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  #1  
Old 05-13-2013, 07:36 AM
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Default Microphone Mini-Reviews

My last serious post at the forum has been a question asking for a good microphone to record drums. That's been almost a year ago, and in the meanwhile a little collection of microphones has assembled, and also some other microphones have been tried, so this post sums up the experience with different microphones. More posts could be added in the future, and hopefully this works as a reference of sorts for others in the same situation - newcomers trying to record drums.

Each microphone has its own post, which might be expanded in the future with sound clips and photos and such.

You can listen to my percussion samples (and download them) at Freesound, usually each clip specifies which microphone was used.

http://www.freesound.org/people/Seid...st/packs/9435/

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-13-2013 at 08:12 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 07:46 AM
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Default Shure SV100

This is a cheap, simple dynamic microphone that is nevertheless quite nice. There is a post of a French sound engineer cursing the cable that Shure supplies with the SV100. To tell you the truth, it's never been used, here it's a home-baked silver-plated copper cable terminated with XLR and wired unbalanced, same as the Shure cable.

"SV" might mean "special value", which is marketese for "cheap budget make". It is. It's a simple dynamic capsule enclosed in a metal tube with an on/off switch. Some folks curse the switch, saying it's a possible failure weakness. It is, obviously, but so far it's never failed, and anyway it's trivial to rewire the thing should the switch ever fail, throwing the switch out or just wiring past it.

Sound-wise it's a simple dynamic with a kind of a warm emphasis on low midrange, a fairly slight bass proximity effect, etc. The issue with the SV100 is its frequency response, which has a nasty rise past 2 KHz, centred on 6 KHz. Obviously this is done to boost presence for voice, and the SV100 also has a highpass cut starting at around 200 Hz, to minimise rumble.

Once you correct its frequency response with a good equaliser (software or hardware), the SV100 takes sound rather nice. It's nothing to write home about it, it's fairly coarse in the middle/upper midrange, and the SV100 diaphragm is nowhere as sensitive as, say, Shure Beta 56 or AKG D-40, but it's useful for the bigger, coarser bass drums, bassier bongos, and as an exhaust pickup microphone for congas, etc. If you've got something big with lots of airflow, it works nicely.

The SV100 is not very sensitive to airflow, so you can just insert it into a big bass drum. All instrument recording had always been done with the head mesh taken off, this helps improve detail, and after all, since there's no spit or plosives from a singer, the mesh isn't really needed.

It's also worked nicely for coarse-grain maracas, though the maracas had to be swung straight into the exposed capsule. The SV100 is fairly insensitive, but then that can be a plus, as it won't easily record handmade wind even without a windshield.

Price is also a bonus, you can find one for $25-30 or thereabouts. Now of course this isn't a D112, but it works for some purposes, or as a backup "disposable" microphone.

http://www.freesound.org/people/Seid...sounds/170918/ - a huge bass drum recorded with an SV100. This is equalised to compensate for its natural highpass and HF/midrange rise.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:19 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 07:54 AM
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Default MXL 440

MXL 440 is a cheap large condenser sold as a bundle with the 441, which is a small condenser.

They're reviewed separately here, so the 440 comes first.

The 440 is obviously a very cheap build. It's a bit of a mystery what metal the casing tube is made of, but it doesn't help much with EMI, and as a result the 440 suffers from receiving radio. That's a big issue for someone who lives next to a radio station. It has been fixed with a dedicated Neutrik anti-radio XLR plug, which has lowpass filters cutting out radio frequencies. That plug has been a bit expensive though, ~$20, adding to the total cost of the usually cheap 440/441 bundle.

As you would expect from an LDC, the 440 is a bit slower than most SDCs, but it's also too sensitive. It's been used to record guitar cabs too, and it tends to withdraw a lot, recording less positive movement than negative movement. On a powerful guitar cab cranked way up onstage, it gave a rather thin, boring sound. So, its ideal performance is with less loud instruments. Frequency response says "cheap Chinese condenser", rising towards 10 KHz and rolling off below 90 Hz or so. As you may guess from the price at which it's sold, it's a somewhat mediocre microphone, but it has one surprising use, which is recording metallic small percussion. Triangles, crotales (finger cymbals), and, best of all, tambourines, in which case it doesn't even have to be equalised. It gives a very nice mellow sound with a nice HF presence. It's not going to give you a sharp "spike" sound like a small condenser would with a tambourine, it's more of a mellow airy sparkle. Maybe that's not the sound anyone's after, but it fits bells, tambourines, etc.

Big drums is something the 440 doesn't do well, anything too powerful it dislikes. But it might have a secondary use for vocals. Bongos, small drums, smaller bells, tambourines are suggested use.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:55 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 07:57 AM
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Default MXL 441

Like its big brother, the MXL 441 suffers from EMI, though being somewhat less sensitive it doesn't pick up radio. It injects slight hum spikes instead. This looks like both a casing and a transformer design flaw. It is usable with a noise gate and/or an EMI filter plug/cable.

Ironically it's not useful for much either, it has a slightly nicer, fuller sound than the AKG Perception 170 (which wasn't the best buy, shall it be said). It works for small percussion, though there're better (and usually more expensive) microphones here. Tambourines, triangle, claves, possibly shakers. That's about it.

http://www.freesound.org/people/Seid...sounds/169272/ - a plastic drumkit shaker, Yamaha Ritomica make.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:20 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:03 AM
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Default Rode NTG-1

Yes, it's a "video" microphone, a hypercardioid shotgun microphone. But it's a small-diaphragm condenser nevertheless, hence it works for stuff like cymbals and small percussion in a pinch.

The NTG-1 has a rather warm, full sound when used to record video. So it was lent by a cameraman for sampling small percussion. Surprisingly, it worked well, except for one big issue.

That issue is definition. Somewhere out there an English engineer reviewed the NT5 as having an awful time trying to stand out in a mix, due to middle midrange being muddy and poorly defined. Condenser microphones often are biased towards the upper midrange and treble, as their electrostat membranes resonate better there. The irony here is that while this isn't true for my pair of (newer-generation) NT5-MP, it is true for the NTG-1, takes of which may have trouble standing out in a mix. Older NT5 models must've shared capsules/technology with the NTG-1.

NTG-1 gives a nice, sparkley, treble-warm sound with a good space definition, but it lacks low midrange/midrange punch, which makes its samples get lost in a mix, and require a lot of effects to bring them up. Still, it works for cymbals and hi-hats and the like if necessary and if you haven't got anything else around.

http://www.freesound.org/people/Seid...sounds/169266/ - wooden castagnettes.
http://www.freesound.org/people/Seid...sounds/169676/ - reverse cymbal.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:21 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:10 AM
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Default Rode NT5-MP

...have become the primary condenser matched pair. There're a few spiteful reviews of the NT5 over at Gearslutz and some fellows out there say they've trouble "cutting" through a mix. Reality is, that likely refers to an older model (sharing capsules/tech with NTG series) or they used the wrong preamps.

My pair of NT5 is pretty well-behaved, it's even been used to record live gigs in NOS configuration, and the result is a warm, lovely, full sound. But then the NT5 are sensitive to preamps. They like a goodie gain which nevertheless does not send them clipping. Not every preamp gives them that. They play well with Digidesign interfaces (warm, detailed, ambiental sound), they play well with Yamaha console preamps (much the same), but with the Focusrite Saffire 40 interface preamps so far they sounded thin and weak.

The NT5 work well for anything, though for added safety you'd better combine them with dynamic microphones (which is the usual setup for recording a drumkit - a dynamic on each drum, and NT5 as overhead pair). The perfect combination is with either AKG D-40 or Shure Beta 56 (NOT SM57 though).

While the frequency response of NT5 gives them a slight treble boost with a slight bass cut, in practice they've almost always been used equalised to compensate and bring the response to straight, or equalised to bring out the space/cymbal detail (e. g. with a bass/midrange cut) in a full drumkit mix.

Example: http://www.solarstudios.net/Sounds/Agogo-Bells.ogg - agogo bells sampled with AKG D-40 and Rode NT5.
Example: http://www.solarstudios.net/Sounds/C...k-4-Speeds.ogg - dark crash cymbal.
Example: http://www.solarstudios.net/Sounds/H...Pedalhit-3.ogg - not the best take, recorded angled, not directly overhead.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:05 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:18 AM
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Default Shure Beta 56

...is another microphone which is lost in the shadow of the SM57. Which is very unfortunate, as the Beta 56 obliterates the SM57 for drums. Beta 56 gives a shiny, sunny sound rich in mid/upper-midrange yet still defined in the low midrange when used on snare, toms, etc. It's the go-to Shure microphone for drums. It's a favourite for snares so far, though for toms the AKG D-40 might be better (the D-40 is darker and paints midrange with more detail and finer transients).

