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1.1 Inexpensive Dynamic Mics:
Every studio has a few inexpensive dynamic mics laying around... these are generally used as a "work horse" rather than a mic you'd use to lay a subtle violin track. Many of the mics I have listed below all retail for under $150. Although these cheaper dynamics are better suited for live stage use, they can be used in the home studio with fairly good results. They aren't quite as responsive, tend to be noisier, and aren't very transparent sounding.
EV 868: This is a great kick mic, and they are about $200
EV RE-20: A very popular dynamic. Works well on bass drums, and as a voice-over mic.
Sennheiser MD421: A nice mic with a sound similar to an SM-57. There's a similar presence peak that makes it a great choice for the same types of applications (snares, guitar cabs, etc). Also works well in a bass drum and as a tom mic.
Shure SM-57: Low impedance dynamic mic. Usually used on guitar amps and instruments. These can take a wide dynamic range and sound fairly good. Also frequently used on snares.
ShureSM-58: A similar mic to the SM-57, except it has a globe- shaped windscreen, and is marketed more as a vocal mic tha an instrument mic due to a slightly different frequency response. The 58 is slightly more "muffled" sounding due to the addition of an internal foam windcreen.
V-Tech VT-1030: Very similar sounding to an SM-58 (it's less expensive, but aimed for the same market), although the output isn't as high, and the highs aren't quite as useable (it's a bit harsh), and they're a little noisy.
1.2 Large Diapragm Condensers:
Here's a list of a few microphones in the mid-priced range (up to $1250 or so). These will tend to sound harsh or bright compared to better mics like a Neumann U47 or similar, but are a large improvement over the SM-57 and SM-58 styles of dynamic mics. All of these mics are condensers, and require phantom power to operate. Large diaphragm condensers are not useful for all purposes. They have some strange off-axis responses and a different sound to them. I suggest you experiment with one before you buy it. Try it on a variety of sound sources. There are some generalizations that can help in your mic selections. Larger diaphragm mics are not usually very transparent, they add their own color to the signal. The larger diaphragm often responds better to bass, as well as quieter sources. Large diapragm mics are usually the first choice for vocals.
AKG C3000: Can be very brittle sounding, more so than other similar mics, but is still a very useful mic.
AKG 414: There are many different models of the 414, but in general, they have a lower output than an AT4033, but aren't as bright. The mic also seems to be more transparent in the midrange.
Audio Technica AT4033 : Medium diaphragm condenser mic. Has a single capsule and is locked in a cardioid pattern. Sounds very good on acoustic guitars. Has a built in 10dB pad to increase it's dynamic range (to 150dB max) and has a switchable 80Hz bass roll off
Audio Technica AT4050 : A little more expensive than the 4033, but has two large diaphragm capsules allowing a choice of 3 patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional and figure 8).
Audio Technica AT4060: Similar to the 4050, except it has tube electronics rather than solid state.
Cad Equitek E-100 : Great general purpose mics, works great if ordered as a matched pair. Fixed in super cardioid pattern. The pattern is tight enough it works well in bad sounding rooms. Works well on acoustic guitars. This is a single capsule design using the same element as the E-200.
Cad Equitek E-200 : A better sounding mic than a single E-100. Can handle high SPL's (137dB) so it's good for wide dynamic ranges. May be used on amps, but tends to have a pronounced midrange hump that can make it sound boxy. Has a selectable polar pattern and two capsules. Has 16dB of self noise.
Gefell UMT70S: Very smooth mic. I believe it has M7 capsule (replica I assume), the same capsule used in the respected Neumann U47. The mics sound different, but they share a smooth quality. This mic also has a selectable polar pattern.
Langevin CR 3A: An extremely good sounding mic at a fairly reasonable price. They cost around $1000, but can be found used for $750. They're very similar sounding to a Neumann U-67. Full and clear without being too bright.
Neumann TLM 103: A new leader in the cheaper end of the mic world. This allows great performance at a reasonable price. This mic is a little darker than many similarly priced mics (which usually tend to have harsh high ends). Sells for around $1000
Oktava VM100: A Russian made cardioid tube condenser, priced around $650
Rode NT-1: Inexpensive large diaphragm condenser mic, very comparable to AT4033 or E-100. It's locked in a super cardioid pattern, and has one element.
Rode NT-2: Seems to be more tonally flexible than E-200, more on par with the AT4050. Has two large diaphragm capsules and a 2 way selectable pattern. Unfortunately, this mic tends to vary considerable from unit to unit. Some sound great and some sound awful. Listen closely when you audition them, and A/B a couple if possible. The upper end tends to be brittle, but the bottom end has a very nice sound.
Shure KSM32: A relatively new mic, and Shure's only notable large diapragm model. A single capsule model that's locked in a cardiod pattern. This is supposedly an excellent sounding mic, and comes in just around $1000 with a shockmount and aluminum case.
1.3 Small Diapragm Condensers:
Generally, I like small condensors for spot micing... on acoustic guitars, some guitar cabs, drum overheads, etc. They have a lower output than a larger diapragm, but are sometimes less colored sounding. These are often a great choice for a stereo pair. These are also a good choice if you need the detail of a condenser mic, but you need a little less sensitivity than a large diapragm (to avoid ambient noise).
AKG C1000: One of my least favorite small diapragms. I find the high end very harsh.
Crown CM-700: Great sounding mic for this price range. Not as grainy in high frequencies. It's a small diaphragm condenser with a cardioid pickup pattern. Works very well on vocals, acoustic guitars, drum overheads.
Neumann KM-84: A very clean sounding mic. These cost around $850 used. They offer a 10 dB pad, and are useful as a drum overhead, or on acoustic guitars. Quite expensive, and no longer available new.
1.4 Ribbon Mics:
Ribbon mics are a great addition to any mic locker. I currently don't own any, but would like to pick up a pair shortly. By nature, most ribbon mics are a figure-8 polar pattern, meaning they pick up a signal directly in front and behind the microphone. They pick up very little sound from the null on the sides, often having better rejection than a cardiod mic. I'd like to note than ribbon mics are quite moisture sensitive, and often volume sensitive (won't handle high SPL's). Also, phantom power may damage some ribbons (especially older models).
Ribbons are useful as drum overheads, distant room mics, vocal mics, brass and even on a quiet(ish) guitar cabinet. Generally they are a very colored sounding mic, and ofter a nice sound to make a specific track stand out a little. Popular models include:
Royer R-121: A traditional monoaural ribbon mic
Royer/Speiden SF-12: A dual element ribbon mic for stereo micing in a Blumelin array. The two ribbons are stacked above each other at 90* angles
1.5 Auditioning Microphones:
There are several techniques for auditioning a new mic for your studio. One viable technique is to use a mixer, cd player, good monitors and closed ear headphones. Basically you set up a mic on the speaker, and listen to it through the headphones. Obviously, you're hearing the sound of the speakers with this technique... so you have to bear that in mind. You'll need to move the mic around the room, and listen to it's response from different angles and distances.
It's also very important to listen to mics on real voices and instruments. Check the mic on a singer (or your voice, if you'd like), a guitar, cymbals, etc. When checking the mic, try close micing, as well as more distant micing. This will give you an idea of what the incoming reflections sound like with the mic. I also like to experiment with the angle of the mic to hear the off-axis sound. It's also wise to see how the mic responds to plosives (popped P's, etc) silibance (hisses) and handling noise/shock. You should try hissing in it, saying plosive sounds (Puh, Puh) and thumping the mic stand a little. These are problems that creep up during recording, and it's best to know what to expect from the mic before you buy it.
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