Another Mic Comparison – Schoeps and Rode

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, for many years I believed the recording advice I found on the internet. I visited recording forums and searched for discussions of acoustic guitar recording, and bought gear based on those discussions. I was never happy with my tracks, and I hoped that I could find the combination of gear that would make my recordings sound great.

One consistent recommendation was the Schoeps line of microphones. I was lucky enough to find a deal on a pair of used Schoeps CMC64s (CMC6 modular bodies and MK4 cardioid capsules) a few years ago, and even though they were fairly expensive I bought them because I knew that once I had a pair of Schoeps, I could no longer blame the microphones for my less than satisfactory results. (more…)


Myth Busted – The Too Sensitive Condenser Microphone

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

I’ve read many times on the internet that condensers are too sensitive, they pick up the mouse in the next room, the refrigerator downstairs, the arm hairs brushing on the top of the guitar. People have suggested that a dynamic mic is better when there’s ambient noise, clumsy technique, or a bad sounding room. Have you heard this myth? Do you believe it? (more…)


Mic Comparison – Four More Clips

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I posted a link to yesterday’s blog post at a couple of recording forums and one guitar site. I started threads at the Reaper Forum, on Gearslutz, and at the Acoustic Guitar Forum. It’s been interesting reading people’s reactions.

As I expected, some folks reject the validity of these controlled tests, stating that different mics respond to different positioning in different ways, and their performance in their optimal position is the important issue. I can only suggest that they try some controlled testing in those different positions. After all, if the difference really exists, it should be apparent when levels and positions are matched, right?

And as I expected, some people pointed out that mics with different patterns and mics with very different transducer technology, like ribbon mics, sound different from the cardioid condensers I used. I absolutely agree.

Also as I expected, some people suggested that my use of a single source, the acoustic guitar, is preventing me from hearing the differences, which show themselves on cymbals and vocals. As Dirty Harry was wont to say, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” I don’t record those sources so I don’t use them for testing .

One comment that has come up a couple of times is that the mics I chose were too similar, all large diaphragm mics from the low end of the spectrum. So I pulled out my highest priced mic, a Schoeps CMC64 small diaphragm condenser, and stuck it in the array. (more…)


Mic Comparison – a Tutorial

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Mics are fun. They are a great gear fetish item, because they’re collectible, a bit esoteric but still familiar, come in a wide range of types and sizes, and most of them have a bit of a phallic quality (grin). Even better, when I read about microphones on the internet or in recording magazines it seems that each mic has a dramatically distinct personality, and a big part of the job of a recordist is choosing the optimal mic for any given source and style.

Sometimes when I’ve listened to mic samples I thought I heard these dramatic differences, but after a bit I realized that I was listening to different performances, not different mics. Sure the mics had been changed, but the player was hitting the strings differently and playing different riffs at a different volume – so how could I tell what part of the difference was the mic, and what part the player?

Since then I’ve tried to do some mic tests of my own, and I’ve tried to educate myself on audio testing. At this point I’m beginning to think that the differences in microphones are a lot more subtle than I had been led to believe, which makes a careful test even more important. As I’ve mentioned before, very small differences in volume are registered by our ear/brain combination as differences in quality rather than loudness. I’d like to demonstrate the steps I now take to try to make my mic comparisons, and preamp and a/d comparisons, meaningful. (more…)


Vocal – Guitar Separation with Figure 8 Mics

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

I record solo acoustic guitar almost exclusively, but a couple of months ago one of my buddies wanted to lay down a few tracks with vocal and `ukulele. And he wanted to sing and play at the same time. I remembered reading about an arrangement of figure 8 or bidirectional mics that gave maximum separation in a situation like this, so I pulled out the Rode NT2a and NT2000 and set them up. We were amazed by the separation between vocal and uke, even though the mics were only a foot apart. (more…)


Very Inexpensive Microphones

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

From what I’ve read on various internet forums, it’s much easier to make a good omnidirectional (or non directional) (or just omni) mic than it is to make a good directional mic. And as a result it should be easier to find good, cheap omni mics, which would be great for me, because I love them. They can be placed very close to the source because they don’t have the proximity effect that occurs with directional mics. They seem to capture a big, clear, realistic sound very easily.

