Sphere L22: Reinventing the Microphone for Post Production Workflows

By in Audio Post, Music Creation, Pro Mixing

Having worked in Post-Production Audio my entire 24-year career, I’ve tended to look on studio mic selection as an elementary choice between an 87, some iteration of a 414, or an MKH 416. Though I’ve witnessed numerous technological changes, microphones haven’t really been a serious part of the exciting evolution happening in every other technical aspect of my field (with few exceptions). In all this time, it appears no one has ever asked: “How do we reinvent the microphone for a modern post-production workflow?”

Chris Townsend and Erik Papp presented the Townsend Labs Sphere™ precision microphone modeling system to Pro Tools Expert a while back and that’s when I first saw the amazing potential of their technology. I eagerly purchased my L22 during their crowdfunding campaign because of its build quality, attractive price and the promise of greater flexibility before, during, and (Wow!) after the recording process.

Initially, I made my recordings using the free native plug-in (AAX, VST, AU) but Townsend Labs’ recent addition of AAX DSP support for Pro Tools HDX systems really advances the case for using this mic technology in post. How?

HDX means I have full integration with Pro Tools and can record ADR, voiceover and Foley straight into my multi-channel sessions without headphone latency. Since I don’t have to lower my playback buffer size my Playback Engine can be set as high as I need to ensure my massive surround sound Pro Tools sessions play back smoothly.

Townsend Labs has plenty of jaw-dropping, stunningly accurate mic models included in the core collection of the plug-in software that comes with L22. Then I bought the UAD Ocean Way Mic Collection which adds even more mic options and will soon be adding the venerable UAD Bill Putnam Mic Collection to my arsenal.

You might be wondering why would I need all these microphone modeling options for post audio?

People have different voices. Rooms have different sounds. Sound effects and Foley can be captured meticulously with the best-suited mic and the right polar-pattern. Clearly, one microphone will never suit every recording.

The L22 has two capsules inside one mic that allow it to accurately model 360° polar responses. I also use the capsules as two distinct microphones and even record in stereo, which can be very useful for voice, Foley or sound design. Making mic model and mono/stereo choices in Sphere after I record is akin to swapping EQ’s or compressors inside a Pro Tools session, during a mix. Powerful!

Mixing is very different from recording: In the mix I’m balancing all elements. If I can pop the DN-57 emulation onto a voiceover and have it “cut like a knife” in a sports show, this means a lot of EQ work is already done. Maybe the announcer likes hearing a bit more bass presence in his voice during recording? I can swap models while we’re laying down tracks and change things later.

In the Sphere plug-in software, I compensate for off-axis coloration, flip phase, filter, even contour and automate proximity effect to correct for bass buildup and surgically match takes that vary in terms of distance from the mic. I can also select different mic models for each of L22’s two internal cardioid capsules, like having a 414 in front and an 87 in the rear. Most powerful is the multiple choices of polar patterns to narrow or widen my soundfield. For mixing, all this means options. Anything is possible.

It’s also easy to share the unprocessed files with my colleagues so they can choose their own mic settings. Even if you don’t have an L22 mic, you can download the software freely from the Townsend Labs downloads page and playback and mix Sphere recordings using the factory models. The plug-in even works in Media Composer.

Finally, let’s talk “scenarios.” I use my L22 during voiceover all the time, thanks to its unbelievable versatility. The other day, for example, I was actually swapping mic models while recording voiceover and when I assigned the LD-87 TK model the producer’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. It was so obvious we had made the perfect match. The guy sounded amazing!

So how do we reinvent the microphone for the modern post-production workflow? My answer comes from Townsend Labs. One mic is many and from many microphones, boundless possibilities arise. That, my friend, is true power.

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Damian Kearns is an award-winning engineer with more than 20 years of experience in post audio (18 years as an editor and mixer). He was CBC Toronto's de facto in-house Pro Tools trainer for much of the early 2000s. You’re likely to find Damian recording voiceover, Foley, and ADR as you are to find him mixing and training other engineers.