Now as much as I love gear, I do subscribe to the “it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you can do with it” school, and eventually started to work the gear that I had. Instead of obsessing over the best LDC to use as a secondary mic on a guitar cab, I spent a day recording one speaker with one SM57 in many different positions (the mic, not me), and then probably a week (and the rest) listening back to the recordings and trying to figure out what change makes what difference and is it good? Then I’d go back to obsessing.
I now wear many hats, I’m a writer, musician, producer, recording/mixing/mastering engineer. Oh, and I review gear for a magazine ("Making Tracks" in Guitar Interactive magazine). I get boxes of stuff to review, and guess what! It’s not easy! It’s not easy because most things actually work pretty well; those that don’t work at all well don’t get near the pages (nor the videos). As the first column was about to be published I had a call from the editor (hi Gary); “Andi – sorry to ask but can you add a “pros and cons”? Oh, and give the kit a rating? I’ll be off now”. Rating? Bastard!
The problem with ratings is that a “1” is unworkable junk that will set fire to your cat, you’ll probably never recover from the ecstasy of a ”5”, and a “3” rather uninterestingly means “it does what it’s supposed-to do with neither significant flaws nor flair”. Most kit that makes it as far as review is actually better than that, so we end-up with a lot of 3.5 to 4.5 reviews (really, a 5 would have to have case-hardened, square-cut-slot-head front-panel screws that exactly match my oak floor) which reduces the real range down from 5 points to a stunning spread of a single point. And I mention this because?
I mention this because it’s actually a heck of a lot more realistic than you might expect. Rule out the junk and the esoterica and most of what you have left will do most of what you want to do most of the time. Yes there will be differences, but in most cases you have no way of knowing at purchase-time what effect they will have on your finished product, and in almost every case those differences will be worth a tiny fraction of the impact of good technique, and utterly inconsequential compared with the quality of the source material. For a recent pre-production session with a vocalist on some new songs I grabbed an SM57 because it’s insensitive enough that we could run monitors in the same room (easier to talk direct to the talent without headphonesd) and plugged directly into the mic pre on an audio interface. The difference between those SM57 takes and later “proper” recordings with a condenser mic and external pre will certainly be hearable to the Reviewer and the Critic, but I very much doubt that it’s going to have much effect on whether the oblivious idiots dancing in the corner will enjoy it! We did however spend hours debating if the song should be about a red dragon or a green one!
What’s the answer? Stop worrying and start practicing! And add a comment or drop me a line about what matters to you when you’re choosing gear?