Lesson 21

What Microphones do you need in your Home Studio

A well equipped mic locker will have a bunch of small diaphragm condensers, some large diaphragm condensers, some dynamics, and a few ribbon mics.

The mics you will need, will depend of course on what you are using them for, and what kind of sound you are going for, and how many channels you want to record simultaneously.

Your application and room acoustics also makes a difference in what gear you will need. 
Do you need mics for live use, multritracking, 

Being familiar with the different types of microphones, and their unique qualities will help you decide what you need for your own studio. 

The most common studio microphone is the Large diaphragm condensers 

Building a microphone collection should be done strategically to suit your current needs, and still be useful as your studio grows. Which microphones you need depends on your budget, what you want to record, and how many channels simultaneously you want to record.

So what microphones should you get?

For recording vocals, I would suggest a good large diaphragm condenser. Since vocals are often the most prominent part of a song, I would suggest getting the best quality vocal mic you can, such as the iSK 2B Beauty. If you need something low cost, the iSK vibrato will also do an excellent job. 
I’d like to clear up some of the confusion that’s all over the internet about vocal mics. Some people say some microphones are better for females, and some are better for males. I don’t think there’s any universal agreement on that, and if there is, it tends to be with lower quality mics that add their own colour to the sound, and that colour might suit males of females better. In my own studio, I use the 2B Beauty on all vocalists, and it always sounds excellent. This practice is fairly common for studios to have just 1 high quality vocal microphone that they use on all vocalists.

For most medium volume acoustic instruments, such as guitar, piano, violin, you can use the same mic as your vocal mic. You only need 1 microphone, and check our course 3.2 for stereo recording techniques using only 1 microphone.

So, with just one microphone, you can record a song, one track at a time, with multiple parts and instruments. Many people prefer to record instruments with 2 microphones in stereo, so if you want to use this technique, you’ll obviously need 2 of the same microphone.

If you don’t want to use the same microphone for vocals and acoustic instruments, I would suggest a pair of pencil condensers for the instruments, such as the iSK Pearl or Little Gem. Use the XY technique, (shown in lesson 3.2)

If you are recording several acoustic parts simultaneously in the same room, you’ll want as much isolation as possible. A hypercardioid or figure 8 polar pattern will help with this. The iSK little Gem is great for this, use the hypercardioid capsule, and stick it in really close to get the maximum signal to noise ratio.

If you want to record drums, that’s where things get a little more complicated. While it’s possible to record drums with 3 or less microphones, I don’t suggest it. I recommend at least 4 mics for kick, snare, and a pair of overheads. From there, it’s also good to add a few more mics for toms. 
The kick drum is a little bit special. It has high volume and very low frequencies. Most microphones are designed to pick up mid range and high frequencies, so they won’t do a very good job of the kick. There are microphones specifically designed for kick drum, such as the iSK BDM-1. They’re almost always a dynamic microphone, and designed so they’re sweet spot is in the low frequencies. They work well for not only kick drum, but also bass guitar cabs, and any low frequency source.

For toms and snare, I myself, and I think most studio engineers, prefer a good multipurpose dynamic microphone. The iSK DM-57 is a popular choice for this, though I personally prefer the sound of the TDM-1. 

For overheads, there’s a variety of microphones that can sound good. It depends on room treatment, the type of sound you prefer, and which microphones you have. The most popular choice is a condenser microphone with cardioid pickup pattern, but there are many more options that work well. Check out our course 3.2 on recording drums for more details about the various options.

The same microphones that work well on toms and snare, also tend to work well on guitar cabs. These are dynamic microphones. The iSK DM-57 and TDM-1 are both excellent sounding on guitar cabs.

A style of microphone worth talking about is the ribbon microphone. Some studio engineers can’t live without them, some have no use for them at all. They have some pretty major downsides, such as very low sensitivity, and they tend to have dull high frequencies. They have such a weak signal, a very expensive preamp, or an in-line signal booster is needed to amplify it to a useable signal. The iSK RM-12 is a rare breed of ribbon Microphone that has a signal booster built into the microphone body. This is a super clean amplifier circuit that runs on phantom power. If you use a typical ribbon microphone, without a high quality signal booster, you will most likely need to turn the preamp gain all the way up, which introduces a lot of noise from the preamp.
Well then why do people like them? Because they have a very natural reproduction of the mid range frequencies, in a way that dynamics and condensers simply cannot achieve. With good room acoustics, they are the most common choice among professionals for distance micing. When placed more than like 4-6 feet away from the source, they capture a true fullness that other microphone types cannot do. Since ribbon microphones really shine with distance micing, I really want to stress the importance of good room acoustics. Use ribbon microphones for recording an orchestra or choir. A pair in XY just a few feet over top of the conductor. Also, they sound great when placed 4-6 feet away ion piano’s, string ensembles, and drum overheads.
They can also sound really nice close miked on brass and string instruments, and guitar cabs.

For more information about the different types of microphones and their sound, check out chapters 3.12 on dynamics, 3.13 on condensers, and 3.14 on ribbons.

If you have just a small studio, with only a few inputs, you can record pretty much anything except for drums with a good large diaphragm condenser, a couple of pencil mics, a couple of ribbon mics, and a dynamic. The iSK small studio bundle is designed to accommodate these needs in an affordable bundle.

For a small project studio, all you really need is a couple of good condensers, such as the iSK Vibrato, which can be used for a variety of tasks such as vocals, and acoustic instruments. Using multi track layering, and direct input for bass guitar,