Sophisticated digital signal processors and careful implementations of modeling software can convincingly reproduce the sound of any piece of gear in the production of a music recording. Really. And I’m including the sounds of the instruments themselves.
The distance between musicians and recording engineers has narrow significantly in the past 20 years. It is actually possible to have marginal musical skills and talent and still be able to release professional sounding music tracks. But today I’m going to focus on the very first piece of technology that a recording engineer uses in the production of a recording…the microphones.
We all know that microphones are transducers (devices that change on type of energy to another type…in this case acoustic sound to electrical current). Without microphones we could not capture the sound of a Stradivarius violin or a gold top 1957 Les Paul played through a Marshall Stack. Microphones can be compared to the lenses that a cinematographer uses in capturing images or a movie…and the good ones are rare and very expensive.
So can a digital plugin change the sound of an inexpensive mike into the sound of a classic tube Telefunken 250 or rare Neumann U-47? As impossible as this sounds, those talented coders working at Universal Audio and other companies have cracked this nut. Professional and amateur recording engineers now have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of very special microphones.
It does make sense if you stop and think about it. The output of a microphone capsule is a stream of electrons in a ware that mirrors the acoustic energy that was hitting the diaphragm. The circuits inside the mike amplify or filter the current flowing through the components and pass the signal to the output connector. Everything about the frequencies, amplitudes, timbral characteristics etc is contained in that signal.
All we have to do is compare the original acoustic signal to the output and that the “color” of the microphone. Of course, we’ll want to do this at a variety of amplitudes and distances to make sure that we establish the boundary conditions for the microphones under review, but it is possible.
Allen Sides’ Ocean Way Studios have a very impressive collection of microphones. I consider my 50 or so cherished mikes to be quite more than adequate for my purposes but I haven’t got the quantity and diversity that he does.
According to their website:
“With virtual access to $250,000 of hand-picked, vintage microphones, Ocean Way’s microphone setups and Distance controls are the centerpiece of the plug-in. The setups capture the ideal microphone selections and placements for each room and source type — exactly as used to record some of the biggest acts of all time. Up to three vintage microphones pairs (Near, Mid, Far) are available in each setup, allowing for creative sonic blending. Click-and-drag the microphones to position them in the room, then EQ and filter their sound as desired — complete with mic bleed and proximity effects.
Ocean Way Studios offers two modes of operation: Reverb mode, using send/return paths to mix wet and dry signals; or Re-Mic mode, to fully immerse the original source audio within Ocean Way’s rooms. Re-Mic mode is by nature “fully wet,” and can be used to entirely replace your original room and microphone sounds with the fabled sound of Ocean Way.”
So not only can audio engineers emulate the sound of any room that want, they can also open up and utilize the “virtual” microphone closets of the best studios in the world.
The productions norms of yesteryear are rapidly fading away. I hope you’re ready.