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Post  Admin on Sun Mar 23, 2008 2:00 pm

09 Microphones

There are several different types of microphone you can buy. They work in slightly different ways, and have different uses as a result.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic mics are generally pretty cheap and very robust. The daddy of them all is the classic Shure SM58. This is the one with the end that looks a bit like a wire golf ball that performers from lead singers to stand-up comedians all use.

There are hundreds of other models to choose from though, and you'll almost certainly be able to get something of a pretty reasonable quality, even on a small budget.

Most people's first mic is a dynamic one. They're simple and pretty versatile. You'll probably find that they sound OK on everything from voices to guitar amps and brass instruments.

Dynamic mics are usually directional, which means that they only pick up the sound that's coming at them from the direction in which they're pointing. That's why they're popular for live use and why they can be handy for home recording. They'll tend to reject background sounds like the noise of traffic outside your house.

10 Other Microphones:
Capacitor/Condenser Mics

Dynamic mics are fine for gigs but can sound a bit stiff and dull in a recording. Capacitor, also known as condenser, mics tend to have a more open, detailed sound. So once you start to get your geek on with recording gear, you'll probably find one on your shopping list.

As we've already said, dynamic mics tend to respond to sound coming straight at them. The response of a mic to sound from different directions like this is known as its 'polar response.' Directional mics, have a polar response known as a 'cardioid' pattern because if you draw it out on paper, it looks a bit like a heart.

Some condenser mics have a cardioid polar response. Others have an omnidirectional pattern. They pick up sound equally from all directions. These might not be quite so suitable for use in an ordinary house as they'll pick up next door's telly or people shouting outside.

Posh condenser mics will have a switchable pattern so you can change from using an omni pattern for recording a drum kit in a studio or a choir in a concert hall, to a cardioid one for a singer.

You can pick up a very usable capacitor mic for 100 - 200, which will serve most home recording needs. There are absolutely tons on the market, even in this price range. The different models all have a slightly different sound.

When you're buying, book an appointment with a shop and take along the thing you're mostly likely to record with it - your singer or your favourite acoustic instrument. Try as many as you can and ask the shop about their returns policy. Most will let you bring it back and swap it for another if you get it home and decide it's not what you wanted. You usually have to do this within 14 days or so.

Capacitor mics require power to operate. Some will take an internal battery but others expect to be powered remotely from the mixing desk. This is done through a system called Phantome Power. You can find out more about it in our Mixers guide.

All you need to really know is that your desk or multitrack must be able to supply phantom power if you're buying a condenser mic that won't take batteries.

Other Microphones
There are other less common types of microphone. Most are designed for specific professional purposes so we'll skip the details for now.

But it's worth mentioning Pressure Zone mics (PZMs for short). They're especially good at picking up all the sound in a room, so they're great for recording things like band rehearsals.

11 Microphone Pre-amps:

This is a purchase that will come a little way down the line. Mics put out tiny signals. These are then amplified using a circuit called a 'mic pre-amp'. The pre-amp brings them up to a nice, healthy level before they're recorded. Initially, you'll probably do this using the pre-amps built into your mixer or soundcard.

Often these kinds of pre-amp are of a fairly low quality. To design really high quality ones into a mixing desk would increase the price hugely because you need one for each channel. For a desk with 16 or 24 channels that would mean that a small increase would be multiplied 16 or 24 times over the whole desk.

The quality of mic pre-amp in a soundcard can be limited because mic-level signals can be subject to electrical interference from other components in the computer.

Either way, it can limit the quality of your recordings because a poor quality pre-amp can make the best microphone sound bad. But if you only ever record one instrument at a time, then you only need one really good pre-amp.

For this reason, there are loads of stand-alone boxes on the market which offer a single, high quality pre-amp which you use for track-laying instead of the ones in your desk or soundcard. The box will put out a signal which you plug straight into your recording device. Many offer extra bits and pieces for tweaking the sound before it's recorded.

