Find your sound part 3/5: the right microphone and the right placement

By | April 6, 2021

Now we have come to part 3 in the series “Find your sound”. I will address which microphones you can choose and how to place them in the right place. In studio contexts, we most commonly use three types of microphones: dynamic microphone, capacitor microphone and tape microphone. These three types of microphones have different characters, and often have different uses due to their different recording capabilities.

Dynamic microphone
This type of microphone should usually be placed close to the sound source and is very SPL resistant. (SPL = Sound Pressure Level). That is, these microphones can withstand high noise levels. The frequency reproduction on dynamic microphones is often focused around midrange and therefore works very well for recording sounds that do not need very much bass or treble.

Condenser microphone
Capacitor microphones are often used at slightly longer distances (approx. 10 cm) due to their sensitivity (but of course work to place close as well, but with the risk of too much proximity effect, which means an amplification of frequencies below 200 Hz up to approx. 30 db) . These microphones have a very wide frequency range and are well suited for sounds that should be more comprehensive.

Tape microphone
These work more like a dynamic microphone, but the frequency recording often looks very different. Tape microphones generally have a lot of bass and heat in the sound and are relatively dull in treble. These microphones are suitable for most audio sources, but should be used with the knowledge that they add a certain character to the sound.

1326387542_Bild2Del3_huvudbild_red.thumb.jpg.dcb66366536f62fa590e62c364dc1c58.jpgDynamic microphones that are placed close to the sound source give weight and clarity to your production. The proximity effect creates very low intermediate frequencies that can be experienced as heat and punch.

Areas of use
Start by thinking about whether you want to promote the sound reproduction of the sound source or whether there are areas you want to tame in the sound. For example: you have recorded drums, bass and piano. You have already filled up quite large areas of the frequency spectrum in the sound image, but now it’s time to record guitar. Where do you want to put the focus in the guitar sound? In the bass, midrange or treble register? What will mix best with the soundscape?

It is about understanding what music production needs and what may “porridge” the sound image. It can be good to test 2-3 different types of microphones and hear which one will be best suited for your production.

I also think it’s important to think about what kind of music genre it is when choosing microphones. If we take rock as an example: When we are on a live show, incredibly strong volume is played and we feel the music throughout the body. How do you convey that feeling to the studio? This is where the proximity effect comes in. Since we do not listen to the same volume as we do at a concert, we need to record the music with more bass and treble to recreate that feeling. By using very dynamic microphones and placing them close to the sound source, you get a lot of bass and treble in the sounds that create a lot of energy in the music production.

When it comes to more true-to-life music genres, it may be better to use a capacitor or tape microphones and place these at slightly longer distances. This gives a more open and airy sound and recreates more the natural sound of the instruments.

How can you think when you have chosen microphones and should place them close to the source? If we start with, for example, drums: It is common to place dynamic microphones very close to the vortex drum and drums. I usually think that about 10 cm is usually the right distance. When it comes to how to aim the microphone, you have different choices. If you point the microphone towards the middle where the drumstick strikes, you get more attack and midrange, but if you point it more towards the edge of the drum, the microphone picks up more resonance and tone.

I usually like to point the microphones more towards the edge of the drum to soften the transients a bit and capture a little more bass and tone of the drum. Especially if the drummer hits hard, it is easy for the sound to become very “mediocre” (a lot of midrange) and loud sound from pointing it straight towards the middle.

Electric bass / electric guitar: Here it is common to place the microphone directly in front of the speaker. Then it is important to find the sweetspot between the middle and the edge of the element of the speaker. The closer to the center the more treble. I usually like to place the microphone about 5 cm from the center to soften the sound a bit.

When it comes to guitar amps, I also think it can be good with some room microphones to capture some reverberation on the sound. This is where condenser microphones come into the picture. I usually place one or two condenser microphones a few meters away from the sound source and direct it / them away from the amplifier to pick up as many reflections as possible. This can give a nice depth to the sound if you very sparingly mix it into the sound image.

Piano / grand piano: The most common idea for piano is to use condenser microphones and place them in a stereo pair a few decimetres away from the strings. But, if the song is not a piano ballad and you just want to fill the production with a little piano chord, an upright piano embellished with a pair of Shure SM-57 or Sennheiser MD421 or MD441 or similar dynamic microphones can actually be very useful. If the music production is already crammed with instruments and percussion, it will be very difficult to fit a grand piano with all its bass and treble recorded with e.g. Neumann U87: or. By recording a regular piano with simple dynamic microphones, you get an intermediate register that will be easier to hear in the mix.

Large diaphragm microphones or small diaphragm microphones? What does “body” need and what does clarity need in the transients?

My grains of gold
I have a few single microphones that I use a lot, and which I think fit very well with different elements. I really like these microphones, and I have gotten good results from them, but every time a new recording project starts, I think it is important to experiment and not get caught up in their old habits.

  • Singing – Generally Shure SM7B for rock vocals and Aston Origin for pop vocals (but I want to add that which microphone is best suited for vocals is entirely dependent on the type of voice you have).
  • Bass drum – AKG D112 together with a speaker element (preferably 15 inches).
  • Swirl drum – Shure SM-57 together with a small membrane microphone of the capacitor type.
  • Timpani – Sennheiser MD 441.
  • Overhang (OH) – Schoep’s small diaphragm microphone, alternatively Royer 121 band microphone.
  • Hihat – Shure SM-57 for a dirty sound or a small diaphragm microphone.
  • Electric guitar – Shure SM-57 together with a large-membrane microphone.
  • Elbas – AKG D112 together with a Sennheiser MD 421 with “bass-cut” of max.
  • Acoustic guitar – Aston Origin.
  • Wing – Large-membrane microphones (a classic microphone is of course the Neumann U87).
  • Piano – Sennheiser MD 441.

Sort by the frequencies
The theme for these total 5 parts of “Finding your sound”, is to consistently divide the frequency ranges and sort / arrange using the sound source itself, the musician’s playing style, the acoustics and then which microphone is used. To be able to choose the right microphone for the right purpose, you need to think a little about what you want left of the source and if there is something you want to remove. Think about what in production should act as a bass, what should act as an intermediate register and what should act as a treble. Then choose microphones with the right character for the instruments that you have placed in a certain frequency range in your music production.

Below you will find the remaining parts in the series “Find your sound” by Kasper Martinell

Find your sound part 1: instrument and sound character
Find your sound part 2: acoustic tricks
Find your sound part 4: the stuff that lifts the recording
Find your sound part 5: the right mix for the right purpose