If you’ve spent any time in a recording studio, you’ve probably had discussions about the pros and cons of different microphones. Inevitably, these conversations end up including vintage microphones, with terms like “warmth” and “presence” thrown around. So what is it that makes vintage microphones sound good to our ears? And, more importantly, how can we use modern technology to produce the sounds of vintage microphones without using antique equipment? It’s easy with Mic Mod.
Turn Up the Heat
The most common praise of vintage microphones is that they’re “warm,” which is a way of talking about their frequency response, saturation and harmonic distortion. For decades, engineers battled the inconsistencies introduced into the recording process by analog tubes, tapes, and transistors. Then, once digital recording became the norm, we realized that analog saturation can actually sound more pleasant and “real” to human ears. Thankfully, Mic Mod lets you reintroduce as much (or as little) of that saturation as you want.
The Trinity of Microphone Designs
The sounds of legendary microphones are produced through the use of specific materials and designs in their construction. Among microphone designs, three reign supreme: Dynamic, Condenser, and Ribbon mics.
The most common microphones you’ll encounter are either Dynamic or Condenser mics. Dynamic mics are known for working better to capture louder or amplified sources (like guitars and drum kits) in noisier environments. Condenser mics are more sensitive and capture a fuller sound, making them ideal for vocals and strings. Ribbon mics are a rarer and far more delicate technology. The thin membrane material they use as a diaphragm makes them very responsive, and great for picking up the subtle details of a vocal performance.
So, which one of these microphone designs is the best? The answer ultimately depends on what you’re recording. But with Mic Mod, you’ll have access to all of them—without spending a small fortune to get it.
Up Close and Personal
Another characteristic to look for when recording with a microphone is how the frequency response changes depending on how close a sound source is to mic. Generally, sounds get bassier the closer they are to a microphone (this is known as the proximity effect). Many vocal mics have a sweet spot of a certain distance. Instrument mics, on the other hand, may work best with closer micing (especially in the case of certain mics intended for drums). The emulations found in Mic Mod take these factors into account, delivering an authentic-sounding experience.
Building the Perfect Virtual Mic
Understanding the principles of what gives legendary mics their sound can help you produce better vocal tracks. But unless you’ve got tens of thousands of dollars to invest in vintage microphones (and the ongoing maintenance they require), this information is only going to be so useful.
Thankfully, there’s another solution for producing the sound of authentic vintage microphones: Mic Mod from Antares. Mic Mod lets you easily apply the frequency and harmonic characteristics of over a hundred legendary mics to recordings you made with whatever mic you happen to have. And not just vintage microphones, either. Modern classics and tried-and-true studio workhorses are also all included with Mic Mod.
Mic Mod on Vocals
Let’s take a listen to how Mic Mod works, and show how you can use it to add some vintage flavor to your tracks. Here’s the vocal we’ll use with this example:
Neutral Vocal: Solo
I’ve added a little bit of reverb, but otherwise the recording is as-is. While it’s a nice recording, it doesn’t stand out much in the full mix:
Neutral Vocal: Mix
It’s not quite sitting how I’d like it to. I don’t know exactly what microphone was used for the recording, but thankfully Mic Mod has a set of Generic models for common microphone types. In this case, for input type, I’ve chosen “Generic Studio Dynamic,” and for output, I’ve chosen the classic Neumann U87, in cardioid (directional) pattern, with proximity of three inches.
Vocal: U87 Mix
Notice how much better this sits now. The low cut that I enabled on the mic model takes out some of the harsher low frequencies, allowing me to turn up the vocal a bit if I wanted to. In fact, let’s try pushing some tube character on the vocal:
Vocal: U87 Tube Mix
This effect adds a little bit of grit with the tubes, which is a better fit for the dynamic of this performance. By just working with a few models in Mic Mod, I’ve produced the exact sound I wanted, without using a single EQ or compressor.
Mic Mod on Voiceover
With the proliferation of podcasts, there’s also been an uptick in poorly recorded voiceovers. Too much bass, too much sibilance, too quiet, too loud…These are all examples of less-than-ideal recording techniques that are endemic nowadays. But it doesn’t have to be that way. While Mic Mod can’t make your stories more compelling, it can make recordings of dialog sound much more natural and professional.
Let’s listen to a few examples to show you what it sounds like. In the example below, the dry narration was recorded with a Shure SM57, known for being a studio workhorse for instruments.
VO: Dry SM57
Now let’s hear that again with Mic Mod in effect. I’ve transformed my SM57 recording using the model of a Beyerdynamic MC 834, a microphone much beloved for recording voiceover.
VO: SM57 Modded to Sound Like MC 834
The overall effect sounds much better, more professional, and it took only seconds to dial in with Mic Mod.
Tips and Tricks
This piece only scratches the surface of the many possibilities with Mic Mod. With over 100 faithful emulations of vintage and modern classics, the possibilities truly are limitless. But before we go, try out a few of these tips and tricks while you explore Mic Mod.
(Microphone) Check it Out:
• Some of the older models, such as the AEA R44C Ribbon Mic, have some nice harmonic distortion even without adding tube saturation. • Try putting intense vocals through those models to hear them really scream.
• Don’t just stick with the priciest models in Mic Mod. Explore around and see what works for you.
• Don’t skip the input stage! It’s tempting to go straight to the models, but it’s good to make note of how you recorded your sound in the first place. You’ll get more accurate results in the end.
• Mic Mod works best when you use it by “feel”. Experiment with the different settings and see how it sounds. Remember that music is all about discovery. Give Mic Mod a try and see what you can discover with it.
If you’re ready to explore the possibilities with Mic Mod, download a free trial of Auto-Tune Unlimited. Available through subscription, Auto-Tune Unlimited comes complete with Mic Mod, all of the AVOX plug-ins, every current edition of Auto-Tune, and more. It also offers the lowest cost-of-entry to access the most comprehensive collection of pro vocal effects ever offered from Antares. Just click here to learn more.