Mid-budget mics for acoustic roots music?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by oldtimestrings, Jul 27, 2007.

  1. Hi folks,

    I'm looking for recommendations on condenser mics to record mostly solo, roots music in a home studio. I'll be recording some very nice vintage acoustic guitars, and occasionally open-back banjo, mandolin, lap dulcimer, fiddle, etc. I also want to record my voice (fairly strong and resonant baritone).

    I am looking for a natural and warm sound, with minimal processing and EQ. I don't want to have the guitars sound slick and "modern," like a Taylor (I'm not dissing Taylors, but it's a different sound). I also am not concerned with the ability to cut through a mix, as most of this will be solo (voice and instrument), with the occasional overdub of two instrumental parts.

    I'll be recording through a Phonic Helix Firewire mixer at 24/96.

    The style is old-time, hillbilly, country blues, folk. Think Norman Blake, Doc Watson, Mike Seeger, Jody Stecher, and the like (if that helps).

    For vocals, I want a warm and natural sounding LD in the $100-300 range. I'm considering the AT3035 and the MXL V6 (the one that's supposed to sound like a tube mic, without the hassles).

    For the guitars and other instruments, I'd like a matched pair so I can track in stereo. Price range $200-400. I'm thinking about the Rode NT5s.

    All suggestions are welcome! Thanks in advance!

  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Greg -

    Welcome to RO.

    I must admit, the original query "Mid-budget mics" and the price range in the post don't match up. The mics you're asking about are decidedly dirt cheap mics. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's important to understand that by no means are mics in this price range "mid-budget" to most of us in this industry.

    That being said, I like the Rode NT5s a lot for budget mics and think they're well worth the money.

    As for the LDCs, I wouldn't really suggest either of the two you mentioned. They're both decent, but better can be had for the price. The AT 40 series has several available within that price range (some new, some used). Also, Rode has several LDCs in that range which are very high quality.

    If you're not planning on doing vocals and instrumentals at the same time, you could easily use a single Royer 121 or an AEA R84 as the sole mic for everything and get wonderful sounds.

    Either of these can be picked up used for a little more than what your total budget appears to be for the LDCs and the SDCs. I don't now if saving the extra $$ up is an option or not, but it would definitely be worth it! The preamps in the phonic aren't perfect for a ribbon mic, but they'll likely do. I'm trying to find out the input impedence on the boards but their page is taking forever to load!

    I'm not sure if I helped at all, but I thought it was worth jumping in.


  3. Thanks, Jeremy. When I wrote "mid-budget," I was thinking the middle range of what one might call budget mics, as opposed to the sub-$100 condensers widely available from Samson, CAD, Behringer, etc. Those I would call "dirt cheap."

    So, sorry if I'm misleading anyone with the thread title. I guess I didn't use the clearest terminology, but at least my price range is clear in the body of my post.

    Thanks for the suggestions, Jeremy! I welcome other input.
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I'll second Jeremy's recommendation of the Rode NT5 pair. I'm very pleased with mine and finding lots of ways to use SDCs because of that. Made a big difference in my recording of acoustic guitar. (Though now I have an alternative that I like better at times - a pair of 414s in Blumlein.)

    I haven't used any of the LDCs in that price range, but I remember that JoeH likes some of the MXLs and you should do a search on that.

    Have you tried using dynamics? (Especially for vocals.) SM58 and 57? EVRE20? As a pure long term purchase decision, you are putting pro quality dynamics against entry level LDCs

    Of course, for recording old time, ribbon mics come to mind. Some inexpensive ribbons have come on the market recently. There has been a lot of curiosity expressed on the board, but I don't remember any direct reviews. Maybe someone will chime in.

    Good luck.
  5. Yes, I have a 58 that I use for vocals live. I've tried it several times for recording and , while the results certainly weren't terrible, they seemed a little flat and lifeless.

    Maybe it was my singing. :p

    I hadn't considered ribbon mics before you guys suggested them as a possibility. I'll look into it and think it over. Thanks.
  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Yep, I'm a BIG fan of the V6. For the money (and the sound), you can't go wrong at least trying it out. It's got a great sound on a variety of things, very warm indeed. Saxes, basses, harps, and a number of other acoustic intruments sound great with it. (Full discloure: I reviewed it in MIX, as well, and ended up liking it so much that I kept it.)

