Studio Microphones

I find it rather difficult to find a productive place online to discuss studio-grade microphones. There are many forums on the internet where the topic is discussed, but unfortunately I find most of the other message-boards/sites that focus on microphones to be toxic and unhelpful. There seem to be many threads here on lines focused on field recording, electret microphones, hydrophones and other specialized microphones and techniques, but I hope this thread can serve as a place to discuss capturing sound with microphones in a more traditional studio setting.

Microphones are a rather recent obsession of mine. I have a small collection and look forward to sharing my opinion on each. In the (failed?) attempt to keep this post from getting obnoxiously long and in the spirit of inviting others to share their own thoughts, I will only touch on my favorite pair of microphones for now –

I have a pair of Telefunken M60’s small diaphragm condenser (SDC) mics with cardioid capsules that I absolutely adore. They sound balanced, natural and slightly vintage. When used as a pair, their stereo image is impressive. When used alone, they shine on vocals, capturing a warm low end and intimacy I have never heard with another SDC. In fact, I always go for one before grabbing my more expensive large diaphragm condenser (LDC). I mostly use the M60s for recording acoustic guitar, vocals and as room mics but they shine on almost everything. I hope to pickup a pair of omni capsules soon. The only issue with the cardioid capsules is that they are exceptionally sensitive to humidity (both indoors and outdoors). Humidity has a detrimental effect on their noise floor, which on a dry day is otherwise non-existent. I now store them in a case with a silica packet and always use the provided wind-muffs on humid days. For the most part, these steps have solved the problem, but I still would not recommend these capsules for field recording, regular outdoor use, or extremely humid environments. I hope the omni capsules do not suffer from the same flaw (will report back), but even so, the humidity issue is a minor inconvenience when considering how sublime these microphones sound.

What are your favorite microphones for the studio?

10 Likes

My favorite microphone is definitely the Peluso R14 Ribbon microphone. I had the opportunity to use one at a friends studio a couple years ago when I went to go reamp some guitar tracks (we also used a condenser mic I really liked, the Soyuz Bomblet). When I got back with the stems and started mixing, I was blown away by that mic. On a guitar cab, it gives incredibly full range (down very deep) in a way that I honestly thinks sounded even better than the amp in the room. He was kind enough to let me borrow it a few months ago so I could try it out in my recording room in my house, and it was as nice and full as I remember it.

I was curious how it would work with non-guitar material, so I reamped a very transient-filled track through my amp, left and right channels one at a time, adding a little spring reverb and mic’ing the cab with it, did incredible with that too (I think ribbon mics do really cool stuff to transients, sort of rolling them over but maintaining the presence).

I still haven’t procured my own yet, but I hope to one day, really a very nice mic!

4 Likes

Curious to see the discussion here. I became so suspicious of all the audiophilia-adjacent pseudoscience surrounding microphones that I just bought a u87 based purely on resale value retention. would maybe consider doing the same for the telefunken u47 if I decided to throw 10k or something absurd at it. suppose I’m solidly in the mimetic value camp. greater fools game?

4 Likes

The only thing I own for myself at the moment that I really dig is an RE20. Maybe my favorite mic- it’s just so versatile and sounds amazing on kick, bass, and especially voice.

But I did have the privilege of playing with almost every studio mic you can think of when I was at Berklee. An unexpected standout to me then was the Earthworks TC30, specifically in a pair. During one session, we had mic’d up a drumkit with every mic in the cabinet to see how they all sounded. For giggles we tried putting the TC30’s in diagonal opposite corners of the room. It literally sounded better than anything else we’d tried that night, and with all sorts of more traditional configurations. Never had a microphone make me feel like I was right there in the room with the sound like that. They sound killer on piano as well.

11 Likes

Buying mics based on resale/investment value is an absolutely right way to do it if you can afford the entry. The well known mics retain or go up in value. The “cheap” ones do not (but even there, if one amortizes it out over the life of the usage you’ll find you’re paying $100/year if you use it 10 or 20 years and that’s not so bad so long as you enjoy the mic).

3 Likes

I’ve been wanting to upgrade but have continued to put It off because I’ve been pretty happy with the pair of AT2035’s that I own. Great cheap mic. They have been solid but I’m very curious how they compare with nicer large diaphragm condensers like the TLM103.

@jlmitch5 do you know how the R14 compares to a Royer 121?

2 Likes

I spent years buying and selling many different microphones until about three years ago when I finally found a consecutive serial number pair of Neumann KM84s from 1977, for a reasonable price (from an old Belgian TV recording studio). I bought brand new matched capsules for them from Neumann (sold the old ones on Reverb), and had them looked over and restored (mainly new capacitors, resistors and screws) by Andreas Grosser, an ex-Neumann tech in Germany.

They are wonderful. I mainly use them for acoustic guitar, but have also used them for reamping through studio monitors, guitar cabs, percussion, and even vocals. They always just sound “right”, and the resulting recordings need far less faffing with come mix time.

I sold all my other mics, as I really don’t think anything else I had compared. I’d need to spend a lot to get, for example, a vocal LDC or nice ribbon that would compare in quality.

The only thing left is for me to buy a pair of new KK83 capsules from Neumann. They still sell them, and I like the idea of experimenting with Omni as well as Cardioid. It would mean I could get up really close to things without any proximity effect.

It was expensive all in, but well worth it, and I will never let them go!

