One Mic Session

Most of us listen to music that is produced via a combination of a lot of different mics, software instruments, overdubs, et cetera. The mix engineer works his fingers to the bone to try to make all that stuff fit together, and in many cases the result is brilliant. In some cases it’s not. When the result isn’t so great, I often wonder how things could have turned out if everything was just left… natural.

It’s always an eye-opener to listen to a one-mic recording. The great thing about it is that there is no bleed, no phase cancellation, and little to no exaggerated frequency peaks due to the ultra-close proximity of a mic to a source.  On the downside you can’t really fix mistakes in the typical “studio” fashion and you definitely can’t balance things after the session is over.

Still, if the tune belongs to a genre that lends itself to honesty, a one-mic session has the potential beat the pants off all the fancy tricks of a million isolation booths and a zillion tracks of discrete audio.

A few years ago I bought a stereo ribbon mic from AEA – the R88mkII. This mic has two crossed figure-8 elements, which results in a left/right image in front of the mic and a mirror left/right image (in opposite phase) to the rear. It’s a great tool for drum overheads, general room miking, and, of course, being the solo mic in a one-mic session.  For this session, we placed the singer/guitarist/harmonica player front and center in the stereo image and back just far enough to keep the vocal from dominating everything else. The bass was elevated, mostly opposite the singer, but was leaning just a little to one side of the stereo image in order to balance out the fact the the drums had to be slightly to the other side in order to peak around the body of the singer and be heard clearly.

There have been many times when I’ve wished I could get a simple, clean drum sound like this with close mics. But a SM57 3 inches off the top of a snare (or a Beta 52 inside the bass drum) will RARELY be capable of faking a sound like a stereo mic 10 feet away! The other great thing about ribbon mics is that they tend to be dark. As such, there are certain software processors (like the Slate FG-MU Fairchild-style compressor) that can really breathe life into the signal without making things too bright.

Here’s Wayne Harper, Dean Hughes and Scott Thile working the R88!

Lauten Audio Eden LT-386 Review

By Justin Pattonlauten_eden

The flagship microphone from Lauten Audio is a real looker. Everyone who sees me extract this monster from its case has the same reaction – oohs and aahs (the case is impressive in its own right, and just pulling it off the shelf primes anticipation)! I’ve drooled over a lot of beautiful microphones online, but the Eden takes the cake. It looks similar to a U47-type mic, but the shock mount design is a radical departure from the elastic spider-web style. There is a clamp that tightens down on the microphone body (don’t worry, fat rubber washers provide gentle contact points) via small hexagonal sockets. The clamp is suspended inside a concentric ring of hefty metal with a very heavy duty threaded socket that looks like it will never strip out. The mount is mostly shiny nickel plating and matches the trim on the Eden very nicely. The rest of the mic is covered with a lovely ceramic coating. It absolutely screams professional – and looks crazy expensive (it’s really not).

I recently had the opportunity to record a couple of different voice-over projects. I began one prior to obtaining the Lauten. For that I decided to try out a mic I’d never used for VO before, but one that had a stellar reputation: the AKG 414 XLS. I spent a fair amount of time trying out the different patterns on the 414 looking for something that seemed to flatter my speaking voice. I also ran it through the Focusrite ISA 430 channel strip using the vintage compressor setting for some extra color and warmth. Though I worked hard on it, the result was not my favorite voice-over sound. I had gotten better results with some of the cheaper Chinese tube mics that were popular in the late 2000s. The 414 just wasn’t a great fit for my voice. Still, it was workable.

By the time the second VO rolled around, I had the LT-386 in my grubby little hands. I ran the Eden straight into my stock Audient iD22 mic pres. It was no contest. The Lauten sounded so much more palatable. The honkiness of the 414 was gone; my voice had a much more natural, comfortable quality with no channel strip tweaking required. The LT-386 has all the character you’d expect from a top-shelf tube mic. With two stages of hi-pass filtering, three selectable frequency responses and three polar patterns, the Eden has plenty of sonic options. I also set up my cheap Chinese tube mic and did an A/B test singing my favorite Punch Brothers melody. Again, the Eden had the clear advantage. It was sweeter and warmer with less harshness. It absolutely sounds like it belongs up there with the very best, most expensive mics I’ve ever used. I’m sure there are voices out there for which the cheap tube (and the AKG) would be better fits, but I expect they’d be in the minority.

