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A big fat mic for a big fat instrument?

A post by David Mellor
Wednesday January 31, 2007
It's big, it's fat. But does the mic have to be big and fat too? And just what is it about Pro Tools...?
A big fat mic for a big fat instrument?

It seems like the new Audio Masterclass Daily is a success! With comments like these in just two days, I have enough inspiration to keep me going for the rest of the year...

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“Thanks so much for the article. It totally helps answering a lot of my curiosities in regards to recording music. It wanted to read on and on but unfortunately you stopped -(.”

“I cannot express with words how grateful I am for keeping me posted with your newsletter weekly.”

“Thanks for starting a daily article. I always enjoy learning new tricks from a master engineer.”

“Great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!This is what i have been looking for!!!!!!! havesubscribed to you guys for a while, have learnt a lot though, but is is absolutly it. keep it up and pls do havesometimetosay like...... everyday!!!!!”

“Hey guy! Good article for newbies. When is the book coming out.”

“Thanks for the new column. I read it from top to bottom.”

“Just giving you appreciation for a GREAT first issue of Audio Masterclass Daily. Congratulations, Dave! Great decision, well done. (I love the caveat that it will not be daily.)”

“Great advice thanks...”

“David, I so enjoy your site and content.”

“Greetings David and normaly Record-producer,Iam very happy to subscribe your letter and every mail I receive from you is like a friend knock at my door.Your advice are very useful and help me a lot.I wish you very best and a lot of regardes”

What can I say, but thank you.

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However, (and there has to be a however, doesn’t there?), I did receive one or two comments about my 'shameless promotion of Pro Tools’.

Hmm... that’s interesting... Firstly, please let me make it perfectly clear that neither myself nor Audio Masterclass is paid to say nice things about Digidesign Pro Tools.

Secondly, Audio Masterclass has a policy of not accepting advertising directly from manufacturers. Manufacturers have absolutely zero influence on the contents of the Audio Masterclass website, the Newsletter and the Daily.

Thirdly, and it’s a BIG thirdly so here goes...

I believe in giving people the right advice, not the wrong advice. People ask me questions because they want to become more professional in their recording.

Let’s turn it around and imagine this site was about graphic design. Suppose someone came to me and asked what software I recommend they learn, use and become familiar with.

Should I recommend something other than the industry-leading Photoshop? Clearly, that would not be the right thing to do.

What about web design? Should I recommend something other than industry-leading Dreamweaver? No, I would be leading people astray.

How about spreadsheets? Should I advise people to follow courses, buy books, put in hours and hours of study to learn something other than Excel? They would end up NOT knowing the software that EVERYBODY in business uses.

And so it is with recording. If I recommended to beginners that they should learn something other than Pro Tools, I would be telling them to use something different to what the vast majority of the audio industry uses.

And most definitely I would be doing the wrong thing.

I don’t do the wrong thing, I do the right thing. For a newcomer to audio, learning Pro Tools is exactly the right thing to do.

But just because I recommend Pro Tools doesn’t mean I don’t recognize other software. I’ll tell you a couple of others that pro users only ever say good things about... one is Pyramix, the other is Sadie.

One day, Pyramix, to pick just one, may usurp Digidesign’s lead in the professional industry.

And when that happens, I will recommend Pyramix as strongly as I recommend Pro Tools now.

Remember that Audio Masterclass is for people who are starting out in audio, and people who are experienced but want to improve to the next level.

If you are already a fully-fledged pro, then I wouldn’t even dream of giving you advice. I might offer my opinion, but to offer advice would be an insult.

So if you are a fully-fledged pro and you use a software other than Pro Tools, then clearly you have made a decision based on what suits you best. You have made that decision on knowledge and industry experience. You may be in a minority, but sometimes that’s an important part of being ahead of the game. And yes, you might be among those who will eventually bring about Digidesign’s downfall.


There’s something I don’t like about Digidesign, by the way – their marketing. I HATE IT!

They are always trying to be so cool. And they try to kid people that they will be cool too if they use Pro Tools.

I much prefer the understated and reserved marketing of some of the other pro audio software developers.

But that isn’t really relevant. It’s whether the software does the job, and whether it is important in the industry.

In conclusion therefore, and I am sorry to have gone on so long, my recommendation for Pro Tools is sincere and brings Audio Masterclass exactly zero extra income.

When the industry turns its back on Pro Tools and moves to something else, then so will I. I can’t change the industry, and neither do I want to. I support the pro audio industry by telling people who are interested exactly what they want and need to know.

By the way, I heard that the link to Digidesign’s compatibility information in the Tuesday Audio Masterclass Daily didn’t work. After looking into this, I found that it was simply too long and didn’t survive being e-mailed. The easy alternative is to go to - look for the search box on the right of the page, and enter 'compatibility’. It will lead you to where you want to go.

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In response to my musings on the relative merits of the Neumann U87 and Shure SM58 microphones, a Audio Masterclass Daily reader asked if I could advise on the “best microphones for capturing the expected personality of different instruments and vocals”.

'Personality’ is an interesting word in this context. I have never thought about microphone selection in terms of an instrument’s personality, and I feel it does express a certain quality about microphone selection and technique.

The process of microphone selection is subjective, not objective.

There is no textbook or authority that can tell you which microphones to use for which purpose.

There are certain basic guidelines – use a capacitor mic for metallic percussion, for example. And of course the directionality of microphones is always important.

But beyond that there are no rules, and it is up to each individual engineer to make a personal decision on which mics to use, in whatever situation, learned from experience, trial and error.

I remember years ago thinking about what mic I should use for a double bass, which was part of a small band I was working with on that day. I looked in the microphone cupboard and spotted a big fat Neumann U47, not the tube version unfortunately, but the FET version, which is also very good but in a slightly different way.

I put the mic on the stand in front of the instrument. I made my first decision on positioning (you have to start from somewhere, and then refine the position in the light of what you hear) and stood back.

The boom arm of the stand wilted!

I tried to tighten the stand, but for some reason I just couldn’t get the stand tight enough to support the weight of this large mic.

I could have got another stand, but time was tight and there was a rehearsal schedule to meet. I decided to use a smaller mic – a Neumann KM84 if I remember correctly.

The Neumann KM84 is a good mic, but I never rated it for any kind of 'wow’ factor. In fact I used to choose it only when there weren’t any more interesting mics available.

But I put it on the double bass, went back to the console and listened...

It sounded damn good.

In hindsight, I would put that down to the combination of a good player, an excellent instrument, and a nice acoustic environment to work in. The mic is competent, and that is really all that is necessary in this situation.

But why did I choose the big fat Neumann U47 originally?

I thought about that, long and hard, and the realization gradually dawned on me that I had chosen a big fat mic because the double bass is a big fat instrument!

I promised myself that I would think a little more deeply in future!

By the way, if you ever hear the myth that mics with a large diaphragm pick up low frequencies better, just ignore it. It is just a myth.

Small-diaphragm mics pick up low frequencies just fine.

Thanks for reading (and sorry about the Pro Tools rant earlier)!

A post by David Mellor
Wednesday January 31, 2007 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)