7 Likes

12 Likes

I went through a fancy mic phase after I sold all my modular the first time, I just sold the remnants of that collection to buy a grid and more modular. still have my 4038, just a great mic that sounds good on everything, even if it isn’t really a great lead vocal mic. but I will second the RE20, I have one on loan and I should have bought it before any of my other mics. vocal magic on anybody and then it also does all those other things. I borrowed an SM7 at the same time wanting to A/B them and it was no contest.

6 Likes

K, I’ll throw an inexpensive wild card in the pile.
Electro-Voice 635a omni dynamic.
Used they go for $70-100, new $140.
It has a great “tape-y” flat feel. Takes EQ and saturation/distortion well. Sounds great on vocals, sax, drum room, etc… I usually throw it on as an alternate or experimental option, not always right but often really cool. Top left is a EV666, also have a 666R. Got some decent prices on those and couldn’t pass them up due to, you know…666. Below is most of my dynamic mics.

5 Likes

I have to check this one out. I’ve been on the lookout for a new mic as I only have a cheap rinbon one which is fine but fire of 8 pattern isn’t very practical for my use. Something simple I could use for speech, occasional singing and sometimes recording random stuff at home. Rode m3 has been on my radar as has classic SM57, I think I really want SM7B but can’t justify the price for my use, the new Presonus lookalike of that is also decently interesting but can’t find too much info on that.

1 Like

ooh fun, what’s this one?

I was watching some Buck Owens Ranch shows and they had the 666s on vocals and I was kinda shocked at the way Buck and Don could work the same mic, terrific off axis response on those mics, apparently.

1 Like

AKG D120 E, all omni dynamics on the right.
EV 635A, EV PL9 & EV 654A

My favourite mic definitely is EV RE20, good for all applications. Also I have a SM81, it has own characteristic, a bit dull on the mid, but sometimes interesting.

3 Likes

huge fan of the soyuz 103 FET small diaphragms - bigger and slightly darker than most other small condensers i have, love them as an OH pair on drums and on acoustic guitar. also adore soyuz’s bomblet mic, sounds insane on most upper register vocalists and huge on a guitar cabinet. also they’re both super common, but no one should overlook the shure sm7 (what other $300 mic routinely beats $5k mics in a vocal shootout?) and the akg 414 (just a swiss army knife that goes from vocal to room to drums to acoustic and sounds great everywhere)

12 Likes

I spent a fair amount of time over on the Electrical Audio forums 14 or 15 years ago trying to learn about recording and microphones. The mics I have leftover from that jaunt are a matched pair of Josephson C42 SDCs, an RE-20, an MD-421, and a couple of cheaper dynamic mics. The Josephsons sound good, but perhaps a little too pronounced in the high-frequences - generally good for overheads, but not as much low end as one might like for general purpose things.

I have some overlap with the 421 and the RE-20, which made sense at some point when I was trying to record rock music in the garage (one for toms, the other for bass amp), but at this point, it’s not really well diversified.

I’ve been considering getting an AKG C414, or similar LDC (TLM-103?), but haven’t managed to prioritize a new mic over other gear. (The RE-20 does the job as a vocal mic, though I always wonder if an SM-7 wouldn’t be better)

I’ve always wanted a 4038, and a 121, but never had enough reason to justify forking over the cash for either. The bomblet looks really interesting

2 Likes

I am incredibly fortunate to have had the cash this year to pick up this beautiful pair of km84’s. They are not strictly “matched”, but I find the close tolerance on these mics more than good enough for use as a stereo pair. It took a long time of trawling through eBay to find them in as good condition as these, but I’m happy I waited. I use them as a spaced pair on my pianos, and they sound absolutely amazing. I tried a few other mics before settling on these; a pair of Oktava SDCs and a Neumann TLM 103, but they both had a bit too much upper end harshness, especially the 103. I can see why people rave over these km84s, they pick up so much detail without any harshness or upper end boost that a lot of modern mics have.

This is my newest repair project, an old RFT 7151 tube mic build circa the 1950s. I just got it in a few days ago, so I haven’t done much diagnosing yet. This mic is interesting as it has a tube preamplifier built into the body. Because it takes 220v mains directly into the mic it can cause bad hum, so what is commonly done is to relocate the power circuity to an external power supply and run only dc to the mic. Lots of work to do including rewiring the internals, cleaning up the body, making a connector for it ( they are basically impossible to find nowadays), and building the external power supply.

The capsule is the famous Neumann M7, it still has the original PVC membrane which looks to be in good condition, but it’s hard to say for sure until I get the mic working. Another hard part is going to be finding a mic stand that can hold it! It’s just over 2kg, so I don’t think a cheap k&m stand is going to cut it. :stuck_out_tongue:

4 Likes

Send the mics to Andreas Grosser and he’ll match the insides for you, he did that to my pair, they came back much closer than when they left. There may be other options more local to you. I also went all out and bought two new KK84 capsules direct from Neumann cos I really wanted a perfect match for stereo. I need to get a pair of KK83s next, for Omni. They are by a mile the best mics I have ever used.

3 Likes

Advanced Audio CM67SE

Fantastic take on the Neumann U67
I used in on almost every instrument and vocal on this project I produced of the music of Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach:

2 Likes

Hey! I don’t have any direct experience, so I asked the person I borrowed it from. He said that it is a little darker/more low end due to a longer ribbon element. He said the R14 is based off vintage rca ribbon designs

2 Likes