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Better Female Vox sound

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by BobRogers, Apr 11, 2006.

  1. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I've been working with live sound for years and am just getting into more "serious" recording. My immediate goals are to improve my sound on female vocals and acoustic guitar. My first order of business is to treat my room, and that is going to take a few months and a big chunk of my current budget. However, I'd like to look ahead to the next equipment purchases, and I might be able to scrape a few shekels together this summer.

    Anyway, my basic system is a PT Digi002 rack. I have a Focusrite Octopre and a FMR RNP/RNC as preamps. My mic closet consists of:
    Shure SM57 (2)
    Shure SM58 (3)
    Shure Beta 87 (2)
    AKG C414 B-ULS
    AKG D112

    Anyway, a few days ago I was working with a female vocalist. We had spent a few hours laying down instrumental tracks. Before we quit, we decided to do a few vocal tests. I tried the C414 though the Focusrite (a combo that works pretty well for my daughter’s voice) and she sang some ballads (religious/folk, high alto, good diaphragm support). It came through a bit harsh. She was tired and we quit, so we’ll try other combinations in a few days. The FMR may soften it up, and of course I’ll try the 87 and maybe the 58. I can make things better with EQ, but I’d like to get the best combination flat before I start working.

    I know that fixing the acoustics takes first priority, but what would you recommend as the next steps in mics and preamps for this goal? Let's say a budget of $2,000, but the lower the better, of course. Any advice on putting the equipment I have to best use would be appreciated as well.

    Thanks, Bob
  2. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I have had very good results on female vocals with the Audio-Technica AT4047. Very smooth, never harsh. I run it into a Grace 101 preamp, or a channel on an old Neve Melbourne broadcast mixer (soon to be sold :( ), depending on the "color" that I am looking for. The Grace is CLEAN..The Neve........isn't :wink:
  3. Markd102

    Markd102 Well-Known Member

    I think your answer might be a better preamp rather than a mic.
    My advice would be to buy a few of hours in a pro studio that has a big range of mics and pres. Take in the 414 and your RNP and a bed track to sing to.
    Try the 414 through all their preamps and then all their mics through your RNP. then if there's time, maybe even a mix of their mics and pres. Get the house engineer to listen and advise.
    Then you'll be able to make a properly informed decision.

    The harshness is probably the Focusrite pres. I'm sorry, but I've always found their platinum range to be on the nasty harsh side.
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Next Preamp?

    So if the next step is a preamp upgrade, what should it be? I see a lot of people using a Brick - even if they have higher end pres in their collection. The price is nice, and at least it would add a new color to what I have. Is that the best choice in the $400-600 price range for vocals/acoustic guitar music?

    Again, I'm not (at this point) trying to build collection of equipment that can handle any type of music, but I'd like to get pro/semipro gear for my specific purpose. Most of the "Mic Closet" and "Pre Closet" lists I've seen are for what a pro needs to handle any client. I'm still trying to learn which of that equipment is the best for my more narrow needs. If there are "obvious" choices in the low/mid price range I guess I'd like to get them first, but at some point soon I'd like to work up to an "A" channel. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  5. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    To Mark - Thanks for the suggestion about getting help from a pro studio with a big selection, but I'm afraid Blacksburg, Virginia is pretty rural and isolated. (We think of it as "centrally located" - like the center of Austrailia.) None of the studios in the area fits the description. I know the owners, and I suspect they feel that the money I'm spending on equipment shoud be spent recording in their studios. I'm afraid that the "buy to try" strategy is the most practical for me. As we say in the university biz, "education is expensive."
  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Bob -

    Blacksburg is out there a ways, but one of the finest studios in the country is only a couple hours or less away (as a matter of fact, I think I can get from Charlottesville to Blacksburg in just at an hour and 15 minutes).

    Check out Crystalphonic....They are great and have so much gear, it's not even funny.

    If you're up for a slightly longer drive, you're welcome to try some of my stuff. I have Summit, Langevin, DAV, Aphex, Mackie stuff right now. Most of my mics are orchestral in nature, but I do have -
    Beyer M130/160
    Rode K2
    SoundElux U195
    AT 4040
    and a few others - plus, I can easily get a hold of a TLM 103 and maybe some Blue stuff for you at the same time.

  7. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    If you can do that, I don't want to try your mics, I want to try your car!...and your lawyer.

    Seriously, I had not thought about Crystalphonic. I ought to pay a visit regardless. I may take you up on your offer some time this summer. I have been thinking about the K2 and the 4040, and I've never tried the Beyer. Thanks!
  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I guess I must have been thinking Lynchburg...

    Oh welll - add 1 more hour to that...

    Funny (albeit mildly tragic and off-topic) story.

    I used to work for dell computers (about 7 years ago) and we (Wang) had the contract to repair computers that were covered under their next day warranty coverage. Our office was located in Arlington (Rosslyn specifically) and I lived in Fredericksburg (still do - still work in Arlington too, but now in that 5 sided bulls-eye...).

