Resources for the Recording Musician
May 23, 2009

Condenser mic?

I'm currently in audio production school, but I'm a musician at heart and that's what led me to recording school. I'd really love to purchase my first condenser mic this summer, but I need something specific. I'm looking for a condenser mic that is around $500 (or less) and picks up female vocals, acoustic guitar, and mandolin well. But I'm leaning more towards vocals/acoustic guitar so that's where I'm going to place emphasis.
Do any of you know of one that would be best?

I've heard a lot of great things about audio technica mics and I've actually been looking at a couple, but I want to really research this before I buy one. The AT mics I've been looking at are: 4033CL, 4047, and 4050.
I'm looking for something that will capture the warmth of my guitars and vocals. All three of those look promising, but I want a professional opinion.
Any help would be very, very much appreciated.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to your question.  Every voice is different, as is every acoustic guitar, and so the same microphone doesn't work for everyone.  Plus, you have to consider the room you record in, the type of microphone preamp you use, as well as the type of music/song you are recording.  You would want a different type of sound if you are doing a simple acoustic guitar and vocal type recording than you would if you were doing a full rock/pop production with lots of instruments.  So, even if you are using the same voice and same instrument, you may want different sounds for different songs and arrangements.

That's why there are so many equipment choices out there.  The most expensive microphone isn't always the best for any given situation, or voice, or instrument, etc.

Since you say you are currently in audio production school, I would imagine they should have a variety of microphones already.  So, you should get a chance to try some of them out to see what works well for your voice (if it's your voice that you want to record), and see what sound you like the best for the type of music you usually record.  If that's not an option, try to find a pro audio dealer that has a generous return/exchange policy so that you can try different microphones out in your own studio with your own gear to see what is going to work best for you.

If you're really getting deep into this as a potential career, then you are definitely going to need more than just one microphone anyway.  So, you can always pick something that will work well enough on a variety of things now, and that fits your current budget, then add to your microphone locker as you get more money.

The three AT mics you mentioned are all good microphones.  I have an older 4033, as well as a 4047, and I've used the 4050 several times at other studios.  If I was picking one of those microphones as my first "general purpose" microphone, I'd probably go for the 4050 if you can get one within your $500 budget (those typically go for $600 new).  It's probably the most versatile out of the three since it has multiple polar patterns, and it works well on a variety of sources.  If you don't have the budget for a 4050, then the 4033 would be my second choice... it was actually the first large diaphragm condenser microphone I bought for my studio for doing vocals.  It shares some characteristics of the 4050, but doesn't have the multiple polar patterns, and is not quite as nice sounding as the 4050, but certainly a very good microphone for the money.  The 4047 is also a cool microphone, but is was purposely designed to have more of a colored sound to it... it's definitely not as natural or neutral sounding as the 4050 or even the 4033.  It has more of a mid-rangey vintage vibe sound to it, that works great for some things, and not so great for others.

But, they are all great microphones.

Thank you very much for your advice and suggestions. I found it extremely helpful.
I have just a few more questions -  this time about mic preamps. Is there a certain type of microphone preamp that you'd recommend to someone considering to buy the AT4050? Are there some affordable mic preamps that you'd generally recommend to someone who is new to recording? Or, does purchasing a mic preamp depend on the type of sound you're going for, as you mentioned above?
Just like microphones, each microphone pre-amp has its own sound, or "color", that it imparts to the signal.  Some preamps are designed to be as neutral, or "clean", as possible, acting as close to a "straight wire with gain" as possible.  Others are purposely designed to impart their own unique color to the signal, either through the types of transformers they use (or no transformers), tubes, or other circuitry.  Classic preamps, such as those from Neve or API, are sought after because of the sound they impart to the signal.  Some preamps can be fairly flexible, giving you a fairly clean sound when operated at lower levels, while imparting some sonic grit or thickness when driven hard.  For example, the true "sound" of an API preamp, that most people desire, is only achieved by really pushing the output levels of the preamp to bring the transformer into saturation.Many engineers and producers collect a wide variety of preamps just to have that palette of sounds available to them.

However, the choice of microphones is really going to make more difference to the overall sound than the preamp, although the preamp is still important.  A cheap/bad preamp will make all your microphones sound lackluster, while a great preamp can even make a simple Shure SM57 sound great.

My advice is to save up for at least one really nice preamp to get started with.  Until you can afford that, you can try some decent lower end preamps, like those you might find in a Mackie mixer or something in that equivalent price range.

My favorite preamp that gets the most use in my studio is the Great River ME-1NV.  It's design is based upon the classic Neve style preamps, but with a bit more modern sound to it.  It can go from clean and gentle to very thick and big, depending on how you drive it and whether or not you engage the transformer (there is a switch on it that allows you to switch it in or out of the signal path).  In fact, I'm strongly considering selling some of my other preamps to add an additional two channel version of the Great River, the MP-2NV.

However, depending on the type of music you do, you may want to start with something much more clean and neutral, such as the Grace preamps (I don't own those, but they are well respected)

Again, it's tough to make a decision without trying them out with the microphone you are going to be using, and recording the main source you'll be working with in your own space.  Stick with a place that has a generous return/exchange policy so you can try some out to see what works for you.

Subscribe via Email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Help!

Got a technical question for the Ask MusicTECH blog?
Submit your Question

Need more personal help or consulting?
Contact Me

Buy me a coffee?

If you find this site helpful, please consider leaving a tip/donation to help cover the server costs and encourage me to write more.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram