After publishing the Finding the Perfect Microphone post a few days ago, I’ve had a few questions about what mics I use in my own studio. I’m happy to share that information, but …
The driving point of the Finding the Perfect Microphone article was that there isn’t a perfect microphone. It’s definitely worth repeating that a great voice will sound great on almost any mic. If you’re thinking of getting a new mic, try everything you can get your hands on in your normal recording environment. Often, you’ll find a better return on your investment by hiring a professional voiceover coach or improving your recording room acoustic treatment.
So, what is in my mic locker?
I have a number of microphones and, in all honestly, should probably sell a few of them. There are a couple of clear winners that happen to fit me, my voice, my style, and my recording environment more than the others. What follows here is not a comprehensive, scientific evaluation of each mic’s sonic qualities. It’s just my opinion, so don’t put too much stock in it.
Before going any further, you also need to remember that I’m using these mics in an isolated sound booth that’s acoustically balanced for my voice, running them through some premium pre-amps and digital converters, and listening to them as uncompressed audio on high end studio monitors and headphones. Remove some of those factors and I’d bet that the differences become even smaller. For the most part, I’m really splitting hairs.
Now, here we go!
Rode ProCaster Dynamic Broadcast Microphone ($229)
The Rode is a small diaphragm dynamic mic with excellent sound rejection. I keep it on an arm that’s clamped to my desk and use it exclusively for podcasting, interviews, Skype and computer conference calls, etc., because it does a great job of cutting any background noise (i.e., laughing, running children). I almost never record with it because it has a tight, broadcast sound … as a broadcast microphone should!
It’s also worth noting that the ProCaster needs a pre-amp with a lot of gain. Some of the small, portable pre-amp/USB interfaces will have trouble getting a proper signal with the ProCaster.
Blue Yeti Pro USB/XLR Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($250)
Blue’s Yeti Pro is a great tool to have in my locker. It’s a well-featured small diaphragm condenser mic that can connect directly to my computer via USB or run into my console via XLR. Blue has equipped it with on-mic controls for gain and monitoring and it also has omni-directional, stereo, bi-directional, and cardioid pickup patterns via 3 separate capsules under the big, silver grill.
A lot of folks seem to think it has a large diaphragm, but it definitely does not. Each of the capsules is pretty small. The sound quality of this mic is certainly good enough to get started in voiceover and begin practicing with technique and delivery styles.
I use this mic as a loaner when friends say, “Hey! I’d like to try VO!” The bi-directional and omni-directional patterns also make this a great mic when I’m doing in-person interviews or podcasts and need to provide a single mic for multiple participants.
Audio-Technica AT4047/SV Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($699)
The AT4047 is a great mic and is, in my opinion, an industry sleeper. It’s a true large diaphragm condenser with a nice cardioid pattern, a very low noise floor, and a warm, detailed sound. IF YOU LIKE TO SHOUT, it also has a very high sound pressure limit and rarely distorts.
The mids are slightly scooped, making it a great match for male voices with virtually no EQ. A female voices should definitely try before the buy, but with a touch of EQ, the AT4047 can be a great match for almost anyone.
This was my first ‘real’ microphone and, honestly, I could have stopped here and saved myself a lot of money. Ah, hindsight…
Bonus information: What does the “SV” stand for? Silver. Which is the only color it comes in. Huh.
Neumann TLM-103 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($1,099)
This was my second professional mic purchase. I didn’t try it before I bought it. Whoops.
The Neumann TLM-103 comes from an impressive name and has an industry reputation for setting a standard in transparent, neutral microphones.
I’ll be honest. While it sounds different than the AT4047, they both accomplish the same goals and I really didn’t see any benefit for the $400 premium I paid. If I hadn’t started with the AT4047 as my first pro-quality mic, I might have loved the TLM-103. But it’s never really clicked with me, despite lots of trying.
I keep it around because some clients have heard it’s “The” microphone and request it on certain projects.
