Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.

Archives: September 2005

September 18, 2005

The Scoop On The Neve...

by Chris Randall

As you can see, we have a (sort of) picture of the Neve 8816 summing mixer now. KMR Audio put it up in their new products blog; the text is the same that you've seen elsewhere, but this is the first time an image has appeared. Looks like they fit all that shit in to 2U, which is cool. I am now fully convinced that this is the most awesomest summing mixer to be released yet. I mean, Total Recall? How cool is that?

September 16, 2005

A large diaphragm...

by Chris Randall

With that title, you no doubt have a mental image of a fat chick pre-coitus, and who can blame you? But actually, this is a reader-requested column on large diaphragm condenser microphones. The nice thing about large-diaphragm condensers is that they are, by and large, good all-around mics. Unlike small-diaphragm condensers and dynamics, large-diaphragm condensers can be used in pretty much every situation with a safe assumption that they'll get the job done. If you're going to be recording vocals, you pretty much have to have one, of course, but it will also be useful for pretty much any other application. If you can only buy one mic, it should be a large-diaphragm condenser, basically.

Now, there are about 13 quadrillion choices in this particular catagory of microphones. You can spend as little as $59, on up to $10K and more. We will, of course, concentrate on the low end of the market here. These are three mics that I've used quite a bit, and give good results, for not a lot of money. In order of okay, pretty good, awesome.


This mic is as cheap as cheap can be. $59 with a clip, or $69 with a shockmount and a handy little grey plastic case. I purchased one of these right when they came out, because I was, like, "how bad can a large-diaphragm condenser mic actually be?" The answer is "not that bad." It is what it is, of course. I mean, what do you want for $70? It isn't going to make the heavens cry out in hosannahs or anything. But it works fine, and is actually a rather good deal. In my not-at-all-humble opinion, you'll find that this mic is more usefull and better sounding than your average SM58, at half the cost.

In particular if your voice has a nasal quality, or you're recording high-mid heavy content like guitar or horns, this mic will smooth the signal out quite a bit. Make no mistake, what is coming down the cable has no resemblance whatsoever to any sort of air vibration you might be hearing in the room. To call this mic "colorful" would be a tragic understatement. However, it isn't terrible, and it could certainly be worse. If you don't mind sending hard currency straight to China, this is a servicable solution, and you might as well get a couple for this price.

Audio Technica AT4033CL

Now, this is one of my favorite mics right here. I actually have the 4033a, not the CL, but they're intrinsically the same microphone. (CL = "Classic" as this is a reissue of the 4033a.) I bought this mic in 1996 or so, and have used the fuck out of it, until it has no fuck left at all. After taking dozens of tumbles, and having literally thousands of cigarettes smoked directly in front of it, and recording dimed AC30s and Fender Twins for hours on end, it still works as well as the day it was made. So, there's that to consider.

The 40xx series in general, and the 4033 in particular, have a pretty smooth high end, which people who don't know better call "warm." It is $399 most places, and in my opinion is worth every single penny. If you can only purchase one microphone, and even if you have a bit more money, I'd recommend this with no hesitation at all. It won't really be able to capture crispy-clean stuff to your satisfaction, but it has an overall good vibe to it. Vocals in particular work well with this mic. If you've used a C414 for vocals before, imagine that sound, with less of the high-end, and you're in the ballpark. This mic couldn't stand toe-to-toe with such lofty company, but that's the best descriptor I could come up with.

Shure KSM44SL

Let me get something out of the way about this one right now: I bought one of these, and after about 9 months I sold it again. I just want you to know that up front. It wasn't for me. Don't get me wrong, the KSM44SL is an excellent microphone. This is the only mic I've ever owned (or even used, really) where the sound that gets printed to disk is pretty much exactly the same as what I heard in the room. It gets the high end stuff no problem. It gets the low end stuff no problem. Mids? It's got mids for days.


I choose gear for myself based upon the colors it adds to my pallette. This microphone has no color at all. I like microphones (and gear in general) to add to the process, rather than just replicating it. So, long story short, this mic wasn't for me. However, if you're recording a lot of acoustic instruments, especially for other people, you might want to get yourself one of these; you could do far worse. At $700, it is a spendy mic, and I could come up with many other choices in that price range that were colorful, but sometimes I suppose you need to get the sound down, and this guy is it. I borrowed the baby brother of this mic, the KSM32, for a while, and liked it better. It is significantly cheaper at $500, and way more colorful. It is excellent for vocals, and good on guitar as well. There is an even cheaper model, the KSM27, but I haven't tried that, and thus have nothing to say about it.

So, this isn't meant to be an end-all-be-all roundup of condenser mics, by any stretch. I was asked to recommend a few large-diaphragm condensers, and I have done so. Your mileage may vary, as always. Most better music stores (and by "better" I'm specifically not referring to Guitar Center) have a mic room where you can try out their offerings. By all means go and give a few the once-over. Every model is different, and you'll even find quite a bit of noticable variation from one mic to the next of the same model. Ultimately, you'll need a whole toolbox full, but you have to start somewhere.

