Building a home studio? Here’s a recommended array of basic microphones and a DI box that covers the basics.
If you’re building a home studio, you’re obviously going to need microphones. But you don’t need to spend thousands on mics to begin recording demos and even albums. Here are five essential microphones and one direct box, which all add up to under $1,000.
You may already know there are three main types of microphones: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. Dynamic, or moving coil, mics are the least expensive, but also the most rugged. They handle loud sound sources like drums and guitar amps with ease. You’ve seen these mics many times, because most mics used in live performance are dynamic, but they also get heavy use in the studio.
Shure SM57 and SM58 dynamic mics set the industry standard. The SM58 ($99 street) is widely used for vocals onstage but also works well on guitar cabinets, snare drums, and toms. The SM57 ($99 street) is a similar dynamic mic aimed at recording instruments more than vocals, since it lacks the 58’s ball grille, which is designed to reduce vocal plosives. I’ve heard very good recordings of acoustic guitar made with an SM57. In fact, you can track any instrument with one of these workhorse microphones and come up with a good sounding final product. Buy each of these very versatile recording tools.
Another Shure product, the Beta 52A ($199 street), is a specialty mic made to capture kick drums, emphasizing low frequencies. You need one of these, too. The Beta 52A is supercardioid, which means it has a tighter pickup angle and offers good side rejection. This mic is also useful on bass cabinets, tuba, or trombone, and sounds good on floor toms, too.
Condenser microphones are often the most expensive, although they range from $89 to $8,499. Condensers are the most sensitive to dynamics and can also handle loud sound sources. They are used on many instruments—especially for vocals and acoustic instruments, and as drum overheads. Most vocalists prefer a condenser mic in the studio because these mics capture nuanced performances. They often have multiple pickup patterns (omnidirectional, unidirectional, and bidirectional or figure eight), which can be helpful. Condenser microphones need a low-voltage power source, called phantom power, to operate. But the good news is phantom power is found on almost every mixing console and on every interface. Just remember to turn it on when using a condenser.
You don’t need to spend thousands on mics to begin recording demos and even albums.
A great starter condenser is the Audio-Technica AT2021 ($89 street). This small diaphragm mic is excellent for acoustic instruments, including guitar. They also work well as drum overheads. Audio-Technica makes some other high-quality, affordable condenser mics, too. I recommend buying two AT2021s. Then, you’ll have two drum overhead mics that will also sound great recording various acoustic instruments.
A large-diaphragm condenser mic is what most singers prefer in the studio, for its sensitivity to the nuances of vocal performances. They are also used on acoustic instruments, including horns, upright bass, and piano. The AKG P420 ($229 street) is an excellent vocal microphone that can be set for all three pickup patterns. And the omnidirectional pickup pattern can be useful when recording an entire ensemble or vocal group.
If you’ve played a gig on acoustic guitar, you already know what a direct box, or DI, does. In the studio, DIs are used to record high-output instruments such as keyboards or bass without distorting. It’s always good to have one on hand. Radial makes high-quality DIs, and I recommend the Radial ProDI 1 ($129 street) for its simplicity and efficiency.
Our total cost for these six mics and direct box is $933. Not bad for a basic, easy-to-find home studio mic selection that’ll get you started. And remember, when you’re ready, there’s a myriad of other manufacturers and mics out there to explore. To say nothing of plugins and hardware.
PS: Ribbon mics are the most fragile. They are often used for specific voices or instruments like brass and woodwinds, or a string section, and they are not as versatile as the other mic types. But ribbon mics do have a nice low frequency bump, and the word “warm” is often used to describe their sound. Because they are not as versatile as dynamic and condenser microphones, ribbon mics can always be added to your collection after you get the basics covered.
A passive DI box with vintage-inspired sonic characteristics.
North Collins, NY (September 22, 2020) -- Lightning Boy Audio introduces the TI Box, AKA “Thicker Injection Box.” This is a passive DI box with vintage-inspired sonic characteristics. Its tone comes from custom designed LBA-MC15 transformer to deliver thicker tone and 4.6dB greater output volume than typical of modern passive DI Boxes. This box is not a recreation of a classic DI, but rather a unique take on classic ideas. Therefore, its sound, while colorful in a vintage sort of way, is unique to this device. The frequency response is flat across and beyond the audio spectrum as measured with test equipment. In practical use, you’ll probably notice a bit of heft in the sub-bass, dominance in the mids, and a bit of a softening in the highs, all of which define the TI Box sound.
The TI Box features 1/4" input and bypass jacks, a Neutrik XLR balanced output, phase invert switch, and ground lift switch. Designed and hand crafted in the USA. Sold direct from lightningboyaudio.com for $169 USD.
Watch the company's video demo:
For more information:
Lightning Boy Audio
Many class-D bass amps promise "tube warmth," but this sleek contender unabashedly proffers a meticulously clean take on your instrument's innate voice.
All clips recorded with a 50/50 mix of post-EQ DI from the Form Factor amp and an Audio-Technica AE5400 microphone on a Mesa Boogie Subway 1x15 cabinet via an Mbox into Logic X.
