I've been doing a lot of recording the last month or so & would really like to do some upgrades to get better sounding banjo tracks. I need to capture both clawhammer & Scruggs playing well. I've been thinking new mic (or mics) but not sure where to start. If a new mic was the answer I would definitely be in the ~$500 range. I just haven't been able to capture a banjo track I've been happy with. I've used pretty much all combinations of the 4 mics I have placed a million different ways. I built a small isolation room with blankets & that certainly helps, but the room is not otherwise acoustically treated. New mics, new interface, room treatment? All of it?!?!
Current gear: Echo AudioFire 4. ART Pro II Tube Preamp. Golden Age Project R1 MKII Ribbon Microphone. Shure SM7, 57 & 58. Blankie Fort.
The best bang for your buck is to work harder on microphone placement in exactly the room/position you record. You're likely in a sub-optimal room, so micing closer to the instrument will mitigate the room sound. When I went to record, I made about 25 different placement tests, before each test announcing the location. Then I shared my favorite five or so with a few friends and went from there. The difference even a few centimeters makes is surprising, especially the placement in relation to the instrument between over the fingerboard and over the head, and whether your hand blocks the sound.
You can also study those musicians who have the sound you want and work from there. Really listen and try to understand what they have, give it some analysis and thought and try to capture it yourself.
For the next level I'd also recommend that you call a local studio and hire an engineer to come over for a few hours to help you work with placement. Those guys have the knowledge. He might also suggest a new microphone, etc. But really most musicians in a DIY situation have enormous room for improvement by optimizing their setup and some light processing in the box (at least a touch of EQ, reverb, and compression).
I love recording, mostly casually for my own enjoyment, but why not get it a bit better. If it needs to be a LOT better, use a professional studio.
mdthib I'm certain I could do better in the placement arena. It can be tricky when you are doing everything. Hit record. Spin around. Get placed in front of mic. Hope you are ready after click has counted you in!
banjo1971 -The UA Apollo Twin is on my short list. I just looked yesterday & that Echo is 10 years old! The problem is I would also need a new desktop with USB 3...then need to pay for an update of Reaper. $$$$$$$
Get yourself some type of large diaphragm condenser mic. All pro recording engineers I have used in studio have used a large diaphragm condenser of some type to mic acoustic instruments. No ribbon or dynamics.
You may want to make a few broadband absorbers and dump the blanket room. Blankets will kill your high end but don't do anything to kill the stuff that turns your recordings to the muddy end of the spectrum. Recording in your room and using a few panels in combination with using good mic placement is going to have the largest effect on your results. I highly advise looking over the information you can find at Fran Guidry's Homebrewedmusic.com website to pick up some real world experience on simple home recording.
Almost any inexpensive large diaphragm condenser is going to improve your results, too. The are several choices in the $100 to $200 range that would serve you well. If you want to spend more I can recommend the Roswell Mini K47 as an excellent mic. At $300 it's a great LDC.
You may also want to consider a good small diaphragm mic (two for stereo). I have several higher priced mics, but the mic I prefer hands down is the AKG Perfection 170. These can be found new for as little as $75 when there's a sale price.
J.Albert -Thanks for the feedback. I have tried the XLRs on the Echo several years ago, but not in a while. I use an SM7 a lot and I could never get enough gain to drive it. I have a lot more experimenting to do. I know the ART should probably be heading to eBay.
If you like the sound of your banjo acoustically then you should be able to get a decent recording with the gear you have.
I would ditch the blankets and avoid putting the mic(s) too close to the banjo. Start about a foot away and make adjustments from there.
Other options are to try different rooms in your house. I tend to like the sound of my banjo in livelier rooms with hardwood floors. Unless your mic(s) is picking up annoying room reflections don't worry bout throwing blankets on every live surface.
If you do decide to buy a new mic or two then Doug's recommendation for a Neumann TLM 102 is an excellent choice. I recently picked up a matched pair of Shure KSM137's because I like recording in stereo and I highly recommend them as well.