September 16, 2005

Hard-Core Gear Porn Friday!!!

by Chris Randall

It's Friday again, and that means hard-core gear pr0n! We're kicking an ironically minimalist tip today. Now, you'll notice the beautiful bent-birch desk holding up the Sony DMXR100, and the clean-as-a-whistle layout of this control room. Now, here's the kicker: this is a home studio, the private composing suite of a producer/composer. Do you believe that shit? The guy goes by the handle "Killahurts" on Gearslutz, and doesn't have a web page that I can find. He just put this picture up in a thread where people were showing off their control rooms. It's not so much that this is a home studio. I can live with that. I'm curious as to the home that is wrapped around it, though.

September 15, 2005

Sum This (Summing mixers, Pt. 2)

by Chris Randall

Okay, time to address this tardiness issue. I really feel that if I smoked more cigarettes, my productivity would increase. I suppose the only way to know for sure is if I tried.

Anyways, back to the summing issue. There are three main flavors of summing mixers currently available. We'll go in order, from simplest to most complex.

Plain Vanilla

These sorts of summing mixers are totally passive. A passive summing mixer needs make-up gain, because (due to annoying features of physics) you lose volume when you mix channels together. The most popular example of a completely passive summing mixer is the Rolls Folcrom. This box is so passive, you don't even need to plug it in. The concept with these sorts of boxes is that you use a pair of mic pres to make up the 30-odd db of signal loss. The "sound" of the summed mix is thus dependent on the quality and flavor of the mic pres you use. So, while the Folcrom is only $750, and thus the cheapest of the high-end summing mixers, you have to figure that you're going to need at least two high-end mic pres; otherwise, there's no point to the exercise at all.

A Little Bit Of Iron In The Path

By far, the most common sort of summing mixer is this flavor. These units have a passive summing array, but have built-in line amplifiers, thus obviating the need for mic pres on the output. The most popular of these is one of the first ones released, the Dangerous 2-Bus. At two and a half grand, it's a bit of an investment, and only sums eight channels. Of this catagory, there are two general kinds: those that color the sound, and those that don't. The D2B is definitely of the latter catagory, but there are several offerings in the price range that do add a bit of "vintage" color to the signal, whether your tastes run to tubes or iron. (For the former, the innerTube Audio Atomic Sumthang is a nice one. For the latter, probably the API 8200A is the way to go.)

The Full-Meal Deal

This catagory has the most cool shit in it, I'll say that much, but "an arm and your left testicle" is the general price range. These sorts of summing mixers are basically small consoles with no mic pres. They'll have, for the most part, transformer-balanced inputs, direct outs per channel, VU meters, and a simple console master section, usually with a couple monitoring options. Pictured, you see the Chandler Mini-Mixer, which is exactly that. My current favorite is the Aurora Audio GTM-822, made by Geoff Tanner, a former Neve engineer and all-around cool guy. These sorts of mixers can be used for other purposes than just summing, and are generally full-featured. There are about a dozen to choose from, and they generally fall in to the $4000 to $8000 price range.

The summing world is about to be turned on its ear, though. AMS/Neve is going to
a 16-channel full featured summing mixer with all the bells and whistles at AES for $3250. Figure a street of around $2750 to $3000 for this. This has become my new Object Of All Desiring. Now, AMS/Neve almost falls outside the scope of shit I would recommend, as they're a bigger company than I normally like to talk about here, but quite frankly, I think this is the one to beat. I'll throw pictures and such as soon as they're available.

So, to sum things up (hardy har har) summing outside your DAW will give you obvious improvements in headroom, dynamics, "air," and clarity. However, it isn't cheap. If you make electronic music exclusively, this probably won't be a big enough gain to justify the expense. However, if you're mixing "real" music, and you're not using the only DAW with a summing buss worth a shit (HTDM PT), you're definitely going to see that the expense is worth it by introducing an analog summing process to your mix. It's a matter of choosing the unit that most fits your budget and what you're trying to accomplish. I personally believe that the mini-mixer variety gives you the most options, but you can get away with some significantly cheaper solutions.

A link to all of Mercenary's options was put in the comments of the last summing article. I'll throw it again, and say once more that research is your best friend here. Gearslutz is the spot to be in this regard, as there are lengthy threads on the pros and cons of every single summing product, as well as many threads on summing itself. (Hint: use "OTB" as your search term, "outside the box.")

September 14, 2005

Get yer 1176 here!

by Chris Randall

Building your own high-end gear is always something I recommend here at Analog Industries, and I attempt to bring you the easier-to-build stuff when I come across it. In that light, this site may be of interest to you. One of the many 1176 clones available as DIY. This one, like the last one I pointed out, has some mods, and has departed from its Gyraf roots a bit.

There are two reasons I point this one in particular out: (a) the circuit boards are only $20, and (b) the web page has _very_ thorough descriptions of the why and wherefor of the process. Thus, while it is a relatively simple build as such things go, you can actually learn about what's going on in the process, rather than just soldering components to a board. The expensive parts are the iron and the VU meter, as always. You're looking at about a $400 to $500 cost-to-build here, depending on the components you go with, but of the 1176 projects I've come across, this one seems to be the best way to go.


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