Whether you like it or not analogue modelling plays a significant role in today’s digital audio world. There’s no denying that we are utterly spoilt for choice when it comes to analogue emulations. There’s countless plug-in versions of outboard gear, guitar amps, stomp boxes, consoles, preamps, tape and of course microphones, which, up until fairly recently, were considered a bit of a holy grail in the analogue modelling world.
Over the years there have been some attempts at producing realistic sounding mic modelling solutions but this concept never really took off in the culture of audio production. Why? Because the first ones were software only solutions and produced variable results depending on what the original microphone was. As a result microphone modelling got a bit of a bad name. After all, microphones are one of the most important tools in our toolboxes.
All of this changed when we started to see hardware with software solutions start to appear which had a known reference microphone from which to start.
As a result, over the last few years there has been quite a buzz around microphone modelling. It seemed we were waiting for ages for a good system to hit the market and, like waiting for a bus, several forward thinking solutions turned up in quick succession. In this article we take a whistle stop tour of all the top microphone modelling systems available today.
Multi-diaphragm microphones have more than one diaphragm, which enables their supporting software to deliver users not only faithful sounding recreations of top vintage microphones but also an array of settings to whet the appetite of any microphone aficionado. Below are two systems which use more than one diaphragm in their calibrated microphones.
Townsend Labs Sphere L22 is a complete end-to-end microphone modelling system that a couple of us on the Production Expert Team own and regularly use in our audio production work. The Sphere microphone is a dual channel system with two diaphragms where two feeds from the mics are recorded via its supplied breakout cable to stereo tracks in a DAW. One of the two Townsend plug-ins will take what appears to be a stereo recording down to a mono track, which gives us the ability to work with our tracks in a mix the same way we do when working with tracks recorded with traditional single channel mics. But why do we need to record two channels from the Sphere? The microphone’s dual capsule captures audio in three-dimensions, which provides the following benefits…
Faithfully recreates the polar patterns of microphone models which users can alter before, during or after a recording. This also provides the ability to engage certain polar patterns that many vintage microphones didn’t even have nor had the ability of producing in the flesh.
Captures the full off-axis tonal characteristics of vintage microphones which is an important aspect of recreating unique sounds of notable microphones.
Adjust the strength of the proximity effect.
Check out our most recent free video tutorial, which shows you how to use the plug-in while demonstrating a number of the microphone models the latest version of the Townsend plug-in has to offer.
As Mike demonstrates in this video, the Townsend microphone also has a neat stereo trick up its sleeve thanks to its dual capsule design. The mic can be placed in such a way at source enabling engineers to record phase coherent stereo sounds and still have the ability to toggle between all of the emulations on offer within the plug-in. This isn’t the Townsend mic’s strongest aspect but it’s still very capable as a general purpose stereo mic.
Townsend don’t recommend one single type or model of preamp or audio interface for this mic though they do state that the channels you do use need to be identically gain matched. This can easily be achieved with quite a few audio interfaces, most notably the Apollo interfaces by Universal Audio , which have digitally controlled mic preamp gain, but if you use an analogue mic preamp don’t worry, as the L22 mic has an inbuilt switch putting it into “calibration mode” making it easier to match the gains of your recording channels. Just remember to turn calibration mode off before you start recording!
DSP is also a big part of the Townsend system that users of both UAD and Pro Tools HDX can take full advantage of in their tracking workflows.
Visit Townsend Labs for more information about Sphere L22.
The Antelope Edge and Verge mic modelling system comprises 5 different microphones, which cover pretty much all your microphone needs:
The Edge Family: The first mic that Antelope released was the Edge (now re-named the Edge Duo) this, like the Townsend Labs L22) is a dual large diaphragm microphone with no switches or controls of any kind. It outputs via a 5-pin XLR on the bottom (again much like the L22) into an included Y-Split cable terminating in two 3-pin XLRs. The Edge Duo requires you to record into two channels of your interface. Later came the Edge Solo, a smaller single large diaphragm mic and Edge Quadro, a massive monster of a stereo microphone which you can think of as 2 Edge Duo’s strapped together.
The newest mic in the Edge family is the Edge Go USB mic. This mic also contains FPGA processing which allows Edge Go to also do its own modelling. A very powerful feature for what some call the poor relation of the microphone world. Edge Go could be called the first seriously professional high end USB mic.
