HOME STUDIOS OBVIOUSLY HAVE A few disadvantages when compared to big commercial facilities. There’s typically no large, dedicated, tuned, and soundproofed recording space in the average house, nor is there a separate and sonically flat control room. Things will likely stay that way, too—unless you win the lottery or write a smash hit, and are crazy enough to build a professional studio within the walls of your just-acquired mansion. But one advantage the pros have over many homestudio musicians—the ability to critically audition multiple microphones on an instrument or vocalist in order to select the best mic for the job—does not have to hover out of reach.
For one thing, if you don’t have a lot of mics, you can rent them or borrow a few from friends. In addition, if you have a Gold Digger ($349 street), you can near effortlessly compare and contrast up to four microphones through a single mic preamp, and all while sitting securely in the sweet spot of your listening position. There’s no more futzing around changing out mics one-by-one, and worrying if all the up-down-up-down action is skewing an accurate perception of how each mic really sounds.
The butt-simple Gold Digger offers four XLR inputs, one XLR output, and four channels, each with its own selectable phantom power (so you can compare condensers to dynamics to ribbons), Trim knob, and on/off switch (for rapid-fire, mic-to-mic evaluations). Everything is housed in tough, 2.8lb box with a handy nonskid bottom. A power supply is included.
I used the Gold Digger during vocal and guitar sessions, and routed the unit’s output to my preamp of choice—a Manley VoxBox. For the vocal test, I plugged an Audio-Technica AT4050, an AKG C414, and a Neumann TLM 103 into the Gold Digger, used the Trim controls to dial in near-identical signal levels, and had the vocalist sing through each mic a number of times. The sound quality was excellent, and made it easy to discern even subtle differences in how each of the mics captured the singer’s vocal timbre. A slight electronic switching noise was noted when depressing the channel on/ off button. The noise did translate to tape, but that was no big thing as I was auditioning mics, not doing any serious tracking. [Radial says the noise is due to phantom power and DC offset from the mics, and they did not add capacitors into the signal path to eliminate the slight clicking as it would compromise a “non-colored” comparison.]
The test for miking an electric guitar amp involved a Sterling ST55, a Sennheiser MD 421, and two different Shure SM57s. Each mic was positioned somewhat off-axis to the center of the speaker cone. Again, the transparent sonics of the Gold Digger made it possible to zero in on the critical midrange frequencies each mic reproduced, as well as compare low-end content and high-frequency shimmer.
Lastly, I used the Gold Digger to audition some studio workhorses—my collection of Shure SM57s. These guys have a hard life, so it was great to be able to compare them to each other, and hear which ones still captured complex mids, thick lows, and airy highs, and which ones were sounding a bit dull or shrill. It was in trying to hear slight tonal differences between the exact same mic models that I really appreciated the Gold Digger’s transparency, ease of use, and instant switching between channels. What a great debugging tool!
For many home studios, gear acquisition budgets can be tough to come by. But if you’re committed to always finding the absolute perfect mic to record a source sound, then $350 isn’t a heavy tariff to pay for peace of mind. This is a fantastic piece of gear for any serious engineer/ producer.
Kudos Easy to use. Transparent sound. Good value.
Concerns On/off switches a bit noisy.