In this installment of guest blogger Frank Klepacki’s series on music production, he ponders the question: Which mic would you choose if you could choose only one? If you missed Frank’s previous post, you can read it here.
A fun discussion among sound engineers is “What’s your desert island mic?” – referring to the question of what would be your single go-to for any application if you only had one mic to use? Over the years, this is a fun question to revisit, because different mics emerge that change the game and impress, causing engineers to potentially update their choice. But another thing to consider is the context of the choice.
For example, do you base it on if money was no object, or if it’s within a certain budget? Ultimately you don’t want to settle based on budget, because you’re talking about a single mic that would be absolutely great for “anything.” You could argue that the cost of having several mics to cover all applications could very well add up to the one ultimate mic that could do it all.
It amazes me that a single condenser mic on the highest end of the market can cost up to $10,000. That seems very outrageous and unnecessary even for the most high-end studios. Not to mention, most engineers will probably never have the opportunity to compare such a mic to others more commonly found.
So, narrowing it down to a more average budget for high-end mics puts you commonly in the $3,000 to $4,000 range. In this range, the most common response I have heard from engineers over the years is a Neumann U 87. It should be noted that this mic has been around since the late 1960s. For those counting, that’s 50 years ago! Since then, countless new mics have been invented – yet this is still a staple choice. And really one would be silly to argue against the quality and the sound you can get from it. It is certainly deserving of its reputation. Given how long it’s been around, it’s had the advantage of being familiar to most in the industry as well.
Every other mic in this price range is simply subject to personal preference based on criteria for what someone wants to hear, what technical specs they pay more attention to, and if they truly have tried it on most everything to make their final determination.
As of 2016, however, I have updated my “desert island” choice: the AT5045. Here is why. When its counterpart, the AT5040, was first introduced, I was taken aback by the richness of it and was eager to put it to the test on all applications for recording. Just as I found it to be my new favorite mic, I got my hands on the AT5045. The AT5045 has an almost identical sound to the 5040, but it is a narrower side-address capsule with an even more focused pattern, and handles very high SPL on top of that. While the initial AT5040 is desirable for capturing a wider pattern of what it’s in front of, with all the nuances, the AT5045 seems to accomplish the same thing in a more directional way. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing how it responds to everything from drums, guitar and bass cabinets, acoustic instruments, vocals, horns, strings, percussion, and piano. The tones are just beautifully natural and rich across the frequency spectrum, and you would be really hard-pressed to get a better natural result with anything less expensive than other mics in the $3-4k range.
But here is the kicker: This mic is only $1,399! Which means you could actually get a matched pair of these for the price of one condenser in the average price range of common high-end mics loved by most sound engineers. It’s an innovative design, and I believe it truly belongs amongst the best in the discussion for the ultimate “desert island” mic. Its ability to be as diverse and rich while capturing the natural sound of whatever it’s in front of is a real testament to what mics can achieve in the modern day at half the expected price point. Take the desert island challenge with this one and hear for yourself.
Frank Klepacki is an award-winning composer for video games and television for such titles as Command & Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War, and MMA sports programs such as Ultimate Fighting Championship and Inside MMA. He resides as audio director for Petroglyph, in addition to being a recording artist, touring performer, and producer. For more info, visit www.frankklepacki.com
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