A Day in the Life of an
(or Getting the Best Possible Sound on
The singer was an alto with a voice as
big as a barn, and I mean that in a good way. She has enormous warmth
and depth to her voice. You've probably heard her on the radio (if
you've listened to the radio in the last 10 years).
The mic lineup was:
1 Neumann U67 (vintage)
2 Telefunken 251 (vintage)
3 Neumann M149 (new)
4 A-T 4060 (new)
5 Manley Gold (new)
6 AKG C-12 (vintage)
7 Brauner VM-1 (new)
The mic pre lineup was:
Buzz Audio MA-2
We started with all the mics on stands
adjusted to her vocal height. All
the mics were lined up with all the
diaphragms in the same vertical plane at
exactly the same height. We started
with all the mics going through the Neve
console we were recording on. The
reason for this is that I wanted to move
through the mics as quickly as
possible. So all mics were plugged into the
console pre's and assigned to
individual tracks, so that I could record all of them and
let the artist come in and hear the
results. Involving the artist is a critical step. Not
only do they get to hear the options
and make their opinion known, it also involves
them intimately in the process of
capturing their most valuable asset--their voice. So
always record the mic outputs onto
separate tracks. It also allows you to go back and
double check your first
Also, double check and make sure all
the mics are working before the
artist steps up. And put a noise source
in the studio (like a portable radio
or metronome) and adjust the mics so
that the output level is close from mic
to mic. Differences in gain of as
little as .5 dB can affect your sonic
impression and judgment when comparing
two pieces of equipment.
Now for the moment of truth. We ran the
track to her phones and made sure
she was comfortable with the levels and
1) The Neumann U67 ($4K and up)--a
great vocal mic, and works well on female
vocalists especially. Nice and warm are
She sang two lines through it and I
stopped the tape. NEXT. It was way too
mushy for her. Warm but not defined.
Sounded very covered. It took about 4
seconds to know it was
2) Telefunken 251 ($6.5K and up)--a
great vocal mic that many artists won't
record without. The second engineer in
Branson, MO when I recorded Andy
Williams (of Moon River fame) said it
was Andy's favorite mic.
She sang the first verse. It sounded
better than the 67, much better. It had
an interesting mid-rangy character. The
top end was better, but it sounded
very processed. I double checked the
patching, because it sounded like there
was a compressor in the circuit. Nope.
It just pinched down and compressed
the sound. Next.
3) Neumann M-149 ($4500)--I used this
mic in a shootout with another female
vocalist several months ago and it
trounced everything in the lineup except
for a 4050, which was close but not as
warm. I borrowed this one from a
friend because I thought it would be
magic on this artist's voice.
First verse again. Nice midrange. OK on
the top but nothing to write home
about. A little husky in the 200-400
range. Overall it sounded very nice. No
magic though. Oh well, sometimes it
works. Then there are other times.
4) A-T 4060 ($1100)--the cheapest mic
in the lineup. This is a great mic, as
you can tell by the fact that it's even
in the running.
Ran the tape. Sounds dark. Dark and
flat. Hmmm. I've heard lots of people say
that this is a bright mic. Judging by
its cheaper siblings (4033 and 4050),
it should be. This one is the second
biggest disappointment in the lineup. It
is definitely out. It sounds worse than
any others except the 67. And one
other thing. It has the same squashy,
compressed sound that the Telefunken
had. To some, that might be a
compliment, sounding like a Telefunken.
For today, I'll pass.
5) Manley Gold ($5000)--I've never even
seen this mic before, but the guys at
Underground Sound said I should check
it out. It sure looks good on the mic
stand. There's something
psychologically inspiring about singing into
something that is gold-plated.
First verse. Whoa! We have a serious
contender here. Not to imply that I was
worried, though. This mic sounds a lot
like her voice. Tons of presence.
Warmth for days. It's big and full but
still has lots of top. Man, it sounds
good. Really good. I'm glad I had it
6) AKG C-12 ($6K and up)--This is
considered by many engineers to be THE
vocal mic. I knew going in that this
was the mic that the singer had used in
the past and knew she liked. The
security blanket in the lineup, for the
artist and the engineer
Ran the tape. Nice. I must admit that
there is something about this mic that
"likes" vocals. It has a sizzly top end
that is exaggerated for sure, but not
to the point of being splatty. It is a
definite winner. It sounds good enough
that I could use it flat to tape.
Definitely a finalist.
7) Brauner VM-1 ($5K)--I've been more
excited about this vocal mic than just
about any other mic in a long time. The
last time I recorded Amy Grant, this
mic won out over 5 other primo mics,
including Keith Thomas's C-800G that we
had sent over because she had used it
for all the vocals on her last record.
It's bright but not sizzly. Very sweet
mic. This was my expected winner from the start.
Dang. It's really bright. Really
crispy. Almost harsh. It's
glorious in its detail and sounds
really nice overall, but it's just too
bright for her voice. This surprises me
a bit, because I remember it being
warmer sounding than the 800G, which is
admittedly a very transparent mic.
Sorry, don't call us. We'll call
Time for the artist to come in and give
her impressions. And get the
producers take too.
****** Page 2 ******
The artist and producer already had
pretty good ideas of what they liked.
Artists can tell by what they're
hearing in their phones whether or not
they'll like singing on a certain mic.
