microphones, tube vs. Electret, cardioid, omni, etc.

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by Purrhonda, May 2, 2005.

  1. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest

    Hello, I'm new to the forum.

    I'm a singer/songwriter, and in the process of setting up my home recording studio.

    Here's what I have:

    PC is a Dell 2400 series, Intel Pentium 4 Processor at 2.20GHz, 256MB, hard drive 40GB.

    Martin D35

    Roland MA-8 Monitors (a gift)

    Beyer dynamic M88N(C) mic. (old, but rebuilt)

    Other relevant Information:
    1. I would like to be able to record at least four instruments.
    2. My strength is as a vocalist (female).
    3. I would like to stay under 2k.
    4. Yes, I may use MIDI.

    Since this is a vocal thread...
    OK, I read that one of you thinks the Shure Beta 87 is the way to go for female singers. Then someone else said the KSM27 is all around nice (KSM44 better, but $700). Another human said the Rode NT1 is shrill (may rule that one out). Some one mentioned a Studio Project mic, the B1.

    Someone mentioned I might want to go with a tube mic, why? I hear they are fragile.

    Cardioid, omni, figure 8. I say a diagram of these, but it didn't go into the pros and cons. I'm guessing it has to do with acoustics?

    Let me add, that I will be recording my guitar too.

    I will need a:
    Sound card: suggestions? Delta 66 or 44, m-audio audiophile. Some have analog I/O's and some have digital I/O's and some have both. Which do you suggest.

    Mixer or a pre-amp. I need information on pre-amps in that I'm not sure of their function. I also see there are microphone pre-amps and tube microphone pre-amps. I see where there are pre-amps in mixers, but I don' know if it's the same. Then they are "live" mixers, and "recording" mixers, oh my. What should I look for? Which brands, what cost?

    I'm considering Tracktion 2 as my software, any thoughts, insights?

    Someone suggested that I will need a compressor...when does it all end?

  2. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    Hello V.R., welcome to RO!

    We can talk gear all day, but before you decide to go down any one path, you should first be sure that your goals are clear and that you are focused on what is most important to you. Is it songwriting? In that case, I wouldn't recommend spending a huge ammount of money on recording equipment. If your goal is to record professional quality recordings at home by yourself, it is going to take a long time of learning and growing and some decent gear as well. So, are you looking for an artist's sketchpad, or something to make saleable CD's with?

    Best of luck.
  3. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    I'll bet it's both. Nothing's' that easy ...
  4. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Whittier, California, USA
    Hi purrhonda, welcome to RO and the vocal booth. David gave you good advice, you might want to come up with some especifics so we can help you- as far as the nt1 mic, it is a bit shrilly and thin when paired with a cheap pre- I've been staying away from it for female vocals. lately I've been using the K2 in omni for female vox with good resuls. (the k2 is a tube mic)

    If you are just starting out and want to record 4 instruments at once you will need 4 dedicated pres or a mixer with decent pres- mackie make some mixers with 4 or 6 or 8 pres that are pretty good and won't set you back a lot. the plus is that you can also use the mixer for live performances- the minus that it won't be as good as dedicated pres but for decent pres you can plan on paying like 400-500 per channel anyway.

    you can probably get away without a compressor for now if you use good mic technique. Come in for softer passages, back up for loud ones. That is 'natural' compression at its very best. A compressor will do that 'unaturally' and squish your vocal down for the loud passages. I myself try to stay away from compressing vocals at tracking, though I use a the limiter in my rossetta for a safety net.

    well anyway, I hope this helps a little. as far as mics, you have to try to find one that fits your voice- do you have a loud voice? a high voice? a low voice?- all those things are important to consider.

    as far as the recording software, david can help you a lot in that department. If you post in the computing and daws forums there is a lotta helpful people there that can help you putting together a daw. I run digital Performer, which is a mac only program so I'm afraid I can't help you much in that department.

    Well, good luck, and if you stick around this forum I guarantee you will learn a lot. there are a lotta good and helpful people that will help you. but one things is for sure, it will take time to develop your recording chops. but then, nothing good ever comes easy...
  5. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest


    Yes, I sing low, high, loud and soft. I'm not a heavy blues singer if that's what you mean. My tone is more along the line of Ella Fitzgerald, Diane Schuur, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Bonnie Raitt. Not that I sound just like these ladies, but I think our tones are somewhat clear sounding and are in the same range.