Clip 1: Squier PJ with Kloppmann pickups. No equalization.
Clip 2: Spector Euro4 LX. Bass at 1 o'clock. Mid cut at 1k set at 10 o'clock. Limiter at 10 o'clock.
Clip 3: ’84 Yamaha BB3000S with bridge pickup favored 70/30, and tone rolled off halfway. Bass boosted on amp to 4 o'clock. Mids boosted at 1k to 1 o'clock. Limiter at 11 o'clock.
Focused sound. High power. Pre and post XLR outs.
No volume control for clean XLR out. No preset EQ-curve quick dial or switches.
Form Factor Bi1000Di
Ease of Use:
Southern California’s Form Factor is an interesting player in the world of bass amplification. The company uses its extensive experience in large PA speaker enclosures and electronics for its designs for bass gear, while incorporating new methods, materials, and practices to differentiate themselves in a crowded market. Since the launch of their bass line at the 2013 NAMM show, Form Factor has built a solid reputation as a respected manufacturer with an ear toward modern, clean bass tone. This review was my first encounter with a Form Factor amplifier, but already knowing the forward-thinking design that goes into their cabinets, I was anticipating hearing what their new 1,000-watt Bi1000Di had in store.
Sleek and Understated
The 10-pound Bi1000Di is elegant and minimalist in an era when so many class-D bass amps have lit-up tubes, decorative lighting, and different control sizes. The front panel, which has thin white lines dividing the controls from the inputs, is so simple it appears designed by an upscale Scandinavian furniture company. It’s noteworthy that the Bi1000Di’s front houses a number of jacks that would typically be found on a back panel, including the headphone out, tuner out, and effects send and return jacks. There are also separate inputs for passive or active instruments.
The 3-band EQ section has a midrange selector dial, and gain, master volume, and limiter dials round out the controls on the front panel, which also includes a very large mute button. It’s obvious the designers purposefully created a mute button you can’t miss on a dark stage—a simple detail that is strangely overlooked by most manufacturers. (The button itself also lights up.) Finally, next to the power switch are small indicator lights for clipping, input signal, and on/off.
The back panel has no switches or controls and looks even more understated. In addition to the obligatory two speaker outs, there is a power connection that locks into place and requires its own Speakon-like cable called a “Powercon.” The amp ships with the cable, and it feels very solid. The only drawback here would be if you forgot to pack the power cable for a gig, because borrowing one from a buddy or the venue would most likely not be an option.
The most exciting feature on the back panel is the pair of completely separate DIs. No need to select pre or post, as is necessary with most other amps. The ability to send an unaffected signal to FOH and send your EQ’d tone to your in-ear mix is quite valuable. The volume of the post-EQ out is controlled by the gain control of the amp, while the pre-EQ out has no volume control of any kind.
Plugging in a Squier PJ bass with Kloppmann pickups and strung with flatwounds, the Bi1000Di impressed right away with an authoritative, clean midrange I haven’t heard from any other class-D amp. The punch is best described as immediate. It feels like the amp wants to punch you in the gut before your finger has even finished playing the note. The tone of this amp without any equalization whatsoever is undeniably great for fingerstyle playing. It took my warm-sounding P bass and gave it some extra oomph in the low mids without touching the EQ section at all.
Wanting to see if the amp could go the opposite way, I plugged in a Spector Euro4LX with brand-new steel strings and EMG pickups. For a slap tone, I engaged the limiter slightly to get a little bit of natural squashing happening, set the midrange-frequency selector to 1 kHz, and cut the mid dial back to 9 o’clock.
Instead of a traditional, super-scooped slap tone à la Marcus Miller, the Form Factor delivered more of a Mark King-like sound that retained some of the midrange from my fingerstyle tone. The result was a tight, more focused slap tone without any unnatural top-end to my active bass, which I find some amps create.
The natural voice of the amp made me curious about what a fairly traditional, growlier Jazz bass tone would sound like, so I grabbed my ’84 Yamaha BB3000S, favored the bridge pickup over the neck at a 70 percent to 30 percent ratio, and rolled just a little off my onboard tone control. I also boosted the mids at 1 kHz ever so slightly to 1 o’clock, and rolled the limiter to 11 o’clock. The result was a brighter version of a Jaco-inspired tone that made me want to keep playing and playing.
Once again, the Bi1000Di proved it’s perfectly capable of providing very quick and aggressive tones, while remaining crystal clear and not sounding brittle or harsh in the least. The limiter on Form Factor’s amp does a very musical job of limiting volume without affecting the punch much.
Even though the Bi1000Di is designed to be a transparent amp without much color, it does have a personality that’s all about the extremely strong midrange foundation, thanks to the immediate attack that gives every note an undeniable center. This amp separates itself from the pack by offering the direct opposite of many other class-D amps, where the manufacturers are purposely trying to add the sound of tube warmth to modern, lightweight amps. The Bi1000Di just wants to deliver the sound of your bass, and it does this with a merciless, clean attack that permits it to stake out its own very solid and powerful corner in the modern-amp market.