Category :

Production/ Recording

Home Studio Basics - You Can Do It [Part 1]


~ by Sabrina Hamilton ~

Part 1: Microphones ~

Hello again friends and music lovers! I hope you all are in great health, and have been listening to even greater music. And to my local readers in the Seattle area – how about this sunshine? Flowers are starting to bloom in my front yard- does that mean Spring is springing finally?

This week I attended an event at the fabulous London Bridge Studio, along with other members of organizations called AES (Audio Engineering Society) and Seattle/Tacoma Digital Audio Recording and Production. First we were granted with a tour of the studio space. The control room, which featured the historical vintage Neve 8048 board, was quite a sight to see. That board and the studio it resides in have been paramount in establishing the renowned Sound of Seattle during the glory days of grunge. It has recorded and mixed the bands we love, from Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Blind Melon to Fleet Foxes, Death Cab for Cutie, Anberlin and even One Republic and Blake Lewis!

At this event, a representative from Cascade Microphones gave a lovely demonstration on their particular brand of ribbon microphones and discussed techniques as to how to get the best possible recordings from them. Now, for the tried and true audiophile, you probably already know that there are different types ofmicrophones; each type has its own unique frequency response, polar pattern(s), proximity effect, possible use of 48v, and perhaps even coloration. If you have a deer in the headlights look after reading that last sentence, perfect! Because I’m here to tell you that we live in the days of the home studio. AKA- It’s no longer impossible to DIY (do it yourself)! As beautiful and authentic as it is to walk into a real life recordingstudio, with the smell of incense, coffee, and teen spirit wafting through the air, it is entirely possible to establish your very own recording studio at home. Everything has gone digital-smaller and more compact even, and there are so many “prosumer” products and gear out there available to YOU so that you can be your own engineer, mixer, and producer. All from the comfort (and closeness to the fridge) of your own home. How does that sound?

Now, to elaborate more on my brief introduction to the different types of microphones- First, you need to think about what you will be recording. Are you recording vocals? Male or female? Stringed instruments? Brass? Drums? Lucky for us, there are microphones for all of the above. There’s actually many different mics that would suit those different types of instruments just fine, but I will give you a brief list to start.

  1. Microphones – The microphone is a very important part of the recording process, because it is the tool that allows our audio (acoustic) signal to pass through and eventually reach our DAW (digital audio workstation) where is has then become an electrical signal.

    1. Shure SM58 Dynamic Mic: According to Shure’s website, this legendary mic is “Tuned to accentuate the warmth and clarity of lead and back-up vocals”. I won’t deny that at all. It is in fact a legendary microphone because it’s also the workhorse of any studio. Versatile with Iron Man-strength durability, this mic will pick up any signal in a studio or live environment and will do it justice. Also, very cost effective at around $100.00.

    2. Rode NTK Condenser Mic: A bit pricier than the 58, however this mic has an ultra-wide dynamic range, meaning it can pick up sounds at many different decibel levels, while providing a low noise level, which also means you can set your preamp to higher gain (which would make the signal hotter). Lastly, this is the mic Chad Kroeger used on Nickleback’s Long Road. Why? Because it can handle his loud boomy voice without distorting, that’s why!

    3. AKG C414 Condenser Mic: This mic happens to be my favorite mic of all, which is why I am the proud owner of one in my own home studio. I use it to record my voice and also my violin and guitar. It offers 5 different polar patterns, which essentially means, no matter what recording environment you’re in, you can customize the mic’s pickup abilities to best suit your needs. The C414 is capable of capturing extremely high SPL (sound pressure levels), with a wide dynamic range. Also, like the NTK, it has a low noise level without distorting the signal. Therefore, being a large diaphragm mic, it’s also perfect for recording any type of brass. In Layman’s terms… if you are looking for a clean, luscious, creamy smooth sound, and have the proper budget, I would highly encourage you consider this mic.

    4. Sennheiser MD421 II Dynamic Mic: To my drumming friends- this mic is one of the most popular and loved mics for the drum-set, particularly the toms. It has a highly directional cardioid pickup pattern, which means you can position it on a very specific spot on the drum head and it will focus on exactly that spot, and not the other clashing and banging happening from other areas of your set.

    5. AKG D112 Dynamic Mic: And of course for our beloved kick drum, this mic has earned its place as one of the best mics for kick drums ever. With its extremely high SPL capability, and powerful response with anything below 100 Hz, this is a great choice for any bass type instrument, on stage or in the studio.

Are we having fun yet? Before I wrap up Part 1 of this home studio exploration, I want to elaborate on a few terms. Dynamic mics, such as the SM58, are known for being especially tough and inexpensive, and do not require 48v phantom power, which is an external source of power used on condenser microphones and some ribbon microphones to essentially increase the output of the mic. One “drawback” of a typical dynamic mic is that its upper frequency response caps out around 16kHz. Our human hearing range extends to 20kHz, however few can actually hear and recognize frequencies that high. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to record cymbals or other high-freq sources, you may want to consider a different type of mic.

As mentioned, Condenser and some Ribbon microphones require phantom power. Does that sound scary? Unfortunately, no mysteriously masked singing creatures of the opera house are involved. Really, it’s called phantom power, because as I mentioned, it is an external source found either in a mixing desk, microphone preamp, or audio interface. Unlike the dynamic mic, condenser microphones are characterized by high sensitivity, even in those upper frequencies, which make them ideal for recording drum overheads or cymbals, bells, whistles, etc. Many condenser and ribbon mics are also known for their warm, rich sound which is why they are also a mandatory piece of equipment for any studio.

Let it be known that I by no means am saying I prefer a home studio to a real living and breathing studio, such as London Bridge Studio. I’m simply sharing my experience and expertise on how to go about establishing your own studio at home, if that’s what you desire, because it is indeed possible. The next installment to this two-part discussion will include details and the identification of other pieces of gear to complete a successful and functional home studio.

Sabrina Hamilton is an audio engineer, musician, and composer who loves to collaborate and work with other talented and driven individuals. A blogger and show reviewer for Seattle Wave Radio, she loves being exposed to many amazing up and coming bands of the Pacific Northwest and loves talking about all things musical. Become a part of the conversation and follow her on Twitter: @StunnahSabrina!


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