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Before You Buy A Microphone

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Buying a microphone: if you're going to be performing live or recording, you need a microphone!

Whether you're recording in a spare bedroom for mixing live sound, you'll need good microphones, and it's a hard choice to make -- there's a lot of options, even for those on a small budget!

In this guide, you'll learn the things you need to know before shopping for a microphone. It's important to keep in mind a few small things -- but after that, the microphone world is yours for the taking. Enjoy it -- microphones are one of the most addictive purchases you can start making for your studio.

Before you begin...

The first thing to keep in mind is your budget. Keep this simple saying in mind, even before you set your budget: the better the source, the better the recording. If you're recording a decent-sounding instrument or voice, you can probably bet that even a cheaper microphone will sound acceptable. Learn to tune your instrument well, and take some of our advice on treating the acoustics in your room. You'll find that the added trouble to make your recording circumstances perfect will reflect in your recording!

Budget

Unless you have limitless resources, budget should be a concern of yours on your mic purchase. Budget at least 25% of your budget for a studio for microphones, more if you can.

You don't have to spend the best to get "the best" sound. A lot of microphones are considered "homages" -- microphones that replicate a certain characteristic of a historic microphone. These are generally sold by small manufacturers, and carry a much lower price than the original.

Also, don't be tempted to overspend; with maintained instruments, you'll have no problem getting the sounds you want.

Dynamic or Condenser: What's the Difference?

Dynamic microphones generally sound best on guitar cabinets and close-miced drums; you'll also find some exceptional dynamics that sound best on voice in studio. There's also condenser microphones; these sound best on vocals (in the studio)aaa, acoustic instruments, and room/drum overhead micing.

If you can only afford one microphone, consider a high-quality condenser. You can find many within the $100-300 price range.

If you can afford it, a great "utility" condenser along with a great dynamic microphone will cover almost all of your recording bases. If you can only afford one, a good condenser microphone will do.

Does your mixer or interface offer phantom power?

If you choose a condenser microphone, you'll require a 48volt phantom power source on your mixer or recording interface. If you don't have this, it'll be an extra cost you have to incur on your purchase.

Many companies manufacture 48volt phantom power supplies; these will cost you between $100 (for plug-in models), to $250-300 (for elaborate battery-powered solutions).

It simply depends on your resources; if you don't have built-in phantom, and can't afford to add the capability to your system, chances are a dynamic microphone is best for you.

One or two microphones?

Depending on your needs, you may require two microphones for stereo recording.

If your ultimate goal is recording live concerts, rehearsals, or recitals, you might want a stereo pair of condenser microphones. These can be had for a variety of price ranges, from the $100-200 range to many thousands of dollars. Some of the best -- companies like Earthworks, Neumann, and DPA -- offer models to suit all price ranges.

Don't forget to budget money for mounting systems (t-bars, as they're called) and extra cabling to make your two-track recording work.
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