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Top 5 Microphones at Any Price

Sonic perfection -- with a matching price.

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A while back, I was talking with friend and fellow engineer Joe Pisapia from Guster about microphones -- and as engineers working out of our homes, we're always looking for ways to squeeze the best quality out of budget-priced mics. Then the question came up -- if we had no budget to adhere to, what mics would we choose?

For fun, let's look at my top picks for incredibly useful and beautiful-sounding microphones with high price tags -- freshly updated for 2010.  Of course, they're out of reach for most of us  -- if you're on a budget, check out my list of Five Great Mics Under $200.

1. Earthworks SR-30 Matched Pair

Courtesy Earthworks

Quite simply, the Earthworks SR-30 are beautiful-sounding. Based on David Blackmer's principle that extending a microphone's frequency response outside the normal range of hearing will allow for a much higher-definition sound, the Earthworks SR-30 are amazing for overheads and acoustic instruments.

I have long loved Earthworks products, and consider them one of the finest available brands, anywhere.  Their commitment to customer service and sound quality is unmatched; the SR-30 (previously the SR-77) are also a favorite of concert tapers for their smooth and accurate recording quality in difficult environments. A matched pair runs around $1,800 retail.

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2. AKG C-12 VR Vacuum Tube Microphone

Courtesy AKG Acoustics

The AKG C-12 is a phenomenal vintage microphone; it's highly prized by collectors and high-end studios for it's pristine yet warm and detailed response. It's perfect on vocals and acoustic guitar, but also shines when used on guitar amps. It's controller offers 9 polar patterns - cardioid, figure 8, and many others.

The C-12 VR is a reissue of the C-12, faithfully reproduced with the original 6072-A vacuum tube used in the original model. The only difference? The VR has much-improved electronics to bring it's noise floor and distortion handling within the range of modern recording equipment. Price? $4,949 retail.

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3. DPA 4022 Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphone

Courtesy Danish Pro Audio
DPA produces very accurate (and very expensive) microphones. They're a favorite for recording classical music as well as acoustic instruments, mainly due to their smooth, accurate frequency response.

DPA microphones have a very specific "sound" to them; it's warm, tight, yet detailed; from the 4011 cardioid down to the cheaper, more affordable 4061, they all sound phenomenal.

The 4022 is compact; it's very easy to get in the right spot for acoustic instruments, but it's also equally impressive on drums and for live taping; one of the best mics available whenever logistics is an issue! The price? $1,516 retail.
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4. Sony C800G Large Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone

Courtesy Sony
Seriously, this microphone is one of the best for recording vocals; I first heard it courtesy of a hip-hop producer working on a major client, and it blew me away.

The C800G is perfect for vocals or acoustic guitar; detailed and accurate with a very vibrant low-end, the C800G features a 6AU6 vacuum tube alongside a unique Peltier-based cooling system to allow proper tube operating temperature. Very impressive!

Electronic-selectable polar patterns and a high -33db sensitivity round out this awesome offering - what many refer to as the very top of vocal mics. Ready for the price? Sit down... it's $7,800 retail!
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5. Neumann Solution D Large Diaphragm Digital Microphone

Courtesy Sennheiser USA

I'll be up front with you: this microphone costs more than my car is worth.

The Solution-D system includes three components: the D-01 digital microphone, a high-quality microphone with integrated preamp; the DMI-2 digital microphone interface, and the RCS remote control software which operates the microphone itself.  Imagine a microphone of world-class quality, bringing Neumann's legendary quality to life with a 96kHz, high-quality analog-to-digital converter, the Solution D offers the absolute best of cutting-edge technology. Perfect for vocals (or anything, for that matter), this digital perfection comes at a price. Get that loan application ready: $13,299 and it's yours!

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