As I’m sure we all know, if you want to record something that is making a noise and is not “electric” you need to stick a microphone in front of it. The mic is the connected via a cable to a mic preamp, mixing console or audio interface and this electrical signal is eventually stored in some way for later playback. However, in real life there is a little more to it than that. There are often issues that crop up about our choice of microphone, location, or supporting hardware that should not be an issue but are just out to ruin our day. But never fear, for most problems out there in recording land there are plenty of useful little devices or gizmos to help us out of a jam. With that in mind here are some of our favourite cost-effective gadgets to help improve you recordings.
Some older design ribbon mics suffer from a very low output and require a very high gain mic preamp to get their level up ready to be recorded. The same can be said of some well known and well loved dynamic mics (I’m talking about you Shure SM-7B). But what do you do if you don’t have a high gain preamp or the mic preamp on your audio interface is not providing enough level? The answer is simple, you get a signal booster. There are currently 3 main players on the market that we have tried and liked. They are the Trident Audio FetHead, the Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter and the Royer Labs dBooster.
The Cloudlifter and the dBooster require 2 cables. One from the mic to the input of the unit, then a second from the output to the input of your recording device. The FetHead connects directly to your mic so you only need the cable from the FetHead output to your recording chain. And that is pretty much it.
It’s worth noting that this devices are really only to be used with Ribbon or Dynamic mics. A good condenser mic should have a high enough output not to require a booster. All three units require 48v phantom power to function correctly, so if your desk or interface does not have this feature you are going to have to think again.
It’s also worth remembering that these units can also change the tone of the mics. Normally in a good way for the better but whenever there is an amplifier circuit in the signal, that signal is going to be altered in some way, and not just in signal gain.
Take a look at our reviews of the FetHead and the Cloudlifter below.
Pop Screen Or Pop Filter
The pop screen, filter or shield is the first line of defence when it comes to getting a quality signal into your microphone and it does exactly what it says on the tin, it stops pops and plosives, or bursts of air hitting the mic and producing that nasty low end pop. I think my first pop filter was a bent wire coat hanger with a pair of new tights stretched across it. It worked perfectly but not what you might call and elegant solution.
In our opinion Pop Audio are making some of the best pop filters. They look pro, they are solid to use and position. They just work. Check out our review below.
You can find out more about the Pop Audio range of pop filters at their website.
Problem Solving Mic Clips
To say it looks a bit rubbish taping two mics together when you want to double mic an instrument is a bit of an understatement. Thankfully Wilkinson Audio have created a broad range of clips that will allow mics of different sizes to be solidly clipped together. Not just in a straight pairing but also for stereo configurations like ORTF and XY. Wilkinson Audio have solved the mic mounting problem with a number of very smart and affordable solutions with their double clips starting at around $15 USD.
You can find out more about Wilkinson Audio clips at their website.
Mic clips with pre-set angles are great if you know what mics you are using and you know they are going to fit in your clamps. However sometime we like to change mics and experiment with different recording angles. Depending on the mics we choose a stereo bar like the one in the image above might be the way to go. The size and type of bar you choose will depend very much on the space you have available in your recording space, be that a studio, concert hall or bedroom but the idea is the same for all of them. Using a single stand you can arrange the mics as you need them to create the perfect space and recording angle for the stereo image you wish to achieve. A Rycote stereo bar including the shock mounts can run to around £80 however you can get longer stereo bars with multiple mounting points and the options to create a Decca Tree array from around £30. Just click on Amazon, eBay or your preferred on-line reseller.
If you buy a large diaphragm condenser mic today, there is a high chance it is going to come with some form of shock mount. In many cases the shock-mount that you get “free” with the mic will be fine, ok, or at best average. Personally I hate the Chinese OEM wire-frame elastic loaded shock-mounts. They do an ok job but they are not built to last and you have to have a different shock-mount for every mic you use.
The Rycote InVision range of universal shock-mounts are designed to fit a number of different microphone diameters. There is no string or elastic to perish or sag over time and you can get them with pop filters built-in to remove another piece of clutter from your studio.
Stands And Mounting Hardware
I have a rule I like to use with nearly all gear and equipment buying. The rule is starting to fall over a little bit now as the toys I am buying are getting more expensive but I think you will get the idea. I call it the 20% rule. If I buy a microphone for lets say £1000, the stand I put it on should be at least 20% the value of the mic. The case it travels in should also be around 20% of the mics value. This starts to get silly when you are paying £6000 for a mic but you get the where I’m coming from. You should not be trusting your vintage German or Austrian mic to a stand that cost £40. I’m not saying that you can’t get good stands for £40, K&M make great stands and I have about 20 of them but when you start using heavy large diaphragm condensers or ribbon mics and your pushing out the boom and getting the mic into position you really should be using a quality heavy duty mic stand. And if you are asking how a good solid stand helps you make better recordings? Try using a valuable mic on a cheap stand and see how far you get. You might be lucky once but do you want to risk it?
My mic stands of choice are from Canadian company Latch Lake. I have 3 of their micKing range (2x 1100 and 1x 2200) and to say they are solid is an understatement. I have never had one fall over, or fail on me either in the studio or out on location. Take a look at the video below for just how solid yet easy to manage these stands are.
The other thing I like about Latch Lake is all the extra booms and arms you can get to allow one stand to support many mics. The Spin Grip, iOxmount for supporting your tablets and devices and the XtraBooms are just as solid as the main stands meaning you can really make your micKing stand work hard.
Reflection Filters, Screens And Booths
When SE Electronics first released the SE Reflexion Filter (above right) they sold it as your portable vocal booth. Now there are two sides to this argument. The first is that the material and all the design, acoustics and maths that goes into these type of products really does make your recordings sound like they were done in a “controlled” environment, you know like a recording studio. The second is the placebo effect. If you think you are going to sound better by singing or speaking into a portable screen for lack of a better title, and you perform better then thats all good too. Personally I like the idea of bringing some kind of controlled environment to a session when I’m not 100% sure of the acoustics I’m going to be recording in. I have done some interesting voiceover recording in dreadful sounding rooms and it has all turned out well due, in part I believe to the screen I used to house the mic.
Check out some of our reviews of portable and some not so portable solution.
These are some of our favourite gadgets that can make like as an audio recording professional just a little easier, after all, it’s not supposed to be difficult is it? If you have any much loved gadgets big or small please do let us know about them in the comments section below.