There is definitely something special about getting new audio gear. The feel of opening the box, the smell of freshly made metal and electronic components. It reminds me a lot of getting a new vinyl or CD, the joy you get and the reminiscent feelings in your hands, and when you touch it and smell it. Ahh, a beautiful thing. While physical music formats are mostly non-existent these days, the new gear smell is still there to bring those warm feelings.
Through my time in the audio industry of 15+ years, I’ve sold/traded/upgraded so much gear that I can’t even remember it all - computers, audio interfaces, synths, you name it, but I never forget a microphone and I would surely never sell one! In my professional career of game audio, I’ve come to realize that it’s hard to say when enough is enough, and that is due to the nature of game audio. With each project the difference in the auditory soundscape can be incredibly vast. The developers creating a new game are trying to stand out, and this brings along some very imaginative environments, stories and gameplay tech. As such, this brings with it the need for a completely unique sound experience as well. One day it might be a match 3 princess themed game which needs lots of light whooshy magic sounds and the next day it may be a MMO dragon based battle royale which needs lots of fire and abstract creature voices. Needless to say, every game requires unique and very different auditory sonics.
Even before I entered the game audio sector, I collected microphones, even then, you want to have the tools and equipment for bringing unique sonics to a band’s album or a movie score or whatever it is your doing sound for.
Why It Matters
Every microphone has its strengths and weaknesses, and quirks, and when it comes to audio production, this is a point of definition in our palette of colors. And the way you use these tools is what can make you stand out as an audio professional. I truly believe there is no such thing as a bad microphone. There is however, mostly certainly an improper microphone choice, or an improper microphone technique based on the source of the sound. Even a toy microphone could prove to be a jewel when used in the right production! You never know, a bad microphone might just be perfect when you need to capture a gritty creature voice.
To the untrained ear, any microphone might be fine because it brings you from point A to point B. Point A being the audio source and point B, the recorded content for whatever production. The folks who follow this guideline would probably also blankety believe that a more expensive microphone will yield a better result. This however, is a flawed perspective. There are different (not always more expensive) microphones for different sources, and there are different techniques for which to capture those sources.
This all reminds me of this scene in The Office (above), where Dwight valiantly compares cat turds to snowflakes when describing their uniqueness. Like snowflakes or cat turds, every microphone is unique and has unique characteristics. Even a toy microphone might have the perfect place in a production should the story, experience, or aesthetic call for it. That is not to say go buy a bunch of toy microphones and think your ready to be a sound designer/recording artist! I just believe that every microphone has its purpose, some more frequently than others.
Experimentation & Discovery
I’d also like to break the notion that there exists a perfect microphone for a specific thing. While there are better and/or more expensive microphones for certain recordings, every project is unique and should be approached in that manner. In turn, giving the opportunity to allow room for experimentation and discovery of new techniques/placements and microphone choices/pairings. I will most certainly go deeper into microphone techniques in another article or more, I could talk all-day about microphones!
Now, it is worth noting that in a lot of field recording scenarios, we are aiming to achieve an accurate representation of a sound source, true and natural. I’m this scenario, expensive microphones tend to do this better, particularly the Earthworks testing microphone collection. Using very often in testing and reference, these mics are very neutral and flat, and can capture a very true sound. This is an exception to the above, when expensive microphones are better. But I’d also like to mention the fact that, generally we, as sound designers, plan to process the sounds captured in some way before it makes its way into a production, and by choosing the right mic for the situation, we can reduce our need for some of that post-processing.
I have since amassed about 30 different microphones, and will never get rid of a single one of them! Sure, I have some go-to microphones for certain scenarios, but I don’t ever let that limit my decision making and search for something unique.
- Microphones are vastly unique and can provide unique sonics depending on what the production needs.
- Expensive doesn’t always mean better.
- Microphone choices and techniques are what can make you stand out as an audio professional.