Just a little bit more about the three frequency setting options… The switch on the rear of the mic offers “F” for forward, “N” for neutral, and “G” for gentle. I used the “forward” setting for my voice-over, and it was perfectly present. But compared to the AKG 414, even the forward setting was smooth and easy on the ears. Which is actually great. If you’re into warm, smooth and buttery tone, it’s hard to make a mistake with the Lauten. Still, I’ve recorded plenty of sources that could benefit from rolling back the bite even more. For example, sometimes a jazz sax solo can benefit from a bit of extra taming. On the “gentle” setting the Eden approaches a quality similar to my AEA large ribbon mic, which I really love to use on harsh sources and as a room mic. And of course “neutral” splits the difference. This super-useable tweakability is something that other mics just don’t offer. Especially mics that sound like they ought to cost several thousand dollars.

The Eden comes in just under $2500. Yeah, it’s a lot. But not for mics of this caliber. It’s actually at the bottom of the price range for anything approaching this level of quality. In fact, I’ve used a Bock 5 zero 7 ($7595) and I think the Lauten LT-386 would probably be my preference for a larger number of voices and genres. Not that I wouldn’t be very excited to have the Bock in my arsenal – but I don’t have the luxury of dropping close to ten grand on one microphone.

Lauten also makes a great line of entry-level microphones, and there is a lot of Lauten mojo included in those. If the Eden is just too expensive for you, I’d recommend taking a trip to your local mega-dealer and trying out some of the Lauten Series Black options. But if you’ve been around the block and know what you like, you owe it to yourself to give the Eden some serious consideration. I can’t think of any mic that impresses me more than the LT-386 under $10 grand. I just might have to get a second one.

Justin Patton messed around with music technology in high school, researched music technology in college, and currently works as the recording engineer for the Department of Music at Murray State University. He also teaches the Recording Techniques course for students in the Music Business program, using kindred spirit Mike Senior’s book: “Recording Secrets for the Small Studio.”

Wind Revival


The Focusrite ISA 430 feeds the flute into the Audient ASP 880 on channel 3, bypassing the mic pre via the handy DB25 inputs so as to access the outstanding Burr-Brown AD converters directly! Good thinking, Audient!


Once a year MSU Recording Services gets to participate in a special “horns only” recording session. Marching band is a pretty big deal here in the States; there are thousands of high schools fielding marching bands, and they all need new music and drill every year. Many band directors prefer to purchase fresh and appropriately-licensed arrangements from a reputable source. That’s where John Fannin of Fannin Musical Productions comes in. John’s business provides dozens of unique arrangements, marching drill, sound effect packages, and even commissioned pieces to high school bands. He makes shopping extra easy by mailing an annual CD of his latest offerings to every public high school band director in America. That’s about 15,000 copies!



The Neumann KM-184s in ORTF capturing the woodwind section


John’s clients seem to prefer live wind instrument recordings to libraries, so once a year John rounds up some winds. One flute, two clarinets, two saxophones, a mellophone, three trumpets, two trombones, a euphonium, and a tuba make up the ensemble. John does it right, too. He starts with killer players. Most have either a master’s or a doctoral degree in their respective instruments. There may only be 13 of them, but when those 13 are all ultra-competitive professionals… watch out! They also stack takes, which gives the effect of 26 professional players (or probably more like 75 typical high school musicians as far as wind power is concerned). Alas, the percussion must remain MIDI as it would more than double the time and cost to make a live drum line recording in advance of the wind session.

A session with 13 wind players requires a big space. The stage of Lovett Auditorium doubled as a basketball court back in the 1920’s, and this huge soundstage-like venue allows for 11 players to be spaced at 6 feet apart in one big line. The last two players had spots just in front of the bookend players. The big room and tall ceiling helped reduce the intensity of early reflections, and this made for a much better recording environment than the typical band room.



Five of the eight brass players in front of an AEA R88 ribbon mic capturing the room


Woodwinds took up one side of the stage and brass the other. A stereo ribbon mic (AEA’s R88) functioned as the brass ensemble microphone, while a pair of Neumann KM-184s in ORTF stereo captured the woodwinds. The AEA ribbon is a terrific room/ensemble mic and adds a sense of space and warmth that is tough to get with anything else. The crossed figure-8 pattern probably has a lot to do with that. The KM-184s are just great all around acoustic ensemble mics and worked well within 15 feet of the woodwinds; the cardioid patterns helping to isolate the weaker signal of the flute, clarinets and saxes. Baffles provided a little more isolation between instrument types, and everyone got a spot mic.



The flute cave with the AKG C414 XLS on duty


The flute was probably the most isolated instrument – placed between theater curtains and baffling – with an AKG C414 XLS about 2 feet away in the hypercardioid pattern. The C414 is a classic instrument microphone, with the XLS version often considered more appropriate for instruments (the XLII version is a bit brighter which some consider a boon for vocals). We only had one, so this is where it sat – running through a Focusrite 430 Producer Pack channel strip (which we count as one of our 5 “boutique” signal paths). The Focusrite mic pre has some great characteristics: quiet, solid and just a little bit of color.



