The world of audio production is supposedly safe space, built on the premise that whatever sounds good, is good, and that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to creating art.
On the other side, we always hear people talking about gear. Most of us are constantly on the look for that certain gadget or plugin that gives you “that sound”, claiming that only the super expensive studio classics will sound truly great.
While having all the legendary gear that you've seen in the biggest studios around the world is great, the costs of buying things like that are way out of reach for the vast majority of us.
So what’s the best strategy when it comes to equipping your studio? Should you spend all your budget on one classic mic and use it’s brand/logo to lure in customers or should you buy cheap, don’t risk with your investment and use the remaining money to throw a pizza party?
Here’s what happens in those scenarios:
THE CHEAP WILDCARDS
Buying on the very low end of the microphone spectrum (mainly the super cheap stuff made in China) can prove to be a very tricky thing.
These manufacturers promise you the highest quality – since it is not forbidden to do that on the box if you find the right words – yet fail to deliver almost every time. By buying a mic like that is essentially a small bet on your future as an artist or producer.
You are not only getting a sub-par sound quality (that’s a guarantee), you are also getting a questionable performance consistency within that level of quality when working on different source material.
The thing is – good manufacturers who have established their brand have also spent years and resources to perfect the capsule technology as well as other parts of the microphone.
The technology is about 100 years old but that does not mean that it is easy to reproduce properly and available to everybody.
Well-known and respected manufacturers test each and every capsule for consistency and only the good ones get to sit on the shelf of a store.
While it is true that this no-compromise selection process drives up the price of a microphone, it is easily justified by the need for consistency when it comes to such a delicate technology.
For the last decades the goal of the traditional manufacturers has been to approach a flat frequency response which essentially means striving to reproduce the sound coming from a source as accurately as possible, with no coloring.
Mics of this class will usually have unpleasant spikes and dips in their frequency response resulting in a tinny, harsh and unnatural sound that's harder to mix afterwards.
Then there’s also the range of what capsule can do.
A cheap microphone can sound passable on spoken word, but it will often fall apart sonically when presented with a wide variety of frequencies and dynamics of, let’s say, an acoustic guitar or a very expressive singer, not to mention the high noise levels that will become very apparent when the tracks are fed into a compressor.
The gear will find and single-out it’s the weakest link immediately!
Customer service and warranty is also an issue with these mics – if something goes wrong, you'll possibly be stuck with your dead microphone, waiting for a reply from a very poor or non-existing customer support.
If you are serious about making music, working with clients and if you care about sound and reliability, steer clear of microphones of this class.
THE FAULTLESS CLASSICS
The classic studio microphones promise the highest quality and sonic excellence, and they deliver exactly that. But there’s a price to pay, so to speak...
Mics of this class usually perform great on every source you throw at them, and do it consistently, as they have proven to be great throughout many decades in most cases.
The technology has been improved countless times, the manufacturing process is refined and full of tradition. You can also rest assured that the components that go into the device are top-quality.
The price of brand new true classics can be overwhelming and it is clear that you are paying some of the money for the name itself.
That is simply the way things work.
And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a nice, classic German microphone (if you can afford it without selling your only car while holding back tears), for those starting out on their own this is simply not an option, as dropping $3000 on one is not really a logical step.
THE MIDDLE PATH
Somewhere between the two extremes previously discussed is an option that offers you great sound quality and excellent performance for a fraction of the price of a studio classic.
Smaller manufacturers who work hard to create world-class microphones in a more affordable price range while avoiding compromises when it comes to build quality or sound characteristics can be found if you are willing to do a bit more research before reaching for your wallet.
Brand value and tradition reign strong in this industry, therefore, these manufacturers, who have yet to establish their name, refrain from putting a big price on their products.
Yet the business model that completely differs from that of many Chinese producers, as well as factory setup, means that they will try to do that by putting out high-quality stuff.
Such companies also tend to offer exceptional customer service to stay in competition in times when mistakes relating to customer service are simply not forgiven.
So you don't necessarily need to burn a hole in your wallet to buy a great sounding mic that's well-built and will last you a lifetime.
The smartest way to buy is to not cheap out on a total budget mic only to spend several times as much on your next upgrade, but pay a little more initially and get a great combination of price and performance.
Such a strategy also means that you are investing in and supporting those who care about the future of microphone technology.