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Author Topic: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone  (Read 2930 times)

Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #30 on: November 13, 2017, 11:16:24 pm »


...Regarding the relatively primitive nature of microphones, even the best ones, compared to our hearing apparatus, I never get tired of citing this example:

Sitting in an auditorium, and listening to a quiet passage of the orchestra, I can tune out the noise of the person sitting next to me rustling her candy wrapper. If I were listening to a recording of this event with a microphone placed where my ear is, I would be royally annoyed by the disturbance.
The brain can analyze sound waves delivered from the ear's sophisticated pathways, and filter out unwanted noise. The relatively primitive rendering of reality by a microphone does not make this possible.

To make such a test formally would I suspect be quite complex and challenging. It would have to be planned and executed very carefully at every stage. I notice you say "If I were listening" and "I would", implying you have never actually constructed such a test, let alone carefully sifted the results.  You just seem to assume that if you did, you would get a certain result. In addition, for the test to be more generally valid, it would have to include many subjects, not just yourself.

 If you have indeed conducted such tests formally and with proper rigour I'd be very interested in exactly how you went about it.

As well, I see a basic psychological hurdle with such a test. If people are listening to a live concert and someone makes continuous disturbing  noises in  quiet sections, what do affected listeners do? They often say "shhh". And if the person doesnt take the hint, they say "shhh" again. They can turn around, and glare  at the person. Then if the person still doesnt comply, action may need to be taken by the staff of the venue to formally warn the person or even remove them from the venue.

Whereas when we are listening to a recording of a concert we as a listener have no such control as the event has already happened. We are impotent to do anything about it. We can have no reasonable confidence that the noise will stop. Yes it would be frustrating and I have heard such recordings myself. Far more frustrating than the live situation where at least there's the possibility we can stop the  person from making the annoying noises...

Added to that is the bias of expectation. We are used to listening to professionally made recordings of live concerts where the microphones have been placed to minimise audience noise (except perhaps when the piece ends and carefully placed audience mics are skillfully faded up). That expectation alone could be hard to completely eliminate when listening to a recording made from a microphone placement position that no professional recordist would seriously consider. 

Just because we passionately believe something to be true doesnt make it true. Presumption  is the bane of science and common sense, and far from advancing our knowledge only keeps us in ignorance, I'd suggest.
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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #31 on: November 14, 2017, 02:36:23 am »

If you have indeed conducted such tests formally and with proper rigour I'd be very interested in exactly how you went about it.
No I haven't and I don't think I need to, because a similar phenomenon, coughing on recordings, is proof enough for me that it's quite hard to ignore that on a recording, and much easier in a concert hall. Adding interactions with the culprit (glaring or worse) in a live context muddles the picture.

Which leaves me with the question, because I am losing track of what you are trying to communicate in all these lengthy posts of yours: Is there or isn't there an accurate microphone you can buy?
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Klaus Heyne
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sonicdogg

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #32 on: November 14, 2017, 01:08:44 pm »

Interesting. Not everyone is able to 'tune out' the offending noisemaker in a live performance setting. I believe it is very much a brain function and at some point a choice by the individual. An example would be when , as a mix engineer, listening 'critically' at certain points of a multi-tracked session and trying to achieve balance, I can 'hear' all the parts but at the same time I am able, by choice, to tune out parts that I'm not engaged with at that moment in time. It doesn't mean they don't exist or are not prevalent, I just choose to ignore them.
 
There isn't a mic that can ignore content as far as I know.
 
Man I love reading this discussion!
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #33 on: November 14, 2017, 03:23:44 pm »

Quote from: klaus
...Is there or isn't there an accurate microphone you can buy?

 Accurate for which purpose? Accurate within which limits?

It's like asking "Is human hearing accurate or isnt it?"
Same reply.




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Jim Williams

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #34 on: November 15, 2017, 12:47:48 pm »

Add the fact that everyone's hearing is and measures differently. Finding/setting a baseline is impossible because everyone has a differing baseline.

One man's Neumann is another man's B+K. I would love to see more research and development into this field but ever since the record biz broke the financial incentives have dried up. The current market share is reduced to clones and reproductions of older existing designs. It's MJ doing the moonwalk.

There are new materials to test and new designs to try out. Further down the road they may get the attention they need but at this point recordists are very comfortable with the choices they now have. That's another incentive that is missing.

The search for the mythical accurate microphone will just have to wait a few more decades. I expect the breakthroughs to come from the science and aerospace community, not the remnents of the recording industry.
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #35 on: November 15, 2017, 10:28:48 pm »

 When someone says that the response of even today's highest fidelity mics is "rough as hell" or that today's mics are "primitive" I ask:

1. Compared to what?
2. What evidence do you have for those claims?
3. How  did (or would) you go about testing those claims?

Tim
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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #36 on: November 15, 2017, 11:37:34 pm »

I did not write the "rough" part. But what I wrote about mics being rather primitive simulations of how we pick up sound, I stand by that. Our ears are sophisticated organs with an ability to discern and process highly complex signals of varying intensity and frequencies with incredibly high resolution, without smear, and three-dimensionally.

