Microphone Advice From The Dubspot Staff (Shure, AKG, Neumann, Mojave, Apogee)

Once again we are fielding questions from the world of audio production and finding answers from our best resource: Dubspot’s talented instructors. This week we asked our staff, “What microphones do you use in your studio, and why?” While we found a variety of responses on types of microphones, one thing stood out in our research: Shure microphones are (still) the bread and butter of many studio mic setups.

Shure SM57 for guitars & djembes, Shure SM58 for vocals. These are the m-16′s of the mic world. You can hammer a nail with it & record Mariah Carey after. I come from a live music punk rock background  & these have never let me down. - DJ Cieba

This is one place where it’s worth it to just save up some money and get the good stuff. I have 3 mics that I use the most. I use them for which ever situation they are best suited. My AKG 414 has an “open” and “airy” sound – great for acoustic guitar, piano, strings or almost any vocals. My Neumann TLM-103 has a very warm sound – great for warming up vocalists with very thin voices. My good ol’ Shure SM-57 takes care of all the loud and/or grungy stuff like sampling a borrowed snare drum, trash can lid or guitar amp. Don’t skimp on the microphone pre-amp either, but that’s for another article. - Bill Lee

I can’t say enough nice things about the Sure SM-7. It’s a $350 dynamic mic that many engineers with fancy mic collections still have and sometimes use for lead vocals, as well as for other typical dynamic mic tasks such as kick drum and guitar cabinet. (it was even used to record Michael Jackson’s vocals on “Thriller”). It doesn’t sound at all like a large diaphragm condenser (the most common type of vocal mic), but it records tracks that tend to sit extremely well in a dense mix, so it’s a good match for an electronic music producer. The other reason the SM-7 is a great mic for bedroom producers is that it’s highly directional and rejects most sound that isn’t directly in front of the mic. - Jon Margulies

As a guitarist, the most important mic I have is my SM 57. That’s it. For recording vocals, a tube condenser can really get the mojo flowing, especially if you’re using a super clean preamp. A couple of great ones that are affordable include the Mojave MA-200 and the Pearlman TM-1. Both are handmade, and are some of the best sounding mics around for under $2k. To get a really huge staring at the sun vocal sound, a solid preamp and a little bit of outboard compression will make all the difference. I’m a big fan of the 500 series modules made by Neve, Vintech, and Inward Connections. 

For other applications, having a couple of ribbon mics around is a great idea. My favorite are the Coles 4038. They are really heavy, and the magnets in them will probably erase any hard drive that comes in close contact, but these things sound amazing on a wide variety of things. Using a single one on horns is great…or a pair can be used to record an acoustic piano or as overheads on a drum kit. Another handy thing to have is a matched pair of small diaphragm condensers. Earthworks makes a pair that is top of the line. I’ve used them for all kinds of sample recording, and you can even set them up as a pair on an upright bass to create an amazing stereo image! - Evan Sutton

Believe it or not, my main mic these days is the Apogee ONE. If you get the mic stand clip and the extra long usb cable, you have a bus powered mic that sounds surprisingly full and clear. This is very helpful for me since I travel often and need to record vocals or dialogue while in a hotel room. It’s also great for doing mono field recordings.  Hang out somewhere with some nice environmental noises and bring your charged laptop and the ONE. Record from the field directly into your DAW of choice. I had primarily used the Shure KSM-27 before that, and would still choose it over the ONE for more critical situations, but in terms of finding the best combination of convenience, portability, and sound quality, you could do a whole lot worse than the Apogee One. - Thavius Beck

There are so many mics out there within different price ranges which are all great. Each mic has its own unique characteristics (for instance the Sure SM-57/SM-58′s are a must have for amps, snares and bass drums). However, what is typically overlooked are the connections between the mic and the recording device, which are the mic cables and the audio interface. Good mic cables can make a cheap mic sound amazing and bad mic cables can make an expensive mic sound like garbage, and the audio interface can do the same. A good line of mic cables I like are the “Kiwi”s by Blue (who also make nice microphones as well). I’m not convinced by the “Monster” cables though. - Raz Mesinai

For recording horns, particularly baritone sax and lower brass, I use a Beyerdynamic TG88 or Sennheiser 421. I don’t own these and usually borrow them from friends, or rent them from a local gear rental place. Renting can be a great way to have access to mics that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Usually, gear rental places will give you daily, weekend, weekly, and monthly rates. This is a great way to try out and experiment with high end microphones before you invest in something that may not be right for you. Scour garage sales, thrift shops, and junk shops for old mics and experiment with them as well. If they don’t work out, you can resell them or trade them or save them for a rainy day. The last record I made was with Antibalas at Daptone, a tape only studio. We had all four horns recording onto what I remember was a RCA DX77, an old ribbon mic. They have an assortment of incredible vintage gear and microphones, as well as a surprising variety of Radio Shack and other lo-fi microphones used for specific applications. - Martín Perna

I mainly use an AT4050 for vocals these days. I love the sound of this mic pretty much across the board.  It’s warm, rich and also has the perfect amount of brightness for vocals.  It’s sounds good on many styles including house, funk, R&B, Hip Hop, singer/songwriter, etc.  It’s very sensitive and picks up alot of nuances, so it sounds great with a really good vocalist or instrumentalist.  It used to be around $400, but it looks like the price went up recently. I’ve also used the CAD E300 large diaphragm condenser mic alot, which also can sound beautiful and very warm on vocals and runs around $300.  It’s not quite as bright and full sounding as the AT4050, but still pretty good.

I also have Shure mics in my collection: SM7 (supposedly Michael Jackson’s vocal mic on the Thriller record!). This mic is a dynamic mic and you need a lot of volume/intensity to get a decent signal. It seems to add a bit of color to the sound and it doesn’t pick up as many nuances as the AT4050, but it can be great to fit vocals in the mix.  I’ve worked over the years with television and video game sound and find that when the sound files get compressed in the end product, this wasn’t my favorite mic to use.  Still, I like this mic for certain things and it’s affordable. Also, the SM57s and 58s are good for stage micing and recording snare drums, guitar and bass amps. I also agree with everyone on this thread about the next step is to focus on getting a really good preamp/interface and cables! They have alot to do with the sound you get as well. - Michele Darling

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[...] microphone has been around since 1965 and is still highly regarded among producers. It was actually mentioned a few times in our recent survey of microphones with the Dubspot staff. The SM57 is a workhorse that can take a beating and still [...]