One of sE Electronic’s cool Rupert Neve designed mics on the clarinet: the RN17 small diaphragm condenser.


Both clarinets were recorded with sE Electronic’s RN17 (as in Rupert Neve) small diaphragm condenser mics with the cardioid capsules. These mics are among the more forgiving small diaphragm condensers. I credit the giant Neve transformers with providing some subtle flattery. I have heard some people compare the sound of these to the pricier Schoeps SDCs, but I can’t comment myself having never used Schoeps. I do know that I’d worry more about using a KM-184 this close to a bright-ish, potentially harsh-ish source. But the sE’s sound a little less edgy. They ran into the stock Apogee Ensemble mic pres.



These mics don’t look like anything special, but the Miktek PM9s are actually super cool supercardioid dynamic mics. You can easily hear the improvement over the standard stage dynamic mics!


Saxophones were treated to the Miktek PM9 supercardioid dynamic mic. This mic is primarily a vocal microphone in the vein of the Shure SM58, but with a bit more top end over 10 kHz. They also seem to have a slightly less congested sound than the SM58. Of course, they are twice the price. I’d put their sound halfway between the SM58 and the SM87 – Shure’s condenser handheld (but with a smoother top end). The saxes also ran through the Apogee pres.



The Miktek PM9 made me wish I had some of their LDCs to sample!


The mellophone also received the PM9 effect, just off-axis a bit and through an Audient ASP 880 preamp. The Audient pre, by the way, is a nice analog preamp utilizing discrete circuits as opposed to the more common integrated circuit design found in less expensive gear. There will always be those who swear by discrete circuits, and the ASP 880 will definitely satisfy those folks! More on the ASP 880 in the next block…



Cascade Fathead II mics on the right; a Shure SM7b on the left, and trumpets straight across.


The Audient mic pre has variable impedance settings on all 8 channels, and with passive ribbon mics that can make a big sonic difference. We used the lowest impedance setting to get the warmest, smeariest sound for trumpet! The two fellows on the right are using the passive Cascade Fathead II ribbon mics. And yes, they are fat-sounding. You may notice the player on the far right is on-axis and blowing right into the mic (it actually is farther away than it appears in the photo). This would usually be a bad position for a condenser mic, but the Fathead really rolls the edge off. It sounded great both on and off axis. And being ribbon mics, the figure-8 pattern helped to reject the sounds to the left and right. Nice bonus. The player to the far left is using a Shure SM7b. Compared to the ribbon mics, it was pretty thin sounding. But with three trumpet parts, you don’t necessarily need all of them to have big bottoms.



The M-Audio Sputnik tube LDCs are pretty to look at and pretty to listen to on a lot of different sources.


I was torn about where to use the Fatheads. I thought I might like to try them on the trombones, but I eventually decided my best bet was to put them on the brightest source. So the bones got miked with even pricier pieces: the M-Audio Sputnik large diaphragm tube condensers. The M-Audio tube mics never really caught on that big among the audio masses, but fans of the mic are very devoted. I’ve compared the Sputnik with other mics (like the AKG C414) and found they more than hold their own. In fact, in blind vocal tests, singers prefer the Sputnik just about every time vs the C414 XLS! These were a couple of feet back and up / off-axis a bit running through a Millennia Media HV-3D (our other “boutique” 4-channel signal path). The Millennia is popular with classical and jazz producers for its natural, uncolored sound. Some percussionists like to use it for its quick transient capture on drum kit. The combination of Sputnik and Millennia definitely provided nice clarity and power for the low end.



Low brass played well is always impressive!


A Miktek PM9 was set up off-axis and a few feet back from the euphonium. This also ran through the Millennia HV-3D. The euphonium is like a little tuba – extra warmth to help round out the trombones!



If a tuba is the right kind of bass for Jon Batiste and Stay Human on The Late Show, then it’s the right kind of bass for almost anything!


And last but not least, the tuba enjoyed a Sputnik tube LDC four feet above and only slightly off-axis going through the Millennia HV-3D. The extra distance on the tuba mic really helped the sound develop to feel big and fat! I wish I had a tube preamp to try out with the tuba, but there are plenty of plugins I can try out during mix down if I want to get more tube-y than the Sputnik itself.

