Adventures in one-mic recording

Sometimes new gear can inspire! I recently decided to refresh my microphone stable and realised that I have not purchased a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) mic for almost two decades. Well, that’s not strictly true, seeing that my Audio-Technica AE5100s and AE3000s are technically LDCs, but many purists do not regard these as such since, a) the 5100s are end-address and, b) neither model is externally-biased. So in that sense the last LDC that I purchased was my Rode NT1-A, which I think I got way back in 2003 or 2004, when the then-distributor of Rode in Singapore was closing shop. I also have one of the original Rode NT1s, in its ‘hospital grey’ paint. Side note – the AE3000 is actually quite a competent side-address condenser microphone – I used it for my Breedlove Atlas Retro OM/SMe review, shot in 2017, seems like a lifetime ago now.

So after perusing the Audio-Technica catalog and getting some prices I decided to purchase an AT4040, the single-diaphragm, cardioid-only cousin of the AT4050. It was either that or the AT4047/SV, which in Singapore at least is more than twice the price of the 4040! Just goes to show how much output transformers cost… and yes it does have a different diaphragm and different circuitry. Anyway, no money right now blah, blah, blah…

After unboxing and setting up the mic in its shockmount (which is very nice by the way, with a central cradle that is suspended from elastic bands in the traditional sense, but the mic is also held into the cradle with a much smaller rubber band, which you can see in the image here, running around the upper crenelated edge of the cradle, hence achieving a double-shockmount effect) I was quite impressed by the out-of-the-box sound that it gave, sounding very true to source, with minimal post-processing required to make it sound quite decent. I’m not personally into the minutiae of studio microphones, nor do I collect mics for recording, so I suppose I am quite easily satisfied. However I do object to an overly bright microphone, which I consider the NT1-A to be, in some situations at least. Maybe that’s why Takamine USA like it to use it for their guitar demos, hmmm….

Decided to try and record one of my favourite hymns, “Take my Life and Let It Be” written in 1874 by Frances Ridley Havergal, pictured above. You can hear the results on the soundcloud post. The setup was the single AT4040, with hi-pass filter engaged, placed in its shockmount on a 6″ K&M desk stand, about 12-14″ away from me, at about the height of my collar, pointing straight ahead, ie not up towards my mouth or down towards the guitar. I put the mic off to my left a bit to leave room for my music in front and didn’t use a pop filter or windscreen. There is no EQ at all on the track, just some reverb and a bit of compression to smooth out the peaks. The track was recorded in a single take, through an ageing first-generation Steinberg UR22 into Cubase. The guitar was my lovely 10-year old Takamine TSF48c.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the ability of this mic to react to and capture nuances in dynamics as well as the changing relative distances between mic, guitar and mouth, depending on how I sat and moved around while recording. It has “that LDC sound” which I personally define as being very full range but with a certain robust quality to the midrange that comes from the larger diaphragm and which distinguishes the sound from that of a small diaphragm condenser – the latter are supremely accurate due to the lighting fast response of the very small, very light diaphragm, but accurate does not always inspire. BGL

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