The Verge: A small single diaphragm condenser mic that as you would expect records to a single channel. Verge is a nice solid mic that has a nice weight to it. The shock mount is included but this mic only ships in a cardboard box which we feel is a bit of an afterthought. Other than that the mic is simple enough to use, point it where you want it and hit record. The small diaphragm mic models are a little limiting, but hey, 6 is enough to keep us going and all the usual suspects are accounted for.
Tracking And Mixing: What makes the Antelope system slightly different from the other modelled mic offerings is the number of options you get, not only in the microphone hardware but also in the way the mics connect to the interface and which variety of interface you use.
Using An Approved Antelope Interface: As you might expect connecting an Antelope mic to an Antelope interface gives you a couple of different options when recording or mixing. If you are using one of seven (and the approved hardware list just keeps on growing as Antelope introduce new product lines and update older ones) of Antelope FPGA equipped audio interfaces, you can monitor your recording using the mic models with or without committing the mic sound “to tape”. All you have to do is select where you want the modelled signal to go and where you want the naked unprocessed signal to go using Antelope’s amazingly versatile, and often quite complex, routing matrix.
Not Using An Antelope Interface: If you are not using an Antelope interface then you are not going to have access to Antelope’s FPGA modelling technology so you are not going to be able to monitor your recording with the microphone models active. However the mics sound great in their own right and if this is not something that bothers you, you can simply load up the mic modelling plug-in (available in all the major plug-in formats) on the the channels where you used the Antelope mics to record and pick from the 11 large diaphragm and 6 small diaphragm models available across the antelope system, and while you can apply a small diaphragm model to something recorded with a large diaphragm mic and visa versa, Antelope do not advise this.
What’s In The Box: The Edge Duo, Go and Quadro mics ship in a nice solid flight case with a shock mount, While Edge Solo and Verge mics come in a less than flattering cardboard box. Edge Go and Duo also feature a detachable pop filter, which is a nice touch.
Take a look at our article below that takes you through a recording session done using only the Antelope Edge Duo and Verge microphones.
You can also check out our videos on the Edge Go mic and AFX2DAW plug-in which features the Edge and Verge range of Antelope Audio microphones.
Visit Antelope Audio for more information about their mic modelling system.
Single Diaphragm Microphones
Single diaphragm microphones for mic modelling systems also work very well, though their off-axis response cannot be as good compared to the multi-diaphragm products we’ve already mentioned in this article. Capture sound on-axis and these types of microphones will deliver you very good results.
When Slate Digital first launched the Virtual Microphone System (VMS) it was a 3 part solution. The ML-1 large single diaphragm condenser mic, the VMS ONE Ultra Linear mic preamp and extra additions to the Slate Virtual Mix Rack (VMR) which made up the software component of the VMS. We now have 3 models in the system including the ML-2 small diaphragm condenser and the ML-1 Vintage Edition (same hardware as the ML-1 just in a sexy U47 style outfit).
VMS ML-1: While the original VMS kit shipping with the VMS ONE preamp it has now been dropped from the package. It turns out that you just don’t need a dedicated super clean mic pre, just a “good” one, and pretty much any high quality audio interface or mixing console will have at least one high quality pre amp. Because all the VMS mics are single diaphragm they only require a single recording channel. Out of the box you get 8 models of some of the most sought after mics in the industry but if those 8 are not enough for you, you can also upgrade to the Classic Tubes 3 pack which adds another 5 vintage tube/valve mics or choose the Blackbird expansion pack to add another 5 mics for the amazing collection of Blackbird studios. These are paid upgrades the cost is still very small compared to the thousands of dollars that the real mics would cost.
VMS ML-2: Think of the ML-2 as a studio work-horse and you really wont go far wrong. This is a sturdy little small diaphragm condenser that, thanks to it’s 18 different mic models, sounds great on just about anything. The ML-2 has a small switch on it which changes the character of the mic from “Normal” to “Dynamic” mode which attenuates the mic’s output and repolarizes the capsule, allowing the ML-2 to be placed in front of extremely loud sources without overloading, distorting or saturating.
Recording & Mixing The VMS: The ML-1, ML-1V and ML-2 are just microphones, meaning there is no DSP or processing happening on board. Any and all processing of the models or preamps and hardware emulations is done in the Slate VMR plug-in. As there is no DSP version of the plug-in, the only way to commit the mic emulations to ‘tape’ is to do it via Aux channels. A conventional workflow would be to record using the Slate mics then apply your mic models at the mixing stage.
