A virtual microphone closet for the masses.
Do you dream of your own personal cabinet full of rare and expensive vintage microphones? I do. Unfortunately, economic circumstances prevent many of us from realizing this dream. Indeed, most personal studio owners don't have even $1,000 budgeted for their main mic, much less $5,000 (or more) for one esoteric model. You'll excuse me for being skeptical when a manufacturer claims its plug-in can turn an inexpensive dynamic mic into a high-end condenser mic for far less than a grand.
On the other hand, digital audio workstations have fulfilled the music-making fantasies of millions of musicians for a fraction of what comparable analog recording systems used to cost. And the science of plug-ins is rapidly progressing and producing amazing results. Perhaps a virtual microphone cabinet isn't such a wild idea after all.
The Microphone Modeler plug-in from Antares offers an impressive selection of microphone models, including classic tube condenser mics, industry-standard dynamics, and popular mainstream FETs. According to Antares, the company meticulously crafted each model from an original microphone - right down to the pickup patterns and stock windscreens - using its patented Spectral Shaping Tool technology.
Microphone Modeler supports the main plug-in platforms: TDM, RTAS, VST, MAS, and DirectX. Antares deserves a round of applause for getting its software to work with all these systems. On the other hand, only the DirectX version of Microphone Modeler works on the PC; I'd like to see a VST version for Windows. I used the TDM version on a Mac running Digidesign's Pro Tools/24 Mixplus system.
INSTALLATION JIGThe Microphone Modeler CD-ROM includes an installer for the plug-in format you purchased, as well as demo versions of other Antares plug-ins. Although beginning the installation process is as easy as double-clicking on the installer, the next step - authorization - isn't easy at all.
The program employs a challenge-and-response copy-protection scheme. Microphone Modeler issues the challenge when you boot the unauthorized plug-in and click on the Authorize button. Microphone Modeler will run on your system for ten days, during which time you need to send Antares an image of the serial number (which is affixed to the product-registration card) by snail mail, e-mail, or fax. Antares, in turn, sends you a response to your software's challenge. Once you have entered the response, you can breathe a sigh of relief and move on. This is more complex than most challenge-and-response schemes, and it's frankly a drag.
FULLY STOCKED CABINETMicrophone Modeler comes with more than 90 different models of vintage and contemporary mics. In the vintage category, you'll find models of mics by AKG (C 12A), Neumann (U47, U87), RCA (BK 5A), and Sennheiser (MD 421).
The newer mics include the Alesis AT61; Audio-Technica AT4033 and AT4055; beyerdynamic M 500 LE Classic; B&K 4007; Earthworks Z30X; Lawson L47MP; Manley Reference Gold; Neumann KM 184 and TLM 103; Oktava MC 219; Rode NT1, NT2, and NTV; Royer R-121; and Shure Beta series. The full list of models is on the Antares Web site.
Antares regularly adds new models and makes them available as downloads. If the program is missing a mic that you feel should be included, the folks at Antares say they're open to suggestions.
Downloading the microphone models is straightforward, but locating the right folder to put them in threw me for a loop. I expected to dump the files into the Digidesign DAE folder's Plug-Ins folder. But to my surprise, they go into the Antares Models folder in the System Preferences folder.
Two folders are inside the Antares Models folder: one for the source mics (the mics with which your tracks were recorded) and one for the modeled mics (the mics you want the source mics to sound like). Source and modeled mics always come together in a new download.
ON THE SURFACEMicrophone Modeler doesn't have a lot of parameters, so the interface is clean and easy to comprehend. Only a few controls defy immediate understanding and force you to consult the manual, which is informative and well written.
The interface is divided into halves (see Fig. 1). The controls on the left-hand side adjust the source-mic input; the right-hand controls tweak the modeled-mic output. An input-gain fader is on the left, and an output-level fader is on the right. Menus for selecting mic models, pickup patterns, and low-cut filter values are on both sides of the interface.
Each side also has a knob for controlling proximity. On the source-mic side, this parameter value is the exact distance between the original mic and the sound source. On the modeled-mic side, proximity controls the sonic picture painted by the virtual mic model (for example, frequency response, proximity effect, and so on.).
At the bottom of the interface is Tube Saturation, which simulates the high-quality preamp of a triode tube circuit. Its effect ranges from a barely perceptible warming to a wonderful, thick tube coloration. Overall, Tube Saturation convincingly adds realism to the modeled mics. A small replica of a tube element is to the immediate right of the fader and becomes increasingly orange as you increase the Drive setting.
