While the folks on the high end forum at Gearslutz may debate the relative merits of multi-thousand dollar a/d converters, I suspect that most of us home recordists feel that consumer level a/d and d/a does the job. We’re a lot more likely, though, to ascribe big differences to microphones, looking to different mics for different sources, different tonal flavors, different styles of music. But really, how much difference will we hear if we choose between two very different mics?
Now I’m not saying that we cannot tell the difference between mics, but I have often been surprised at how small the differences are if the comparison is same source and level matched.
Mics for Sale
This was brought home to me again recently when I started preparing to reduce my mic collection. I often create a recording and a video along with some pictures to showcase an item I’m offering for sale on Ebay. In this case I decided to show the quality of a Rode NT2a mic by comparing it to a much more expensive one, the Schoeps CMC64.
At first glance this is an absurd comparison. The Schoeps costs about 4 times the price of the Rode. The Schoeps is a small diaphragm condenser designed for recording instruments while the Rode is a switchable dual large diaphragm condenser that most people would call a vocal mic. But with the NT2a in its cardioid pattern, positioned at the same distance from an acoustic guitar, with a bit of attention to level matching, suddenly these two mics are pretty hard to tell apart.
Look and Listen
Here’s a video clip with the Rode NT2a and the Schoeps CMC64 located at the same distance from the Martin guitar, level matched by use of a 1 khz test tone and rendered from REAPER, then alternated and labeled in Edius.
And here are the two audio clips for you to download for more careful listening. These are CD spec uncompressed WAV files so they will not stream well, you should download them before trying to listen.
Good Listening Habits
Even with level matched same source recordings like these we humans can fool ourselves into hearing what we expect. Or our minds might trick us and “hear” the opposite of our expectations. We also have much shorter memory for sound than we think, so we really need a tool that presents our audio samples without labels and with the ability to switch between samples easily.
Fortunately this isn’t terribly hard when dealing with digital audio files and there are several free ABX tools available that can help. If you’re using a PC the foobar2000 audio player offers an ABX tool that I’ve blogged about several times. For Mac users there’s ABXer. And now Lacinato Software has released a new tool implemented in Java that makes cross-platform ABXing a reality. Use one of these programs to put the audio clips above under the microscope, as it were, and I think you’ll learn something about what we hear and how much difference a mic really makes. I’ve done a blog post covering the Lacinato ABXer including a couple of videos available here: http://www.homebrewedmusic.com/2014/07/30/a-new-abx-tool/
More Mics, More Mics
I’ve done some additional comparisons with video and clips for you to download and evaluate with ABX. First up is the Rode NT2000, a dual large diaphragm condenser similar to the NT2a but featuring continuously variable pattern selection rather than the three patterns available with the NT2a. In this comparison the “other guy” is a Shure KSM44, a well regarded and rather pricey large diaphragm condenser. Here’s the video:
and here are the clips for you to download:
One more comparison pits the Schoeps CMC64 against a popular low cost switchable mic, the CAD M179. The video:
and the audio files for your ABXing pleasure:
These clips should provide plenty of ABX entertainment and hopefully a bit of insight into just how much difference a mic makes when recording your acoustic guitar at home.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 25th, 2014 at 5:20 pm and is filed under Comparisons, Recording. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.