    The artist's sketchpad vs. a saleable CD. Well...I want to sing my music and have it sound clear and clean. So, saleable could mean clear and clean...yes?

    Artisticly speaking, I write, but I also sing. I think the two are separate types of art.

    It's possible I can accomplish my goals without a lot of recording gear, I don't know. I have tried to record on lower end recorders, but it sounds like I'm in a shoebox. Vocally I can shift my tone and experiment, but it's impossible to have a good sense of the outcome on a bad recorder. You are correct David, that there will be a lot to learn. I will need something very basic.

    Thanks for your help.
  6. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    The first thing you need to consider is your acoustics. Well, the very first thing you need to consider is the sound source, but you've already got a presumably good voice, and definitely a nice guitar. You will need some basic acoustic treatment for your recording space. The ears are very forgiving of bad acoustic spaces but microphones are not. If you do DIY, and we have soe true experts around here that can help you with this, you don't have to spend a lot of money. This step is IMO more important than any gear choice that you will likely be making. Tell us everything you can about the room you will be recording in (dimensions, materials, etc). After that's taken care of, you'll have a space, probably very dry, that you can start getting sounds in. Artificial reverb will be your new best friend.
  7. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    One more question that I forgot... have you considered using a cheap sketchpad-type setup to compose with and using a professional facility to make albums in?
  8. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest

    Acoustic spaces and cheap sketchpad setup


    Presently, my computer is sitting in an open loft area. Also upstairs, are my two daughter's bedrooms and a bathroom. Downstairs, my living room is 19' x 14', and it has a high, open ceiling. There is another bedroom downstairs that is 14'X14', with a large window. I also have two large closets without outlets.

    I've recorded in professional studios, and I have a visual as to what you are talking about. In truth, I can't see myself, or I'd rather not, foam up my bedroom walls. Possibly a closet, yet, I'm weary of overwhelming myself with too much "detail." Meaning, there are decisions as to how I want to spend my time and energy. Do I want to further my writing skills, or do I want to learn how to be an "audio woman?"

    Maybe I should consider a cheap sketchpad type setup, what do you have in mind? Could I have a clear sense of vocal tone? Could I burn a CD?

    I suppose using a professional facility is something to consider, although, they are costly, and frustrating at times. Meaning, everyone processes sound differently and sometimes what the tech wants to hear, is not what I want to hear. Yet, if I had a setup that would capture the basics of what I'm trying to achieve --a CD that I could take to a professional -- it might work.

    I appreciate your help.

  9. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    This is exactly my point. I decided long ago to focus on music production and recording since I just didn't have consistent writing talent and a good enough voice to be a singer/songwriter (although it hasn't stopped many ;) ). I figure that I can use my abilities to help others make their music come alive,m adn to me, this is just as good. So many people today try to be all things at once, and I think this is a big mistake, al least it would have held me back.

    Even though you're leaning toward a sketchpad-type setup, I'd like to say a few things about acoustic treatment. You would be surprised how elegant an inobtrusive acoustic treatment can be. I'm not talking about foam. Rigid 2' x 4' x 1-6" insulation board, an ideal sound absorber which is made from glass or basalt fibers (aka ridid fiberglas '703' and rock or mineral wool) can be covered with any gas permeable fabric (infinite room for design there) and can even be printed on for any design you like. You can make it look like a painting. If you want, you can cover the edges in a wood frame and make things look even better. The materials for doing this are inexpensive, too. As far as closets go, I guarantee that you will have better results recording in an open space. Closets, unless acoustically treated to be truly anechoic above 100 Hz or so, will always sound like closets. Which space were you corrently considering setting up in? Your living room sounds ideal for guitar, vocal too if you can do something about the ambience.

