• Chris

Sleeper Microphones

The unsung stars of your mic collection!


I'm sure everyone would love to find a Neumann U87 in a car boot sale, but most people would recognise it as a valuable item - even if it was just the velvet lined box that gave it away.


But sometimes you come across a mic that sounds better than it should - maybe it was cheap, or it looks battered - or it does something that no other mic quite achieves.


I feel reluctant even talking about this, as it's probably going to limit the number of random and amazing microphones that I can pick up for buttons, but... here's some random microphones that I own or would like to find!


1) SONY ECM 957


This is an unusual microphone in that it is an MS (Mid-Side) Microphone. It records in stereo but with perfect mono compatibility. I love it for a drum overhead. For IEM mixes, it makes everyone want to turn up the overheads, as suddenly it sounds like a real drumkit.


You know when someone (probably talking about The Beatles) says:

"You just need a kick mic and an overhead"

and you roll your eyes? This is the mic you want for that overhead.


They were normally found being sold with Sony DAT recorders as they came with a 5pin XLR to minijack cable. However you can make a 5pin XLR to 2 x 3pin XLR adapter.



There's no "hole" in the middle that you get with wide stereo micing or even XY pair micing. It's just glorious noise for your ears. It is prosumer: it's not quite a touring mic and it's not quite a toy. But if you look around, they can be picked up for ~£60. You're probably not going to feel the benefit of it if you are in a tiny club with a loud band, but if your drummer plays their cymbals and drums evenly, or it's a jazz gig, this would be a dream. "Stereo" without making the drum kit sound 10m wide.


Downsides are that the bias voltage is from an AA battery! Therefore peak to peak voltage is low, and can the output be saturated/distorted by very loud SPL's or loud low frequencies. People have modded them to take phantom and therefore an increased dynamic range. Don't be put off though - unless you are placing the mic on top of a sub, you should be fine.


Anecdotally the noise floor on a lot of these battery powered sony mics seems to be a bit higher than your professional broadcast engineer would like, so they are not always favoured for high end broadcast work. But it means for a rock and roll gig, you can probably pick one up for a good deal!



2) CROWN CM310


Crown don't even make microphones anymore - it seems they've handed everything over to AKG (all part of Harman group). But they used to make this bizarre and pretty unique mic. It's not pretty - it looks like someone sat on a nice mic. In real life the proportions look a bit wrong. I've never seen one that looks as shiny as in this picture - they all look like they've been stored in a washing machine filled with grit.


The secret quality it has is a "differoid" polar pattern. And that makes it reject pretty much all ambient noise. You move 2 inches off the mic and suddenly it all goes very quiet.

I believe it was designed to improve the intelligibility of commentators in noisy US football stadiums. But also works great as a drum vocal, as long as you can get the drummer to lock their lips onto it. Also you can use it for live fx/harmonisers/autotune on stage as the bleed from other instruments is minimal.


I tried to buy one years ago from Crown's UK distributor and they had a problem importing them into the UK - so they only had one on the shelf. And they wanted a lot of money. I imagine it's still there...

There are downsides to the mic - apparently it's not the best sounding mic you can find, but hopefully its positives outweigh the negatives. Assuming I can ever find one to try.


Nb. The Headset version of this mic (CM311) is still made (by AKG) and used as the goto headset mic for lots of performers. This was the original "Britney" mic. Mainly because you could walk in front of a PA in an arena with this on and it didn't matter. Other users included Janet Jackson, Justin Bieber, Garth Brooks.



3) BEYER DYNAMIC M69


I have 3 of these. They're a poor man's M88, but when purchasing second hand they tend to not have been put inside bass drums. They make nasal things sound less nasal, and singers tell me the flat mic grille is very comfortable to sing into.

It's hypercardioid so rejects lots of noise. Bass response isn't as meaty as an M88, but that's not the end of the world.


Try it on brass (smooth!), screechy singers (smoother!), icepick guitars (a bit smoother, but don't be disappointed if it can't perform miracles), anything you want to sound a bit more expensive.



4) SHOTGUNS - ALL SORTS OF SHOTGUNS


I love shotgun mics. A personal obsession is ambient micing of gigs - having mixed many live recordings, capturing a great crowd reaction makes the difference between a great recording and an average recording - and also makes the mixing job a lot easier.


There's some very expensive ones out there - I've got 3 Beyer MCE 86N's which can be found for reasonable money now and again. If anyone has good reports of other sleeper shotgun mics let me know below!


I have a new, super random shotgun purchase which I will be trying out in a few weeks but I'll hold judgement until I've tried it out...


Let me know of your unexpected mic discoveries!



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