One mic or two?
August 12, 2011 11:03 AM   Subscribe

One mic or two? I am recording myself on the shakuhachi more and more these days, and I'm in the process of building up a recording set-up. I have one professional audio engineer friend who says I only need one mic, and another very knowledgeable friend who says I will definitely do better with two. My lack of knowledge about the subject knows no bounds, and much of the information online is confusing or incomplete.

For reference sake, here is the latest recording I have, made with one mic. It sounds decent, but not great. Too many reflections from the room, which I am going to have to try to mitigate somehow.

Anyway, any input about the 1 vs 2 mic question would be highly appreciated.
posted by zachawry to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should ideally have two mics, one for the instrument and one for your voice in order to do better mixing (separating the sounds of each instrument really helps with recording). However, in your case you can easily try to play the song first without the vocals and then record yourself a second time around just singing. Either or would work fine. If I were you I would splurge on a more expensive mic rather than two average ones.
posted by The1andonly at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the response. No voice, though, just the shakuhachi.
posted by zachawry at 11:10 AM on August 12, 2011

Definitely just ONE MIC. The other mic is not going to help your sound any better (unless you were going for surround?). Keep it as a rule of thumb to have the best equipment you can get rather than lots of mediocre gear.
posted by The1andonly at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

One mic. Pulled back a couple of feet, probably pointed at the body of the shakuhachi. But experiment with that. It's sort of a "big" instrument, and the sound will need a little space to "bloom" to really capture it correctly. (Probably.)

And honestly, there's nothing wrong with that recording. The room reflections aren't bad at all. For me, the only time I want two mics on a mono instrument is when I'm trying to capture a lot of the room, or when I want "near and far" or "top and bottom" (mostly with percussion).

Plus, two mics gets you into having to worry about phase, and trust me, you don't want to have to worry about phase.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:14 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with the one mic setup.

I'd actually treat the room a bit. Maybe hang some blankets to kill reflections, or throw down a rug if you've got a hard floor. You'll need to experiment a bit, as it'll be easy to deaden it TOO much and you'll lose the detail in the instrument.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 11:29 AM on August 12, 2011

Can you borrow a mic and experiment?

Also, if you don't like the way this recording sounds, have you tried some EQ to give it a little more top-end definition by nudging up the treble range a bit?
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2011

Right now, getting one mic that sounds good with this instrument, and treating the room, and figuring out microphone placement -- those are your priorities. Only later, perhaps years from now when all of these things are second-nature to you, should you worry about a second mic, as the additional complexity is significant and the benefits quite subtle.

Think of it as the guy who is stressing about whether he should run 33psi or 34psi in his tires during an autocross run -- unless he has years of experience under his belt, odds are he's going to find a lot more speed by practicing and experimenting with his driving technique rather than his tire pressure. Same goes for you, in this case practicing and experimenting with your mic selection and placement.
posted by davejay at 12:09 PM on August 12, 2011

I absolutely believe the quality of the microphone is going to matter the most. I doubt if there is any real benefit to doubling up recording a single acoustic source. I would spend my research time on general advice on acoustic recording (like this) and specific advice on recording flute (like this - note that the capacitor mic referred to in the first article is the same general type of microphone as the condenser mic referred to in the second).

Other issues to consider - what are you recording to? The noise may be coming from your audio set-up. If you're recording to computer you might look at a resource like this. I found that a little bit of common-sense noise reduction (shutting down all unnecessary appliances, plugging a mic in through a simple external audio connection (like a USB audio interface - you can pay a huge range for these but I got definite improvements from a sub-$50 one) rather than right into the computer's mic input, and playing with the input levels netted me real returns in recording quality, but the real leaps come with microphone quality (I can't tell you anything about what would be best for that instrument though).
posted by nanojath at 12:25 PM on August 12, 2011

For each instrument in a dense mix, 1 mic is usually sufficient. As an example, drums would traditionally be recorded with one mic on each drum and then a pair of stereo overheads to capture the entire kit. However, I'd say most sources that are just going to be recorded on their own should be stereo mic'ed. Piano is almost always mic'ed stereo, drums as mentioned above, acoustic guitar, choirs, certainly any sort of string ensemble- so don't listen to people who assume stereo mic'ing is not done in the recording studio, especially if the acoustic space is up to snuff. If you're just recording in a bedroom or something like that, I would record with the best single mic you can afford, and try out many of today's awesome reverb options to provide stereo spread and depth.

If you're concerned about reflections there's all sorts of stuff to combat that- as simple as pillows and bookcases, all the way up to foam tiles and weird foam practice dummy-type things that cost thousands. The more dead the space sounds though, the more you'd use reverb, and the more 80s it would sound. If you have a laptop maybe you can find spaces near you where you can set up and do remote recording. Having access to a beautiful sounding space actually matters more than the quality of a microphone (once you get into the decent and up category of microphones).
posted by tremspeed at 1:38 PM on August 12, 2011

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