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Microphone Testing

June 10th, 2012
sound, contra, experiment, music

What microphones sound good for what purposes? I have four different ones, but I didn't have a good sense of what the differences in their sound quality are or which ones I should use for which instruments. So I did a set of blind [1] tests to learn more about them.

The mics in question were, from left to right, AKG d707e, Shure sm57, Shure bg4.1, and Griffin i58:

The bg4.1 is a condenser microphone while the other three are dynamic. I believe all four are cardioid pattern, but I'm not sure about the d707e. Left three are low end professional mics while the i58 is a cheap sm58 clone.

The main things I find myself micing are mandolin and voice (caller) because the other two people in my band don't need mics (fiddle with pickup, keyboard). So I decided to test three setups: mandolin chords, mandolin melody, and calling. [2] I recorded them, then before listening to any of them scrambled their names automatically so I wouldn't know which was which. I level-matched them with sox [4] and then listened to them, rating them and figuring out which ones I liked. I also got two other people [5] to rate them.

I'd encourage you to listen for yourself and rate; these are the samples in random order:

Mandolin Melody 1320 1469 1902 1920
Mandolin Chords 1149 1415 1505 1774
Caller 1085 1191 1734 1861
(The key.)

Impressions:

Mandolin Chords
d707e
Jeff: good
Rick: fine; good fidelity
Danner: good
sm57
Jeff: muted, ok
Rick: ok not great; too sharp; very real; not ideal for chords
Danner: fine
bg41
Jeff: muted, bad
Rick: muddy
Danner: wider range; sounds feedback prone
i58
Jeff: good
Rick: maybe too bright; find for chords
Danner: not as good on percussion, slight dislike
Preference
Jeff: all good; d707e, i58, sm57, bg41
Rick: all good except the bg41
Danner: all good; slight dislike of i58
Mandolin Melody
d707e
Jeff: ok
Rick: more alive, high fidelity, clear
Danner: meh
sm57
Jeff: ok
Rick: quite nice
Danner: less meh
bg41
Jeff: ok
Rick: ok, not that good
Danner: noisy; clear which note is playing
i58
Jeff: brighter
Rick: better in the high register
Danner: best of the four for studio recording; favorite
Preference
Jeff: d707e, sm57, i58, bg41
Rick: d707e, sm57, i58, bg41
Danner: i58, bg41 or sm57, d707e
Caller
d707e
Jeff: eh
Rick: muddy, bad for calling
Danner: clear, bassy
sm57
Jeff: nice
Rick: better than the others
Danner: best
bg41
Jeff: breath ugh, too variable
Rick: not great
Danner: bad, don't like it at all
i58
Jeff: ok
Rick: ok; still not great
Danner: higher, might be better with bass eq'd off
Preference
Jeff: none ideal; sm57, i58, d707e, bg41
Rick: none great; sm57, i58, bg41, d707e
Danner: sm57, i58, d707e, bg41
In retrospect this would have been a better test if I had eq'd each mic-instrument combination some: proximity effect is strong for some and the vocals especially could have done with less bass. I'm inclined to look for another mic to use for callers. I might start using the d707e for my mandolin instead of the sm57. I was surprised how well the i58 did: I had gotten it as a cheap spare.


[1] Really mostly blind. I did know which mic I was using when I recorded each sample, but everything after that is blind. (I could conceivably remembered which mic I was using when I recorded each track, but I left enough time between recording and listening that I completely forgot.)

[2] Recording: mic to phantom power box [3] to mixer to usb audio input to computer. Playback: computer to QSC K10. For calling the mic was very close (1/4") from my mouth, for mandolin it was pointed at around the 15th fret (the best spot in my earlier test, though this favors them sm57 because that's what I did that test with.). No eq on anything.

[3] Only the bg4.1 needed power but I wanted to keep this constant for all the tests because I was afraid its small amount of hum would unblind me otherwise.

[4] sox --norm=-6 foo.wav foo-normalized.wav

[5] Thanks Rick and Danner!

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