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Blue Collar's Homebrew Studio - Microphones, Part Uno!
By Mick Polich - 02/20/2010 - 09:29 AM EST

Microphones – I don’t know if a lot of people consider them a critical element in the sound chain.

Oh yes indeedy, they sure are – and I would venture to say that the more you pay for a good microphone, you will get your money’s worth, usually. But hey, we’re talkin’ ‘blue collar’ here, so you DON’T need to pay a million rubics for something of quality!

So, I’ve decided to document a homebrew studio project that I will use two new microphones on for recording – the MXL R144 ribbon, and the Sennheiser e609.

Both microphones can be had for under $200 a piece, which is appealing right off the bat. Frankly, I’ve been looking for a ribbon type microphone that wasn’t going to cost me half of the herd, and MXL seems to have responded on that front.

 On the guitar amp end, the e609 has been touted as a low-cost alternate to the pricier Sennheiser microphones used for guitar amp miking. Again, I like this route ( and so does my pocketbook).

Rather that do a bunch of random testing, I decided the best way to put these babies thru the initial steps was an actual recording project. I’ve been writing material for an instrumental CD for awhile, and came with a bunch of rules and parameters to, one, reel me from going overboard with tracking, pre amp, and miking experiments, and second, to keep the music within certain rules to see if I could actually hold myself to ‘em.

The working name of the project is “Plug In And Go”, which will pretty much be the impetus of the music recorded!

Sp, before we get into the mish-mosh of all that garbage, let’s see how the MXLR144 ribbon mike stands up on an starter test…..

The MXL has a frequency range of 20hz to 17hz (which is pretty cool if it holds water, AND for a Chinese made mike). SPL, or the sound pressure level; is less than 130db@1khz for 0.1% THD (total harmonic distortion). Since my sister-in-law in Chicago is now saying,”What?”, basically the microphone is fairly quite when it’s recording something. Ribbon mikes are fairly sensitive, and have a nice recording pattern to ‘em.

So……one of my rules is to one-mike my drum set (meaning I’m sticking one microphone in front of it). My studio is basically a side room off our living room, about the size of a doctor’s exam room (although I’m not renting it out to any doctors at the moment….maybe later…..hey, I have a solder gun and a meter, you can use that for exams, right??). So, not a hell of a lot of room in the studio for a lot of free – standing microphones with stands. Also, another reason is I want to go really old-school, and see how of the drum set the ribbon mike picks up.

I’ve recorded a couple of drum tracks to check the tone of the mike – pretty dark, but full, which will be nice because cymbals on a drum set have a way of eating up frequencies in recording. I’ve pointed the microphone down at a 40 degree angle – this way, I can capture the kick, and open heads on my toms, while not getting too much cymbal or drum head pop if I would aim the thing overhead or at a 45 degree and up angle. Plus, my drum set is a bit of a mutt-dog-crap fest in sound and set up, which means it’s lovable in an ugly sort of way…..

Fun stuff, huh? I LOVE IT!!!!.

My mantra with this recording will be very few items in-between the microphone signal and the digital work station, or recording consule. Of course, if a desired effect is needed , I’ll bust that rule wide open. Guitars, drum loops, samplers, basses, and keyboards will be another story entirely – the game plan is set to stun for those children!

Next up, I hook in the Sennheiser e609 microphone for guitar. I think you need a few ‘what-the-hell’ moments in recording – sometimes you get a crazy notion on how to place a mike, and where to record, say, a guitar amp.

Just for a test, I put my Crate Taxi 50 battery powered amp in the side bathroom by my studio – propped it up on the vanity, and place the boom stand with the e609 about 3 feet in front of the speaker. Then, I took my Dean electric 12 string (which the bottom E string was tuned down to D), hooked into the amp, hit record, and played some 4th voiced chords in the key of D to get the ‘drone’ effect.

Chiming, somewhat full, nice frequency balance – with EQ, effects, or compression, this microphone held some promise. So, where I’m getting to is using the ribbon mike for the drum set recordings, and the e609 for the guitars. Simple, easy, and in my case, it won’t take up a lot of room.

My last EP/CD had a lot of different mikes and miking technique – we’re going down a different pike with this latest project…… 

Day # 2: So, I get a last-minute wild hair before I head to the gym for my workout – what if I put the Sennheiser on the drum kit to see how it records? I’ve been trying to tie in song ideas, melodies, and get the production thing down for the project (in, and around, music lessons, cooking, helping Andrew with 5th grade math and language arts,etc.,etc. blahyaddahblah….).

I set up the e609, at an angle to the right of the kit (why? Because there’s no friggin’ room any other way – it’s like a hole-in-the-wall book store that’s fill to the brim with books….except mine spot has amps, guitars, and recording gear…..). I aim the mike at a straight line towards the top toms, about 7 feet way. Press record, pound out my ragged – ass U2 beat, roota , toota, ZONKS! Hey…. Wow…. what a crisp, round sound. So… now, I’m thinking…..maybe the ribbon mike for the bottom end of the kit, and the e609 for the top end…….

Again….. I’m havin’ a GREAT time, kidlets!!!!!!

UPDATE: well, as I type, I haven’t been in my homebrew studio for awhile now. A lot of amp and guitar repairs in there, which is good for the ol’ spirit and pocketbook, but a lot of space is taken up with gear. Perhaps next week, and you know, I figured this blog would have to be a multi – parter anyway. Microphones are the key element to any recording – think about it, the first thing that sound hits in the recording chain is a microphone, so the quality and type of mike does so much for your sound. It doesn’t take a ton of money for good, low cost microphones. Would I love to have a U47 in the chain? You bet, but I don’t have spare thousands of dollars to spend on that, so I get what I can get.

You can buy expensive gear and cheap microphones, and your recording efforts will sound cheap. But even if you have, say, a small digital 4 track recorder, and a good array of  microphones in the $125 - $500 range, you’re going to get some good effort on your sound ( of course, pending you know what the hell you’re doing!).

All for now, kids – we’ll continue down the ol’ home studio pike another time!




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