“If money was an issue, I think I’d pick three of the Audio-Technica 4049a, small diaphragm omni mics ($595). I’ve used it just enough to know that it works well. My other option would be the Oktava MC-012 ($193) with the interchangeable capsules.
My first choice, though, would be the Sennheiser MKH-800 ($2950). All the headroom you could ever want, infinitely variable patterns, frequency response to 50kHz, super quiet, terrific resolution without making itself apparent. It would work anywhere to record anything. And the omni pattern sounds like a true omni. That would be my best choice.
“If I could only pick three mics, I would start this way: large diaphragm condenser (LDC), ribbon, small diaphragm condenser (SDC). To feel like I would have the tools needed to be effective in any situation, I would need those bases covered. I think recording vocals is first and foremost.
So on a budget, I would go with the older AKG 414. It’s an incredibly versatile mic. It can take gain, has a built-in pad and roll off, and the CK12 capsule sounds generally excellent on many singers. It is an all around good useful mic. Many other mics fall into this category, like the Shure KSM 32 ($1029), Neumann U87 ($3180), Soundelux U195 ($1350), Mojave M200 ($995), Audio-Technica 4033 ($595) or 4060 ($1495). The LDC also rules as a pair for room-ambience recording or distant miking.
For my ribbon mic, it would have to be a Royer 121 ($1195). I’d pick this because it has such wonderful midrange on guitars, horns, B3, percussion, drums, you name it. I don’t think I could make any recording without a ribbon mic. So I’d pick the Royer over the other ribbons for its incredible versatility.
For my small condenser? Either a Schoeps CMC 5U ($1324 with MK2H capsule), or a DPA (B&K) 4011 ($1850) or a Neumann KM 84 / 184 ($950). I know it is not exactly low budget, but the DPA 4011 remains my most used SDC. For me, the focus and clarity of an SDC is needed in the studio to balance the large condenser and ribbon mics. For close miking of acoustic guitars, percussion, and overheads on drums/cymbals, I will go to the SDC. As far as a pair, it’s hard to decide whether to take the large condenser pair over the small condenser pair. I think it would depend on the defined space I would be recording in. In general, I think the small condenser pair would be used more frequently in a smaller confined space.
With an unlimited budget, I would stick to the same categories. I would start with a great old AKG C12 or an original Neumann U47 or a Telefunken 251 with a pattern select box that works so I could record in omni as an option. These mics are just the consummate vocal mics. They also shine as acoustic instrument mics and all around beautiful tools. As far as newer builds on tube mics in particular, Tracy Korby, Soundelux, Blue, and some others are doing very fine work.
Next I would add a stereo Royer SF24 phantom-powered ribbon ($3795). This is my new favorite mic. It’s an amazingly detailed ribbon mic with many of the great attributes of condenser mics. These days I don’t do a recording without having the SF24 up and ready.
Lastly I would probably go with an old Neumann KM 54 as my small condenser, or still stay with the DPA 4011. The Neumann KM 54 is just a beautiful mic, with its nickel capsule. Either way I would be a happy guy.
On a budget, the A-T 4047 ($745) is an amazing sounding mic for an amazing price. It sounds vintage and is astonishingly versatile.
My new favorite dynamic is the Heil PR-40 ($325). It sounds every bit as good as any $750 condenser, and it takes a ton of level. It can work wonders on kick and snare and then do just as well on a vocal or acoustic guitar.
I’d pick a pair of A-T 3031s ($259) as well. This mic works well on any acoustic instrument and is an all around great-sounding mic that only costs around $200.
If price was no object, then the Brauner VM1-KHE ($10,000) is the most amazing vocal mic I’ve ever heard and it’s the only extremely high-end mic I’ve found that works on almost everyone.
Add a pair of Earthworks SR-77 ($2100/pair). They sound good on everything. Extremely natural with a great sounding top end (that extends to 30kHz).
And the Royer R-122 ($1,695), which makes guitars sound legendary.
F. REID SHIPPEN
Budget: SM-57 ($158): What can I say. It just sounds good.
Marshall V69 Mogami Edition ($399): An amazing mic for an amazing price.
A-T 4051 ($595): sounds killer on acoustic guitar.
Price No Object: SM-57, U67 (x2) Royer 121 or Coles 4038 ($1,424)
Budget: Shure KSM-27 ($575): works on vocals, instruments or amps. Shure KSM 109 ($305): works great on acoustic instruments. Shure SM-57: sounds good on anything.
Price No Object: Neumann U67: because it sounds good in so many different applications. Neumann U47: you could use that to mic a whole drum kit. Stereo AKG C-24: you could use it on anything else.
On a budget? Two SM-57s and an SM-58 ($188). I can make a record with those.
On the other end of the scale, the Soundfield MkV ($8,580) would be on my list. It’s the most natural sounding mic I’ve ever heard. It will do stereo and surround. Add a Soundelux E47 ($4,500) for male vocals and a Royer 121 for electric guitars. I could be happy with just those three.