You can pick up boxes like this for as little as 100 or so.

12 Reverb:

Another early addition to a home recording setup is some kind of reverb box. Reverb is short for reverberation, which is an effect formed as a sound bounces around the room and back to your ears.

Imagine standing in a large hall and clapping your hands. You'd hear a long 'tail' as the sound dies away. It's caused by the fact that the sound of the clap shoots out in all directions. Some of it bounces off the nearest wall and comes straight back to you. Some goes to the far wall before it's reflected back. This sound will take longer to get all the way up the hall and back to your ears, so you hear it a fraction later. Some might bounce off two or three walls before it gets back to your ears and may take several seconds to make the journey.

These complex reflections are known as reverb, and can be simulated electronically. Adding reverb to a sound will usually make it sweeter and fuller. It's no accident that most karaoke systems have a built in reverb to flatter the sound of a bride-to-be singing 'I Will Survive' on her hen night.

The other effect of reverb is to bind a mix together. An electronic or software reverb is really faking the sound of a room or hall. So if you set up a reverb and add a dab of it to all the instruments in a mix, it'll fool your brain into thinking that they're all in the same room. So all those sounds recorded in different places at different times sound more like they're playing together.

Reverb is another area where a little money can buy you an awful lot. For less than a couple of hundred quid, you can pick up something that will add no end of polish to your demos.

Just don't get carried away - it's easy to go mad and pile it onto everything, which can make mixes sound a little amateurish.

Reverb often comes as part of a multi-effects unit. You buy one box and get a whole range of other effects that you can get creative with.

13 Other Effects:

The other effects that come in a multi-effects package are mostly based around digital delays.

In its simplest form, a digital delay will add distinct repeats of a sound. There'll be a control called something like 'delay time' which sets the time interval between repeats and one, usually called 'feedback,' which sets the number of repeats that you get. It doesn't sound very interesting in itself, but it can make things sound really trippy and can produce some interesting effects.

Using a delay, three other effects are possible and they're often pre-set into multi-effects boxes. 'Phasing' is that kind of whooshing effect that was popular with psychedelic bands in the '60s. 'Flanging' adds a metallic zing while 'chorus' which adds a lush sheen to instruments.

You'll probably also find a 'tremolo' effect which is like turning the volume knob up and down really quickly and is great for mashing up all sorts of sounds in a retro film soundtrack kind of way. You may also find a gate and/or compressor.

14 Compressers & Gates:

A compressor is a device which tames the loud parts of a signal. An instrument which goes from very quiet to very loud over the course of a tune can be pretty hard to record and mix. Either the quiet bits get lost or the loud bits overload.

You can use a compressor to turn down the loud bits automatically, making the instrument easier to record or mix. Compressors will also make instruments sound fatter and bigger. You can use them to beef up vocals and to bulk out your finished mixes.

A gate is also a device which reacts to the level of a signal. When the gate is open it simply lets any sound you plug into the input of the box straight through to the output. A closed gate doesn't let anything through - you just get silence on the output. The clever bit is that the gate is operated by the signal you put through it.

When the sound at the input is below a certain level, known as the 'threshold' the gate remains shut. When the input goes above the threshold, the gate opens and the sound is carried through to the output. Then when it drops back down again, the gate closes behind it.

A gate can be used, for example, to filter background noise from a signal. You set the threshold just above the level of the noise so that the gate is closed when only the noise is there. Then when the signal you actually want comes along, it'll push the input above the threshold and let itself through the gate. If the signal stops, it closes the gate behind it, chopping out the noise again.

These are all pretty pedantic explanations. You'll find that gates, compressors and other effects can be used really creatively. Once you start playing around with actual music and mucking about with the controls you can start having some real fun. Everyone with a home studio has a story to tell about getting lost in creating music and suddenly finding that it's 4am and there's no time to sleep before work.

Be warned - it's great fun but it's a slippery slope!

Via the BBC.


Well...actually, it's local Live music in Kent and Medway, but you get the idea...

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