The problem has been that there are not a lot of omni mics around. The market doesn’t seem that interested in omnis, so the manufacturers are not interested. In the five years or so that I’ve been recording and buying gear, I would guess that models of directional mics in the marketplace outnumbered omnis by 20 to 1 or more, and almost all the hip new inexpensive mics have been directional.

In the last year or so, though, Jon O’Neil and his Naiant Studio Store has begun selling a very inexpensive omni microphone which Jon builds himself. He use readily available capsules, adds his own active electronics, and mounts the whole thing in an XLR connector shell. The result is compact, rugged, and inexpensive. I think they work pretty well, too. Here’s a brief comparison of a pair of Naiant MSH-1 omnis to a pair of DPA 4061s:

Naiant MSH-1
DPA 4061

The DPAs carry a list price of $429, and they require an adapter to connect to standard mic preamps that adds about $75 to the cost. Even used they cost about 10 times as much as the Naiant MSH-1 costs new. It’s certainly true that the DPA can be used in more applications, because it’s very small and unobtrusive, and the two different mics are not equivalent, but just on the basis of sound quality, I think they’re amazingly close.

This year Naiant began selling the MSH-2, a mic based on a larger capsule. Jon describes this mic as having lower noise and a gently falling high end compared to the MSH-1. I’m a sucker for an inexpensive omni, so I ordered up a pair. Here’s a recording using one of these new mics alongside an industry standard for microphone quality. I’m using a John Hardy M-1 preamp and Lynx2 converters. This time I set up the Naiant MSH-2 on one channel and a Schoeps CMC6/MK2 on the other. I mounted the mics so they were a few inches apart and about 6 inches from the Martin OM-18GE. Here are the two mono files that resulted:

Naiant MSH-2
Schoeps CMC6/MK2

I can hear some slight differences, although they’re pretty subtle. By turning up the volume and listening to the extended “tail” or decaying signal, I can hear a higher noise level in the Naiant track. But considering that the Schoeps costs about $1400 and the Naiant costs $35, I’d call the similarity pretty amazing. Certainly if someone asked me for an inexpensive microphone to record solo acoustic guitar, I’d be quite comfortable recommending the Naiant MSH-2.


Better EQ Through Software

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Recording acoustic guitar with a pickup is an extremely appealing idea. It eliminates the expense and hassle of microphones, soundproofing, and room treatment. The biggest problem is the sound quality – not usually that great in my experience. But recently I’ve run across some ideas that might make pickup recording a more useable alternative.

Over at the Acoustic Players Forum a Dutch fingerstyle player and Taylor enthusiast named Eltjo Haselhoff started a thread describing his technique for EQing various pickup systems to make them sound more like a guitar recorded using a microphone. He developed a piece of software that compares a piece of music recorded using a mic and a pickup at the same time. The software then defines settings to use with a graphic EQ to make the pickup recording sound more like the miked recording. His results are pretty impressive to many of us.

In the meantime, Doug Young has been demonstrating Har-Bal in some of our sessions together. This is a piece of software that the creator describes as the “worlds first visual mastering software.” One of the features of Har-Bal 2.2 is a quick tool to EQ one file so it resembles another tonally. I decided to experiment with Har-Bal and some pickup and microphone recordings.

I pulled out my Kathy Wingert Model E (You can see pics of it here.) This guitar has a B-Band AST 1470 soundboard transducer pickup system installed, and I’ve been told that it sounds pretty good in amplified situations. I set up a pair of EV RE16 mics in an X/Y configuration, pointing at the bridge at a 45 degree angle, and about 12″ from the guitar. I ran the mics through a John Hardy M-1 preamp, into my LynxTwo-C soundcard, and into Adobe Audition 1.5. I plugged the pickup into a Baggs Para Acoustic DI (PADI), took the XLR out and connected to Channel A of an FMR RNP preamp. This fed another channel on the LynxTwo-C, and I configured Adobe Audition to record this single channel on both sides of a stereo track.