It's a mystery to me why the SM57 gets recommended all the time for drums/snare, but the Beta 56 is forgotten. It works wonders for toms, snare, congas, any big/medium-sized drums, and possibly for anything prominent in upper midrange too (bongos, djembes, smaller drums). The SM57 gives a noticeably duller, boxier sound than the Beta 56, which shines and sparkles.

The only snag with the Beta 56 is, it tends to miss some midrange detail, but this is only a slight difference to the D-40 in practice. It really gives a brighter sound than the D-40, which is why it may be more suitable for snares (at least the brighter kind, the D-40 fits woody/darker snares).

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:13 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:25 AM
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Default AKG D-40

If you need that one dynamic microphone for instruments, the D-40 is it. The only thing it does not do right is cymbals, but then you're not going to be using it as an overhead microphone. This is a VERY underrated microphone.

The D-40 is labelled as "high-performance" by AKG. It is. Forget the Shure SM57, the AKG D-40 is the king for any percussion recording. It's a very sensitive dynamic microphone. Although still biased towards the midrange, the D-40's definition can rival some condensers. It's a really fine capsule design, picking up transients pretty well. It's noticeably more sensitive than other dynamic microphones, though it likes higher gain too. The D-40 can even do triangles and bells and finger cymbals perfectly fine. It works well on the snare and works wonders for toms. Positioned properly, it even works nicely on a bass kick drum, especially if used in pair with a small condenser (place the condenser about a metre away). The only flaw the D-40 has is, it may overload with larger airflows, which makes it tricky placing it inside a bassy drum.

Congas, bongos, even claves and shakers, pretty much anything can be recorded by the D-40, though for shakers and claves it's best paired with a condenser. When combined with a condenser, this microphone is a wonder for standing out in a mix. Even without a condenser, its takes are very well-defined, thanks to the excellent dynamic sensitivity.

It also works very well as a guitar cab microphone (bass guitar or electric guitar). It might require some EQ, but then electric guitars get equalised a lot usually.

Example: crotal (finger cymbal) - http://www.solarstudios.net/Sounds/FCymbal-4.ogg - notice how the detail is almost "condenser"-quality.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:30 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:30 AM
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Default AKG D112

Mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it does record the bass kick with a better presence than other dynamic microphones. On the other hand, often the old dynamic/condenser pair technique produces better (more accurate, at least) results.

Anyway, the D112 is a vented open-case microphone with lots of space around the diaphragm, allowing a lot of slower movement. You see, the problem with most microphones is, they have trouble recording the sustained bass airflow a bass kick drum creates. A microphone diaphragm cannot be much of a "standing wave" representation as it has to withdraw for each amplitude cycle. This is why IMHO a bass kick always has to be saturated, compressed and equalised until it sounds like the real thing (a microphone won't record it well enough).

The D112 allows its diaphragm to be moved farther and slower than conventional dynamic microphones, hence it works nicely for the bass kicks and any powerful instrument (like a tuba). However, in practice my most lifelike recorded bass kicks resulted from a combination of AKG D-40 and Rode NT5. The D112 might work nicely still, when combined with a small condenser.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:36 AM
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Default AKG Perception 170

A disappointment. This is just a cheap Chinese SDC rebadged by AKG. At least it sounds like one. Cold, hollow, with a dullish sound thanks to an HF splitter in front of its membrane. The HF splitter is what breaks this microphone: it inevitably does not sound like it ought to.

Here an explanation is in order... Placing an obstacle in front of the diaphragm/membrane (such as an additional mesh, windshield, or, in this case, a metal bar) will reduce the amount of high frequencies that get through. HF are energetically weak and killed easily. The problem with an obstacle is that it also changes the freshness of sound. In other words, the microphone itself gets less detail than it ought to. This is often called a "sonic shadow" from an obstacle.

In the case of P. 170, the result is that in spite of its nearly-straight frequency response, recorded instruments sound bleak and nothing like a straight reproduction. Whereas the NT5 will usually sound rather realistic (it only needs slight pushing of bass and reduction of HF in most cases), the P. 170 requires a lot of equalising for almost any percussion it records. Cowbell is an example - the cowbell below is processed and equalised, and it still doesn't sound as full/punchy as the real thing.

