Zen of Recording

Craft

The restaurant seemed really nice. White tablecloths accented with crimson napkins, each meticulously wrapped around a silverware setup that weighed almost as much as the gold bar this meal was no doubt going to cost us. Candlelight splashed around the room like wrens in a fountain. Lovers reached their hands across and gazed at each other romantically, their eyes filled to the brim with promise and expectation. Ice cubes clinked into glasses as bussers tended to water, butter, and various other small requests. As I began to drink in the panoramic view spilling through the windows, a cheerful voice cut through the scenery like giant golden scissors at a ribbon cutting ceremony.

“Hi and welcome! Is this your first time here?”

Not through the front door, I thought to myself and looked expectantly over to my girlfriend, Patricia, for her response.

“Yes. A long time ago” she replied, “but it all still looks just as lovely as I remembered.” She said it with a genuine sweetness that made her seem just that much more beautiful to me and, seemingly, the world around us.

“Oh, wonderful!” the server enthused. “I’ll let you two look over the menu and I’ll be back in just a few minutes. Can I get you both started with something to drink?” she asked.

“Sure. Do you have a wine list?” Patricia asked.

“Of course. Here it is.” said the server. She opened the leather-bound mahogany folder and presented it to her like a church hymnal.

“Ohhh!” she added while pointing at the list with a single finger, whose nail polish exactly matched the napkins. “There’s also a selection of our handcrafted cocktails and locally brewed IPAs, too.”

Inside my head was the deafening sound of hard-braked tires squealing for half a block’s distance. My face felt a match to the napkin/fingernail motif already in play.

This is where we take a little “Buelleresque” aside (except his are funny) wherein I go into a little rant about my personal belief that IPAs (India Pale Ales) are not supposed to represent good beer. That they are actually an extreme recipe variation that the English traders applied to their brews in order to preserve the beer for as long as possible without proper refrigeration on their long trips to and from India and other faraway lands. They discovered that adding a bunch more hops seemed to help. Of course, adding a lot more of these ultra-bitter flowers made the beer pretty much undrinkable, so more sugar was added. This in turn raised the alcohol content, so the sailors’ process did have some additional benefits to try and offset the fact that it tastes like chewing on a houseplant sideways… but handcrafted cocktails? Oy.

I’m almost certain that by now, somewhere deep in downtown Tokyo, there’s a really brightly lit joint that’s got a robot and that thing pours a perfect Old Fashioned, all night long. The rest of us pretty much have to bear the (almost insufferable) burden of handcrafting our own damn drinks! I don’t even mean to make a big deal out of it. They did that by charging two or three times more for the privilege of said craftsmanship for pretty much the same thing as we were getting before.

Maybe it’s my Swedish/Irish heritage or my own obsessive tendencies or a total fear of failure in delivering what I promise, but the word craft is not a frivolous word. It runs the danger of standing alongside “genius,” “perfect,” and “awesome” as ineffectual and hyperbolic labels, as a direct result of their widespread overuse. Craft and craftsmanship are part of a proud artistic, tradition and work-oriented concept that should never be bandied about like some quarterly promotion to sell more booze. They should, I believe, always be kept at the forefront of a producer or recordist’s heart and mind, in service to their clients, colleagues, and peers. It can’t be enough to do good work. It is my belief that we must always be striving to do exemplary work.

When I stopped by the Roswell Pro Audio booth at the 2016 Summer AES, I sensed that these guys really seem to get that, in a fundamental way. What began as a hobbyist’s passion for modifying cheap mics to improve their specs and performance eventually evolved into a boutique microphone company, which makes a mic that exhibits flattering comparisons to one of my favorite vintage models: the Neumann U47.

We’ve heard this before with ever-increasing frequency, and with a history of mixed results that range from “Yeah! Really great!” to “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Well, I received a matched of pair of Roswell Mini K47 ($299.00/single mic) condenser mics and used them constantly for a couple of weeks on a wide range of sources: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, drums, percussion, and accordion. I’m here to tell youthat it has been and will remain my studio’s go-to mic for the foreseeable future. This is as much due to its angelic top end as its full, yet articulate “booty,” extending from those crucial low-mids all the way down into the sweetest depths of the bass.

This gave it a natural “Nashville-sounding” chime for acoustic guitar, but when I tried it on a nylon stringed classical, it was revelatory. There may be other mics that more faithfully recreate the sound of the Neumann U47 tube microphone, but the Mini K47 emphasizes that model’s very best characteristics at a mere fraction of what a vintage or even modern version would cost.

It honestly seemed like everything I used the K47s on tasted great “right out of the can,” with much less need for sweetening when mixing or mastering. In fact, I don’t remember a microphone that I so consistently did not need to add additional EQ to. If anything, the Mini K47s impart their own wonderful “smile curve” in a subtle, yet palpably luxurious way.

The cardioid-only pick up pattern is tightly focused when close-miking vocals and instruments, but pulling the mic back a bit spilled just the right amount of the room back into the sonic picture, often resulting in a 3D-like depth.

Stacking backing vocals became a favorite task with this mic, as I often like to record three or four parts and sometimes double or even triple-track them. The airy “frosting” of sugar it builds into oohs and ahhs, along with their pleasing lack of sibilance make them really shine in all the best ways, without building up any murk or muddiness. The “mini” moniker seems directed toward the fact that they’re about ¾ the size of an average condenser mic, but they totally measure up with a larger than life sound.

Only a couple times did sources with large, transient spikes like drums, percussion, and really loud guitar amps drive the Mini K47s diaphragm to distort, but it was worth noting. I have had unpleasant experiences earlier with the type of elastic shock mounts that are included as well, but you just can’t beat the overall excellence—to-buck ratio these mics provide. Overall, I stand by the notion that these microphones are not only a fantastic value for the money, but really in just about any price class.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer (kaspro.com), songwriter and performer (The Facebook).

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