Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mic Reviews

Check out these mic reviews at Recording Hacks. I was invited to take the blind taste tests for these mics and give my opinions. I have some additional comments, but first read the Recording Hacks reviews. (And bookmark the site. There's a ton of useful info there.) Then come back.

Click here.

Welcome back. First, let me say it was a pleasure to be asked to participate. I do not pretend to hang in the higher circle who record musicians in project studios, although I've worked in such studios in the past, mainly as an assistant. I work in broadcasting and operate my home voiceover recording studio. It's not in the same league, but we do have much in common. Mainly, we want the best sound for the project.

Each reviewer brings a certain number of prejudices and expectations when he listens to a microphone. No two people agree exactly on mics. For every person who thinks the AKG C12 in it's current state is a shrill disappointment, there are those who love it. For figure. All I can say is the Avatone knock-off served Taylor Swift quite well at a fraction, and I do mean fraction of the cost.

With vocals, I bring my radio and voiceover background, which wouldn't truly serve the needs of a vocalist and would run counter to much of what a musical producer is trying to achieve. Voiceover guys want clarity above all else. I'm willing to sacrifice a little low-end grunt in order to be heard against the clutter. I'd be OK with the Sennheiser MKH 416. But, for me, the perfect mic adds low-end grunt within reason while keeping the clarity. In other words, I'm a U87 kinda guy. Fine. But that's just me.

When I hear a folk/country vocal, I tend to think back to Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Simon and Garfunkel as my benchmarks. As it happens, these legends recorded at Columbia in the '60's - thanks to Mitch Miller. So, my bias is based on the techniques of the Columbia house style of another era. And, while this is embarrassing, I also herd a great deal of John Denver in the '70's. That's going to leave a mark.

I know even less about recording acoustic guitar. All I know is I know what I like. Usually, in a pop or country recording, the guitar is processed to stand up to the mix. String scrapes are avoided because the average listener thinks they shouldn't be there. (Hear any on the original Classic Gas?) Think of that power strumming in the Electric Light Orchestra's Fire On High. That's not natural. Very little about ELO is. And yet, that's what our ears can become accustomed to hearing. The only cure is to pick up a Gibson and strum a while. Learn what a real guitar sounds like. In my opinion, the person most knowledgeable to record the guitar is the person who actually plays one.

I truly believe all the reviewers' opinions reflected their preferred method of listening. I like to do critical listening on AKG K240 headphones. My JBL nearfields are not powerful and lack the complete low-end reach. (A sub would cure that, but then I have to upgrade my amp.) Speakers vs. headphones could make all the difference between thinking the Gemini II was great or just so-so.

As for the mics themselves, I have found a new respect for MLX, a brand typically thought of as a bargain knock-off. The Revelation is one serious recording tool. I'd love to A/B one to an AKG C214 or just about anything from Neuman just for fun. BTW: I've seen a 100 dollar price drop on the AKG. Somebody's nervous.

The Gemini we reviewed hasn't quite won me over, but it definitely has some chops. I'd like to hear a jazz vocalist try it out. Definitely got to hear it on a VO. It has potential. If you're mic shopping, try it out.

The real sleeper of the bunch was the MXL V89. Priced at around $330, this mic held its own against these U87 contenders. I absolutely MUST audition one of these for VO work. It could be the best bargain out there.

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