Mic Selection and Other Adventures
So last night I started recording vocals with a band. Happens all the time. Usually I grab a LDC and call it a day. But for some reason I was feeling a little saucy and thought I’d try a few unorthodox choices to see if anything caught my fancy.
I opted to track vocals in my main tracking room rather than my vocal booth, because lately I’ve become a fan of the slight natural ambience that settles around a vocal in a big room. It saves me a step come mix-time and sounds immeasurably better than any plug-in. Plus, there’s a satisfaction I get knowing that the sound of my unique little room, with all of its peculiarities and irregularities is giving the track a character it simply could not get any other way. Now, on to the mics!
I started with my ‘ol standby a Red (by Blue) Type-B with the R6 lollipop capsule. This mic usually sounds great on just about every one. It’s a very bright airy mic, that really develops a good body if you have the singer stand a few feet away. Tonight, with this particular singer it had a sibilance that I just couldn’t tolerate. I had visions of strapping 4 de-essers in series come mix time, and the thought made me cringe. Since high frequencies are extremely directional, I even tried angling the mic slightly downward to reduce the esses but still it wasn’t enough.
Next up, my Shure SM-7B. I LOVE this mic. Sounds great on so many things. Snare, toms, guitar, bass, and ESPECIALLY screamed/yelled vocals (and even clean vocals too! ask Bruce Swedien which mic he famously chose for Michael Jackson’s Thriller) . In fact there’s a running joke at the Gearslutz forum that no matter what your issue is the go to solution is “use an SM-7″. Vocals don’t cut? SM-7. Guitars sound dull? SM-7. Lost your iLok? SM…. well you get the idea. But I digress. The SM-7 had more of that “bitey” character I wanted, but for some reason was picking up a wicked buzz from the extraordinary length of cable it had to travel, and the goo-gobs of gain required to get a working level out of it. So that was out.
Next, I put up my wild-card mic. A mic that on the face of it, sounds like a ridiculous choice, but maybe, just maybe would be the secret weapon to make this vocal sound like a million bucks. I chose…. wait for it……. an AKG D112. I know, I know, the D112 is a kick drum mic. Sounds crazy. But what makes the D112 work on kick is its heavily pre-eq’d sound. There’s a wide boost around 100Hz which can be awesome for adding power to a singer with a thin voice, and a sharp spike around 2-5K that is meant to give kick drums that clicky basket ball sound we all know and love but can also give singers a little extra presence and bite. I was so proud of myself for my unconventional choice, a self-congradulatory feeling that was only matched by the intense disappointment I felt when I listened to the practice take. It didn’t sound TERRIBLE but it wasn’t perfect either. I could see this mic working in other scenarios, so it’s surely an idea I’ll be keeping in my back pocket, but it simply wasn’t right for this track.
In my frustration I decided to go with my ringer: the AKG-C414-TL. That mess of letters and numbers is the Transformerless version of the venerated classic. I started it on axis and once again that sibilance problem reared its ugly head. A quick change in angles and a switch to my SCA N72 preamp, and we were ready to roll. The vocals sounded bright and present without being overbearing, and had a fullness that I was looking for.
So, the moral of the story is: sometimes you’re going to try things and they are going to fail miserably. But that’s no reason not to try them. It’s easy to become complacent with your mic and gear choices, especially if you have spent a lot of money on something and have decided it’s your “best” mic. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best mic for everything. The internet is riddled with stories of huge artists making huge records with cheap unconventional equipment. Take some time and do some research. Who knows what you can glean from their, and your experiments.
For pictures and frequency response curves of all these mics and more, check out recordinghacks.com.
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