You mean there's more? Yes, you're not out of the woods just yet! The good news is that if you've hung on through all this, you really know something about microphones and what makes them tick. This will be invaluable to you as a home studio owner. So here's the rest.
A microphone doesn't just lie on the floor—you need to use a microphone stand to secure and position it. The following is a rundown of the basic kinds of stands you'll encounter:
Standard: This is your garden-variety microphone stand. It has a wide base and allows for up-and-down positioning of the microphone only.
Low Profile: This is just like the standard microphone, except it's very short. It's great for bass drums and amplifiers that sit on the floor. It provides up-and-down height adjustment only.
Low-Profile Boom: This is a short stand coupled with a boom arm for much greater maneuverability in all directions, not just up and down.
Standard Boom: This is a tall stand with a boom arm for maneuverability in many directions. It's great for vocals, drum overheads, and much more. This is a good all-purpose stand.
You can't go wrong with boom stands because they can work in practically any situation. If you microphone a lot of bass drums or amplifiers that sit on the floor, you'll need the low-profile stands to get down low, although you could also lean down a boom stand.
Many condenser microphones come with a strange-looking apparatus called a shock mount (Figure 9-4), which is a web of elastic string that encloses the microphone and is secured to the microphone stand.
The shock mount tries to isolate and cushion the microphone to prevent it from picking up sound traveling up the microphone stand. Keep in mind that sound can be transmitted through objects, and microphone stands are no exception. Condenser microphones are very sensitive and if you accidentally stomp a foot on the floor, or worse, hit the microphone stand while recording, the microphone will pick up the thump and ruin your recording. If you place your microphone stand on a bare floor, other frequencies in the room might cause the stand to vibrate. You don't have to use a shock mount, but if your microphone comes with one, you should use it.
Figure 9-4: Microphone shock mount
If you plan to record vocals or spoken word, you need a pop filter (Figure 9-5). Certain parts of speech called plosives make certain letters of the alphabet come out with much greater force than others. Words that start with the letters P, B, and T are the most common plosives. Recorded normally, the plosive sounds will “pop” and sometimes overload the microphone. A pop filter is simply a screen placed between the microphone and the singer's mouth to stop the plosive from popping the microphone.
Pop filters are cheap, and you can even make one out of wire and nylon mesh or pantyhose. An added benefit is that pop filters stop spit from hitting your expensive microphones. Gross, but it happens!
As we have touched on in Chapter 4, a microphone puts out a very small signal through its cables. In order to use a microphone with a recording device, the signal has to be amplified to a level the recorder can detect. There's no way around this; every microphone needs some sort of preamplification.
Is a microphone preamplifier considered a gain stage?
Yes, a gain stage is any device that changes the volume of a device. A microphone preamplifier boosts the weak signal, so it is a great example of a gain stage. A gain stage could also be a mixer or the output knob on a guitar effects processor.
The good news is that most outboard mixers include a few microphone preamps, and so do studios-in-a-box and many computer interfaces. You can also purchase individual microphone preamplifiers. They are available in single- and multiple-channel versions.
Prices start around $40 and can go very high. Preamplifiers are an important part of recording, and the quality of preamplifiers varies from devices that simply make microphones louder, to those that truly improve the quality of audio that pass through them. You'll hear names like Neve, GML, and Great River in the upper echelons of mic preamplifiers. Like most higher priced units, if folks are buying them, there must be something to them.
Condenser microphones, except for ribbon condensers, need internal power to run, unlike dynamic microphones, which induce current on their own. Condenser microphones get power either from an internal battery or, more commonly, from an external source. The power derived from an external source is called phantom power. Phantom power is delivered to the microphone from the device it's normally hooked up to, which can be a mixer, microphone preamplifier, recording device, or computer interface.
The phantom power runs through the standard, ordinary microphone cable, so no extra supplies are needed. You need phantom power only when working with condenser microphones, and most recording devices automatically give you phantom power, but be sure to check with the manufacturers if you plan on using phantom-powered microphones, just to be safe. If you already own a recording device that doesn't contain phantom power capability, don't worry; there are plenty of condenser microphones that operate off battery power, so those might be a better choice for you.
So now you've learned the basics of microphones. If you feel unsure about anything, talk to engineers and other home studio owners to find out what they use and what they recommend. Happy hunting.