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Author Topic: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone  (Read 1495 times)

klaus

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The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« on: June 05, 2017, 12:49:52 pm »

Can we really make a distinction between “colored” and “accurate” microphones? Who decides what mic falls into what category, and on what basis?

Proponents invariably define an “accurate” mic as one that does not add to or take away from, or in any other way alter the musical event: what goes in comes back out, exactly and precisely.

I think the premise that such a microphone currently exists is false. "Accurate" means that no audible or measurable difference could ever be claimed between brands and models, because, by definition, any “accurate” mic you chose would sound exactly like the next, given the same polar pattern. 

The reality looks different. Some like the sound of one mic they believe is 'accurate'. Others like the sound of a different mic, with the same claim of accuracy. But if there is a 'sound' (i.e. color), which one then is accurate?

It’s frustrating to read discussions of the term 'accurate' in forum posts, because quasi-scientific arguments are used to prove something that, in my opinion, is not currently provable, given the available (and rather primitive) parameters available to quantify data related to sound.

End (or start) of discussion...
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Klaus Heyne
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Jim Williams

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2017, 11:37:40 am »

Until a microphone can duplicate the locational sensing of the human ear none of them are even remotely accurate. A person with only one working ear can point and determine a sound's location easily in a 360 degree field.

At this point of microphone design we are at the same point as the romantic painters were in the 17th century before the advent of modern photography. Yes, those paintings are very emotionally pleasing to look at but are not in any sense accurate.
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soapfoot

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2017, 11:34:50 am »

Even if you isolate one variable-- say "frequency response"-- invariably, other variables creep in.

One microphone might be "perfectly flat" in an anechoic chamber directly on-axis at a distance of 1m, but what happens when you're 90 degrees off-axis? What happens when you're 10 cm away, or 20m away?
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2017, 12:32:51 am »

Well like any other measuring tool, mics are accurate within certain tolerances and limits, but the key is understanding those limits to produce very accurate results.

I suspect at least some of the distrust of mics as accurate comes from ignorance rather than knowledge. In the field of  acoustic measurement, there have been extraordinarily accurate mics around, such as from B and K, for many decades. Of course there are trade offs, such as frequency response vs S/N, and directionality vs proximity effect and polar pattern linearity, but the skilled person knows these limitations and carefully works within them.

Tim 
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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2017, 03:30:15 am »

If what you say were correct, why don't more people use B&K/DPA mics? Their static specs are certainly hard to beat: s/n and frequency linearity are exemplary.
Yet, they are not considered "musical" by most artists, music engineers and producers, and rarely find usage in recording studios.

What may be missing here?
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Klaus Heyne
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2017, 04:49:27 am »

Part of what's missing is perhaps a common understanding of what we mean by terms.

So what makes  a microphone  "musical" or "non musical"? What is meant by these terms in relation to mics or indeed any audio gear?

Tim

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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2017, 10:32:33 am »

I already stated in my opening post that the term "accurate" is problematic, judging from the success, or lack of, of mics that claim to be accurate.

So, if such mic does not really exist, maybe a term like "musical" comes closer to what we ultimately envision* - a mic that delivers music's emotional content to the listener, connecting in ways "accurate" mics seem not to be able to.

* maybe I am in the minority here. But I still try to engage my right brain hemisphere when listening to music, rather than intellectually analyzing what I hear in the moment I hear it.
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Klaus Heyne
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2017, 06:42:55 pm »

People are musical - some more than others. But microphones? Speaker cables?

 
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soapfoot

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2017, 10:54:28 am »

People are musical - some more than others. But microphones? Speaker cables?

The commonly-measured factors do matter. But I think it's folly to assume we can derive the gestalt of a device by these factors alone.

Two cars can share the same top speed, horsepower and torque, but still offer different driving experiences. One might be enjoyable to drive while the other is less so, and the specifications alone would likely struggle to explain why.

It's important, I think, to acknowledge that microphones aren't strictly documentarian-- they are, in some sense, a tool for creating art (just like guitars or pianos). This remains true even when recording music in the most literal way.

If I'm recording a classical piano recital, my goal is to give to the listener the sense, as near as possible, that they're in the hall with the performer enjoying the concert in person. Since recording technology is still so far from replicating live performance in an indistinguishable manner, sometimes the non-literal is relied upon to help bring the illusion closer to the subjective ideal. This is where recording becomes an art that relies upon science, rather than science, strictly speaking.

And in art--even that art which relies upon science--a subjective impression (i.e. "this microphone sounds more musical to me") is certainly admissible. In fact, I'd argue that a keen grasp of the subjective is a big part of what separates a "skilled and experienced expert" from a "person with some training and equipment."
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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2017, 12:46:37 pm »

Well said, and to the point. Thanks!
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Klaus Heyne
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2017, 12:38:58 am »


...And in art--even that art which relies upon science--a subjective impression (i.e. "this microphone sounds more musical to me") is certainly admissible.

 Sure it's admissible but to me an isolated comment like "this microphone sounds more musical to me" communicates merely that "I like what I'm hearing".

BTW enjoyed your guitar playing on "More than you know"  "Steppin' Out" and "Sly".

Tim
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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2017, 03:46:16 am »

Communicating "merely" that you like what you're hearing- not enough?
You think there's more? If so, what is it and what mic transports it?
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Klaus Heyne
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2017, 04:21:37 am »

You mentioned musicians, producers, engineers considering flat mics - and you specifically mentioned B & K and DPA mics - not "musical".
But they would probably happily use a KM184 in certain situations where neutrality is considered important and the acoustics allow. As I understand it, the KM184's response  would be similar to that of a 1/2" omni  B & K measurement mic. What would be the difference in your opinion?

 
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BluegrassDan

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2017, 06:08:04 pm »

Who wants to hear a singer's every slobber, lip smack, and snot bubble afforded by an "accurate" mic and/or "transparent" preamp? Microphones are best when they represent the capture of a musical performance in a pleasing way.
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #14 on: September 04, 2017, 09:36:11 am »

Is  there a mic out there which is insensitive to "slobbers",  "lip smacks" and "snot bubbles" but let all the "musicality" through? Now that's one "intelligent" microphone.  What's its make and model number?
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Jim Williams

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #15 on: September 04, 2017, 11:23:47 am »

If those natural sounds are so offensive, no one would have bothered singing until modern processing electronics were available.
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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #16 on: September 04, 2017, 12:00:36 pm »

(...) As I understand it, the KM184's response would be similar to that of a 1/2" omni  B & K measurement mic. What would be the difference in your opinion?

The difference may be between truth and myth. Can you cite a source for your 'understanding'?
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Klaus Heyne
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David Satz

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #17 on: September 24, 2017, 04:40:02 pm »

In addition, the B & K measurement microphone is a pressure transducer with an omnidirectional pickup pattern, while the KM 184 is about 50% a pressure-gradient transducer and only about 50% a pressure transducer, resuting in a cardioid pickup pattern. No one would ever mistake the one microphone for the other, I think, even if the free-field, 0-degree frequency response of both microphones was identical (which I'm rather certain it is not).

--best regards
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