Microphones are to musicians what camera lenses are to photographers. The only difference is, there are more inexpensive “quality” mics on the market for those operating on small budgets than there are for photographers.
Here’s a snapshot of my small, but versatile arsenal of mics I use in my home studio:
Studio Projects B3 (large diaphragm condenser)
One of my favorite condenser mics. It’s affordable, equipped with 3 pickup patterns and it sounds good.
Cardioid – good for vocals as well as instruments. The cardioid rejects sound from the back as well as the sides. For best results place the source directly in front of the mic. Gain staging and distance should also be taken into consideration. I like to position my source 6-12 inches in front of the mic.
Omni – This pattern will allow the mic to pick up sound from all around the mic. That would be 360 degrees. What some people don’t realize is the Omni pattern is more natural sounding than the Cardioid pattern because it’s flat.
I like to use this pattern for acoustic instruments as well as capturing reflections in a room.
Figure 8 – This pattern allows sound to be back captured from 2 sides of the mic, both front and back. I’ve never used this pattern for anything
I use this mic for recording choirs, vocals, foley, instruments (all types). Aside from its versatility, I love its edgy sound.
Behringer B2 (Original Condenser Mic)
Another large condenser mic. I’ve owned it since I was about 16 years old. It was actually my 1st condenser. Funny story about this model. I did an A/B comparison with a U87 and it sounds damn near identical (except for the high end).
So, I purchased more of the exact same model hoping to turn a profit, but not much luck. A few were good, the rest weren’t even close, nowhere near the quality of the 1st. Behringer is a great company (kicking out affordable gear), but their quality control…
I use this mic for recording choirs, vocals, foley, instruments, ambiance, etc (everything). I like it a little better than the B3 because of its overall quality.
AT2020 Condenser Microphone
This is the cheapest large-diaphragm condenser mic I have in my arsenal.
I purchased it a few years ago because it was on sale ($70), and I wanted to try a mic from Audio Technica (I do that sometimes).
You can find them for around $70 – $99… sometimes cheaper
What I love about this mic is its clarity.
There’s a little warmth, not too much, as it’s a smaller large-diaphragm condenser mic, but it still does a pretty good job on the low end.
Best Uses For The AT2020
A little bit of everything. I find it to sound really good on female vocals as well as males with light voices. If you record Blue (Temptations) or Barry White, you’ll lose some of that natural rumble they have.
The problem most home studio owners face:
Having their computer in the same room they record in. They end up fighting fan noise throughout the entire mixing/editing session.
This wasn’t an issue with the 2020 surprisingly. Just make sure you aim the back of the mic at the sound you don’t want in the recording.
AT2020 USB Condenser Microphone
This is a USB version of the AT2020 condenser mic. It only has 1 pattern (cardioid) and is great for voiceovers and laying down ideas.
It has no filters or DB control on board. All gain staging must be done inbox (in the computer)
Very sensitive to noise, almost unusable in a normal office environment. Axis sound rejection? Mmmm… Not good at all, so it’s important to control the background noise as much as possible.
What’s The AT2020 USB Good For?
Despite the flaws mentioned above, the AT2020 USB has a really clean sound. It’s is good for recording vocals, instruments and perfect for voice-over work.
MXL 603s Stereo Unmatched: Perfect Rode NT5 Alternatives
A lot of home studios overlook small-diaphragm condenser mics. They’re good sounding on stringed instruments and capturing transients. What brought my attention to the MXL 603’s is the fact that they mimicked the rode nt5. The Rode is a little warmer, but at $50 a mic (at the time), I could deal with the slight loss in warmth. Not to mention, warmth was not a concern.
Where The MXL 603s Shines
Snares, hi-hats, darker symbols, and other types of high-end shimmery-like sounds. It really brings forth the detail in the instrument or source you’re recording. It even sounds good on vocals if lip-smacking and other details are what you want to capture.
For the money, the 603s is a perfect alternative to the rode nt5.
Shotgun Shell Mics (Custom)
Yes, I have 2 condenser mics made from shotgun shells. One is Cardioid the other is Omni. I use them when I’m on the go as they’re easy to carry around (right in the pocket).
The downside is they have low SPL which makes them very easy to overload.
SM58 Everyone Needs One In Their Home Studio
Every home studio should have a Shure SM58, it’s one of the best dynamic mics out there.
Why I got one:
Starting out, I needed a good vocal recording mic that wouldn’t break me. The SM58 was the answer. Before purchasing, I read a lot of reviews going on about how durable it was, they weren’t kidding.
How I’ve Abused The SM58:
I’ve dropped, tossed it around, run it over with my car, exposed it to high volume levels, submerged it in water, and had a dog chew through the wired mesh and it still worked perfectly. I did however get a new wired mesh to prevent plosives.
Most mics distort or damage at high SPL, the SM58 handles high SPL with no problems.
How I use The SM58
Mostly for recording vocals. Not only is it perfect for live vocals, but it’s good for studio applications as well. It’s a classic, has been in the recording industry since 1966, and keeps getting better. I also use the SM58 for miking drum kicks.
The SM58 is still priced at $99 sometimes less
Rode NTG1 (Shotgun Mic)
The NTG1 is perfect for recording dialogue, foley and field recording, sound fx, you name it. What makes this microphone a ‘must-have’ is it’s a true workhorse. It sounds good, well built, it’s precise, and comes with a 10-year warranty.
Like a traditional cardioid pattern mic, it picks up sounds in front of it, but it’s more precise. The reason being is due to its super-cardioid pickup pattern which gives the illusion of zooming in on the sound that you’re pointing at while rejecting all noises around it.
What’s The NTG1 Good For
I use the NTG1 for creating sound effects, recording interviews, and freelancing as a boom operator for local news stations.
Inexpensive Handheld Field Recorders (onboard mics)
Tascam DR40, Zoom H1, Zoom H2n
Handheld recorders are in a class of their own. They’re microphones hooked onto portable recorders. Some have preamps (like the dr40) which allow you to hook up other mics to them for better audio. But even using the internal mics produces really good results.
What Handheld Recorders Are Best For
Recording on the go! There will be times when you won’t be able to take a laptop and your audio interface with you, but you can always toss a handheld recorder in your pocket. I use the portal recorders for recording ambiances and quick ideas as well as interesting sounds I hear out in the world.
I’ve used them as backup mics on guitar, drum, and vocal tracks.
The DR40 works as well as an audio interface!
Yes, that’s right, some double as an audio interface. The Tascam DR40 hooks up via USB which allows me to use it as an interface. So in a pinch, I use it along with my Saffire 6 and utilize 6 mics.
2 in the Focusrite, 2 in the Tascam, and the Tascam onboard mics
Those are the mics I own and use, what mics do you have in your arsenal?