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Condenser, small diaphragm microphones are known for transparent sound, while the large diaphragms often have an (appreciated) coloured sound. That is my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong.

Capturing the sound exactly (i.e transparent) surely has its advantages, so why not do that if the colouring can be done in the DAW afterwards? Saturation, warmth, certain frequency response, etc. Or is the colouring of the (sometimes famous) microphones so unique and special that it cannot be replicated in the DAW?

Or is there some other reason to pick a microphone that is non-transparent?

(For what it’s worth, I find it just as much cheating to color using the DAW as picking a certain microphone.)

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  • I disagree with your premise. If it was unequivocal that smaller was better, no-one would ever make large diaphragms… ergo, the reasoning is faulty.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 12 at 10:20
  • Well, large diaphragms have a purpose and that is why they are produced and why people buy them: they have an (appreciated) characteristic sound. I'm curious about how one should reason about this, and why not choose a transparent mic and do the rest in the DAW. So maybe one part is the analog vs digital discussion. I found this article interesting: thebroadcastbridge.com/content/entry/7500/…
    – Frans
    Sep 12 at 10:52
  • OK. Having read that I can now see where you're coming from. Your question as it stood wasn't clear. All I can say is 'horses for courses'. I'll put a U87 on vocals without a second thought. On a drum kit I might first use B&K 4006, or even 4060 - I might even put an SM57 or 58 on a snare [though actually I don't, that's not part of "my sound" for drums]… so really it's all just opinion. I don't see the point in trying to fake in a DAW what I can just use in the first place. Of course, if you don't have a specific mic type, then you might have to try fake it.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 12 at 11:02
  • If you can only afford one mic, maybe look at this - slatedigital.com/ml-2-microphone
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 13 at 16:26
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You can't only talk about the diaphragms with microphones you also have to include the preamplification and circuitry but that's a very technical discussion compared to what I think you're asking...

Mixing and producing records is about storing all the sounds and timbres that you can create in your brain and using the best combination of these for the task at hand, and let's be clear, the term "transparent" sound is a broad term often used by companies to describe all sorts of things... just ask yourself, the flatter the curve is more "transparent" (less coloring) right? I've listened to microphones with the "flat" curves and I didn't find anything "transparent" about them, most of the time you are trying to hear what you see on the brochure, but that's not the case. Our job is to use our tools to describe the sound being recorded in the best way possible (according to our taste..). Also printing a "transparent" sound doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be a good source to work with later in the DAW... flatter? maybe, but what can you do with a sound that is dead after pulling a -2db with an equalizer?...

Moreover, the point at which you make the decision also matters a lot. There are people making records at the time of recording and print the mix at 80% only to make minor adjustments after the print. Choosing a colorful microphone (to sort of speak the same language) is a decision that brings certain qualities into the mix. So picking a pre-amp and a microphone from your drawer is like inserting X Y Z plugins in a chain. When you start mixing you are not sure about your decisions and that's why you have to experiment, a lot, build your palette, after all, there's no such thing as a better mix, only a mix that's most flattering to the material.

Since you mention it, Digital vs Analog is a very broad topic but you are somewhat correct to think that the answer lies there, and to be clear I'm not talking about how things sound in the analog vs digital domain.

One thing most people overlook in that discussion is the workflow, which has a major impact on the result. Choosing to work in a domain with limitations and finite resources is a whole different world than working in a digital environment with virtual stuff... but no one can actually say that people working in the digital domain are unable to produce amazing results, different, but still amazing... So again, develop your style, find how you like to work, see how the engineers you like work (e.g. S.Albini would do a lot of work before printing..)

In the mixing world, we cheat, create, destroy and do all kinds of stuff all the time. It's a conversation with yourself, your aesthetics, your approach, and your overall producing style. Don't be afraid to "cheat", if you spend some time and read what was happening in the studios all these years your jaw will drop. The digital domain might never reach that level of ingenuity in terms of hosting extreme production styles...(but that's a personal opinion).

Overall I think you either lack the trust in your decisions or you're trying to find a faster/better workflow? Either way, I hope this helps :)

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Your premise is just wrong. The single most important reason large diaphragm microphones are used is not because they color sound but because they have the best signal-to-noise ratio. That comes at a cost of more interaction between direction and frequency, and at the danger of being more susceptible to partial vibration modes.

When placed at some distance, the SNR advantages outweigh those disadvantages: "ambience" and section recordings are sort of classical large diaphragm domain. But instruments microphoned individually at short distance will usually be done using small condensers. There are rather limited circumstances where the artifacts of large condensers are actually put to advantage even at short distance. Overhead cymbals sometimes work out well with them even though you'd not have SNR problems even with smaller diaphragms and probably need some pad in order not to overdrive your preamp.

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  • I've thought some about your reply. So, large diaphragms then have the advantage of a more ambient sound, which one can harness in a studio environment because one doesn't have to worry about leakage. Live, short distance is preferred, where small diaphragms may be of use. What is "partial vibration modes"?
    – Frans
    Oct 3 at 14:23

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