    It's my secret weapon for a lot of things; most people have no idea what it is when I set it up, but they like the look of it, for starters. THEN they hear it! No on EVER complains afterwards. When I can get sax players to cooperate - usually on live gigs - I get them to put away their own AKG 414's and use the V6 instead. We often get the warmest, sweetest and smoothest sax sound, even off-axis - which is a big deal for sax players who move around a lot while playing. It's not a tube or ribbon mic, but it seems to think it is. (Whatever the circuitry is, they're not telling. I've heard its an FET design.)

    For stereo/ambient pickup, I too like the NT-4; I think there's a bunch of us, including Jeremy that love the thing. It's really a nice little mic, and a great sound regardless of the price. For the overall stereo image, it's wonderful. I think they took all the guesswork out of the cartridge spacing and really nailed it as a result.

    Coincidently, I've been doing a lot of small-scale, intimate acoustic recordings of late, and have been trying out a lot of ribbons. The AEA stuff is probably out of your reach, (my R84 costs just under a grand), but you can pick up various odd things on Ebay if you're patient and keep your eyes open. I recently lucked-out and got an RCA 74-B in very good shape for just under $700, and it works superbly. There are also occasionally some interesting English Reslo (ribbon) mics for sale from time to time. When they work, they are great. You need good pre's for ribbons, but once you've got the signal chain in place, it's wonderful stuff.

    Also, I'm hearing the Cascade ribbons are quite nice as well, and there are rumors about some very similar construction between the Fathead and one of the higher end Royers, but I can't say for sure, having no first hand experience with them. I DO want to try out the Cascade stereo ribbon soon; it seems like a fairly safe investment for the $$.

    Hope you have a good time with all this, it's really rewarding when it all falls into place. Good players, good instruments, and good mics/pre's make for a great experience, and you learn a LOT. Let us know how you're doing with it.
  7. Thanks, Joe. I'd already read you review of the V6 in Mix (to which I subscribe), and it was one of the reasons I was considering it. They seem well worth the standard street price of $299, and there are some incredible deals on them on eBay.

    The NT-4 looks intriguing, and I certainly like the no-hassle, no-brainer kind of setup. But of course you're limited to the X-Y configuaration with that mic, which is why I was thinking about the matched pair of NT-5s instead. It's the same capsule as in the NT-4, if I'm not mistaken.

    One of the online reviewers of the NT-5 (at mojopie, IIRC) liked the mic a lot but commented on its darkness. Comparable to a KM184, but with much less high-end. Have any of you who like the NT-5 found this to be true? Might I lose some of the nice, natural shimmer of my acoustic instruments?
  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    No way I would call the NT5 dark. Now there are several mics in the price range of the KM184 that have a smoother high end (at 4X the price they'd better), but it is not as if the high end was rolled off.
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Agreed. They're not dark but they're certainly not bright.

    The only thing that separates the NT5s from higher priced mics is its off-axis response is a little inconsistent. For that reason, I wouldn't use it over a large ensemble.
  10. WesFan

    WesFan Active Member

    Might want to try the Shure KSM 27.

    I record a lot of mando. guitar, banjo, fiddle and upright. I prefer ribbon mics, but good ribbons are not cheap. Need a good pre as well with them, like the AEA TRP.
  11. For vocals or instruments? or both?
  12. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I have to second (or 3rd or 4th!) the NT-5's. They work great on mandolins, banjos, Martins, etc. I also like the Beyer M160 ribbon on those, too.
  13. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I don't know why I didn't think to mention the Beyers...hell, I own like 10 of them.

    For about $1200 (I know it's higher than the total budget you mentioned before) you could get a Beyer M130 and M160 and have a VERY versatile pair of microphones. If you used them for voice, you'd probably find that you want a little HF eq, but they take EQ very well.
  14. I just ordered a matched pair of NT-5s, so I'll let you know how they work out. Thanks again for the strong recommendations.

    Still trying to decide on the LD for vocals.

    The ribbons sound like a great thing to try, but they are sadly out of my current budget. Maybe somewhere down the line.
  15. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    TEN BEYERS!!!??? Judas Priest, man, that's an absolute plethora of fine sonic transducers, that is! I've owned maybe a dozen or so Beyers since 1975, but they keep fallin' apart at the seams, the heartbreakers that they are. Kinda like my women... :lol:
  16. mattkeen

    mattkeen Active Member

    I would heartily recommend AT4050 for LDC - its a really good and very versatile mic that is not overly hyped at the top end. I findit like a bit more engageing 414.

    If you go up budget later try and get to hear a Gefell UMT70 it has that clarity but with warmth.

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