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  • Microphone Testing

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


    Mandolin Chords
    Jeff: good
    Rick: fine; good fidelity
    Danner: good
    Jeff: muted, ok
    Rick: ok not great; too sharp; very real; not ideal for chords
    Danner: fine
    Jeff: muted, bad
    Rick: muddy
    Danner: wider range; sounds feedback prone
    Jeff: good
    Rick: maybe too bright; find for chords
    Danner: not as good on percussion, slight dislike
    Jeff: all good; d707e, i58, sm57, bg41
    Rick: all good except the bg41
    Danner: all good; slight dislike of i58
    Mandolin Melody
    Jeff: ok
    Rick: more alive, high fidelity, clear
    Danner: meh
    Jeff: ok
    Rick: quite nice
    Danner: less meh
    Jeff: ok
    Rick: ok, not that good
    Danner: noisy; clear which note is playing
    Jeff: brighter
    Rick: better in the high register
    Danner: best of the four for studio recording; favorite
    Jeff: d707e, sm57, i58, bg41
    Rick: d707e, sm57, i58, bg41
    Danner: i58, bg41 or sm57, d707e
    Jeff: eh
    Rick: muddy, bad for calling
    Danner: clear, bassy
    Jeff: nice
    Rick: better than the others
    Danner: best
    Jeff: breath ugh, too variable
    Rick: not great
    Danner: bad, don't like it at all
    Jeff: ok
    Rick: ok; still not great
    Danner: higher, might be better with bass eq'd off
    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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