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.




Sep.16.2005 @ 9:59 PM
Good selection of mics, Chris. Especially the 40xx. May I also drop another stool in the pot?

The Studio Projects C1 is a damn okay mic for seriously small bucks. Some high falutin' folks like to compare it to the U87, but they're jackasses. Frankly, it's no U87.

BUT, it does a pretty good job of representin'. It sounds *close* to a U87 in proximity (with some EQing), but the farther away the source is the response exponentially tends towards crap.

Again, you're sending money straight to China. Our new audio overlords. Also, $199.


Sep.19.2005 @ 5:32 AM
Suit & Tie Guy
about that smoking thing ...

i recorded <a href=link [];this">link [] cover of a Pet Shop Boys track</a> a couple months ago. you can hear me blow smoke _into_ the diaphragm.

it was an Apex 460, the infamous Telefunker Mic.

in your opinion how destructive is studio behaviour such as that, anyway? i don't smoke in my studio, but only because i don't own the buidling.


Sep.19.2005 @ 2:53 PM
Thanks for the article. My local shop just got a pair of AT3035s in - a little more suited to my budget than the 4033. Gonna go check 'em out now.
link []">link []

Sep.30.2005 @ 11:22 AM
Yeah, I've got an AT3035 and it's okay for throwing around, but I find it sounds kinda dead theses days. A little lifeless.



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