The only way this thing works fine is coupled with a warmer dynamic microphone. Place the dynamic at a drum's bottom, the P. 170 on top. And don't forget to flip phase of either take when mixing. Then the results can be rather nice.

The colder sound of P. 170 pretty much restricts it to metallic small percussion and to more echoic stuff like sticks in a room with lots of echoes. Or use in pair with a warmer dynamic.

Example: http://www.solarstudios.net/Sounds/Cowbelltest.ogg - it fits, but that's because the cowbell is supposed to be rather weak in the piece.
Examples: http://www.solarstudios.net/Sounds/Sticks/ - drum stick samples, recorded in a stone room. This is rather equalised also.
http://www.freesound.org/people/Seid...sounds/172961/ - cabasa. Doesn't sound that bad, but it does need a lot of (HF-boosting) EQ to sound properly metallic in NI Battery.
http://www.freesound.org/people/Seid...sounds/173022/ - low bongo. This is Shure SV100 and AKG Perception 170 combined. As you can listen, the sound is quite nice.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:17 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:46 AM
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Default Shure SM57

This is the one microphone that everyone loves to recommend, but... Well. It's overrated. IMHO the best use the SM57 has is as a radio/voiceover microphone. It works fine for male voiceover and it has that classic "rich radio voice" sound.

As an instrument microphone it's mediocre at best, unless coupled with a good preamp. Plugged into many interfaces' preamps it won't achieve the detail needed for sampling/standing out in a mix (in my experience it's sometimes even worse than the Rode NTG-1, e. g. on congas). But if you've got a good preamp, what're you doing with an SM57? Then you've got money for the fancier specialised microphones, or the specialised microphones themselves. If you need that one dynamic microphone for any drum, then the AKG D-40 or the Audio-Technica ATM-650 are better choices, both built on newer technology. The SM57 is built with older technology, is less sensitive, and it wants either loud sound from a snare, or voice (and that, with decent gain).

The SM57 is eclipsed by Shure's own Beta 56 on the snare and toms, as the SM57 gives a rather boxy, barmier sound than the happy-go-lucky Beta 56. The D-40 is noticeably darker on the snare, but it gets detail better. For any other kind of drums (e. g. congas, bongos, woodblocks, whatnot), either the D-40 or the Beta 56 or some sort of a condenser will always be better.

So IMHO it works as a voice microphone, but that's about it, and even then it might be restricted to some kind of male speech/singers almost exclusively as the SM58 and other vocal microphones are more universal and fit most kinds of voices better for singing.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:12 AM.
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Old 05-13-2013, 08:51 AM
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Default CAD-12

This is a chance buy as yet another universal/disposable microphone, and it's a clone of the Shure SV100. It might work for some purposes; we tested it on toms with silver-plated wiring and compensation EQ, and it works.

Really it's a rebadged Superlux Eco-88. Without a carry pouch (SIGH). Capsule has www.superlux.tw etched on it.

It's a cheap "karaoke/instrument" thing which doesn't have that much definition, but might fit the bill for louder drums. Read: where everyone recommends an SM57 and if you don't have enough money, this might do it. Just take the head mesh off. You might be better off with an SV100 though, which is much the same thing, but slightly warmer and less edgy. The price difference between the two is minimal, if there is one where the SV100 is available locally and the CAD-12/Eco-88 has to be shipped.

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 10:51 AM.
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Old 05-15-2013, 05:51 PM
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Default Re: Microphone Mini-Reviews

thanks for doing this. I hope you are able to keep it up. As I begin to gig again I will contribute if that is ok with you. But I will be one of the people talking about the affordable mics since I am a weekend warrior.
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Old 05-20-2013, 10:50 AM
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Default

That's the idea, the more data on microphones in one place, the better.

http://www.solarstudios.net/Sounds/Octokit.ogg

Most everything sampled with AKG D-40/Rode NT5 except:

Tambourine - MXL 440.
Pedal hi-hat - Rode NTG-1.
Open bass kick, toms, hi-hat (closed/open), snare - synthetic (very processed analogue/physical modelling).

Last edited by S-Priest; 05-20-2013 at 11:39 AM. Reason: Edited by Arky: merging consecutive posts
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