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A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Mic Cabinet (2003)
Building your first collection of mics on a budget
By Dan Richards

Building a mic collection for a project studio can be a daunting and confusing task. I've found that it helps to try and see the bigger picture and look a little farther down the road. No one fills a mic cabinet all at once. It takes time, investigation and money. From my experience as a studio designer and engineer, I've listed what I feel are certain priorities concerning mic purchases along with some suggestions to get you started in the right direction.

Most people setting up project studios just need some kind of mic to get started. For the very first priority, I would recommend a Shure SM57, which is a dynamic mic, or the Studio Projects B1, which is a three-micron condenser. Each costs about $79. I find either of these mics to be of use in miking guitar amps, snare drums and vocals. The B1 is turning out to the be a real workhorse mic like the SM57 and it sounds great on just about anything. I do have to say here that if you're going to mic an amp — especially for rock — it's hard to beat an SM57.

The second priority is a large diaphragm condenser as a main vocal microphone. For people starting out, I recommend the Studio Projects C1 at $199.

The third priority is a small diaphragm condenser mic. I think it's best to purchase these in pairs. I find small condenser mics to excel on acoustic guitar, piano, overheads and percussion. They can also work on amps and vocals, too. I recommend the Oktava MK012. I prefer the ones with the multi-capsules and dB pad. The quality control on Oktava mics can be something to watch out for. So, while the MK012s can be great — caveat emptor. I also recommend the MXL 603S and the Behringer ECM8000 small condensers.

At this point there's a lot of ground you can cover and you've only made an investment of around $450 or so. If you are someone who generally records one track at a time in a home-based project studio, you'll basically have all the mics you need.

The fourth priority would be to expand into stereo recording capabilites. If you didn't pick up a pair of small condensers in step three, then get a second small condenser that matches your other one.

The fifth priority would be to pick up another large condenser that matches the first one. At this point, you'll have a pair of large condensers and a pair of small condensers plus a dynamic, unless you opted for the B1 at the first step. Total investment so far for five mics: $820.

The sixth priority would be to get a few more dynamics or a few high SPL three-micron condensers, especially if you're recording drums. A total of three SM57 dynamic mics would be good or you could go with some Studio Projects B1 mics.

The seventh priority would be to get a large dynamic mic if you record kick drums, bass or other low-end instruments. I like the Audio Technica ATM25 ($139) or the Sennheiser E602 ($169). The AKG D112 ($219) is another good choice. A great new one that just came out is the Red5 Audio RVD1 (about $100).

The eighth priority would be a large condenser tube mic with variable patterns. You haven't lived until you used one of these. My current recommendation is a Studio Projects T3 ($599). The Rde NTK is a great affordable tube mic, but it's cardioid only. I think a multi-pattern, with nine variations, makes the T3 worth the extra cost.

The ninth priority would be a nice ribbon mic. This is one are where I feel it really pays to spend bigger money. The Royer R-121 is worthy of serious consideration. I've seen them available for well under $1,000 if you look around or check on Ebay. The Coles 4038 is a beautiful mic.

The tenth priority, which could also fall earlier in the list — as high as step four, depending on your needs — is a different large condenser. For this I would highly recommend the Shure KSM32 ($499) or KSM44SL ($699) or the AKG C414B-TLII ($975) or a Soundleux U195 ($1,125). I have seen commercial recording studios cover 95 percent of all lead vocal applications with a Neumann U87 and an AKG C414B. The last five percent could usually be handled by trying an EV RE20 or even an SM57. I think the C1 will cover the U87 bases quite well.

Investing in more mics will make your costs rise exponentially because you'll need more mic preamps, compressors, EQ, inputs, tracks, etc. Needing extra cash for these added costs means it's a sound idea to not spend more than necessary for great mics. I've only listed what I feel are the best bangs for the buck without sacrificing quality.

Building a great mic locker doesn't have to drain your wallet. If you bought one mic in every priority I just listed, you would have only invested about $3,000 and that is for 10 great mics that will give a lot of sonic variations and cover just about any possible project-studio application.

This article appears in its original unedited form for Studio Reviews. Portions of this review were originally published by Mojo Pie in December 2002.

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