Monday, June 22, 2009

Tiffany Microphones

If you followed my posts regarding home voice over studios and microphones, you noticed I haven't had much to say beyond getting started and settling in. I haven't reviewed Neumann mics or Avalon preamps and the like. This is because, as your experience grows, you need to listen to your ears more, and listen to people like me less. I can give you some advice if you ask, but overall you are the only person who can judge what works best for you.

A few months ago, I bought an AKG Perception 220 because of a low-low bargain deal I spotted. I paid about $160 all told, and I've been surprisingly pleased with the mic. My voice benefits from the mid to upper range sweetness of the AKG family. I started getting compliments right away, so the 220 has stayed on my mic stand and has become the workhorse. Not bad for under $200.

So, do I need a Neumann? Well, at the moment, my balance sheet says "No," and that may be all she wrote. But do you need a mic with a price tag over $1,000?

You should know that there are two mics that appear again and again in LA studios. One is the Sennheiser MHK 416, a hypercardioid "short shotgun" that rules the sound stages and Foley rooms throughout So Cal and beyond. It's a sleek beauty with a quality that makes your voice cut through the mix, not necessarily with balls, but with that "sweetness" I mentioned in the AKG. It's a different breed of mic than the typical studio condenser, and at an MSRP of $2,000, it's worth every penny. A nice choice if you don't like talking into a pop filter; the pattern on this baby lets you back off. But it will expose every bad habit you bring to it, and it can't make up for poor room acoustics. Yes, it will pick up your neighbor's dog barking... a block away.

The other is the stalwart of the recording booth, the one you're most likely to see in the behind the scenes voice recording footage of animated cartoons, the Neumann U87. At this moment, I should point out that Neumann is a religion all its own. They are that good. Neumann offers a wide selection of studio condensers with differences that range from the subtle - a U49 has a bit of high end loss when addressed off axis, which can be used to great effect to reduce mouth noises and sibilance - to the Holy Overengineered, Batman!" end of the spectrum. (Their most expensive mics, like the one that was on Jay Leno's desk, has infinitely variable pick-up patterns selected by remote control. Oh, and it comes in black.) The TLM series is transformerless design. The U's are old school Neumann. The M line is modernized classics like the 47. The BCM's are aimed at the broadcast market and contain the sole dynamic in Neumann's studio collection.

The U87 is a gentle, unforgiving, sensitive beast. If you're wearing headphones and have never used one before, the U87 will make you stop and go, "Whoa. I sound good." Unless you don't... then you'll stop and say, "Yeee cats! I sould like Gilbert Gottfried!" Your studio must be perfect. It too can pick up your neighbor's dog, but it'll be the best damn dog bark you'll ever record. At an MSRP of $3,800, that dog better sound like Harry Connick Freakin' Junior.

My advice is, if you can, test drive different mics at studios that have them, or a retailer, or make some professional connections and see if you can borrow one. (The friend that lets you borrow his Neumann is a friend indeed.)

Just like choosing a watch, you should pick the mic that you like. And you are the only person you need to impress. If you like what you hear when you test drive a Neumann, then by all means, get it. If you like Audio Technica, stay with it. And so on. Just don't be afraid to try something new once in a while. And grab a bargain when you can. You might be surprised.


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