At last year's TapeOpCon, I found myself loitering at the Audio-Technica table, chewing the fat with affable A-T Marketing Director Gary Boss. I was completely bewildered by the huge number of different microphones the company makes, and Gary was doing a fine job guiding me patiently through the different models and lines. I'm still not sure why A-T makes so many different mics, but it is a staggering, overwhelming, and impressive outlay. To see what I'm talking about, go to their website and check out the guide to their different mics. Make sure you have some free time.
So anyway, as Gary and I are talking, Steve Albini, (a guy who is notorious for his microphone collection and related choosiness) steps up to the table and starts looking at the various A-T mics. My curiosity got the best of me, and I had to ask him how many A-T mics were in his collection and what he thinks of them. Without hesitating, he points to the tiny PRO 37 cardioid condenser and says, "Hands down, that's the best mic of any kind you can get for under $200." I had never even heard of the PRO 37 before, but this was a strong endorsement indeed; I took good note and bought a pair when I returned home. The bank was not broken-street price was a whisker over a hundred bucks apiece.
The PRO 37 is a very useful and singular small- diaphragm condenser for sure. The cool thing is, it has its own sound; sort of an appealing grittiness that would be hard to compare to other mics in its class. It's not the quietest mic I've ever encountered, but any of its self-noise is negligible in real-world recording conditions. The frequency response has a big presence boost, but falls off sharply around 15 kHz. I love this, especially when recording digitally. Acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments come off bright and easily cut through a mix without sounding glassy. This microphone's behavior also works well with plinky sounds such as a xylophone or chimes, where you want the overtones, but not miles and miles of "air."
Because of its slightly unusual frequency curve, the PRO 37 is not necessarily a desert island mic, but I find I use it a lot. And I'd be bummed if I didn't have a pair. The bang-for-buck ratio is high; I recommend getting one or two. You won't regret it.
($219 MSRP; www.audio-technica.com)