Microphones are lenses. They reveal a unique perspective on a sound like a lens reveals a unique view of an area. The analogy is not only figurative but practically pertinent: thinking of a lens when placing a microphone will often lead you to better placement – a position from which you will hear what the mic “sees”.
A microphone is the first step into a sound system, the second step of sound production (the first being the sound made by the artist). It is the gateway to either success or failure. It is a foundation-laying act that will determine how high this audio building will dare to rise. I love microphones because they are “old school” – no processors, no DAW’s, just you. Simply your ears, your “lens” (the microphone), a microphone stand and the white canvas of sound possibilities.
Over the years I have pursued finding the right microphone for the right source and arrived at an amazingly simple conclusion: the perfect mic does not exist.
I know Sure, Beyerdynamic, AKG, Neumann, Audix, Telefunken, DPA, Sennheiser, Rode, CAT, ADK all want you to believe that they have the perfect mic for you. The truth is they don’t.
Finding the right microphone for a sound is a process. In fact, I think using the word “matching” instead of “choosing” would be a more appropriate term that would place greater emphasis on what it is your are really trying to do. Matching implies that your selection has one objective: to complement the sound you are capturing, a bit like a frame for a painting or having a sauce with a meal. It needs to reveal the source in a way that compliments it, bringing out its most unique and valuable sonic characters, while fitting within the context of the song/mix.
The pursuit of the perfect microphone is therefore total “utopia”. What is real instead is that some microphones will match some sources sometimes. The question then is how do we match a microphone to a source? Well, there are a number of criteria that can really help us all to get as close as possible to that first amazing step into sound shaping that ensures we are on the right path of a magical audio delivery.
However, firstly we need to settle once and for all that the perfect microphone does not exist. Only then will we find the real microphones and use them in a right way, no longer lured by the often exaggerated claims of gear advertisement. Finding the right microphone is an exiting process that always passes through the most important and basic of sound engineering principles: listening!
Listening will deliver you from the frenzied tyranny of technology into the promised land of wonder.
Next week we will look at the first stage of microphone matching, the prelude: narrowing down the options! Check out our FB page for a short clip on Microphones later this week.