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…)


Some Mics for the Kodak Zi8

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I’ve been touting the Zi8 as a low priced tool for “look at me” YouTube videos because it allows the use of an external mic. It’s usually the case that our preferred framing for a shot moves the camera some distance from the subject. This means that the sound recorded by the camera mic is heavily affected by the sound of the room, and that is rarely a good thing for sound quality.

By separating the mic from the camera, I should be able to position the mic for optimum sound while placing the camera for the visual effect I want. Of course, I can do this wihout an audio input on the camera by a technique called parallel recording, that is, recording on a separate audio system of some kind. The familiar clack of the slate at the start of a movie sequence is used to make it easy to synchronize the picture and sound, and this technique works very well for my homebrewed videos as well. Still it’s very tempting to think that recording directly to the camera is an easier way out, with camera audio every take and every edit lining up without any extra effort. (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…)


Question and Answers

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.

The Question

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?

The Answers



Field Recorder Comparison

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

For sheer acoustic guitar and recording fun, it’s hard to beat a visit to Doug Young‘s garage studio. Doug is a fantastic player, very knowledgeable recordist, and has some swell guitars sitting around his great sounding studio space. As an aside, he has done all us acoustic guitar players a huge favor by compiling a great set of pickup samples on his web site. His CD is definitely worth adding to your collection, and his articles in Acoustic Guitar Magazine are always good reading as well.

But for this occasion, I went to take advantage of his extremely cool Sound Devices 744 digital recorder. This is a top of the line system, used widely for major motion pictures or any other situation where great sonics, ruggedness, and portability are needed. I came for a shootout between his “king of the hill” unit and my much more modest recorders, a Fostex FR2-LE and a Zoom H2. Once I arrived, Doug suggested that we add his Edirol R09 to the mix, so we had four field recorders to compare.

I brought along my Wingert Model E tuned to G Wahine (D G D F# B D), a great old slack key tuning. Doug kindly hooked up his Schoeps CMC 6 mic bodies with his MK41 supercardioid capsules, one into his Sound Devices, and one into the Fostex. Then we rigged the Zoom and Edirol on stands to bring them close to the same position. Here’s what the setup looked like:

and here’s a shot from over the mics and recorders:

The Schoeps are directly over one another, so the bottom one disappears in this overhead shot.

In some rooms, this setup might not be tight enough to give an accurate comparison, but Doug’s studio is very well treated with broad band absorbers, so the sound is clean and even in most locations. Doug’s room is also extremely quiet, so we got some nice long “tails” as the last note of the clip died away. This will give you a chance to compare the internal noise levels of the different recording chains. One embarrassing caveat – we left the Edirol R09 in MP3 mode instead of 44.1 wave, so that little guy may be suffering some quality degradation. We didn’t realize our error until we’d used up all our time for the evening. Apologies to Edirol and R09 fans.

After the recording session, I brought the clips into my Adobe Audition 3.0 where I trimmed them as accurately as I could to the same starting point and length. (Once again I forgot to “clap” the start of each clip to get a synchronization point – the learning never ends.) I converted the H2 and R09 clips to mono by using the louder of their two tracks. Then I used AA3’s group normalize feature to bring them to the same average loudness. Loudness differences have a tremendous impact on the listener’s sonic evaluation, so I wanted to level the playing field in that aspect. I think average perceived loudness is more useful than peak normalization in this situation, and after processing I listened to the samples on my Dynaudio BM 6 monitors and thought their levels were extremely close.

Now for the samples. Just for fun I’ll post them blind, so you can download them and compare without prejudging. These are .wav files and fairly large, but we wanted to preserve the fidelity so you can make a better comparison.

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
Sample 4

Now after giving a good listen to these clips, you can see the key here and evaluate the results. I hope you find these comparisons useful, and that you’ll leave a comment or send an email sharing your impressions.

As always thanks a ton to Doug for being so generous with his time, space, and gear.


Zoom H2

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

I definitely don’t need another recording device around here, but my Recording Gear Acquisition Syndrome is not blunted by logic. The positive comments on various guitar forums piled up until I couldn’t resist the pressure. I had to have a Zoom H2 recorder.

