The-hard-truth-about-microphones-preamps-recording

The Hard Truth About Microphones & Preamps

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This Opinion piece was originally posted by Dan Cooper – Pro Tools Expert It’s a great reminder of what truly matters when producing music.

When we create Pro Tools Expert review or tutorial videos we often feature songs we produced with our clients. In a handful of recent plug-in videos I featured songs that I produced written and performed by the extremely talented singer/songwriter James Hodder. In the comments of these videos, James’ songs has received many compliments along with some viewers asking for details in regards to my microphone preamp chain used to record the parts.

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 My Microphone & Preamp Chain

  • Focusrite ISA 428 Mkii
  • AKG C414B for vocal recording
  • AKG xlii Stereo Matched Pair for instrument recording

I am the first to admit that this is not an exotic microphone preamp chain made up of carefully chosen boutique pres with warm tube mics… no, this is a very clean sounding, middle of the road and dare I say it “safe” mic pre chain that I have used for several years. There is nothing in this mic/pre chain that has, what I call, sonic signatures. Put simply, this is a point and squirt recording chain – plug a microphone in, position the microphone, set the gain, focus on recording music.

The Hard Truth About Microphone Preamp Chains

The most important focus in the art of recording is often forgotten. The focus should always be the source – what you are recording, NOT what are you using to record.

My Microphone & Preamp Chain

  • Focusrite ISA 428 Mkii
  • AKG C414B for vocal recording
  • AKG xlii Stereo Matched Pair for instrument recording

I am the first to admit that this is not an exotic microphone preamp chain made up of carefully chosen boutique pres with warm tube mics… no, this is a very clean sounding, middle of the road and dare I say it “safe” mic pre chain that I have used for several years. There is nothing in this mic/pre chain that has, what I call, sonic signatures. Put simply, this is a point and squirt recording chain – plug a microphone in, position the microphone, set the gain, focus on recording music.

The Hard Truth About Microphone Preamp Chains

The most important focus in the art of recording is often forgotten. The focus should always be the source – what you are recording, NOT what are you using to record.

In reality, microphones and preamps together only play one small part in recording, getting audio from source to tape… to break it down further it’s just a single chain that carries information from A to B.

I’m writing this article as the comment “What chain/equipment did you use for the vocal? It sounds AWESOME holy moly” offended me a little bit. Yes, there is a compliment in there but this comment reads as though the viewer assumes my gear achieved these great sounding vocals. It takes skill and years of experience to know how to place a microphone correctly and use preamps but I want to make a few points really clear to those who focus on this particular recording chain. If you believe a microphone preamp chain is some kind of holy grail or missing link that will improve your recordings then stop now and reconsider your thoughts as your beliefs are misleading you. The hard truth about microphones and preamps is that great sounding recordings start and end with great sounding performers performing great sounding parts in great songs.

Knowing How To Use A Microphone – More Important Than Any Mic

The secret to James Hodder’s vocal recordings is not in my microphone choice nor is it in my clean sounding Focusrite preamp. James’ vocal takes sound so good in the mix because of his natural warm singing tone along with his delivery, dynamic and diction. All I had to do was put James in the best sounding spot in my neutral sounding studio and set the correct height and distance of the microphone. Those elements combined with his well-written songs gave his vocals character and presence in the mix.

Performances Heard Over Preamps

Preamps differ is tonal characteristics; some are bright, some are dark, some are nothing to write home about but the point I’m trying to make here is that we don’t listen for preamp characteristics when we listen to music from an audience perspective – We listen to performances. If I recorded James’ album with a budget USB interface and budget condenser microphone the vocal production warmth, clarity and presence would as impressive if not the same. If we did use a budget mic/pre chain to track his album we would most likely receive the same type of comments from viewers expecting that we used a special blend of microphone and preamp… thus the loop of confusion continues.

Rarely do I stand on my soapbox with such confidence in music production but I honestly believe that microphone skills and artistry in sound are more important than microphone and preamp choices. It’s an expensive rabbit hole that can be avoided if proper microphone skills and musicianship are developed.

Don’t forget, when all is said and done in music production, microphones and preamps are merely tools to record source to tape. As I write this article my new recording studio is being built. When my builders are constructing my studio do I ask them what power tools they use? No, it doesn’t matter to me. When I go down to the studio to see their progress I admire their craftsmanship, not their tools much in the same way I admire a record or album for artistry and creativity.