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.


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.