Why Your Next Microphone Should Sound Different

2012 Aug 13, 2012

Before you rush off to buy yet another studio microphone, ask yourself the question: “Will this mic sound different than what I already own?” Too often we can be lured in to a purchase of a perfectly good microphone just because it’s been reviewed well and people like it.

The problem comes when that mic doesn’t sound all that different than what we currently have. We may own another great mic, but we’ve just missed an opportunity to add another “color” to our arsenal.

What Does Different Sound Like?

I suppose I need to clarify and define what I mean by microphones that sound “different.” You see, not all mics interpret sound the same way. Some emphasize the high mids, while others might have a bump in the low mid range. Some might roll off the low end while yet others have a high shelf to give that “airy” sound. The point is, not all mics do the same thing.
These differences can come from different microphone types: condensers vs dynamics vs ribbons. Or diaphragm sizes: small vs mid vs large. It can even come from electronics inside: solid state vs tube. And of course, every manufacturer has their own preferences when it comes to materials and design. All of these elements build up into mics that sound different from one another.

What Does Different Do For You?

When you have different sounding mics (I like to say microphones with a different “color”) you can create a more compelling recording faster. If you have, let’s say,  two guitar amps that you need to record, simply put different sounding mics on each one and they will each be given their own unique character in the mix. You can make two similar sounding parts stand out.

On the flip side, if you have two very different sounding sources (for example two vocalists, one with a mellow voice and the other a harsher, brighter voice), you can use different colored mics to compliment each voice and be left with more palatable tracks. Throw a nice bright condenser on the mellow vocal to help it sit up in the mix. Then use a rounder, more mellow microphone to soften up the brighter vocal.

How This Can Look Practically

So what am I saying here? I’m not telling you to go buy a ton of microphones. That’s not the point. In fact I typically prefer to use as few mics as possible when recording. But practically speaking I’m suggesting you eventually have at least two different colored mics to play with, preferably three. This might be a large diaphragm condenser, a dynamic mic, and a small diaphragm condenser. This might be a condenser, a dynamic, and a ribbon.

They don’t even have to be different brands. Recently I tracked a folk acoustic EP for an artist using only three mics. They were all from the same manufacturer (Kel Audio), were all condensers (two large, one mid), but they each have very different sounds to them. One is full, and up front sounding. Great for lead vocals. One is more dull, earthy sounding. Used this on background vocals and cello. The other is clear and mid rangy, perfect for acoustic guitar.

Make Your Life Easier

If you only have one microphone. No problem. Go make killer records. That’s what I did for years. The issue though is when you decide to buy a second or third microphone, be selective. Don’t just buy a mic to have another one. Take the opportunity to add a new “color” to your tool box and it will make your recordings (and eventually your mixes) come together much faster and with greater musicality.

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