    About the sketchpad-type setup... First, you are planning to use your computer for the recorder, right? What are your complete computer specs? This is very important for determining what you can do or whether you should consider a standalone recorder. Are you compuer savvy enough to install soundcards, harddrives and such by yourself? I';m sure you want to hear something about gear rather than just be asked more questions, so i'll tell you a few things. First, recording software can be had cheap. Some soundcards even come bundled with excellent software for free. There are several soundcard/mixer integrated systems that I think would be ideal for your situation. Some have MIDI-I/O and most have headphone amps as well, so that would save you having to buy those things. M-audio, Roland (Edirol), E-Mu, and Echo, all make products that would suit you well. Browse their websites. As for mics, there are lots of decent and cheap mics. R0DE and Studio Projects are favorites around here. We can figure out specific models later, but take a look at those two companies websites for ideas.

    The bottom line is, "yes", I think you can get something respectable onto CD with a sketchpad-type setup and lots of good technique.

    As for pro studios, it surprised me when you said, "...sometimes what the tech wants to hear, is not what I want to hear". The engineer's job is to make you happy. If you were ever in a studio where this was the other way around, you should not be giving them your money. I think that if you search around, you can find a nice facility that won't be too expensive, and will treat you the way you deserve to be treated. Studio time for an album of music like yours should be much cheaper that the gear necessary to do a comparable job at home.
  10. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest

    My computer, my skills, my living room, etc.

    Yes, there are quite a few dilettantes out there these days, and what's really frightening is that their actually on the radio, TV, movies, making a living doing it.

    My computer information in overkill format: (hope I got it all)

    Dell Dimension 2400 Series
    Intel Pentium 4 Processor at 2.20GHz
    256MB DDR SDRAM at 333MHz
    Intergrated Intel 3D AGP
    Module, Hard Drive, 40GB
    Microsoft Windows SP Home
    Dell Application BAck-up CD
    48X Max Variable CD-ROM Drive
    Integrated ADI 1885 Audio
    Roxio Easy CD Creator 5
    48x/24x/48x CD-RW Drive
    Soft Contracts - Banctec (?)

    No, it's a pity, but I don't know how to install a soundcard or harddrives.

    I have concerns about my computer.
    1) I have kids who play computer games, etc.
    2) Although I've been told my computer could do the job for home recording (at least to begin with), I'm wondering how long it will be before it's maxed out.
    3) Is the internet a threat?
    4) Is it best to add on memory, or to buy a new tower?
    5) Another possible option -- I have my old computer in the closet. Could I take it's screen (a biggy) and keyboard and hook them up to my current computer, and then buy a new tower and use my current Dell flat screen and keyboard downstairs for recording. Does that make sense?

    You stated that, "Your living room sounds ideal for guitar, vocal too if you do something about the ambience."

    Yes, my living room 19' x 14' (it might actually be longer), in my opinion, sounds the best. I have a piano in the room and it sounds really big when you play it. Of course that could be a negative...I don't know. The floors are ...what is the name...fake wood.

    I'll read up on the products you suggested.

    Good technique you say...is that an intuitive thing, or can I find it in the instruction book?

    As to the techs I've worked with in the past...I don't know if they just didn't know what they were doing, or if I just didn't have the vocabulary to tell them what I wanted (although I tend to be pretty basic in my needs; a little reverb, keep it clean). It reminds me a bit of working with soundmen. Most weren't musical, didn't know a G from a C, and they didn't understand mixing; It was always a roar. But of course, it's a tricky business in that the musicians tend to "turn up" on stage (devils).

    Thanks again,
  11. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    The computer sounds good except for the RAM. The system can't work to it's potential with that small an ammount. For Internetting and such, yes, but for recording, 512 is a minimum, and totally doable.

    The internet on a recording computer is not a good idea because any time there is a data exchange during recording (things like this can go on in the background without your knowledge) you can get clicks in your tracks. It's best to have a machibe that's sole purpose is audio. Also, I understand that you can't just take over your family computer for recording only. I'd hate for you to have a to buy a new computer, but it would definitely be great if you had one. Also, when it comes to installing hardware, it really is easy and many of us here can talk you through it. You really have found the best damn recording site on the internet!

    You could absolutely use your dell monitor and keyboard with any computer you buy. These things are not brand specific.

