Choosing a microphone is a lot like choosing a pair of headphones; what may sound good to you may sound bad to the next person. Nevertheless, we thought a survey of microphones in use in radio production might help shoppers narrow down their choices a bit. The top five mics mentioned were: #1) the Electro Voice RE20, #2) the Neumann U87, #3) the Neumann TLM 193, #4) the Sennheiser MD-421, and #5) the Shure SM7.
Q It Up: What is your favorite microphone for recording voice tracks in the studio, and what do you like about this mic?
Bumper Morgan <bump[at]Bumper Productions.com>: I love the “Russian Lomo” microphone. It’s a tube mic with a lot of balls.
John Peace, Audio Production Experts <John[at]aperadiotv.com>: I’ve found the Neumann U87 to be a great mic when you desire a “close, intimate” presence in the spot. It tends to pick up the most subtle voice inflections and really can bring a certain warmth to the presentation. For those “Hi Energy” car campaigns which we do so much of the time, the Electro Voice RE 20 is the choice. It handles the peaks well, without picking up all the huffing and puffing that goes along with the screamer type delivery. Studio guests are mic’d with our trusty Sennheiser 421-U5. Hey if it was good enough for Johnny Carson’s guests, it’s good enough for ours. This mic works well especially for the “mic shy.” You can really stick it right in the face of those which do not project their voice well, without getting a lot of noise.
Jack Shaw <jshaw[at]execpc.com>: I use a Shure SM-7. I got used to it when I was on the air. It was within my price range. If I could afford a Neumann, I would get it. I also have an old Shure Unidyne (looks like the robots in Battle Star Galactica) that I use from time to time for a little different sound.
Richard Stroobant, CJAY 92FM, Calgary, Alberta, Canada <bigdick[at]cjay92.com>: My favorite mic for voice work is the Neumann U87 followed closely by the Neumann U89. They are expensive, but in my opinion provide the best sound. I’ve also found that in shock mounts, they are pretty durable. We are lucky enough to have ONLY Neumann mics in the station and don’t have to send them out for repairs very often.
John Pellegrini, <John.Pellegrini [at]abc.com>: I don’t have a favorite microphone because every one has a different tonal aspect that can be exploited properly for character voices and ambiance. I’ve never liked the idea of “one microphone is best” that some engineers subscribe to, because I like a wide variety of sound potential. In my studio currently, I have an Electro-Voice RE-20 (a good basic mike sound), and a Sennheiser MD 421, which I like for its adjustable tone feature. Ultimately, I’d like to add a Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun mike (great for “street” sound), and a Neumann (but then again wouldn’t we all).
A few years ago, Stereophile Magazine (not to be confused with Stereo Review) put out an audio reference CD for their subscribers. On that disc was a track recorded by J. Gordon Holt, the founder of the magazine, reading an article he wrote on the subject of diversity of sound reproduction in the audio world. But what made the cut really interesting was that he recorded separate lines of the article on different studio microphones (approximately 30 or so different ones). You wouldn’t believe the differences in sound quality on these mikes! I am told by Jon Iverson of Stereophile that this CD can be ordered from their website at www.stereophile.com (or www.guidetohometheater.com or www.hifishow.com). It’s worth the listen, especially if you’re considering microphones for your own studios, and you’d like a cheap way to demo lots of them.
Dave Foxx, Z100 Radio, New York <foxx[at]z100.com>: At the risk of sounding a bit snobbish, I am an audio purist, at least when it comes to laying down voice tracks. If that mic is NOT what is being used on the air, so much the better. I want the station imaging work to really jump out of the radio. That’s why, after much begging and pleading with the bean counters, I got myself a Neumann M-149. Expensive? Yes (a little under 5 grand). Worth it? Every penny. There’s NO coloration, regardless of proximity. It delivers as smooth and complete a signal as anyone could hope for. With multiple pickup patterns (which, by the way, are EXACTLY what they’re supposed to be, whether you want super-cardioid, butterfly, or omni) and built in filtering that really works, this mic really makes my work easy.
But the microphone is only half of the voice track equation. The microphone pre-amp is every bit as important. This becomes clearly evident when you are using a really good mic. For a long time I used a Shure SM-7 running through the Auditronics 110 console built-in pre-amps, and I thought it sounded pretty good. When I got the Neumann, I realized just how crappy sounding the mic-pre really was. So, I went out and got the Studer D-19 dual in/out mic-pre. What an amazing difference! A brilliant high end without sounding brittle, a bottom end that doesn’t get mushy, and a LOT of control make this mic-pre worth twice what they charge (about 6 grand when I got it). Now I’ve gone so far as to get the Studer for my home studios. (But I haven’t saved up enough to get the M-149. I’m still using the SM-7.) When the SM-7s are pumped through the D-19, I get an amazingly better sounding signal. In audio pro demos I’ve done for ProTools, using tracks I generated at home, I’ve always had several questions from people who work in some of the best studios in New York regarding the voice tracks and the mic chain, with big compliments to the sound. The bottom line is, the better the input signal, the more you can do with it, without making it unintelligible. THAT makes my job a LOT easier. We like that.