Music Producer & Composer

Three Grammys, hundreds of instruments, millions of ideas...

Contact:tomwas@earthlink.net

Friday

Microphones

When the first condenser microphones (or capacitor microphones as they are known in Europe) hit the recording world in the 1950’s they were a revelation. They brought definition and presence to the sibilance of vocal tracks and things with lots of high–end content like cymbals. This was because the analog recording machines of the time were under-achievers in this area, so one got a more accurate picture of organic sound with this type of microphone.
With the advent of digital recording, condenser microphones generally provided a very hyped up high-end response in this new format, but people kept using them because that’s what they were used to, and because they liked the “sizzle”. But in digital recording they painted a highly inaccurate picture of many things.
So over the last couple of decades some of my favorite microphones for use in digital recording are ribbon mics. They were the microphone of choice before the advent of condensers, and now with digital recording they often provide a much more organic sound for many things. For example, if you put a condenser mic on a hand drum, you get lots of the slap of the hand against the skin, but you lose much of the body and warmth of the instrument. If you try a dynamic mic the sound is closer to the real thing but a little lack luster on top. But a good ribbon mic will provide much of the definition of a condenser while still reaching out and grabbing the warmth of the bottom.  Or, on a close-miked violin a ribbon will give you less of the scratch of the bow on the string, and more of the beauty of the body of the instrument.
I still use condensers for plucked stringed instruments like acoustic guitars, wind instruments (but not reeds or brass), and vocals (although I’ve used a ribbon on my own voice before),  and drum overheads (to catch the brilliance of cymbals).  I use dynamic mics only on close-miked loud drums, and for most other things I like ribbons.

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