Sennheiser MKH 416 Shotgun Tube Interference Microphone ($999)
Mmm. Love me some MKH 416. This shotgun tube interference mic is a rockstar. While there are other mics I prefer for specific jobs, the 416 would be the mic I’d keep if I had to pick one. Why? It sounds great in my booth. It sounds great when I’m traveling and am using makeshift recording environments. It sounds great when I’m recording video on-location. It sounds great almost everywhere!
Designed for both studio and location recording, the MKH 416 has a hyper cardioid pattern with great side rejection. In other words, it picks up what it’s pointing at and very little else. And, what it does pick up is quite nuanced, detailed, and beautiful. It’s also rugged, small, and by far the easiest to carry during travel without worrying about drops, dings, or damage.
Did I mention that I love this mic?
Mojave MA-200 Large Diaphragm Condenser Tube Microphone ($1,095)
The Mojave MA-200 is a large diaphragm condenser that uses an old-school tube circuit. The result is another sleeper with incredible value. The sound is warm, detailed, and remarkably clean. Sonically, I find that I can easily record with it naked (meaning no EQ, compressor, or de-esser, you pervert!) and get very good results. However, I get slightly hot sibilance at times and I find that with a bit of EQ, a touch of compression, and some surgical de-essing, it’s really remarkable.
I love doing audiobooks, narrations, dynamic commercials, and other detailed reads on the MA-200. It sounds intimate, clear, and nuanced, with a great versatility in proximity effect and mic position. This is what an LDC tube mic should be, but at a fraction of the prices demanded for the vogue names.
Manley Reference Cardioid Large Diaphragm Condenser Tube Microphone ($2,700)
Is it worth spending $2,700 for a microphone? That’s a hard answer. In my case, yes. The Manley Reference Cardioid mic is very, very similar to the Mojave MA-200, which is appropriate and expected: they’re both cardioid pattern large diaphragm condensers with tube circuits and K67-style capsules. The Manley’s diaphragm is larger (34mm) than the Mojave’s (25mm), but size isn’t everything. Or so somebody told me once.
What makes the Manley worth the premium to me? Honestly, the fact that my business is good. If I didn’t have a solid cash flow, I’d never pay the price difference for the slight improvement in performance. For that additional cash, I got a mic with a higher build quality, a slightly more open and crisp sound, and less need for EQ. The Manley Reference Cardioid gives me phenomenal consistency, a high level of confidence, and the most diversity of any mic I own. With slight changes in proximity, directionality, and mic positioning, I can get very different sounds that are repeatable time after time.
How much better is it in each of those categories than the Mojave? Not much, but just enough that it’s worth having it in my booth.
In fact, it’s in my booth 90% of the time and is my go-to, standard mic at the moment. When it comes off the stand, it’s usually because I have a big project that’s going to include both in-studio and on-the-road recording. When that’s the case, I’ll do the entire project on the Sennheiser MKH 416 to ensure consistency.
What does it all mean?
I’ll be honest – I’m a gearhead and am always dealing with microphone angst. There are subtle differences between them all, but any of the mics in this list from the AT4047 on down can be used to make great, pro-quality voiceovers. If I could only have one, I’d keep the MKH 416 because of its travel versatility. If I could have only two, I’d be hard-pressed to choose between the Manley and the Mojave at this point in my career. If I was on a tighter budget, the Mojave would be the clear winner.
Lately, I’ve been obsessing over ELAM 251 capsules. I demoed a $7,000 251 clone and loved it, but not enough to spend that kind of money. That’s months of operating and living expenses! Mojave has just announced a 251 clone in the $2,500 range with an NOS tube and a nice transformer that I can’t wait to get my hands on, as well.
All of that said, my mic comparisons and locker depth is primarily a luxury. It’s also a market selling point to clients who have a specific sound that they want or for collaborating studios who work with me via SourceConnect or an ISDN bridge and want a certain sonic profile from a known microphone.
There’s no need for you to run out and fund these kinds of purchases. If you find one or two mics that work really well for you at reasonable price points, you can spend your entire voiceover career using them to produce phenomenal work without having to constantly be on the hunt for something better. With a good recording environment, great vocal technique, and some post-production chops, I’d bet you could have a very successful career with something like the Blue Spark for around $200.
After all, the bottom line is if it sounds good, it is good, no matter what the price or hype!