Today kicks off a new series for the ACX blog: studio gear. Over the next few posts, we’ll cover one of your most discussed topics and provide some guidance for the audio recording newbie, those with some experience, and the seasoned pro. Let’s kick things off where the magic starts – microphones and mic preamps.
Microphones & Preamps
Mics and preamps are the first pieces of equipment that will pick up and process the sound of your voice. Remember, any piece of studio equipment you buy is meant to capture the true sound of your voice in your recording space, so don’t buy an expensive microphone to improve or compensate for the sound quality in the room. We’ll cover how to get great room sound in a future post.
For a a brief overview of how a microphone and preamp work, we turn to Sweetwater:
A microphone is a transducer, or instrument whereby sound waves are caused to generate or modulate an electric current, usually for the purpose of transmitting or recording sound. In all microphones, sound waves are translated into mechanical vibrations in a thin, flexible diaphragm. These vibrations are then converted by various methods into an electrical signal.
A preamp is a type of amplifier specifically designed to amplify very weak signals before they are fed to subsequent gain stages or devices. Preamps are commonly used to bring things like the output of microphones up to a level where more equipment can work with the signal. Preamps are called upon to deliver extremely high amounts of gain while introducing very low amounts of noise and distortion.
What to buy:
Now that you have a good understanding of what a microphone and preamp do, it’s time to figure out which equipment is right for you. The first factor you’ll consider will likely be price, so we’ll start with the cheapest options and work our way up to the most expensive. But first, a quick word on USB mics: we recommend you steer clear. They are often the cheapest option, but there’s a reason for that. By and large, USB mics will not offer the sound quality you need to deliver professional sounding, retail ready audiobooks. These types of mics can introduce hum and delay into your recording chain, necessitating various “fixes” during post production.
With that out of the way, let’s get to our first category:
Microphone: Shure PG27 ($149), Studio Projects B3 ($159), sE Electronics X1, ($199), or AT2050 ($229), Rode NT1-A ($229 – this option is a great starter kit, as it comes with the microphone, cable, shock mount and pop screen.)
Preamp: M-Audio Firewire Solo/M-Track ($149) or Studio Projects VTB1 ($180)
According to Audible Studios Post Production Associate Darren Vermaas, these are all viable options for beginners looking to get into audiobook production, however
They are less expensive because they are manufactured with cheaper parts. Cheaper parts are more prone to breaking. They will also generally be noisier, especially when combining a cheaper microphone with a cheaper preamp. On the plus side, these preamps both have I/O connectivity to a computer and serve as an interface with a DAW as well as preamp.
On the other hand, all of the preamps below will require a seperate audio interface (such as an Avid Mbox or M-Audio M-Track) in order to communicate with your DAW.
Hey, that doesn’t sound half bad.
Microphone: AT 4040 ($299) or Rode NT1000 ($329) or Sennheiser MK4 ($399) or AT 4033 ($399)
Preamp: Black Lion Audio B12A ($360)
Microphone: Mojave Audio MA 201fet ($695) or Neumann TLM 102 ($699)
Preamp: Focusrite ISA One ($500) or Grace Design m101 ($685)
Microphone: Neumann TLM 103 ($1,100) Neumann U87 ($3,600)
Preamp: Universal Audio Solo610 ($1,000) or Great River ME-1NV ($1,150)
Now that you have a variety of products to choose from, all that remains is to select the price range that best fits your budget and experience level. When comparing equipment, read users reviews and get the opinions of your peers. Whichever you choose, all of these options should set you up for success in your audiobook recording career.
Which microphone/preamp combo do you use in your studio?