The Slate VRS8 Virtual Recording Studio Interface: When Slate Digital released the Slate VRS8 their 8 channel Thunderbolt and PCi (for Windows) audio interface, we discovered that they had used 8 of the same design of preamp module that appeared in the original VMS ONE desktop preamp unit, which came as part of the original VMS. This is a very nice, open and natural sounding preamp but it does re-open the debate of whether we really need to use the VMS with a dedicated mic preamp? In our experience, both recording with, or without a Slate preamp, the Slate mics sound great on their own and better when you apply the models. A good flat sounding preamp or mixer does not seem to affect the recording to such an extent that it will effect the “tone” of the mic model.
Check out our reviews of the Slate Digital VMS, ML-1, ML2 and Classic Tubes 3 upgrade pack.
Visit Slate Digital for more information about VMS
Ik Multimedia Mic Room
At this point in the list we are starting to move away from mic systems that depend on dedicated calibrated microphones towards more software only solutions such as Mic Room, a module for IK Multimedia’s T-RackS plug-in suite. This solution provides a sizeable collection of 20 mic models based on all the usual microphone suspects covering tube, dynamics, ribbon and condensers from vintage to modern designs. It can be used in two ways, either as a standalone plug-in or in combination with IK’s own iRig Mic Studio or Mic Studio XLR microphones, which means you don’t have to purchase any special mics or be tied to one microphone for recording. If you are on a budget just use whatever microphones you have in your own studio.
IK’s mic room works in a source and target fashion. Select the source mic from the list to match the microphone you used in tracked followed by a target mic you wish to use. Three basic controls for setting input gain, proximity and level of harmonics provide ample variety that will suffice most straightforward vocal mixes.
IK’s iRig Mic is compatible with the Mic Room module as is believed by many users to be the best way for getting the most faithful of results from the virtual mics in the software. The source mics after all are only ever going to be approximations whereas the response curve of IK’s own calibrated iRig mic should help get the emulations sounding pretty close.
Software Only Microphone Modelling
This class of emulation is a very different kettle of fish compared to the mic modelling systems we’ve already highlighted in this article. In short, software-only solutions, at best, will provide a general sense and tonal impression of microphone models as these technologies don’t have the means for a dedicated calibrated source microphone such as those found in Townsend Labs, Antelope and Slate systems.
While software only mic modelling plug-ins generally fall well short of achieving realistic sounding reproductions of the world’s most popular vintage mics they do provide some interesting tonal variations that for some can be useful in some creative mix applications. If you are looking for hardcore, and in some cases like-for-like virtual mic models then you’ve already passed the systems you should consider. The following software only solutions, though described as microphone modelling solutions, are not going to provide you with accurate results and are not serious contenders in this space but we feel the following are worthy of a mention.
Antares Mod EFX
To setup Antares Mod EFX you match the microphone you recorded with in the source dropdown menu then choose a mic model. Sounds simple, though the results are quite vague as this system doesn’t use a calibrated mic. The controls are a little limited but that’s not to say this plug-in hasn’t got some charm. The tube saturation, proximity effect control, low cut and pattern selector give users a fair amount of tweak-ability, which can be useful in some vocal mixing applications but be under no illusion, while this appears to do the whole mic modelling thing it falls well short of being able to reproduce authentic tones of vintage mics. You need a known calibrated mic to do this properly.
Visit Antares for more information about Mic Mod EFX.
Waves The King’s Microphones
The King’s Microphones were born out of the Waves’ and Abbey Road’s long standing partnership. Though simple in design it provides users with an impression of the characteristics of three historical microphones, which are currently in the care of The EMI Archive Trust. Watch our video to hear how you can use The King’s Microphone plug-in in a typically vocal mixing application.
There you have it. If you want accurate models of specific microphones then you need to use one of the hardware based systems featured in this article that have a known calibrated microphone as the source. Then the software can provide a much more accurate model of a variety of classic and expensive microphones. Note the multi-diaphragm systems will provide a better sound off-axis.
However, if you would like to dip your toe into this world and don’t want to invest in a hardware based solution, then do check out the software only solutions, but be under no illusions, the sounds you get will not be accurate emulations of specific microphones, but you may find that the sound they produce, especially if you experiment with different source microphones, could be the sound you are looking for.