    Good technique comes from lots of listening and doing. Books can teach you the technical basics and can give you some starting points for mic technique and such, but can't teach you how to get great sounds. I would definitely recommend reading all that you can, as it can only help. My first book was Modern Recording Techniques by David Miles Huber. It's a decent introductory look that is basically an overview of the recording process and of recording technology. You can learn much more about the actual practice of recording from a site like this and lots of experimentation. You have to love sound to get good at this stuff. Does recording a small snippit of guitar, going over to the computer to play it back, moving the mic, and starting again sound like fun to you? It sure does to me, and to most everybody on this site.

    Yeah, it sounds like you've worked with a bunch of dorks. That's not how it should be at all. The best engineers have always been musicians.
  12. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest

    computers and soundcards/mixer

    I'm going to check prices on PC's this weekend.

    I'll look for:
    512MB (or 1GB) DDR SDRAM at _____ (my current is 333MHz)
    Hard drive 200 seems common these days
    HHD 8MB cashe (say this one on the forum/whatever it is)
    AMD or a genuine Intel Pentium 4

    Anything else I should be aware of. CD burners?

    As to soundcards/mixers -- I'm not sure what I'm looking at (maybe the book you recommended will explain all this jazz), but the ECHO Layla3G PCI Audio Interface $499.99 seems to be popular
    It has mic pre-amps, w/phantom power
    15' cable
    Comes with TRacktion (I've read Tracktion 2, but haven't found description of owner version. I would like some drums to play with and effects, etc.

    I don't know if this is a good deal or not.

    The Delta (m-audio) 66 seems to be popular too, both of these come with a software console.


  13. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    So you're interested in a new PC huh? Cool.

    You'll want a computer with a 400 mHz FSB (Front Side Bus - this is the avenue of communication between the CPU, the thing that does all the math, and the RAM, the thing that holds the data you're currently working with for faster access that from the hard drive) DDR400 RAM is made to work with a 400 mHz Front Side Bus clock speed, get it?

    As far as CPU speed goes, the more the merrier of course, but for your applications, a 2.0 gHz AMD Athlon XP would be smoking. I have a system that I built around an Athlon XP 3200+ and it has never crunched out on me, even with 50 tracks and 20 plugins. I built it for about $700, and with current prices and some part substitutions for the things that would be overkill for you, it wcould be done for under $600. Keep that in mind when you look at name brand PCs. I think AMD is the way to go. They are cheaper and frequently beat Intel in benchmark tests.

    Hard drive size doesn't affect performance, it all just depends on how fast you thing you will fill up. I doubt you could fill an 80 GB drive any time soon. The cache on a hard drive is a bit of RAM (memory) that serves as a buffer for data going into and out of the drive. The bigger the buffer, the better the performance. Honestly, with the small scale projects you will be doing, a standard 2MB buffer would be fine, but 8MB buffer drives are not much more money.

    For CD burners I like Lite-On for budget drives. This is not of major consequence to you.

    The Layla 3G is a great box and I don't think you could go wrong with it. I'd recommend that you take your time though as something else might end up being better for you.

    You know what would help? A Budget. Also, do you think you'll ever need more that two mics recorded at one time? If so, you will need more preamps than the Layla has.
  14. Operadragon

    Operadragon Guest


    If a person was looking to buy a new interface, but needs no simultaneous I/O (only doing voice-over recording, and nothing else), then what would be the best one to use for the least expense?

    I'm looking at the E-MU 1820 right now...any other suggestions? Anybody?

    Brad Venable
    Voice For Hire
  15. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    Without preamps, M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 and E-Mu 0404 are both great. With pres, probably M-Audio Mobile pre.
  16. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest

    recording gear conversation continued...where were we?

    OK, thanks for the computer information.

    As to your question of budget -- $2000 (ouch)

    As to your question as to whether I might need more than two mics someday (I had mentioned that the Echo Layla seemed popular with 2 lines) -- meaning will I want to record several instruments at once -- it's possible.

    I had wondered about this same issue, and believe that it seems foolish to buy 2 inputs and then have to upgrade soon after to 4 or 6, if I'm understanding the concept of I/O's and all.

