Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AudioGuy Mail Bag: How Do You Audition a Microphone?

I've gotten this one a couple times, so I figured I'd use it for a post.
I live close to a Guitar Center and they have a "health policy" which doesn't allow mic tryouts. So if that's the situation generally, how do I uncover the "best" mic(s) for me? It seems that every mic, regardless of cost, has a following of fans. Therefore, recommendations are kinda useless, don't you think? Anyway, the reason for this is to say thank you for your contributions and I will watch for your articles in the future.
I agree with that last sentiment TD. The forums can be a really tricky place to get objective info. Often it seems people start with any of the decent budget mics (RODE, MXL, M-Audio, AT,etc), and then after saving, jump straight to a Neumann TLM103/U87 or Sennheiser 416. I've seen this story many times, and while I'd never say these were bad mics, it is really tricky getting a sense of the microphone landscape without just buying a bunch of mics all willy-nilly. Add to that, that I can't remember the last time I saw a negative microphone review in a recording magazine (probably too afraid to scare off advertisers), and the entire educational experience just becomes that much more frustrating.

Why spend $3000 on a U87 when you might sound better on an AKG C414? Why spend $1200 on an MKH416 when you might sound better on a RODE NTG3?

Well, the bad news is you're going to spend a little money. The good news is, hopefully it wont be much.

First off, while the forums might not be a good place for an objective view, it could be a good place to find someone willing to audition their mics for you in YOUR space. Send out some feelers in your area, hit up Voice Over Universe, Julie Williams Voice-Overs Forums, DB Cooper's VO-BB, or recording sites like GearSlutz and RecordingReview. Offer to pay them for their time, and I'm sure you can get your face in front of a couple different mics.

If that doesn't do it for you, it's time to book a studio.
Check out the Voice Over Resource Guide for studios that cater to VO talent, see if they have a good selection of mics handy (dynamics, condensors, shotguns, pencils), and see if you can book an hour to do a mic shootout. This wont be as valuable as the space will probably be better treated than the space you record in at home, but you can still hear what these mics will do to your voice (we're listening for the differences between the different mics).

An important thing to note will be the studio's equipment chain. If they've got thousands of dollars worth of preamp and compressor, you're not really going to get a good sense of how the mic sounds on its own. Some studios might have a "churn and burn" space (usually just a little closet converted) for helping talent knock out auditions. That set up will probably be the simplest arrangement, and might be the closest fit for us closet warriors. If they have one, use that space.
If the studio is worth their salt remember, YOU ARE PAYING THEM FOR WHAT YOU WANT, so they should be amenable to matching YOUR current recording chain (or at least just bypassing their compressor LOL).

Lastly, and I've said it before, SET A BUDGET! Including "educational" spending, set a dollar amount that you refuse to go over. It's very easy to become a collector (like me WOOT!) and start buying everything in sight with little regard for your actual business. You don't want to get a bad case of G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), and not have bookings to show for it. Above all else, while VO is  hella-crazy fun, it is still a BUSINESS.

One final note.
Once you've finally decided on a mic, and you're shopping sites like Zzounds, Sweetwater, MusiciansFriend, SamAsh, GuitarCenter, etc, maybe you could also consider Amazon, and buy through my affiliate link SomeAudioStore? Maybe?

Just throwing it out there.
You know, shameless plug and all.
Just sayin...


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