I played a simple Hawaiian vamp and recorded both sources. I kept the recording short because I wanted to present the material as a .wav file instead of a compressed MP3 file. I normalized both files to -2 db so their peak levels match.

The pickup recording: PEQT-PUP.wav
The microphone recording: PEQT-RE16.wav

I don’t think it’s very hard to hear the difference, and I think most people would prefer the microphone recording.

Now what can Har-Bal do for us? I loaded the microphone track as a reference, then loaded the pickup track as the active file. I chose the IntuitMatch cursor and passed it over the pickup track. Har-Bal computed an EQ set that would bring the pickup closer to the tonal balance of the microphone track. The result was not identical, but much closer. And to my ear the result was pretty impressive.

The Har-Bal adjusted track: PEQT-PUP-EQ.wav

I still prefer the microphone track, but I could certainly live with the adjusted pickup track. Perhaps a little tweaking with reverb or delay might add a little of the “air” and “body” that are still missing. It certainly seems worth exploring further.


New mics and live recording

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

This past sunday I performed at Pacific Bay Coffee Company here in Walnut Creek. As always it was an enjoyable experience.

Since I just snagged some new mics on Ebay I decided to try them out as live performance tools. The mics are a pair of Electrovoice RE16 dynamic hypercardioids. These mics have the “Variable-D” feature that reduces proximity effect.

I used one RE16 for my vocal introductions and the other pointed at the bridge of my Martin OM-18GE. The mics were plugged into my very modest Peavey powered mixer, which was driving one pole-mounted Klipsch Heresy speaker.

I also recorded the show, using the tape out jack on the Peavey to feed the line in connectors on my Marantz PMD-670.

The results were interesting. It took a lot of attention to keep from bumping the guitar into the mic. I’ll probably try moving the mic to the 12th fret area, next time. The audience seemed happy with the balance and volume, but on the recording the guitar is pretty quiet, and the typical coffee shop background noises are pretty loud. I did think the tonal quality of the recording was pretty acceptable, and I’m looking forward to trying some “studio” tests with these mics.

In the meantime, I put two of the tunes from the Pac Bay show up at the Music Page.


About the Blog

    Howdy, my name is Fran Guidry and this is my Homebrewed Music blog.

    I play Hawaiian slack key guitar and recorded my solo acoustic CD at home. Most of the recording information I find on the internet seems focused on bands, drums, multitracking, and so on but my main focus is recording solo acoustic guitar. Lately I’ve been enjoying video recording along with audio, so that shows up in the blog as well.

    I’m also a guitar nut. I love big ones and little ones, handmades and factory guitars, cheap ones and expensive ones. So I’ll be sharing the fun of exploring guitars as well, along with the challenges of amplifying acoustic guitars for live performance.



    My recording philosophy is pragmatic, skeptical, not super critical. After all, the performance is by far the most important component of a track, and every aspect of any recording is a matter of taste.

    But I do like to know “about stuff.” Back in hifi days I learned about double blind testing. I learned that we humans can easily hear differences that don’t really exist. The more I’ve learned about our human auditory system, the more I’m skeptical of what people say they hear, especially if they claim that a particular microphone or preamp or cable has some magical property.

    I’ve only been recording since 2001, and when I started I found the usual places on the internet. I sought advice and accepted it, thought I would improve my recordings by using more expensive equipment. It didn’t work.

    Two things that did seem to lead to better recordings were experience and room treatment. Getting an appealing sound is the combination of many small details, and learning those details only comes from experience. Amd the sound of the recording space is obviously a big factor.

    I’ve only recorded seriously using digital technology, but I remember trying to record rehearsals and gigs back in analog days. I don’t have any nostalgia for analog recording and playback systems at all. I think even low end digital systems can capture marvelous recordings. So when I look at gear, I look for good specs: low noise, broad flat frequency response, wide dynamic range, low distortion. I’m not interested in colorful components, mics and preamps with a sound, I want the sound to be the sound of my guitar.

    But the last word is that I’m just learning and I hope you find something useful in my posts.