So you’ve bought yourself a microphone. Now what? Is this the only piece in the puzzle you’ll need to get that studio quality recording? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
Home recording has become increasingly popular. The wave of budget-friendly microphones being shipped over from China has only added fuel to the fire. This has resulted in many beginners looking for ways to improve the quality of their recordings.
This guide will provide you with a few tips and tricks you can use to increase the overall quality of your recording. For most cases, this won’t require any additional gear. Using the correct recording techniques is half the battle of getting that studio-quality recording. Let’s jump right in!
Types of Microphones
There are two types of microphones we need to consider: condenser and dynamic. As a rule of thumb, studio recordings generally will use condenser microphones. This is because their internal moving parts are much lighter when compared to dynamic microphones.
The lightweight diaphragm of condenser mics enable them to handle higher frequencies with more accuracy. This makes them ideal for low sound pressure levels (vocals and acoustic instruments).
However, a dynamic mic must be used for higher sound pressure levels (SPLs). This includes miking amps and drum kits.
The downside of condenser microphones is they require power. This phantom power is required to polarise the capsule and operate the microphone preamp. This is usually accomplished through a dedicated phantom power supply, or through the mixing console. For those recording at home, you’ll likely use your audio interface to supply the phantom power.
Each microphone is going to come with at least one set polar patterns. Some higher-end mics can swap polar patterns, but this isn’t always standard.
For those who aren’t familiar with polar patterns, the mics pick up sound differently from different directions. This is feature is known as their polar pattern.
The most common polar pattern is known as the cardioid polar pattern. These mics reject most of the sound arriving from behind the mic and provide good isolation for anything in front.
Most cases, a cardioid polar pattern is the best mic for the job. Alternatively, If you want to record the room, using an omnidirectional mics (which pick up sound from all directions) would be the better choice.
Microphone Sound Character
You may be familiar with the coloration of your studio headphones, or your nearfield monitors. This refers to the frequency boosting, or cutting, that is built into the headphones or speakers. Many of you will know that the ideal set of monitoring headphones comes with a flat frequency response. In other words, no coloration.
What some people fail to realize is that microphones also come with their inherent frequency coloring. Some microphones will have the midrange frequencies boosted to help improve the singer’s clarity. Other mics will have the high-end boosted to provide the singer with more presence, whereas some will boost the low-end to provide more warmth.
How do I know which microphone I should aim for?
It can take years of experience to gain the right intuition for mic selection, but here is a general guide to help you get started:
- Harsh voice: Look for a mic with a boosted low-end. Otherwise characterized as a “warm” sounding mic. Avoid any upper-mid range boosting.
- Lack of clarity: Look for a boosted upper-mid range. These mics are also great for enhancing the sibilance of the singer.
- Thin voice: Boosted low-end. Helps widen out the vocals.
This, of course, assumes you have a few different types of mic on-hand. If this isn’t the case, some of the mic’s shortcomings can be made up by tweaking the recording environment.
The Recording Environment
You will often here musicians blaming the low-quality recording on their cheap microphone. However, many of the issues in recording can be address within the recording environment itself.
DIY musicians often don’t have the funds required to do a complete acoustic treatment of their recording environment. This leads to unwanted reflections reeking havoc on the source recording. The recordings will end up sounding boxy due to the inadequate absorption at the mid and low frequencies.
The best solution to this problem is to surround the singer with acoustic absorbing material. Blankets actually work very well here.
You may already have some acoustic treatment in place, but a few acoustic panels on the wall isn’t going to solve your problem. By hanging a duvet around the acoustic guitar player, or vocalist, you will add some liveliness without any coloration.
The alternative is to complete a full acoustic treatment of your studio. Here’s a great guide for those who are interested.
For most cases, placing the microphone directly in front of the source is going to result in the best quality recording. The closer the mic is to the source, the better the ratio of direct sound to reflected sound.
I typically aim for around 3 inches for a cardioid condenser microphone. Any closer and you will get accentuated low-end. Always remember to leave some room for the pop-shield to prevent any of the “plosive” sound artifacts.
Instruments, on the other hand, require a little more intuition. Instruments tend to produce sound from the entire body of the instrument, compared to the centralized location you find in vocals. This means if you place the microphone too close to one part of the instrument you will be losing out on much of the instrument’s character.
Use the body of the instrument as a rough guide. For instance, grand pianos will need at least a few feet, whereas acoustic guitars will only require the length of the guitar body.
In summary, you will be well off to use a condenser microphone, cardioid polar pattern, with the appropriate sound character in an acoustically controlled environment. If you follow these basic steps you will be 80% of the way to getting a professional sounding recording.
As always, experiment with each of the suggestions above to see what works best in your situation. Each mic, each room, and each voice is going to bring a unique set of characteristics that will contribute to the quality of the recording. The best advice I can give is to keep experimenting with the tips above until you find something that works.
If you’ve found these tips useful, we’d appreciate a share on social media!
About the author: Glen Parry has been playing guitar for over 15 years. He’s done everything the hard way so you don’t have to. You can find more advice and buying guides over at Audio Mastered.