    Well, anyway, our territories got mixed up for a month or so while Dell was sorting some things out and our office got the entire state of VA to handle!!!! I was making 2 or more trips a week out to the college there in Blacksburg (it's UVA right??? I always get them all mixed up in VA).

    OMG - I was HATING life!!! Thank GOD I had some good CDs to listen to and gas was <$1 a gallon!!!!

    BTW - Yes, I did speed like a MFer! I was at Charlottesville in under 2 hours from Arlington and often home by 8 at night!!!

    Sorry, I now return you to your regularly scheduled topic already under way....
  9. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I think you are getting my employer mixed up with an obscure correspondence school somewhere east of here.

    To continue the off topic tangent, I was working with some people in Richmond a few years ago. Traveling from Blacksburg once or twice a week. The one good thing about traveling is that I could concentrate on music. The audio quality was not great, of course. But at least there were no kids or dogs or phones. Not worth it (I can't imagine covering your old territory.) But at least there was some small compensation.
  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Before you get too far afield with preamps and driving all over the place, check out the new MXL M3 microphone. It's amazingly cheap (Under $400, I think) and sounds great on a variety of vocals, male and female. While you're at it, you may want to try the V6 as well. Both are part of their "Silicon Valve" series, and are wonderfully warm and detailed.

    A better preamp might help as well, but I'm thinking what you're looking for is much more basic, and then the preamp thing will just enhance what you've already found.
  11. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member


    You've sort of put your finger on my the issue I'm trying to deal with. I have only a few mics suitable for recording. As you say, I should start building with something basic. With most other audio gear (at least in my opinion) it's best to use the buy once, cry once strategy. But in the long term I expect to accumulate a bunch of mics, and there seem to be useful mics at all price ranges. Names that keep coming up are the AT4040 at $300 and the Rode K2 and the Beyer 103 and 106 and $6-700 the $1-2K range is really confusing to me. I have to admit I had not considered the MXLs because I had been put off by their lower priced offerings which are the only MXLs I've seen around. Probably an unreasonable prejudice on my part.

    Anyway, I'm trying to figure if I should buy the least expensive good mics first or go for something at a higher price point and build around it. In some ways it's easier for me to figure pres. Most of the less expensive ones make nice direct boxes for electric bass, double bass, keyboard and acoustic guitar, and I'd be willing to use them live. So I can get a lot of milage out of them.
  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Well, Bob, you're asking good questions, and your instincts are good.

    As for mics, you've got a couple of dynamic mics listed, which as you probably know, are good for live, rough-handling use, but not usually good enough for studio use. As for the AKG 414's, there are those who love 'em and those who don't. (i'm in the latter category). I'm not surprised you're not happy with what you're getting, and again, I'm not so quick to say you need more preamps. Yet.

    You can't go wrong with the mics Jeremy recommends, including the AT4040 or 4050. Those are wonderful mics, and you'd be hard pressed to do much better, quite honestly. (You're talking percentage points of "better" as you go up in the thousands-of-dollar microphone bracket. At that point - thousand dollar mics will of course benefit from thousand dollar per channel pre's.)

    There are a ton of "Chinese Made" mics out there as well, and we're all seeing many similar body styles from different manufacturers. You can get some good deals, and some good sound mics, too, but it's always "Buyer beware" in terms of overall build quality.

    MXL is one of those manufacturers who seems to be providing both Foreign AND American-made products, depending on the model. (ADK is another that does this). Full disclosure: I reviewed the V6 for MIX, and liked it a LOT, for a variety of uses. They CLAIM it's "Made in America", and I don't doubt that it's at least assembled here. The parts may or may not be built elsewhere, most like the capsule is made overseas, but I don't know other than their press release info. Their "Tube-warmth" circutry is also a well hidden secret - they wouldn't give me any more info on it.

    I've had an early production model of the M3 for almost a year now, and it's a whole different - but equally smooth & warm - type of mic as the V6. What I like about the M3 is its sound with vocalists, male and female. MXL claims it's their answer to the Neuman U-67. (Not having ever owned or used a U-67 much, I can't make a direct comparison, but I CAN tell you it's one helluva mic - it just seems to go on forever, no matter how much singers "attack" it....)

    For the cost of either mic, it's certainly a low-risk investment when you've got everything else to get together, equipment-wise.

    I'm lucky enough to have put together a pretty good collection of mics over the years, but I also know the value of "good enough" when you're strating out, and have everything else to put together first. Before you break the bank on only ONE piece of gear, you may want to spread your investment around a bit as you build your craft.

    You can of course spend a ton of $$$ for an exotic mic now, and have little else with which to work, or you can get yourself a good, workaday microphone that will sound good, perhaps even great on a variety of projects, certainly better than what you have now.

    Break the bank another day, perhaps?

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