Given the choice, wouldn't we all prefer to hear the original source and not the miked copy?

That is not to say that mics are useless. They make up for some of their deficiencies with euphony: enhance or suppress aspects of the original sound, then sprinkle fairy dust over it (ELA M251, U47, etc. etc.)
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Klaus Heyne
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Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #37 on: November 16, 2017, 04:15:33 am »

I did not write the "rough" part.

Quite. The "rough" comment was written on another audio forum, coincidentally by a repairer and servicer of microphones.

Quote from: klaus
But what I wrote about mics being rather primitive simulations of how we pick up sound, I stand by that. Our ears are sophisticated organs with an ability to discern and process highly complex signals of varying intensity and frequencies with incredibly high resolution, without smear, and three-dimensionally.

 Yes F. Alton Everest (1989) referred to hearing as "that marvellous sense" and went into detail as to its amazing complexity and ability, while also mentioning some of its limitations.

But as alluded to earlier, a mic is in a way just the equivalent to the mechanical parts of the  human ear: eardrum, hammer, anvil, stirrup, cochlea perhaps. Just like those human parts, a microphone doesnt pretend to  "discern" or "process" sound. It doesnt need to.  We the human listener do that mental interpreting when the signals from the ears reach our even more amazing brains.

Quote from: klaus
Given the choice, wouldn't we all prefer to hear the original source and not the miked copy?

Of course, not to mention actually being there at the live performance and seeing it all before our eyes. I'm greatly looking forward  to being at this year's live Messiah performance with soloists, combined choir and orchestra at our local university's fine  auditorium. Nothing like it.

But  again, where is the evidence that the reproduction from top mics - even from some  cheaper mics- is "relatively primitive"? I welcome it.
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jaykadis

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #38 on: November 16, 2017, 11:05:44 am »

The human auditory system is far from perfect, but in fact that does not matter because what we perceive is interpreted by the brain into "hearing" incorporating the system's imperfections. The "accurate" microphone's job is simply to present to the auditory system a minimally altered representation of what an ear would have heard had it been in the place of the microphone. Microphones that create a distinctly imperfect representation are sometimes preferred for musical purposes while those that come closer to transducing the air pressure and velocity changes at the point of measurement into electrical signals would be considered to be more "accurate". Both approaches have their uses.


I am still waiting for a true digital microphone that can convert bulk molecular motions into an electrical signal.

Jim Williams

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #39 on: November 16, 2017, 12:47:08 pm »

Any digital based microphone design is limited by the front end that does the electrical conversion of sound pressure waves into an electrical signal. The digitizing comes after, not before the transducer.

Once encoded into an electrical signal, whether analog or digital the problems begin, not end. Then the rest of the system gets to do its destructive influence and removal of any reality that was originally preserved. Speakers are the worst offenders, none of them can approach the THD specs of a well designed microphone. Stick 5~10% THD on top of a low THD signal and it's a wonder we can discern any quality left at all.

In the end, electrical based audio reproduction sucks in it's ability to preserve the "moment". Until something else comes along, it's all we have right now besides the live experience.
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jaykadis

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #40 on: November 16, 2017, 02:15:21 pm »

I envision a transducer that quantizes the air movement and force exerted at the molecular level, integrating the individual contributions in the device itself. Materials like graphene might make such a transducer possible, for instance. Thus the digitization becomes part of the transduction itself rather than a subsequent measurement. Clearly, this does not currently exist.

No argument about loudspeakers - they suck no matter how much money you throw at them.

Timtape

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #41 on: November 17, 2017, 05:30:17 am »

The human auditory system is far from perfect, but in fact that does not matter because what we perceive is interpreted by the brain into "hearing" incorporating the system's imperfections. The "accurate" microphone's job is simply to present to the auditory system a minimally altered representation of what an ear would have heard had it been in the place of the microphone.

Not that I'm aware of. Mics normally output relatively flat. The human ear's response is not flat. It  has a special response a la the Fletcher Munson curves.  If mics responsed like the ear they would have a pronounced wide band peak centred  around 3 kHz and would sound overly midrange to us. But to take account of this fact, there are "weighting curves" incorporated in sound level meters which approximate how humans perceive sound levels and can be more realistic in some measurement situations.

Mics dont take the place of the ear. 




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jaykadis

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #42 on: November 17, 2017, 11:52:10 am »

You misunderstand. The "accurate" microphone's job is to present to the ear what it would have received as input if it had been where the microphone was placed.

Unfortunately we also need a loudspeaker to deliver that stimulus to the ear so we're screwed regardless of how good the microphone gets at its job.

soapfoot

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #43 on: November 17, 2017, 12:20:01 pm »

My life got a lot easier (and my recordings got a lot better) when I ditched any illusion of (or aspiration for) "accuracy," and began to just listen and choose the subjectively best option.

The entire goal of recording is good sound. I am confident in my ability to use discretion, experience, and judgment to make that determination. I don't need any number or specification as a cosigner.
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klaus

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Re: The Myth of the Accurate Microphone
« Reply #44 on: November 17, 2017, 12:22:29 pm »

Amen!
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Klaus Heyne
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