how to setting up a home studio and choice microphone

When it comes to setting up a home-based project studio, deciding which microphone to buy first can be pretty daunting, not least because of the huge number of models and types available. The good news is that today we have a choice of some extremely good, low-cost microphones, many imported from China or the former Eastern Block, all of which perform significantly better than anything we could afford when home recording first took hold in the late '70s. This strong competition has also resulted in European and US manufacturers launching budget mics, something made possible by the higher volumes of sales generated by the growing project studio market.

Dynamic Or Condenser?

Before trying to pin down what to buy, it pays to be aware of the main differences between dynamic mics and capacitor mics. Dynamic mics work on the moving-coil principle, rather like a loudspeaker in reverse, and have in their favour mechanical durability, cost-effectiveness and a solid, punchy sound that works well for guitar, bass and drums, as well as other loud instruments such as brass. They also need no phantom power to work (see the 'Phantom Power' box for details), which makes them very popular for liveuse, but working against them is the fact that their high-end response isn't so good as a typical capacitor mic and they are also relatively insensitive. In practical terms, this means that sounds relying on a lot of high-end detail, such as cymbals, acoustic guitars, pianos and even some voices can sound restricted in the upper frequency ranges if recorded via a typical dynamic mic, though there are exceptions which have a more extended frequency response. Typically, though, dynamic mics are good up to around 15-16kHz, above which their sensitivity tends to drop off quite drastically. The overall sensitivity of the mic determines how much gain you have to add on the mixer or mic preamp to bring the output up to the required level and, while dynamic mics are adequately sensitive for close-miked vocals and fairly loud instruments, they struggle with more distant sounds or quieter acoustic instruments. In these situations you have to add more gain at the mixer and more gain invariably equates to more background hiss.


Capacitor mics (or at least those used in studios) fall into two categories — true capacitor mics and back-electrets. A true capacitor mic uses a very thin film to form the diaphragm, coated with a conductive metal such as gold, and, because there is no heavy voice coil attached to the diaphragm, it puts up less resistance to being moved at high frequencies. The diaphragm forms part of an electrical capacitor and is charged via a polarising voltage enabling it to convert movement to a change in voltage. Phantom power is needed to drive the on-board preamp electronics and to polarise the capsule.

A back-electret mic may use a similarly constructed diaphragm and can produce the same level of performance as a conventional capacitor microphone, though models designed for use with batteries are usually less sensitive than their 'phantom power only' counterparts, especially if they are designed for live use. The principle of operation is similar to that of a conventional capacitor mic, except that, instead of needing an external polarising voltage, the capsule's back-plate is covered with a material that carries a permanent electrical charge within a highly insulating film (the electret material). A voltage is still required to run the onboard preamp, though, so power may come from phantom power and/or batteries depending on the model. An example of a popular back-electret mic that offers the same performance as a regular studio capacitor model is the Audio Technica 4033. Dual battery/phantom models, such as the well-established AKG C1000, are often less sensitive, so that they are able to match the requirements of live sound close-miking. Capacitor mics are used in the studio for most vocal and acoustic instrument recording as well as for drum overheads. They may also be used for recording electric guitar, where they deliver a useful alternative to the dynamic-mic sound.

Polar Patterns & Diaphragm Size

Although mics can be bought with omni, cardioid or figure-of-eight pickup patterns (and every stage in between), the cardioid response is the most useful in a project studio, as it excludes more of the room sound and spill from off-axis sources. Omni mics have a more natural, open sound than cardioids, but pick up equally in all directions and so tend to be used only when the room has a particularly supportive sound or where there is little risk of spill from other sources. Cardioid and figure-of-eight mics both exhibit a bass tip-up when used close to the recorded source, called the proximity effect, but omni mics don't suffer from this and so may be used very close to the sound source without the tone becoming more bass heavy.


Much is made of the way a mic's diaphragm diameter affects its tonal attributes, but this is more subtle than you might expect. As a rule, large-diaphragm mics have a slightly fuller sound, but are less accurate when picking up off-axis sounds. For example, in omni mode, a large-diaphragm mic may suffer noticeable high-end loss when used 90 degrees off axis. Conventional wisdom has it that large diaphragm mics (around one inch in diameter) are best for close-miked sounds, such as studio vocals and guitar amps, whereas smaller diaphragm mics (typically 0.5 inches or less in diameter) are the preferred choice for recording ensembles at a distance or for recording acoustic instruments. Having said that, either type of mic can produce perfectly acceptable results in either situation, so where you can only afford one mic, large-diaphragm cardioid models are a safe bet, as they should give good results most of the time.

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