Your First Microphone - What are the choices? (Part 2)

After looking at the different avenues in the types of microphones available in the market—from dynamic to condenser, small diaphragm to large diaphragm—we have concluded that a large diaphragm condenser microphone (LDC) might be your best option as your first microphone. In this post, let's take a look at the various microphones that are available in the market.

Choosing a microphone can be a rather subjective topic whereby different individuals will have a different liking towards certain sound characteristics. While it is true that you can have some level of control when it comes to post-production (e.g. EQ), the microphone is the first line of defence when recording a sound. The miking technique will also play an important role. Therefore, an expensive LDC microphone will not necessarily sound good if bad miking techniques are applied. Although sound characteristics may be subjective, there are still some attributes that you can consider and might even save you some money along the way.

The directivity of a microphone (aka polar pattern) refers to the microphone's transducer area of acoustical pickup. The most common pattern in a microphone will be cardioid, which will only capture sound that is in front of a microphone and reject sound that is behind the microphone. Other common polar patterns would be supercardioid (e.g. Shure Beta 58) and hypercardioid (e.g. Sennheiser MKE 600), whereby both polar patterns have a narrower pickup area as compared to a cardioid microphone. The latter is also often referred to as shotgun microphones, commonly used in broadcasting. In almost any recording scenario, a cardioid microphone will be used, as it provides a good balance of direct and ambience sound with a relative area size of pickup to record with ease. There are some microphones (e.g. AKG C414) that have the feature of switchable patterns, which usually equates to additional cost. You most probably do not need the additional pickup patterns since this is your only microphone and you will be using close miking techniques most of the time.

If you do not wish to commit too much financial resources into your first purchase, I might have a few good options that you might be interested in. Firstly, the CM25 condenser microphone included in both the Focusrite 2i2 ($400~ SGD) or Solo ($300~ SGD) studio bundle has helped save the fuss of scouting your first recording gears from the sea of microphones available in the market. It brings you up to speed at a decent level and provides the full recording package for you to start recording immediately. Check out the video below for a sample recording. If you are just starting out recording as a hobby, the studio bundles do not require you to invest much to get you going.

Focusrite Studio Bundle demo. 
Performing artiste: Shannon Saunders
Song: In the dark

In the mid-range of $400 - $700 SGD, you will be spoiled for choices as there are many good LDC microphones that often come with a shock mount microphone adapter and pop filter (usually used for vocal plosives) as a package deal. The Rode NT-1A has almost dominated this price range with a shock mount adapter, pop filter, XLR cable and a dust cover (basically a soft carrying bag) all included in the package. This microphone sounds clean and is widely used in many different projects. Unless you have been hiding under the rock for the past 10 years, chances are you have heard and loved the sound of this microphone without even realising it (many Youtubers use this).

Rode NT-1A, Credits Rode Microphone

Lastly, the Advanced Audio Microphone CM414, which is usually priced around $800~ SGD can be considered a huge investment for many of us who are just starting out in a home studio. As mentioned above, microphone preferences can be a little subjective and at the price range of below $1000 SGD, the CM414 is one of the most iconic microphones used in many recording we loved (fun fact, the Pitch Perfect movies were all recorded through Advanced Audio Microphones). This microphone is packed with selective polar patterns and high pass filter options. If you have access to a second CM414, you could actually do Blumlein Pair (both microphones switched to figure 8 pattern), which has an exceptional reproduction of stereo imaging. In my personal experience, I have used this technique in miking up symphony bands and even drum overheads.

Advanced Audio CM414, Credits Advanced Audio MIcrophones

Regardless of which microphone you get or can afford, at the end of the day, the quality of hardware will only get you that far even with a cheaper priced microphone. Your creativity and understanding towards the microphone will have more influence in the quality of recording you produce. Whether it is a dynamic or condenser microphone, a microphone is just a capsule to capture the acoustical performance. Your techniques will affect the sound characteristic more than you think. In many cases, if time permits, try and experiment around with the microphone to get the sound you like even before you even start recording (I'll fix it in post).