This post by NPR is a pretty in-depth look into the history behind microphones. It’s definitely one of those things you don’t especially think about. but particular brands/styles of microphones have had the fortune of recording some of the worlds greatest music.
Studio mics have some of the most iconic styling imaginable. The mic pictured on the left is a Neumann U47, and NPR says it was used to record almost every song the Beatles recorded between 1962 and 1970. Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and tons of others all used this mic.
These mics have done more than just record pop songs. One of the original Neumann mics was a breakthrough in technology. Apparently it was the first mic to really record the full range of the human voice. And it got its first major use broadcasting Adolph Hitler’s speech to open the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Not exactly what anyone wants to be remembered for.
It’s definitely one of those things I’ve honestly never given much thought to. In the past, before much of these re-sampling could be done in-studio to make even awful people sound good, these mics were a vital part of recording a track. They needed to capture the intricacies of an artists performance and needed to be really sensitive to do so. That’s why they cost such an assload of money.
Which I guess is why this whole boutique movement has sprung up. The NPR article focuses on Mary and John Peluso who, in their spare time, make replications of these classic mics. Ones that are supposed to come close to matching them in quality but can be sold for a lot, lot less. So now you backroom musicians can use a Neumann to record your new song and imagine you’re Sinatra crooning away.