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How To Choose Your First Microphone for Your Recording Studio

By Brandon Drury

So you have decided to buy a studio microphone? The first notion I'd like to shoot down is the “studio microphone myth”. There is no such thing as a studio microphone. A microphone will pickup sound anywhere you put it. It doesn't have to be a recording studio. It can be a kitchen. Granted, some mics are less durable than others and these mics tend to be used more in the studio than on stage simply because everything is abused live.

The second myth I'd like to shoot down is the idea that mics have special features. There are no guitar mics. There are no vocal mics. There are no drum mics (except for maybe those tom mounting gadgets that I don't really recommend because of poor mic placement options). All mics pick up sound. You can use a mic that some may consider a “vocal mic” on a kick drum. You can do the same with guitar. In the end, all mics have a certain sound. You can use them however you see fit. There are no rules.

Regardless of budget, no microphone gets used more in my home recording studio than a Shure SM 57. Yes, I have a $2500 Soundelux U99 tube condenser microphone. I have a Royer R121 ribbon microphone, but in my studio the Shure SM 57 gets use the most often. So with that being said, if you don't have at least 2 SM 57s, don't read any further. I'd bet that half the cds you own (or more) use an SM 57 on snare top and electric guitars. All these major label cds can't be wrong, can they? In fact, I've heard stories about a number of major label singers insisting on a Shure SM 57.

While the Shure SM57 gets use the most out of all the microphones in my recording studio, it's not right for everything. I wish it was. It's much cheaper than some of my other microphones. You have to understand that microphones are more like colors than anything. If you don't have the right color, than you will have problems. The perfect mic for the job will sound great. The wrong mic for the job will require EQ and still probably never sound right.

Your second mic could be a number of different microphones. It's recommended that you choose a microphone that sounds much different than an SM 57. A good choice might be a Audio Technica AT 4050. This mic can be pretty good on vocals. It's pretty bright. On some singers I've knocked the high end down quite a bit. (Actually, after using an AT4050 long enough, I decided I wanted a “duller” condenser mic. Ironically, dull costs about 5 times as much). The truth is I don't use my AT 4050 all that much, but I think it would be a nice opposing color to your SM 57.

You have to remember that the more mics you have, the less you use each one, normally. That's actually the whole point. If you have 100 mics and you know and understand each one inside and out, when it comes to micing up a giving source, you are much more likely to get exactly the right tone without the use of EQ. When you have 2 mics, this is much more difficult. Of course, you've got to be in it for the long haul to need 100 mics. Another great choice is a used AKG 414. They cost closer to $1000 brand new, but you can usually snag one for half that.

In the end, no one can pick a mic for you. You may hate all of my suggestions. Make sure you buy your equipment from a store that allows you to try a mic out. If you don't like a piece of gear, you are stuck with it. Do not believe articles like this.... believe your ears!

Brandon Drury has purchased his share of studio microphones. Check out his studio microphone reviews at

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