Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Recording Secrets

Some thoughts on the often overlooked RECORDING CHAIN

The path (chain) of how audio gets recorded:

Instrument> Performance> Microphone> Placement> Room Acoustics> Cable> Preamp> Recorder

In order to get the best sound, you need to concentrate earlier in the chain. For example, even if you have the absolute BEST stuff available from later in the chain, you won't be able to get anything worth a listen if the instrument is crap. It is infinitely better to actually have new, bright strings on a quality guitar rather than try to emulate that sound later.

The better things sound earlier in the chain, the less work each successive link has to handle.

1. Get the best instrument that you can. Clean/ replace/ tune so it sounds as good as it possibly can.
2. Get the best player that you can. Practice/ sobriety/ comfort/ attitude make all the difference.
3. Use the proper microphone. A Shure 57 works on a LOT of stuff, but not everything. Much of this depends on the character you expect the instrument to have in the song. Background instruments would probably merit a mellower mic choice (say, a ribbon mic over a condensor)
4. Place the mic well. Be aware of proximity effect, polar patterns, directionality, bright/dull character, etc. Closer miking picks up less room sound, further picks up more.
5. Use/refuse the room. Use acoustical treatments and/or instrument placement to your advantage. Consider gobos, blankets, walls, hallways...
6. Use a quality cable. Not ultra-expensive mythological MONST*R cable, just not cheap ready-to-fail stuff. It'll bite you when you least expect it.
7. Use the best pre-amp that you can. Better standalone ones (rather than the merely competent ones on your board) will introduce less noise to your signal.
8. Record at the highest quality you can. You can always shrink files later.

Part of what brings this to my mind right now is that I have been buying some more mics lately. The phenomenal CAD M179, to be precise. This multipattern large diaphragm condenser KILLS. Down to 10Hz?!? 133dB Dynamic Range?!? 11dB Noise Level?!? 143 dB SPL?!?

The M179 features a non-capacitive 20 dB pad switch and an 80 Hz high-pass filter.


Side Address, External bias condenser
Frequency Response:
10-20 kHz
Polar Pattern:
Low (200 ohms nominal).
Output Level At 1 kHz.:
Open Circuit Voltage:
-56 dB (0 dB = 1 volt per microbar).
15.9 mV/Pascal.
Dynamic Range:
133 dB.
Equivalent Noise Level:
11 dB Equivalent SPL, A weighted
Maximum SPL:
143 dB SPL (With pad on)
Total Harmonic Distortion:
Less than 0.15%

These specs compare with mics more than 5 times the price! Granted, this is not an AKG C414, or a Neumann TLM 170R (obviously!). But to have a microphone this quiet, able to withstand extreme Sound Pressure Levels, with almost NO coloration, and a choice of omni/ wide sub cardiod/ cardioid/ hyper cardioid/ figure-8 bidirectional polar patterns (almost like 5 mics in one) it's original price of $400 it was a great bargain. NOW THAT IT HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED, if you can find them, the price is just around $150.

Now, WHY such a nice microphone bargain has been discontinued is a mystery to me! Evidently they're not selling as well as they could, but WHY NOT? A mic that is super-quiet and picks up the original audio without adding "character" (i.e. a "presence peak"), is so versatile and this affordable should be in everyone's microphone cabinet! This mic fits/ adapts into the >Microphone>Placement> part of the recording chain so nicely, it's not funny. I have been thinking lately that a LOT of mic customers are buying for audio coloration, rather than considering the recording chain: concentrating on mic type and placement. Or maybe they think it's ugly (as if looks have anything to do with a mic!) - I think it looks really sharp, BTW!

You just wait and see. Five or ten years down the line, I expect that these will be going for even MORE than their original prices. IF anyone lets them go at all.

I guarantee I won't let mine go (four, so far)!