I bought mine slightly used on Ebay. I saved a few bucks but even at the street price of $199 this is a pretty easy purchase to scrape up. Taking the thing out of the box, it’s pretty unimpressive – light and flimsy rather than solid and sturdy. The membrane switches gave me fits until I figure out that I should use my big fat finger instead of a delicate little touch with my fingernail.

Naturally I have to do a comparison test between this little recorder and the PC rig. Here’s a picture of the setup I used:

The mics are a pair of Schoeps CMC6 bodies with MK41 caps, in a pretty careful 90 degree X/Y. The Zoom is as close to the same location as possible, using the front mics in 90 degree configuration.

I recorded my Martin OM-18GE in drop C, doing a chorus of “Silver Threads Among the Gold.” I’m posting the recordings without trying to encourage a blind test. I posted .wav files instead of mp3s, so the downloads will be a bit long, but you can do a careful comparison.


Zoom H2

I think anyone can hear a difference between these two samples, and I certainly prefer the Schoeps track, but if you add up the cost of duplicating the Schoeps->John Hardy->LynxTwo chain and compare it to the cost of the Zoom, well, that Zoom doesn’t sound too bad after all.

I also tested the H2 as a PC interface. The supplied USB cable and power adapter, along with the silly looking little plastic tripod stand, had me ready for some kitchen table recording in no time. One down side to this use, I have to go into the menu and setup the USB link every time I turn the H2 on. Not a big deal, but I wouldn’t mind if the unit could remember where I left off.

I don’t have any samples of this use of the H2, because I got wrapped up in doing multi-track experiments in Audacity and Reaper, but I haven’t come up with anything I am willing to make public yet. But I can say that the H2 works as a stereo USB mic with no hassle beyond the menu tweaking.

I’ve held on to my old minidisk recorder for a number of years, but it looks like I don’t need it anymore. This new recorder is going to get a lot of use around here.


Go Type II Parlor travel guitar

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Just before we left for Hawai`i in April, I received my handmade Go Type II Parlor guitar from Sam Radding at Go Guitars. You can see some clips of this little instrument in action at my Kaleponi Music News blog.

For the last few years, I’ve checked my full size guitar in a Calton case, but I really enjoy having a guitar with me during those long airport waits. When I learned that Mr. Radding would build one of his parlor guitars with a custom neck shape and bridge spacing, I signed up. His guitar turned out to be a great success, small enough to fit in the airliner overhead compartment, good enough to play on stage at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

When we returned from our trip, I contacted Matt Hayden to see if we could get together to compare his Larrivee Parlor to this new one. Matt’s guitar is walnut and sitka, just like the Go, so the comparison seemed like a natural.

Here are some pics showing the two guitars side by side.

The Larrivee is several years older, so the sitka spruce top has mellowed to a lovely shade. The smaller body of the Go is evident in this shot, as is the compact headstock and lesser overall length.

Looking at a closeup of the backs, I prefer the walnut back of the Larrivee with its slight curly figure and darker finish, but many people commented favorably on the interesting figure of the Go walnut. The bookmatch on the Go two piece back is nicely done, and the backstrip adds a little appeal as well.

This side by side shot illustrates the shorter body and longer scale of the Go. I think it’s amazing that Mr. Radding has squeezed so much guitar into such a diminuitive shape.

I plugged a DPA 4061 mic into my Marantz PMD670 recorder and played a verse of “Kui Lima” on each guitar. Here’s the Larrivee sample (link). The Go sounds like this (link). In person, the Go seemed a little fuller and a bit louder. In fact, everyone who tried the Go so far has expressed amazement at the amount of sound that pours out of this tiny guitar.

As far as playability, the comparison is a bit unfair. I owned a Larrivee similar to Matt’s but sold it because I had a hard time with neck shape and bridge spacing. One of the great advantages of the Go Parlor is the availability of custom neck shape and bridge spacing. The slightly wider neck and bridge on my Go Parlor makes all the difference in ease of playing.

The first generation of Larrivee Parlors, like Matt’s, were built as style 01 Larrivees, which means they were stripped down models. They were also a wonderful bargain. But these days Larrivee only builds these guitars with style 09 trim. They’re much more nicely finished but cost over twice the price of the older model. The Go, which is handmade and available with custom features, is a terrific value and a very fine way to carry your music with you wherever you go.


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.