Stereo Microphone Selection

What stereo microphone should you use for a stereo recording? That is an important question in any kind of recording! I hope I don't surprise you, but there is no right answer. There is no rule in recording that says, "When stereo recording choirs of about 24 voices, use a Neumann KM-184." 

Every mic has a different sound, a unique character that differentiates it from the rest. Some of them work better on choirs, while another might work better for a drum set. If you have several mic sets to choose from, listen to them all. Make a decision only after that. Even if 3 different mics sound good on a certain application, they each will make it sound different. They will affect what the end sound will be. What do you want that to be?

Apart from questions like that, there are a few guidelines for using choosing a stereo microphone.

  • XY setups require the use of cardioid mics, to separate the left and right fields 
  • An MS technique needs a figure 8 plus another of any pattern. 
  • Blumlein pairs use two figure 8s. 
  • A spaced pair sounds best with omni mics. 
  • Near coincident patterns usually require cardioid, again to separate the soundstage. 
  • Binaural recording usually uses omni microphones, because they sound a bit more natural at low frequencies, and that is closer to how our ears hear.

A good rule of thumb I use myself when shopping for mics is the old saying, You get what you pay for. An $800 mic will probably outperform a $100 mic. But above all, listen to them.

If you cannot put out enough money for a good mic set without hearing them first, see if you can rent them somewhere. It'll cost a bit, but what's a half-day's rent compared to the cost of a good microphone for stereo recording?

If there's nowhere to rent near you, you could do what I did - I bought two sets of mics to test. I tried them for a day or two, and returned the one I didn't like. Before you do this, make sure you tell your salesperson what you plan to do! The last thing you want is an extra mic set you don't need!

Something to investigate is the possibility of a stereo microphone. Instead of having two separate mics, you have everything integrated into one. Just something to think about.

Just another two analogies about mic selection. Think of each mic as colors on a palette, and you are ready to use each as it suits your purposes. Or think of it like a craftsman chooses special tools to complete a work of art. That's really what mic selection is all about.

About the Author Lee Weaver

Lee started his career in recording with an auspicious goal - record tracks of his own voice singing in harmony. As a hobby project, it didn't have the funding to go to a studio and pay for someone to do it for him. Like many of you, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to learn the art of recording.

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