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Saturday, March 24

it depends: condenser or not?

One of the more important decisions you make when deciding how to record something is what type of mic to use for any given perspective.

My default position tends to be to go with a condenser and then make further decisions from there because condensers are going to (generally) give me the quickest path to a flat, true recording.

In fact, there are times when you have no choice but to use a condenser to get what you're looking for.  Specifically:
  • when isolating sources in moderately noisy environments
I use this description because it generally describes the reasons for using interference tube (shotgun) mics, all of which are condensers.  Shotgun mics are essential for extracting interesting sources from noisy environments, and those only come in the condenser flavor of mic.

With that said, there are some important reasons to deviate from the condenser mic perspective:
  • when recording super high dBspls
When recording incredibly loud sources many condensers will blow out more quickly because they tend to have higher output than other types of mics.  Loud sources such as weapons and explosions tend to ask for multiple mic setups regardless though, because you'll tend to want to hear that loud sound reverberating out in space.  As such, I'll often pack and record with dynamic mics aimed at the source of loud things and have some condensers out and aimed at the reverberations that those things create.
  • when recording super bright subjects
Condensers mics tend to be naturally pretty bright, which is great when recording things in a way that increases their ability to cut through a dense mix.  That strength becomes a weakness when the source is exceptionally bright, however.  Things like metallic impacts and electric shocks can end up sounding a little too brittle and harsh if miked up with something too bright.  Dynamics and ribbons are often good choices for balancing out the brightness of certain harsh source materials.
  • when looking for non-linear sounds
Condensers are great for getting realistic representations of the things that they are aimed at, but sound design often requires some not quite true to reality sounding perspectives, and to really go there you'll need some other tools at your disposal.  This is where things like contact mics, electrostatic mics, stethoscope mics, hydrophones and the like come into play.  I'll often roll both a condenser path and a non-linear path and blend the two in post.

I think a great recording kit can be built with very few mics, and the majority of the weight falls on the condensers.  When recording extreme sounds or looking for non-linear though, it's important to have other tools in the toolbox.

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