Cheap Recording Tips 2

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Ramshackles

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« on: May 23, 2011, 01:26:20 PM »
Mics and Preamps

Microphones is where more money really does mean more quality (usually), and it is also a tricky area to cover, with plenty of different types of mics and competing companies.
There have been plenty of innovations recently, such as USB mics, which I know are very tempting as you can just plug-in and go. I dont have experience with these, but the consensus is they are often far inferior to similar priced condenser mics.
Im also gonna assume that you have followed part 1, and therefore are looking for something to plug into your mixer/soundcard.
There are really 2 types of mic - dynamic mics and condenser mics. Dynamic mics are the ones that you will typically use at a gig and can be picked up very cheaply. Condenser mics are the posher looking ones you see on pictures of bands recording etc and generally cost more.

As we are on a budget here, we really want 1 microphone which can be versatile and record our voice, instruments etc. (Note that there are plenty of mics which claim to be suited for specific things).
So, we are going to go with condenser mics. They are much more sensitive and accurate than dynamic mics, and so more versatile and usable in a studio situation.
'Why dont we use condenser mics live then, if they are so great' - I would say the answer is their fragility. Some condenser mics cannot take the extreme volumes of a live show, but generally you just dont want a nice posh mic being thrown around or whatever else bands do to it. Dynamic mics also have the ability to only accept sound coming directly into them, so for a singer with a whole band around him, they are useful as they will mostly just pick up his/her voice, whereas a condenser is more likely to pick up everything around.

Ok, so we want a condenser for recording, we want it to be versatile and a bargain.

Cheap options
I should warn you that mics are the most expensive piece of recording equipment you will probably buy, and again, they are the most likely to give better quality with more money. I:E the more you can spend the better!
EDIT 2012:

Im not gonna list many microphones here. There is a thread about buying a new mic which offers many options. I am going to offer 3 classic mics that are cheap, used in pretty much every 'pro' studio worldwide and were not mentioned in that thread:

Shure sm-57: Pro-standard 'live' dynamic mic since it came out. Michael Jackson recorded his vocals for the thriller album on it, but it is usually lauded as an excellent electric guitar mic. You can get it used for about ~£50.

Shure sm-81: Small diaphragm condenser, superb on acoustic guitars, especially in a stereo pair. I picked one up for £80 off ebay.

Electrovoice RE-20: Another dynamic mic, very versatile and used on just about everything.

Microphones come in all shapes and forms; dynamic mics, Condensor (sometimes called capacitor mics) with both large and small diaphragms, which have their own sub categories: electret mics, ribbon mics, tube mics. Each type has different characteristics and within that, each brand/model has it's own characteristics.

Condensor mics are typically finely-detailed, with large-diaphragms having a better bass response than small-diaphragms (which are often preferred for mic'ing acoustic instruments due to their finely detailed high-end).
Dynamic mics are often characterised as sounding 'thick' and 'punchy', but are famously naff at mic'ing acoustic guitars, violins, pianos etc due to their lack of detail. Often used for rock vocals and crunchy electric guitars though and almost always for close micing drums as dynamics can take a much better beating




Quality for Money Option
If you have a bit more money, or are willing to work a bit harder, there are some slightly more expensive mics out there that are well worth it. I own a Rode NT1-A. I was attracted by its claim to be the 'worlds quietest mic'. It definitely lives up to its hype, this mic will be adding virtually no extra noise to your signal, meaning you get a very true representation of the sound that goes in. It has proven very versatile for me, equally good at recording vocals as acoustic instruments - All the songs Ive posted in this forum were done with this mic.
IVe also heard good things about the SE ELECTRONICS SE 2200A. Both these mics are in the £150-200 price range (depending on bundled extras). So a good deal more than the cheaper options, but as I said before, mics are one of the few things where more money generally does mean better equipment.  
Thats all I have to say about mics, now lets move on.

Pre-amps
Ill be honest, it is only recently that I have invested in a preamp and have long wondered the point. Many mixers come with built in pre-amps and if you have followed my previous post you might not need an extra one.
The main point of pre-amps is to boost the signal. You may have wondered why your recordings are so much quieter than commerical ones. You may have been told about 'clever compression', or the 'magic' of mastering. This could be true, but what is for sure is that the signal that was recorded was absolutely as loud as it could be without clipping/distorting.
Pre-amps can cost as little as £15. But these ones are often pointless if you have a mixer.
I have a behringer mic 800 (http://www.thomann.de/gb/behringer_mic_800.htm). My choice was based on price and the fact that it had 'tube modelling technology'. It was probably a mistake. Out of the different modelling functions, I now have it permanently set to 'normal'. At this, it does its job - boosting the signal, but for that I might aswell have gone with something a little cheaper. Or tripled my budget and gone with something like M-AUDIO DMP 3.

