I’ve never thought deeply (or much at all) about the subtle nuances of different microphones for recording the saxophone. Not, that is, until the other day, when veteran recording engineer Robert Reister invited me to participate in a microphone shootout at his Fast Trax Studio in Jenison, Michigan.
Fast Trax has been around for a long time—1986, to be precise. A lot of musicians have gone through that studio, and a lot of music has been made there. I participated in one or two projects myself in days of yore. But they were way, way yore, and I hadn’t seen the inside of Rob’s studio in a couple decades. So it came as a pleasant surprise when Rob connected with me back in December and invited me to bring my sax over after the holidays and try out some microphones.
Some microphones indeed! All top end, including a few vintage mics such as the RCA 77DX I’m blowing into in the photo. There were ten in all, which Rob ran through two different cutting-edge preamps for a total of twenty takes. Shooting for consistency, I played the head to Coltrane’s “Mr. P. C.” twenty times over—not the most creative saxophonistry, perhaps, but that wasn’t the point. This was an engaging project: plenty of fun laying down the samples tracks, and an equal amount of interest in listening to them afterward.
You can hear the results yourself in the two videos below. The sound is purely the microphones and the two preamps. No sound processing whatsoever is involved, so what you hear for each microphone is exactly what the mic itself “heard.” It’s the sound-engineering equivalent of camera RAW in photography.
To be honest, my ears aren’t that discriminating. I’d be happy recording through any of these microphones, all of which, as I’ve mentioned, have proven track records as studio horn mics. I do, however, have my preferences. What about you? Give the videos a listen. Do you have a favorite, or maybe even a couple mics you particularly like (or dislike)? Please feel free to comment. Your input is most welcome, and I’ll share it with Rob, who I’m certain will value it.