Hear Wear: If you want to hear yourself clearly while shutting out most extraneous noises, a solid pair of sound-isolating headphones is absolutely essential. The AKG K-240s semi-closed model has been standard issue in recording studios for years, and is still one of the best-sounding and most comfortable headphones on the block. Only around $100 give or take, and well worth it.
A Stand That Delivers: Even a tightwad like me recognizes that it’s pretty stupid to hang a $400 microphone off a $14 boom stand. Though a few bucks more than the bargain basement brand, K&M’s rugged Swiss steel microphone stand with telescoping boom arm ($80) sports a zinc base rigid enough to support even the fattest mics in your collection. For the ultimate in worry-free suspension, consider the Atlas SB-11WE Studio Boom Stand ($200), featuring a 60” boom and roll-around, die-cast base, perfect for drum overheads or vocal recording.
Pretty Ribbon: There was a time when us mere mortals could only dream of owning a quality ribbon microphone. Then along came Nady Systems, a company that specializes in authentic replicas at eye-popping prices. After scoring a bulls-eye with the RSM-2, a tribute to the famous RCA-44 ribbon mic, Nady introduced its exceedingly affordable RSM-4, a surprisingly great-sounding, figure-of-8 ribbon mic that captures everything from amp tones to acoustic piano, horns and more (and runs as low as $80 nowadays).
Sound MD: Knock-offs are certainly nice, but at some point every mic owner should have at least one classic in the closet - and for the money it’s hard to beat the multipurpose and durable Sennheiser MD421. First introduced way back in 1960, the large-diaphragm dynamic 421 remains a top studio choice for recording tom-toms and bass drum, but also works nicely on amplifiers, horns, vocals and acoustic instruments. Comes with a five-position frequency control switch. Around $350 new; older (and some say cooler) off-white models from the ‘60s-‘70s can be found online for roughly the same price or less.
Vocal Ease: Practicing or recording with a group in a confined space can be a complete bummer if you can’t hear your vocals above the din. There is an easy way to remedy the problem, however, and without all the muss and fuss of wiring up a full-on monitor system. Behringer’s Eurolive B212A is a two-way active speaker with 400 watts of power, and can be used as either a PA main or standalone monitor speaker. The cabinet sports a 12” long-excursion woofer and 1.25” titanium-diaphragm compression driver with horn, and, best of all, includes XLR microphone/line-level instrument inputs (with an additional XLR output) and two-band EQ right on the back panel, allowing you to plug straight in for no-frills, loud-and-clear monitoring ($230).
Snake Solution: When connecting multiple mics or instruments, you can avoid getting all tangled up in black by using an audio snake with connector box. For smaller applications, the Hosa Little Bro Sub Snake ($100) is a basic snake for studio or stage work that includes six XLR connectors and two balanced TRS outs. There’s also Whirlwind’s MINI-6 six-channel drop snake ($150), offering the same XLR/TRS configuration as the Hosa with a box small enough to fit into a gig bag for traveling.
More Power to You: Recording direct to a laptop (or any other computer-based app) is certainly convenient, but to make sure you’re getting adequate signal quality, consider a decent microphone pre-amp up front in the order of PreSonus’s Blue Tube Stereo Mic Pre ($165). Powered by 12AX7 tubes, this dual servo unit comes with a 20dB pad, phase-reverse switch, 48v phantom power for condenser-mic applications, an eight-segment meter and more. Accepts both �” and Hi-Z inputs; line out using either XLR or 1/4” connectors (or both for separate signals). Housed in a steel chassis that occupies a half-rack space (also check the mono TUBEPre Single Channel Tube Mic Preamplifier).