An essential piece of kit for the Home Studio
If you're thinking about setting up a home studio or you've already got a setup and are producing your own recordings, the chances are you (like all studio owners) are looking at the next bit of kit to buy. It comes with the territory, unfortunately. Once you've been bitten by the recording bug you'll find yourself browsing websites, magazines, etc looking for the next purchase. These of course can run from a few pounds through to thousands of pounds. I call it shiny kit syndrome, many's the time I've found myself looking at a new item for the studio or a plug-in, credit card in hand before I stop myself by reminding myself that I don't really need it. There is however an item that every home studio should have and one that will make a dramatic improvement to your recordings. I'm talking about a large diaphragm condenser microphone.
These are the sort of mics you see vocalists using in studios, they usually sit in a cradle and have a shield in front of them. They're very different from the stage mics you might use at a gig. A condenser mic is primarily designed for recording and is more sensitive than a dynamic (stage) mic. Condenser mics need their own source of power known as phantom power, usually 48v but most interfaces or preamps have this built in as standard. You just switch it on when you're using the mic. The advantage of a condenser mic for recording is the enhanced quality and clarity it will bring. It can be used for a number of applications, most notably for vocals but also on instruments too. It's possible to record an entire song with one condenser mic, using it for everything.
In recent years USB condenser mics have appeared and have been improving as time goes on. Some of the more expensive models are very good, and if you're just producing demos on a laptop, for example, this would be fine. However, a mic that you attach to an audio interface via a USB cable will give you that extra quality and is probably the better option if you're trying to make release quality records at home. Condenser mics are super sensitive and will really capture the essence of your vocals or guitar tone, much more so than a simple dynamic mic. That's not to say you shouldn't use a dynamic mic, recording is all about experimenting, and if you find you capture a great tone with say a Shure SM58 then great! Go with that.
Budget wise, what are your options? With everything home studio kit related it's always important to only buy what you can afford. There's no point spending thousands on a Neumann U87 as your first mic. Equally, you're better off not going for the £29 unbranded option from eBay. For around £100 you can get a very good mic. Audio Technica's AT2020 is a great entry level option and retails at the time of writing at about £80.00. Rode's NT1A comes in at around £140.00 and is a great option. AKG makes some very good mics too. There are a lot of options out there so take your time, read the reviews and choose what will be best for you. You can always upgrade at a later date.
So if there's one essential thing your studio needs it's a decent condenser mic. If you've only been using a dynamic mic you'll really hear the difference. One thing to beware of though, I mentioned condenser mics are super sensitive, bear this in mind when recording especially if you live in a noisy area or have traffic noise or dogs barking nearby. The mic will pick this up. This can be overcome by reducing gain levels but it's better to be recording in a quiet, treated space. (see the previous blog)
Thanks for reading.