Sunday, December 11th, 2011
I’m amazingly lucky in so many ways, and one of them is my good fortune in having a dedicated recording space. I can leave mics and guitars out, decorate to my preference, put speakers in the middle of the room, and best of all, hang broadband absorbers all over the walls and ceiling and stuff them into every corner.
I found that installing these panels made a lot more difference in the quality of my recordings than upgrading a preamp or a/d converter, or even buying a new microphone. By improving the sound in the room, the acoustic treatment made the whole recording process much easier and more enjoyable. So when people ask me how to improve their recordings, one of the first things I suggest is room treatment. (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
Thursday, May 14th, 2009
This post will reveal the identity of the comparison clips in the post comparing the M-Audio Profire and the Lynx and John Hardy recording chain. But before providing the answers, I’d like to pose a question.
I (naively) expected that people would embrace an opportunity to do some controlled testing, using an easy but very effective comparison technique. I have found that careful ABX testing, using Foobar2000 and the ABX utility included in the program, has made me a better, more careful listener. I learned that the perceived differences between clips became much less when I no longer knew the source of the clip. As a result, I learned to search out subtle differences in tone color and texture. I also learned that I can’t hear any difference between systems that I have been told should show night and day differences.
I’d hoped that a number of other folks would try careful ABX testing of these clips with a statistically significant number of trials, so I could compare my results to theirs. At this point, I don’t know if my inability to hear the differences is normal or unusual.
If you visited here, listened to the clips, maybe even downloaded and installed Foobar2000, why did you not go the next step and run a test of 20 comparisons? Foobar2000 makes it easy to save your results and share them with the world, or not. Wouldn’t you like to have a personal evaluation of the difference between a high end preamp and a commodity unit, or between 44.1 and 192 sampling rates? Wouldn’t you like to contribute to the knowledge of the recording community?
After all, if the huge differences we read about in magazines and online are true, it will be easy to pick out the different samples, and we can get busy saving up for high end equipment. But if those differences are actually imaginary, driven by normal human traits like confirmation bias, we can save a bunch of money and time and trouble by ignoring gear lust and concentrating on mic placement and room acoustics.
So the question is, what do you have to lose by conducting a thorough series of ABX comparisons and reporting the results?
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
This is probably about as close to a political post as I am likely to write. I think that listening “tests” that are not conducted as double blind side-by-side comparisons are just wishful thinking. We wish that human hearing were not so totally dominated by the vagaries of our brain/mind, but it is. We wish that we could retain accurate mental images for more than a few seconds, but we can’t. We think we can discount the impact of small volume differences, but we can’t, and the smaller the difference the more likely we are to describe it as anything but a volume difference. We think we can trust our ears but all the evidence gathered from controlled experiments tells us plainly that we should not.
Since my interest in recording began only a few years ago, I’ve always had the internet as a resource for learning about the subject, I researched in every forum and magazine site I could find. And I now firmly believe that most of what I learned there was incorrect. (more…)
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…)
Saturday, March 21st, 2009
I was surprised to find that a Mid-Side decoder function is included in the H4n, this is usually a feature of high end field recorders but it’s easy to do in the digital realm so the Zoom engineers could “throw it in” without much added cost. I love fooling with different mic arrangements so I had to set up a couple of figure 8 mics and do some recordings. (more…)