another reason they make a good choice as a first mic. You shouldn't have to worry about shock mounting one of these as long you stand still while working.

I do like the so-called shock mount clips that come in the box with some mics. They hold the mic with a tight grip. Don't rely on just gravity to hold your mic in the clip. Quick-release clam-type clips are great on stage, but not very secure. If you start collecting mics, you'll find yourself leaving the mic on the mount it came with, and unscrewing the mount from the stand when you want to switch mics.

My friend has a friend in Scotland with a Numark DJ mixer. I'm not familiar with the Numark mixer, but it's certainly worth a try. Dynamic mics work well with DJ mixers. Put on the headphones, turn off the speakers, and turn up the mic pot all the way without a mic connected to the back. You'll her some hiss come up, but if you get a lot of hiss, you might want to do some more shopping. At normal operating levels, the mixer should not add hiss to your sound. If you are buying the one from your friend in Scotland, make darn sure it can operate on US voltage. 115-125 volts at 60 Hz.

High strung studio condenser mics don't usually get on well with DJ mixers because
A: no phantom power
B: the mic exceeds the limitations of the printed circuit preamp built into most of these mixers.

Trying to use a ribbon mic with a mixer preamp will make you babble and drool until the men in the clean white coats come to take you away.

There's no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to mic cables. While there are variations in how the connectors lock, the XLR connector is an international standard. Ask the dude at the music store for mic cable, and you'll get the right stuff. Any dynamic mic made since approx 1960 uses the same pins for the same thing. The Audix safely fits into the international standard. If it clicks, it fits.

Some fancypants condenser tube mics use special cables. Another reason we'll steer clear of those for now. Vintage mics made before Rock and Roll may have different polarity or different connectors, and we won't even try to start on impedance matching those mics. Keep it simple in the beginning, and you'll get good results.

And yes, I have seen supposedly pro gear with incompatible XLR connectors. A certain audio board at a certain civic center I know has XLR "line out" connectors that are not standard, thus rendering all output from that board out of phase with a certain television station's equipment. You have no idea how fun it can be to build a phase reversing 3-conductor cable connection in less than a half-hour.

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