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Mic advice for a total beginner
Old 25th February 2009
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Mic advice for a total beginner

Brief setup:

So I'm an engineering newbie, self-recording on a PC, in a largeish carpeted room that's had nothing done to it acoustically (think basic home office). The current project is folk-rootsy, using a lot of acoustic instruments, vocals, and one instrument that plugs in: a Godin A5 fretless bass. I still count it as acoustic: It's semi-hollow, and find I get closer to a standup bass sound (and more of that "fretless bass moan") by mixing the very muddy line sound with a live mic.

The only mics I have I've inherited, a pair of older-generation AKG C1000S condenser mics that my dad used to use onstage. These have been "pretty" satisfactory so far but sometimes produce a fair bit of mud, especially in the low and low-mid range.

So I'm wondering whether there's an all-purpose low-end mic that would be a decent complement for these, in this all-end studio space. In my infinite stupidity, I've only discovered in the last day or two that the C1000S comes with a "polar pattern converter" that slips over the capsule and convers the mics from cardioid to hypercardioid. Sure enough, on investigation, both were wearing these little plastic-and-foam hoods over the capsules: maybe this was to prevent feedback when played live, as they were used with some very sketchy house systems. I've taken the converter off of one mic and put it back together, but I've yet to do some test tracks and compare the sound with it to the sound without it.

I have no formal education with these things whatsoever and can only go by what sounds good-- and even that through some pretty inferior hardware. Can anyone advise me on:
(1)-what difference can I expect by removing the capsule attachment? It *must* muffle the sound a little in addition to changing the mic's pattern, right?
(2)-What applications would prompt you to use the mic one way, rather than another? In your experience how are mics like these set up for best results?
(3)-Is there a third microphone you'd consider picking up that would do something these don't, or would complement their sound in a dual-mic setup? (These have so far been better for instruments than vocals). I'm probably looking for something cheap, in the price range of the ubiquitous Shure SM58... I've looked at and drooled over some of the high-end Neumann microphones, but they're never going to happen unless I become some kind of land baron or billionaire industrialist.

Thanks in advance for your help--I've only started paying attention to acoustics, mixing and engineering recently, and would love to learn whatever I can (though I'll definitely be starting on the ground floor).

Cheers,
GLuke
Old 25th February 2009
  #2
Here for the gear
 
ihopetheyloveyou's Avatar
 

I've absolutely been where you are right now and there's only one good way to learn, TRY EVERYTHING try that mic out with the attachment on, then take it off record the same part again! listen to the difference, don't get bogged down in product sheets and specifications, IF IT SOUNDS GOOD, IT IS GOOD!

In my humble opinion, when you are just starting out and you've got almost no equipment to your name you can never go wrong with the good ole SM-57, I've seen some pretty amazing engineers with neumann mics laying around everywhere reach for those baddies instead in certain situations, so they outta get you by until you can save up for some upgrades.

I'd be interested to hear how you are recording exactly, are you using an interface? Or just live tracking through a mixer, or you using sound recorder or a DAW, I could give you a more detailed answer if I had more info!

Daniel
Old 25th February 2009
  #3
Here for the gear
 

Hi all,

Thanks in advance for the early feedback. I didn't want to bore people with all the details, but my recording setup, past the mics and the awful room, is this:

All the track-mixing is done on a PC with a Creative Audigy soundcard of one sort or another. It's either the Fata1ity gaming edition, or an Audigy Platinum that works with the Fata1ity-stamped front module with optical and 1/4" inputs. Sound quality on the card is really good with big frequency response and almost completely noiseless.

With acoustic instruments, I will almost exclusively go straight into the sound card's mic jack from the C1000S, which is run off an internal 9V battery since my computer has no XLR jack and no phantom power. The signal goes in completely dry--not even a compressor on it--and then gets tinkered with digitally using Adobe Audition once it's recorded.

I have an old workhorse Roland VS-840 next to the computer. I very rarely use it because the Zip drive (remember those?) is annoyingly loud and hard to keep off the track. I *will* use it for recording audio generated by the computer: I have a great software guitar FX/amp modeler, a good drum synth, and a few decent soundfonts on the PC, which won't record off of itself: so if I'm making use of those, I'll record the analog computer output to the VS-840, tinker with it minimally, then bounce it digitally back to the PC for mixing. On a side note, since the guitar FX software sounds so good (better than any hardware stompbox I've got), in the absence of a good compressor/limiter I've been toying with the idea of doing every track through the PC software into the VS-840, and trying out the software compressor/limiter and other virtual-rackmount goodies in place of the hardware I dont' have.

The other thing I can do with the VS-840 that I can't do with the PC is record more than one track at once: so I will use it for the fretless bass, or sometimes for the acoustic guitar. I find I get a good sound with a mic on the strings mixed with the direct pickup signal, so I'll double-record something with line/mic and mix the results before I bounce it back to the PC.

Lastly, in the absence of decent studio monitors, I mix everything on Sennheiser HDR 40 wireless headhones.They give me some mobility in the studio, which is much-needed when I'm working the equipment and overdubbing tracks at the same time--especially when I have to get the mics as far from the VS-840 as possible to eliminate drive noise.

Thanks again for your insights!
Old 26th February 2009
  #4
Jr. Gear Slut 2nd class
 
chessparov's Avatar
 

IMHO unless you've got a voice matchs well with a SM57/58 + cheap mic pre (like mine), seriously consider getting an Electro-Voice EV 635a for vocals.

They run about $100 new and they're an omni-so placement is easier.

Best of luck!