This was my first session with the Behringer P16-M personal monitor system. Everyone got to dial in their own headphone mix (just the click track and MIDI mix). As one who has always used a single mix via the old-school headphone distributors, I have to say it’s wonderful to leave the headphone adjustments up to the individual players rather than try to be the sole intermediary for 13 people! When the players can adjust their own phones, they seem to end up a lot happier. Too often players compromise on their headphone mix when they’re stuck with only one mix option (or when they feel dependent on an engineer who has a million other things to deal with). You get better performances from happy musicians who can hear things just they way they want, and we all agreed the personal monitor system was an improvement that was well worth the price.



Break time – thanks John! But only for 5 minutes (…slave driver!)


We spent 8 hours the day before just setting up the space, line-checking and making sure things were working. Everything went pretty smoothly with the exception of the headphone outputs on the Ensemble. I had intended to have John and myself monitor off of those, but I failed to realize that by setting up the multi-mix phones for the musicians, I had rendered the Ensemble headphone outputs somewhat handicapped: one was click only and the other was MIDI only. Whoops. I had hoped the Behringer Personal Mixer system would eliminate my need for a headphone distribution amp, but since the director sorta needed to hear everything too, I patched a distribution amp into one of the P16-Ms for a grand total of 20 headphone outputs!

Even though we were recording marching band arrangements, I didn’t necessarily want to achieve an authentic “marching band sound.” Marching bands perform outside on a football field, after all. I approached things with a little bit of classical sensibility, hoping to get better-than-marching-band tonal quality. Sort of like a big chamber wind band, except that everyone got their own mic, too.

I rarely use spot mics for the classical recording I do. Not that spot mics would never help, but the extra work to payoff ratio isn’t usually enough to persuade me. Not to mention that most of my classical recording is done live anyway. That’s why a session like this one is a lot of fun, because it is so different. It’s always good to get creative while matching mics, mic pres and sources, and this session provided one of the widest varieties of sources ever!

Sessions like this are also great for MSU’s music business students. Fresh off a summer internship at a recording studio, our new intern for Fall 2016, Brandon Gleason, was primed to help out. In fact, he ran about half the session while I took the fine photos you’ve been enjoying. Feeling the pressure of a dozen people waiting for your every mouse-click is a good test for aspiring engineers!

Next up: editing out the bad stuff, mixing, and sending things off to the high schools! Long live marching band!


FullSizeRender 7

Our modest rig: the old version of Apogee’s Ensemble, an Audient ASP 880, Millennia HV-3D, Focusrite ISA 430, and part of the Behringer headphone distribution system.

5 Keys To Better Recordings

“It doesn’t have to be the absolute best, I just want a good, clean-sounding recording.”

I feel you, brother (or sister). I know you don’t want to get bogged down in recording nerdery. And you don’t want to spend any more time or money than is absolutely necessary either. But you probably shouldn’t lead off with that line. In fact, that statement pretty much guarantees you’ll be getting the bare minimum from your engineer. Knowledge is power, so here are five keys that you should know that will help you achieve your recording goals!

1. Communication

Talk with your engineer in advance. The engineer can give you a good idea about how much time certain approaches will require, what the payoff will be, and whether it’s worth it given your intended audience. Developing a plan ahead of time reduces stress and gets everyone on the same page.

2. Player Position/Mic Position

Let’s assume you have a trusted pair of ears (like the engineer or your private teacher) helping you. Take advantage of the lack of an audience. Move around the stage and see if there is a place where everyone agrees you sound the best. Rooms often have “sweet spots” that may not always be right where you’d stand for a concert. Likewise, try repositioning mics on a stand and see if you can find a sweet spot for them as well. Conduct A/B comparisons between different placements and look for the best possible sound.

3. Microphones

If you are fortunate enough to have the time AND the equipment, audition different microphones. No two microphones hear exactly the same thing, and while position is usually a bigger deal than mic choice, the choice of microphone shouldn’t be completely ignored. The engineer can be very useful in narrowing down the mics to audition if you give him or her an idea of how you’d like the microphone to sound (e.g. fatter, warmer, brighter, darker, bigger, scooped etc).

4. Editing

In some cases (such as contests or auditions) editing may not be permissible. But if it is, enter the session with a plan for how editing will be done. Will you just record several takes and then pick the best one? Will you piece the takes together to create a “super take”? Or will you fix problem spots one by one inside your keeper take? How will the bleed from other instruments (your accompanist) affect your editing plans? Iron all this out BEFORE the session even starts!

5. Post Production

After you get your performance down the way you want it, consider a little post production dress-up. Setting volume levels, ambience and general tonal character can often put a nice bow on the top of your project. For extra critical projects it is not unusual for multiple mixes to be burned to CD, listened to over a variety of playback systems, and remixed based on those observations.

In recording, as with most other things, higher quality doesn’t often come quick and easy. But the difference that a little focused effort makes is usually pretty impressive!