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Understanding Microphones

Brian Toye
July 18, 2011



The question…What microphones should I purchase? The decision making process was a collaboration of my past experiences as well as 2 months of testing alternatives. I knew I was not going to need mics for tracking drums, as I go elsewhere to attain those sessions. I did however, need a library of microphones that could stand up to the task of reproducing the sounds from guitar and bass cabinets, piano and organ, acoustic guitar and bass, cello/violin etc.., brass instruments, various small percussion and most importantly vocals.

These were the contenders: (note* I always ran the mics through the same vintech mic pre)

Neumann TLM 49 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/TLM49/
Neumann TLM 103 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/TLM103/
Mojave M-200 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MA200/
Peluso P12 http://www.soundpure.com/p/peluso-p12-multipattern-tube-microphone/818
Charter Oak 538 http://www.soundpure.com/p/charteroak-sa538-tube-microphone/782
Lauten Oceanus http://www.soundpure.com/p/lauten-audio-oceanus-lt-381-microphone/2397
Shure SM57 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/SM57/
Shure SM7b http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/SM7B/
Royer R-121 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/R121/
Avantone CR14 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/CR14/

The first mics I tried out were the Neumann TLM 103 and TLM 49. They picked up every nuance of their sound source and thus I would describe them as very detailed. The TLM 49 has a slightly larger capsule than the TLM 103 and there was a small difference in low end reproduction (The TLM 49 reproduced more low end). I think both mics would sound great on cello and acoustic guitars…but for me I’m not feeling them on vocals because they are just too detailed.

I decided to try out some tube mics. I tested the Peluso P12 and the Mojave MA-200. The MA-200 sounded tiny and the P12 which was supposed to be a remake of the vintage AKG C12 sounded muddy and too undefined in the low end. I had not yet fallen in love.
I was looking for something more forgiving than the Neumann line of mics and something more magical than the Peluso and Mojave. I needed a microphone that added something good to its sound source and at the same time, did not take anything good away from it.

Next up was the Charter Oak 538, a large diaphragm tube microphone. I immediately loved the sound of this thing. It was definitely getting closer to what I had in mind. A really nice openness and well balanced response. It has a little kick in the high mids making this a great mic for vocals. So far this was the best contender for my dollar.

It was a short lived romance with the Charter Oak when I came across a company I had not before heard of. Lauten Audio produces a number of microphones. Their flagship is named Lauten Oceanus, a large diaphragm tube condenser, it was a clear winner. It had everything I wanted and more. A frequency response that I feel is great for vocals. A tight low end and non-aggressive highs. It’s slightly forgiving because it seems to have the ability to soften a harsh vocal note (most likely due to the tube). I also had a chance to try a stereo pair of these beauties on acoustic guitar as well as on a Yamaha custom oak drum kit. I was blown away on all sound sources. It’s difficult to make these mics sound bad. I was sold. I’m now a proud new owner of the Lauten Oceanus.

Now I needed to find the best mics for guitar cabs. I would be working with all types of artists in a variety of genres. I would need to capture a twangy telecaster with single coils one day and an overdriven ESP with EMG hum buckers the next. I tried a long list of mics in front of a mesa cab and in the end there were two clear winners, the Royer R-121 ribbon and the Shure SM57 dynamic. The combination of these two microphones in my opinion, give the best representation of an electric guitar cabinet. No matter how I drove the head these mics sounded fantastic.

I also had some previous experience with the Shure SM7b which is a great microphone for aggressive vocals. I knew some engineers employed this mic on guitar cabs…I tried it out and it was amazing. So my final microphone choices to compliment my project studio are the Lauten Oceanus (vocals, acoustic guitar, cello, piano etc…), Shure SM7b (aggressive vocals, guitar cabs) Shure SM57 (guitar cabs) and Royer R-121 (guitar cabs, acoustic guitar).

I have yet to hear the Avantone CR-14’s but have read great things about these ribbon mics. They are supposed to be great on drum overheads as well as guitar and bass cabs. If they are as good as they are hyped up to be I will most likely pick up a pair to play with.


- Brian Toye -
www.wemakerecords.ca