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Hands On – Quality Microphones (part 3)


Microphones generally don’t have much in the way of controls. I imagine
that one day they will have LCD readouts and up/down nudge buttons like the
rest of the equipment we have to deal with. They will probably also have dedicated
software running on a Mac or Atari to optimise the mic’s performance for
your particular task. Anyway, for now we only have to deal with three switches
on the U87, which I would say is about the right number. On the front (you can
always identify the front of a mic by the maker’s badge – Lenny Kravitz
obviously couldn’t on his ‘Are you gonna go my way?’ video!)
is the pattern switch selecting omni, cardioid or figure-of-eight. Around the
back are switches to set a 10dB attenuation and a low frequency roll-off. But
why should you need these facilities on the mic when you can more easily adjust
gain and EQ from the console? The answer to this question is that a capacitor
mic consists of two parts – the capsule which picks up the sound, and the amplifier
which makes the signal strong enough to travel down more than a hundred metres
of cable if necessary. The capabilities on the amplifier are limited by the
maximum of 48V available from the power supply, so with an exceptionally strong
sound source, such as a close miked drum, you would risk clipping the amplifier
causing distortion. Also, it’s quite possible to get high levels of low
frequencies finding their way into the mic and these are again best disposed
of at source. The attenuator is only single stage with a fixed 10dB cut. You
would probably still need to make sure that Pavarotti stands well back from
the mic.

As well as vocals, the U87 is also widely used for orchestral miking, not
so much as an overall stereo pair, but as individual section mics. Having spent
a lot of money on you U87, you might not want to put it within ten metres of
a drummer, but in fact the U87 has often been used for close miking the kit.
It’s a bit bulky for the job perhaps, but if you have a drummer who is
willing to shift his kit around a bit the U87 will give a nice solid drum sound.

AKG C414

It must be frustrating for microphone designers when they are full of ideas
for brand new microphone designs, but all the customers want is improved versions
of the mics they know and love. Like the Neumann U87, the AKG C414 has been
in the catalogue for a long long time and is a very popular microphone. Once
again, this is a multipattern mic with a double diaphragm. One characteristic
of multipattern mics is that you don’t point them lengthways at the sound
source, they are positioned sideways on so that the sound strikes the diaphragm
squarely. This doesn’t cause any problem to sound engineers since even
if you have never met one of these mics before you can hear that the sound is
wrong and reposition it accordingly. I have however met musicians who thought
that the mic position was wrong and ‘helpfully’ adjusted it themselves!
Like the U87, the C414 has the maker’s name and logo at the front so you
know which way round the mic goes.

The AKG C414 currently comes in two versions, the C414B-ULS (can you imagine
any sound engineer saying, “Pass me the AKG C414B hyphen ULS please”,
to his assistant?) and the C414B-TL. The ULS version is the standard model and
like most other professional mics has an output transformer to drive an interference-cancelling
balanced line. Although transformers are useful devices, they need to be large
to work perfectly at high levels of low frequency. The maximum sound pressure
level (SPL) spec for the ULS is 140dB SPL at 1kHz and 134dB SPL at other frequencies
between 30Hz and 20kHz. With the TL model, which has a transformerless output
stage, the maximum level is 140dB SPL at all frequencies between 30Hz and 20kHz,
which is obviously a significant improvement. 140dB SPL is, by the way, very

The AKG C414B-ULS and TL have the same combination of switches as the Neumann
U87, but here they are a bit smaller and fiddlier. The 414 has four polar patterns,
cardioid, hypercardioid, omnidirectional and figure-of-eight. The attenuation
switch offers -10dB and -20dB (raising the maximum level to 160dB SPL!), and
the filter gives roll off frequencies of 75Hz and 150Hz.

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David Mellor

Producing The End Men

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David Mellor