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Choosing Your Mic, Choosing Your Sound

To say microphones are a passion to me would be an understatement.

A microphone is the gateway to your sound. It’s also one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll ever purchase for your podcast. Because of the multitude of options you’ve got out there, by the simple act of choosing your microphone, you will ultimately be choosing your sound.

Here’s the most important fact you should know – just because a certain microphone works for someone else, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.

The flavor of late has been for dynamic mics. And the all-star to podcasters has been the Heil PR40. Leo uses one, the Podcast Answer Man uses one. Hell, I even use one for my podcast. But does that mean it’s right for you.

There are some podcasters out there that will swear by their condenser mics. If you’re familiar with Sessions With Slau (another mic junkie), he’s using some pretty high-end condenser microphones. I wouldn’t be shocked if some Neumann’s were creeping into his shows. But Slau is also an audio recording expert. His shows are done in his sound booth in his studio. I’m guessing that you don’t have access to one of those (although, maybe you do).

Heil PR40I originally chose the Heil PR40 because of all the good hype behind it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try out a bunch of different mics in the process. The Heil through my Symetrix 528e gave me the right sound for the voice I’m using on Campground Pirate Radio (which could be easily described as a bad George Carlin impersonation).

I’m planning on eventually adding the podcast element to this blog. Will that same setup work?

Experiment Time

Aphex 230Since starting my latest podcast back in August of 2010, I’ve acquired more gear and software. One of the pieces of gear I now own is an Aphex 230 Master Channel Strip that I’m really liking. I’ve heard a lot of hype about this unit, but in this case, they hype is for real.

iZotope NectarI’ve also purchased software from the folks at iZotope. In particular, both Nectar and Ozone. Audition users may be unknowingly familiar with both titles because iZotope’s software is responsible for many of their plug-in settings (in particular, the Broadcast settings).

Rode ProcasterOne other purchase was a sparkly-new Rode Procaster microphone. It was intentionally going to be used as a second (guest) mic and hadn’t gotten a lot of use.

Since the new podcast would be quite different from my current one, I wanted to hear the difference between these two microphones and the sound from outboard gear vs. “in the box” sounds.

The Tests

I wrote a simple script, about a minutes worth, that I’d use for each setup. Although probably not exact, I made an effort to speak at the same volume and the same distance from each mic.

The first two test used just the Heil and Procaster. Their signals were sent directly into my Presonus sound card and captured into GarageBand. No effects were used except for a mastering setting that I used on all of the tests.

This gives me a baseline as to what each mic sounds like.

Audio Test 1 – Heil PR40 straight to the DAW
Heil PR40 straight to the DAW

Audio Test 2 – Rode Procaster straight to the DAW
Rode Procaster straight to the DAW

My second test consisted of taking the same two original recordings and adding the iZotope Nectar plugin to them. I originally used the “podcast” setting but later switched to “‘Pristine and Clean” found in the Soul and RnB section. The setting is more geared towards a singing vocal but by eliminating the excessive reverb and delay I got a nice, rich sound.

Audio Test 3 – Heil PR40 straight to the DAW using Nectar
Heil PR40 straight to the DAW using Nectar

Audio Test 4 – Rod Procaster straight to the DAW using Nectar
Rode Procaster straight to the DAW using Nectar

Setting the EQ for Your Voice

Here’s a trick you can use when setting the EQ on your own voice. When the sound coming from your speakers mimics the way your voice sounds in your head, stop. You’ve got it.

As most of you know our recorded voices sounds nothing like the way we sound in our heads. Why? Because your head is very much like a big, resonant speaker bin. Because your voice resonants through your body and your head, your ears interpret that as a rich, full voice.

Your microphone, though, isn’t that forgiving. Neither are other peoples ears. They hear your voice in its unfiltered, natural state just as the microphone does.

By adjusting the EQ so your voice sounds the same as it does in your head means your recorded voice sounds rich and full to other people – even if it sounds to you like you haven’t done anything to it.

Breaking Out the Outboard Gear

Okay, I admit it, I’m a gear snob. In the box plug-ins are okay, and they’re getting better every day. But there’s something about an external preamp and compressor that adds certain harmonic qualities that I appreciate.

And you know what – most people won’t even hear the difference. But I will. It’s like trying to do your show with the remnants of a cold hanging on. No one will notice that you sound different, but it makes a difference to you.

For this last test I ran the mics, one at a time, through the Aphex 230. This was after a considerable amount of time setting the unit up, based on the manufacturers recommended starting point, just so I could start tweaking it. Like I said, give me a mic, preamp and a compressor and I’m a happy boy the rest of the night.

Audio Test 5 – Heil PR40 through the Aphex 230
Heil PR40 through the Aphex 230

Audio Test 6 – Rode Procaster through the Aphex 230
Rode Procaster through the Aphex 230

The Verdict

Before I give you my verdict, let me just quantify this by saying, it may not be your verdict. And that’s fine. You have to take that attitude when you’re setting up your sound – the operative words being, YOUR SOUND.

To say I was shocked would be mild. I really liked the overall sound of the Rode Procaster. And the Procaster through the Aphex had just the right amount of punch and creamy top end that really appeals to me.

Putting It All Together

In this last clip I took the Audio Test 6 file, added some royalty free music and a quick voiceover intro to see how it all works together.

Audio Test 7 – Putting It All Together

Putting It All Together

In fact, in all three tests, I really liked the sound of the Procaster over my trusty Heil. Now, does that mean I’ll stop using the Heil for my current podcast? Nope. I’ve created a sound and a persona for it that works. Why screw with something that works?

But for the new podcast, it looks like I’ve got a new microphone and a new sound.

So, what do you think? Would you have made a different choice?

About Jay Walsh

With a combined 25 years of design, marketing, podcasting, video and social media knowledge, Jay created with the goal of helping you make a better podcast.

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