Chris
Old 26th February 2009
  #5
Here for the gear
 
ihopetheyloveyou's Avatar
 

Sounds like you got it pretty well figured out. The next step up seems like it would be to go to a inexpensive firewire or USB interface running a DAW like pro-tools, cubase, logic, etc. But as long as what you've got is working well for you at the moment there is no tangible reason to change it. Another cheap way to add some quality to your recordings would be to buy a low cost preamp, I recommend the presonus tube-pre it's fantastic for the money! Put that in your signal path before the 1/4" to the cpu and you can dial in some really good sounds with many different mics. Again I'd recommend an SM-57 or a good low cost condenser such as the RODE NT1-a.

Sounds like you've got it pretty well figured out! Just keep trying new things and don't forget to trust your ears!!

Daniel.
Old 26th February 2009
  #6
Gear Addict
Quote:
Originally Posted by GLuke View Post
Brief setup:

So I'm an engineering newbie, self-recording on a PC, in a largeish carpeted room that's had nothing done to it acoustically (think basic home office). The current project is folk-rootsy, using a lot of acoustic instruments, vocals, and one instrument that plugs in: a Godin A5 fretless bass. I still count it as acoustic: It's semi-hollow, and find I get closer to a standup bass sound (and more of that "fretless bass moan") by mixing the very muddy line sound with a live mic.

The only mics I have I've inherited, a pair of older-generation AKG C1000S condenser mics that my dad used to use onstage. These have been "pretty" satisfactory so far but sometimes produce a fair bit of mud, especially in the low and low-mid range.

So I'm wondering whether there's an all-purpose low-end mic that would be a decent complement for these, ...
...
Cheers,
GLuke
Gluke, have you heard of proximity effect? It causes increased bass when directional mics are placed close to the sound source. Sometimes useful for "50s radio voice" but mudville on acoustic instruments.

Room effects are also huge. On the low end standing waves cause inconsistent mud and thinness both, as you change locations.

And on the mid and high end the early reflections cause comb filtering and uncool small room ambience. In an effort to eliminate that uncool small room sound, we tend to move our mics closer, causing proximity effect ... etc.

If you're allowed to "decorate" your recording room, you can add acoustic treatment in the form of broadband absorbers - lots more than you think you need should be about right. I'm making some right now out of compressed fiberglass, burlap, and hot melt glue - the materials are costing about $35 per panel and I'll have 22 panels in a 13' x 20' room.

In my experience, this investment will make more improvement in your recordings than any mic, preamp, or a/d converter.

Fran
Old 26th February 2009
  #7
Here for the gear
 

Thanks all for the feedback!

My acoustic "decorating" would have to be fairly minimal, but I've been thinking of at the very least making a couple of movable panels to surround a mic. I have a small walk-in closet with clothes on one side and instrument cases on the other, and I'm thinking maybe a little paneling on the back wall/back of the door, and maybe some corner bass traps, would make a serviceable (if very cramped) space for recording vocals. Don't think I could squeeze in there with an instrument and play, and if I'm going to start mikeing them from several distances, which sounds like a good idea, I'll need to use the main space.

Someone in town has listed a Studio Projects C1 for about $120, which seems to me a good grab for a large-diaphragm condenser -- especially since the "weak bass response" some people find with them might actually be helpful in my trapless shoebox of a room. But I think a good tube preamp is
probably the all-purpose choice, especially since I don't even know how I'd power a mic that didn't have an onboard battery: the C1000s only works well with my setup, I think, because it doesn't require the phantom power of most condensers.


Has anybody else had much experience with the Pro Audio TubePre? I've also found some good prices on some ART Tube MPs... the ART Tube Studio Mic, the Project Series and the Studio V3 series are all reasonably-priced, though some of the reviews I've seen describe them as noisy. Anyone care to weigh in on single-channel tube preamps?
Old 26th February 2009
  #8
Gear Maniac
 

my advice is what I wish I had done.

You have some microphones that you can work with.

I can say the following, because I was exactly where you are when I started recording at home...running an entry level akg mic into an entry level tube pre into the stereo in of a sound card.

Before you get an external preamp, invest in an interface with more robust inputs than a soundblaster card. This can be a USB or Firewire mixer, an entry level two channel interface or whatever. Don't worry about which one sounds better. They are all about alike unless you either get the cheapest or the most expensive. I'd just get something that for the money is very expandable...plenty of inputs/outputs, a DI, digital spdif, etc. You may think your soundblaster is doing a good job, but I challenge you to at least try to borrow someone's presonus firebox or whatever you can get your hands on and see if you can hear a difference.

Now, if you run a decent preamp into an ad converter into the optical in of that soundblaster, it would be fine. I tried that, too and always had good sound, but also lots of compatibility issues with the device drivers and my daw software.

About acoustic treatment, before you spend a bunch of money building broad band absorbers, try the old blanket draped over a mic stand bit. Eventually, you will probably get fancy with the acoustic treatment, but do a lot of research before you get out your wallet and miter saw. In the meantime, the blankets will help control reflections and so forth, making a noticable difference in how clean your tracks sound.

The next thing to do is to pile up cash. Don't spend it until you can get a respectable recording with your setup.

Keep educating yourself. Look all over the internet at how others have solved their room treatment problems. There are plenty like you who can't 'redecorate' and have to do something extremely portable.

If someone tells you to buy this mic or that preamp, make sure you have heard something they have recorded before accepting said advice.
Old 27th February 2009
  #9
Here for the gear
 
ihopetheyloveyou's Avatar
 

On the preamp issue. I would highly recommend the Presonus Tube-pre for a low cost preamp. I've used it for a while now, and I've been very pleased with its versatility. Also, I have not been pleased with the low priced ART Preamps at all. IMO.

But I also will agree a firewire/usb interface is definitely worth the money this will help in many aspects of the recording process and many of these interfaces come with limited editions of DAW's such as pro tools and cubase, which will increase your options as well.
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