Bottom line: If your signal is really too quiet and you cant turn it up without distorting, you probably need a simple preamp.
If not, you dont.

Summary
So, my previous post included, we should now have a decent audio interface (some kind of mixer/soundcard combo or an all-in-one device) a very usable microphone and perhaps a preamp.
Going through my equipment, this means:
M-Audio Audiophile 2496 (~£60)
Phonic M1002 (~£15 from ebay, you can pick up a very usable mixer for £20-35 new:
http://www.thomann.de/gb/phonic_am_120_mk_ii.htm).

And for the microphone a Rode NT-1A (£150, but often they come in bundled sets (with stand, pop filter and shock mount) for a little extra).

I also splashed out £30 on a probably pointless preamp.
Overall, thats ~£225 and we are pretty much ready to record.

'ARGH, thats too much!' - no worries, the most expensive thing there was clearly the mic. If we take one of the usable, but cheaper options, we are looking at £50 for the mic. I also started with a behringer U-control rather than a proper soundcard, which is also usable. Then we are looking at a price closer to £100.

'I have a little more, what should I upgrade' - So, maybe you have just enough money to get a slightly better version of 1 thing, but which? Well, imo, a soundcard is a soundcard is a soundcard, they do one thing and there is pretty much one way to do it, ergo they all do it well enough. Upgrades on the audiophile wont deliver any dramatic performance improvements, rather just some more (+ more fancy) input/output options.

The mixer can be a good option to upgrade. For very reasonable prices (£50 and up) you can get mixers which have more inputs, preamps, even some compression. But the biggest improvements you get from better mixers is a better signal/noise ratio and generally better reliability.

The mic is always a good option to upgrade. But I would think about getting 2 decent mics rather than 1 robo-mic, especially if you are recording acoustic guitars/pianos. A couple of NT-1As could do a much better job than a Rode K2 for example.

Also, be on the look out for 'packages' and B-Stock. These are most common on websites rather than high street shops. This can knock of a bit of cash.

Here are some points to be wary of:
1. You will need a mic stand and shock mount, you can pick up both for ~£10.
2. Pop filters are also important. They stop 'plosives' (s's and p's) from being to loud and annoying. You can make one yourself, all it is is basically a stretched out piece of thin foam about 10cm in front of the mic.
3. Of course you need a mic cable and relevant cables to connect the mixer and what not. Again, a cable is a cable is a cable. Some cables may advertise ultimate noise reduction or other BS, but there are much more important things to get first. The cheapest cables will be fine.
4. Take care of your mic!

Ok, thats it for this post. We now have a mic, which we send through the mixer and to the soundcard (or straight to the audio interface).

Thats all very well, but useless if you dont have a good enough program(s) to capture your sound. This will come in the next part, and smile! I will be looking at free software. Your major expenses are over. (for now :P)


I stress that I am in no way a professional, Im just writing what Ive experienced in recording music. Any questions you have about anything, just post and I will try to answer (or run and hide).








« Last Edit: May 01, 2012, 07:34:34 AM by Ramshackles »

makingasong

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« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2013, 08:55:16 AM »
The need for expensive mics isn't what it used to be.

A lot of great indie bands, like the killers, record everything live using a tiny dynamic microphone, like a beta sm57.

Paul Raz
http://www.makingasong.com/

This is plain wrong. SM57's are typically used a hell of a lot in studios, mainly for electric guitars. They have even been used for vocals (michael jackson). But, to suggest this is the only mic the killers (or most other bands) ever used, and that they just use 1 is mis-information...
« Last Edit: February 26, 2013, 09:35:58 PM by Ramshackles »

Ecoute

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« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2013, 06:55:23 PM »
@Ramshackles

Thanks so much for this post and going to the trouble of writing in detail.  It has been a great help. (I'm new to Songwriters Forum). I hope to have my own home recording studio and need to know about mics, etc. So glad to have come across this post. Condenser mic sounds like what I'm looking for, but with the price I may have to look at all options.

Much appreciated.

mickeytwonames

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« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2014, 02:00:58 PM »
Much appreciated.
I got a M7 condenser mic bundled with a Presonus USB audio mixer that works with Studio One SOFTWARE. The condenser mic occasionally emits a soft of wooshing sound in the background when turned up. I'm going to try a DI box with it for better volume control. Is that the right thing to do?
Mickeytwonames
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Davino

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« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2018, 02:15:49 AM »
Thanks!!!

Martinswede

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« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2019, 09:05:03 AM »
Hi Ramshackles!

Do you have any advice on plugins settings to make a 'listen' channel in a daw?
Maybe some eq and reverb to get headphone listening a bit more room like.

I'm looking at monitors, but that will be mostly for movies/spotify. The price curve seems very steep. From 100£ and sky's the limit.

Thanks,
Martin