Mic Modeling: Revamp Your Mic Collection With These Classic Mic Models

It doesn’t take much experience in the music business to know a microphone can make or break the sound quality of a recording. Some might even argue that the microphone is one of the single most essential tools in achieving an excellent sounding result. But the classic mics we’ve come to know and love can be hard to come by – and very expensive. Luckily, with the ongoing developments in mic modeling, we have more and more affordable choices available to us.

Our Love For Microphones

Unlike most pro audio equipment, well-made microphones seldom become out-of-date. There are ribbon microphones manufactured in the 1930s as well as classic condenser mics from Germany that are still in high demand. Most are now far more valuable today than they were when brand new. Even as microphones get more and more advanced or “perfect” in modern designs, the old ones endure with their imperfections and character.

A character that we have grown to love and crave.

A Few Classic Microphones From a Dream Collection

AKG C12

Known for its rich low end and top end boost, the tube warmth and depth mixed with clarity and presence is why the C12 endures as one of the most cherished microphones of all time.

Typical applications: Vocals, Piano, Strings, Drum Overheads, Bass
C12
U47

Neumann U47

Most famous for its unique mid-range quality (less mid-heavy than the U67) and its clarity, from a nicely hyped top end, the U47 commonly described as warm, full, and round.

Typical applications: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Drum Overheads, Room mics.

AKG 414

Because of its flat and neutral sound and its ability to handle additional processing exceptionally well, the AKG C414 has continued as a favorite for instrumental and vocal recording.

Typical applications: Vocals, Voice Over, Toms, Acoustic Guitar, Room mics.
AKG 414
Coles 4038

Coles 4038

The common adjective used to describe this mic is "smooth." Because of their unique transient response and subtle top end roll off, 4038s are often considered to be a little "dark" sounding. Great for vintage sounding applications, or when focusing lows and midrange or when trying to "de-emphasize brittleness" (warmer cymbals, less fatiguing brass).

Typical applications: Brass, Drum Overheads, Piano, Jazz Vocal.

Neumann U67

Has a tube warmth and depth, rich mids and a natural sounding high-end.

Typical applications: Vocals, Drums, and all acoustic instruments.
U67
U87

Neumann U87

The U87 delivers a bright, punchy, and modern sound, with a crisp upper midrange, the U87 is the default microphone for voice over and vocals for many engineers around the world. When compared to other Neumanns, the U87 is a more affordable “non-tube” option.

Typical applications: Vocals, Voice Over, Acoustic Guitar, Upright Bass, Room mics.

Royer R121

The R-121 is a modern ribbon mic that gives all of the warmth and natural sound that ribbons are known for, but can also handle higher volume situations. The R-122 is a phantom-powered active version with more output and a few extra features.

Typical applications: Electric guitar, Brass.
Royer 121
Sony C800G

Sony C800G

The Sony C-800G has an incredibly detailed sound, with a full dynamic range and hyped top end. This mic reproduces the delicate and subtle nuances of a source, even at high volumes. Great for pop vocals, this mic has become a favorite among many top-level vocalists like Sting and Peter Gabriel, along with many rap artists.

Typical applications: Vocals, Sax

Telefunken Ela M 251

Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful sounding microphones ever produced. Strong presence without being harsh or thin with a clean lower midrange.

Typical applications: Vocals, Drum Overheads, Acoustic Guitar, Piano, Bass
Telefunken Ela M 251

Classic Mic Modeling

While many of these classic microphones are beyond a budding engineer’s budget, ongoing evolution in mic modeling gives us access to the character of these renowned microphones at a reasonable price. Which leaves us with the question, can a microphone’s magical characteristics be reproduced by a model of the original? The answer is Yes! Whether or not the magic of a classic mic thoroughly rubs off, many mic model users like to know they are using the character of equipment that is close to something they admire. So if you have ever yearned for a comprehensive assortment of exotic mics, but the price-tag was out of reach, mic modeling might be your next best option.

Warning: The Double-Edged Sword of Mic Models

Although “having every classic mic” is an appealing premise, it is also a double-edged sword, especially if you are just starting out. The problem is an overwhelming amount of microphone options can hinder a beginning engineer's tonal development. Slowly accumulating individual mics can help the learning process because you learn precisely how the character of each mic fits into the bigger picture of the overall sound. Learning to appreciate the characteristics and applications of each of the original pieces goes a long way in understanding the nuances of each model.

When To Use Mic Modeling

The following are situations in which digital modeling may be the best choice for a project.

Cost

Cost is the main reason for using a model instead of the original hardware. Unless you are in a top quality studio with an extensive mic collection, or you have a personal mic collection, for most projects many of these classic mics are priced out of reach. Let's look at the cost of some of the mics we have been discussing.

Higher end models include:
  • AKG C12 - $16,999.00
  • Neumann U47 - $15,999.00
  • Sony 800G - $9,990.00
Lower end models include:
  • Neumann U87 - $3,199.95
  • Royer 121 - $1,295.00
  • Coles 4038 - $1,180.00
Compare those to the costs of these popular mic modeling systems out now: With a quality mic modeling system, you can afford to record every track through a model of the particular mic that will best produce the desired sound.

Convenience

Want to audition multiple mics quickly? Or Did you record a track with one mic but realize later another may have been a better choice? Convenience is where modeling shines. Merely switch a preset on a software plugin, and you have an entirely new sound. You can dramatically change the mic sound on a previously recorded track. You can even use one in a live performance to get the sound of mics you'd never consider bringing on the road.

Predictability

There have been many advancements in reliability for microphones in recent years. If you take an ultra expensive, circa 1930s vacuum tube Telefunken microphone and give it one hard hit or drop it from a decent height, it will probably stop working. Although probably not indestructible, a new mic model system is less delicate and easily replaceable if damaged.

Tone

Although not every model is created equal, when you stumble onto a great one, sometimes it is just what a sound needs to sit well in a mix.

Popular Mic Modeling Options

Here are a few of the in-demand mic modeling options available.

Antares MicMoc EFX

Slate VMS

Antelope Edge and Verge

Townsend Sphere

Mix and Match

Here is a creative "mix and match" situation submitted by a Gobbler member.

Combining Antares MicMoc EFX & Slate VMS

Choose the Best Mic Modeling Solution for You and Your Needs

Other than getting access to a complete collection of the most prized microphones of all time, chances are a recording situation will come up where you will need a mic you do not already own.

When considering all the pros and cons, a high-quality mic model will often do the trick.

So choose the mic modeling system that you feel best suits your needs, ears - and wallet.

Whether you start small with something simple more budget oriented like the Antares Mic Mod EFX or dive right in with a full Slate VMS, Antelope or Townsend system, be sure to take the time to learn each inside out.

You can benefit from having the full palette of colors of these classic microphone models instantly at your fingertips, giving you more and more ways to achieve a professional sound on a budget.

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