Above the Drive fader lie a pair of buttons labeled Preserve Source. These buttons let you retain the bass or treble frequencies of the original source microphone. For example, if you like the high end of the modeled microphone but the low end of the source mic, you enable the Bass button. According to Antares, the crossover between high and low frequencies varies from mic to mic.
The Preserve Source feature is simple but handy, especially for fine-tuning the modeled mic's effect.
KNOW THY SOURCEYou must know the details about your source mic to get the best results from Microphone Modeler. Otherwise, you can't expect Microphone Modeler to give you an ideal representation of a different mic. Nor can you tell the plug-in that a $49 mic is actually a Shure SM57 and hope to hear a vintage AKG C 12A from the output.
Of course, there's no rule against specifying a source mic that's different from the mic you actually used during recording. Perhaps the mic you recorded with isn't available in the Source Mic menu, in which case you might select a substitute with characteristics similar to those of the original mic.
But remember, a poorly recorded track made with a cheap microphone will always be a poorly recorded track. In addition, Microphone Modeler assumes that your recordings were made on-axis. An off-axis recording paints a very different sonic picture and undermines the software's basic operating premise.
Microphone Modeler uses source-mic information to eliminate the coloration produced by the original mic. It's up to you to provide the proper information. Selecting the original recording mic and its parameters (such as pattern and proximity) in the Source Mic section gives Microphone Modeler a starting point from which to synthesize a new, flat base signal in preparation for the Modeled Mic stage of the process.
For example, if you recorded with a low-cut filter of 75 Hz, choosing 75 Hz from the Low Cut menu reverses the original low-cut filter's effect. Think of the Source Mic settings as a way of leveling the playing field so that the modeling algorithms can work their magic.
The Source Mic Bypass feature is for recordings made via a direct line input. It's perfect for making instruments recorded directly sound as if they were miked. With Bypass on, just select the modeled mic you want on your track. You could, for instance, apply a modeled Royer R-121 to your direct-recorded fuzz-guitar track for punchier mids.
MIC CHECKMost of the tracks I've been mixing and remixing lately have been flown into Pro Tools from ADAT. Many of the ADAT session tapes were recorded at different high-end studios in order to take advantage of their extensive mic collections and tracking environments. Many of the rough vocal and instrumental tracks, however, were done in personal studios to save money. These, too, were flown into Pro Tools. As a result, I've amassed quite a collection of tracks recorded on a wide range of microphones: the Sennheiser MD 421 and Shure SM58 on the low end, the CAD VSM and Neumann TLM 103 in the midrange, and the AKG C 12A and Neumann U 47 on the high end. In short, I was in an ideal position to give Microphone Modeler a thorough workout.
I attempted as many combinations as I could think of. For example, I changed the Sennheiser MD 421 to a Neumann U 47, and the AKG C 12A to a Shure SM57. The results ranged from subtle to dramatic. Turning a Neumann TLM 103 into a Neumann U 47 created a track with more air, adding tube coloration to the low mids and making the sibilances sound much sweeter. Changing the MD 421 into a Coles 4038 produced a larger, beefier sound with extra boom in the low mids and much more smearing of the high end.
When I compared the modeled-mic tracks with tracks I had recorded with their real-world counterparts, the results were quite impressive. Many of the microphone models were not totally convincing right out of the gate, but I was able to tweak the proximity parameters and adjust the Tube Saturation to come up with some incredible likenesses.
QUASI DI TO DIE FOROne of my favorite uses of Microphone Modeler is processing instrumental tracks that were recorded direct, as I did with my Tacoma CC-10E4 nylon-string electric/acoustic guitar. The instrument's active Fishman Prefix Plus pickup system sounds wonderful but doesn't capture the warmth and body you'd get by miking the guitar's sound hole.
When I'm writing a song, I'm usually too lazy to set up a mic for recording. I prefer to just "plug and play." Often these rough performances are excellent, and I always try to doctor them up in hopes of keeping them for the final mix. By processing the tracks with the Neumann KM 184 model, I created a fairly credible emulation of a miked sound hole, without some of the overtones.
Playing with the Proximity and Tube Saturation controls and adding room ambience with Waves' TrueVerb plug-in transformed a cheesy, flat, direct recording into a stunning live sound.
PLUG THIS INMicrophone Modeler does what Antares claims: it provides a cabinet of extraordinarily solid-sounding virtual mics. You're bound to be pleased as long as you properly match your real-world source microphones to your modeled mic. If you stray from Microphone Modeler's matchup guidelines, however, you may not like the results, depending on how much of a stickler you are for realism.
The affordable Microphone Modeler is a great tool for DAW-based personal studios with limited mic resources. It sounds great and is perfect for everything from mixing to tracking. Microphone Modeler definitely gets my vote as one of the most innovative plug-ins of the year.