They want it to flatter them in the
phones. "Don't give me the truth, just
tell me lies."
We listened through and they rated each
The 67 I had recorded over.
The Telefunken and 4060 were non
The 149 was warm, but that was
The Brauner was just too, too
(Is this starting to sound like
Goldilocks and the three mics?)
The contenders were the C-12 and the
The C-12 had "the stuff" but it lacked
the breadth on the bottom. The C-12
was a little sizzlier, but not in a way
that I couldn't pick up with
equalization. The Manley had it all and
seemed to compliment her voice the
The consensus was that the Manley was
the most flattering on her voice.
The one thing that I know for sure is
that I'm glad I took the time to check
out as many options as possible. All
these mics are great. On a given day,
any one of them would work fine on her
voice. None of them sounded bad (well,
I'm being diplomatic). But there were
startling differences from mic to mic,
and the winner was just slightly better
than the second runner up (C-12).
The most important thing though...the
artist knew that I really cared about
capturing her instrument. I mean, how
crazy is it to spend two hours on drum
sounds and then 10 minutes on the vocal
sound when it's a vocalist's record?
Whose picture is going on the cover
She was sure that we were going to
capture every nuance of her vocal
performance and make sure she sounded
better than she had ever sounded
That makes for a good vocal
performance, which is what this is all about.
Tear down all the other mics and let's
start shooting out preamps.
******* Page 3 *******
In our last episode, Lynn Engineer and
Larry Producer had decided with Amy
Artist that the Manley mic was the
best. So now it was time to decide on
We lined up four. Using 30 dB of gain
The mic pre contestants
Buzz Audio MA-2
1) The preamp in the Neve 8068 that we
were recording on. This is the
pre we had used to decide which mic to
use, so it was the benchmark.
We rolled the tape...
It sounded nice. Very usable. Everyone
thought it was very nice sounding.
2) The Martech MSS-10. This unit
belongs to a good friend of mine that I
greatly respect as an engineer. He
loves it and uses it exclusively on vocals. Other
engineering luminaries like All Schmitt
use it as well.
I was quite eager to hear
We plugged the Manley into it and
rolled the tape. Ouch. Very bright.
Enormously bright. And very hard, even
brittle in the midrange. We turned it
off after about 10 seconds. The sound
was so piercing that I kept wanting to
turn it down, and even after turning it
down, I kept wanting to turn it
I know the person who designed this
preamp and have used his gear and
modified consoles for years. He's a
genius. The only way I can describe this
reaction and this sound is that there
must be some mismatch between
the output and input impedance of the
mic and the pre. It was really
unusable. (Again, that is for THIS
voice in THIS studio with THIS mic on
3) The blue Focusrite ISA-110s. This
unit, which I have owned since 1987
(the first ever Focusrite gear in
Nashville, by the way), has been my
reference preamp for years. There are
few things that don't sound phenomenal on
it. I plugged the mic into
Sure enough, I was not disappointed. It
sounded about 60% bigger than the
Neve pre. There was a depth and
dimensionality that words can't describe. It
was warm and present and seemed to have
"more of everything" than the Neve,
which we had all agreed sounded nice.
We think we have a clear winner. It
probably can't get any better than
this. But on to contestant #4.
4) The Buzz Audio MA-2. This 2 channel
mic pre is very rare. (There are six
of them in the Western hemisphere. I
should know. I imported them all
myself.) They are made in New Zealand.
I found out about them when a producer
returned from recording a project "down
under" and we spent 6 hours trying
to match a vocal sound. We couldn't do
it with ANYthing in Nashville. So I
spent months tracking down the builder
and eventually bought six pair of
them. I can tell you more if you want
So we lined it up and rolled the tape.
It wasn't like the Focusrite. It was
warmer and bigger and had all the
presence of the Focusrite but it was
smoother in the midrange. It made the
Focusrite sound more like the Class AB
design that it is. (The Buzz is all
discrete Class A.) The midrange was
silky, not forward. The warmth of the
vocal just came out of the speakers and
wrapped around you like a big warm
hug. The sound was huge. It accented
her enormous voice and brought out the
lower midrange richness that we were
looking for like no other pre did.
So, the verdict?
The artist came in. Agreed with my
conclusions on the first two.
Nice on #1.
Harsh on #2.
Now the hard part. Do we like the more
focused, present but slightly forward
midrange from the Focusrites or the
warmer bigger sound of the Buzz?
After some discussion, I convinced them
that getting the midrange presence
of the Focusrite would be easier to
accomplish by EQing the Buzz than to get
the warmth of the Buzz by low end EQing
So the final verdict was Manley to the
Buzz with 28 dB of gain.
We tried patching in my Tubetech CL-1A
and it messed too much with the
sound. We tried patching in my Pultecs
to do any EQing that we might need on
a cut to cut basis. It changed the
sound too much too.
So the whole record was cut with the
mic feeding the pre feeding the
tape machine input. It sounds fabulous.
It doesn't need a thing. A second engineer
heard it today (different second ,
different studio) and was bowled over
by the depth and warmth of her voice.
think we captured the best her voice
has to offer and she agrees with us. It
really does sound great.
Now to make sure we keep that sound in
the mix. That's the task for this
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updated 12:00AM CST on 1.1.2002
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