    I read that some interfaces come with analog and some with digital (some both), but that digital is best.

    Also, that preamps need XLR and 48V phantom power (for certain tube mics).

    As to the package that comes with the Layla, I take it that it's not that hard to piece it together...software, cable, etc.

    So are you thinking I need a separate pre-amp along with more inputs/out on an interface? There seems to be a wide price range in these and differences such as plain pre-amps, mic pre-amps, and tube-mic pre- amps.

    - 650 (computer)
    $1400 left for:

    interface w/mixer software

    Not a lot of cash I know, what do you think?

  17. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest


    Forgot to add software to the cost list.

    I guess I could always soup-up my old computer if necessary.

    Also, is it best to have your computer in a different room?

  18. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    I think that you are right to buy a few more inputs that you will immediately need. The whole concept of I/O's is simple. All this means is the ammount of mono sources you can record from at one time. Inputs and outputs come in different types according to what kind of signal they can accept. There are digital and analog ins. The Analog ins take a signal from a mic, an electric guitar, or a keyboard and convert it into digital data inside the box. A digital in takes a signal that has already been converted into digital data and simply routes the signal into the computer. You will be concerned with the number of analog ins the device has because that's what you'll be using with your microphones. The Echo Layla 3G would be an excellent choise for you right now because it has two channels with preamps and six more analog ins without preamps for future use. About preamps... preamps raise the weak signal level that comes out of a microphone to a more robust level that can be recorded. A pre with phantom power (the two Layla pres have this) can supply power to a type of microphone called a 'condenser' mic. You will be using mostly if not all condenser mics when you record and most preamps have phantom power. A 'dynamic ' microphone by contrast needs no electricity to produce a signal. Vacuum tube microphones always need electricity to operate, but they also always require their own special power supply unit becuase of the higher voltages they use.

    I think that you should go with the Layla, have your two simultaneous recording channels to start learning with, do some recording, and then later, if you feel the need for more simultaneous inputs, shop for another pre to feed some or all of the six preampless inputs on the Layla.

    Concerning your budget, I think this is plenty to get started with. If you build your own computer, you can build a macnie fast enough for anything you'd want to do, without a monitor, for under $500 ( I just did exactly this for for a friend last week). If you're buying one, you dould probably do similarly well, but you should talk to some of they guys in the DAWs and Computing forum about which cheap proprietary computers will work for you. There are some smart dudes over there that know a good deal more that I about this subject. We'll call that $600 for the computer then. So that's over $900 left for mics and such. You could spend anywhere from $400-$800 on mics and get good results. I'm thinking about two small diaphragm condensers for recording guitar and one large diaphragm condenser for recording voise. Models I have in mind are the Kel Audio HM1, Studio Projects B1, C1, and C4, R0DE NT1000, and NT5, and Shure KSM 27. That leaves over $300 for a nice pair of headphones (Sennheaiser HD280), some stands, and some decent cables, which it totally doable. I think you're in good shape here! Let me know if I can help more.
  19. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    Just saw your last post.

    If you get the Layla, you will have Traction. I don't know how that is because I haven't used it, but I assume it will be capable of anything you need. Apparently it comes with some decent plugins, and there are some great free plugins I can show you. What otehr software were you thinking of?

    It is best to have your computer in a separate room if you can. You can get inexpensive extension cables for your keyboard, monitor, and mouse, and the Layla has a 15' cable, so that would't be a problem.
  20. Purrhonda

    Purrhonda Guest

    If you're out there...

    If you're there...

    David, I've spent time searching the forums for information on PC's, Mac's, etc., and now, I'm more confused and brain-fried. There are so many opinions and skill levels...

    I just want to buy a computer, PC or Apple (I've never worked on a Mac, but it can't be that different...I think), that has what I need to record, and that won't have a lot of problems. Please tell me, where shall I go and what shall I buy?

    I have discovered that I will need a keyboard, mouse, and monitor for the new unit too.

    Also, this last weekend, I spoke with a relative of mine who is attending some type of recording school, and he said not to buy the Layla, but instead buy the Firepod that comes with Steinberg's Cubase LE. Any thoughts?

    I so want to order this stuff and start recording.



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