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Author Topic: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?  (Read 13683 times)

soapfoot

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics
« Reply #15 on: May 27, 2013, 09:28:35 am »

Another thing worth mentioning is that frequency response is but one factor in determining how a mic will sound.

At a minimum, there is also the time domain to deal with... i.e. the question of "does any part of the system create leading or lagging phase shifts at some frequenc(ies) or another?"

Other possible questions: how does a mic respond to and recover from transients? How, if at all, does its behavior change when in demanding applications?

But honestly, in application/use, all this stuff becomes pretty useless (to me) to think about intellectually. Art is a sensual enterprise, so you select the tool or color that gives you the result that you emotionally respond to, or the one that allows you to work quickly enough to capture the performance you emotionally respond to. It really needn't be more complicated or objective than that.

There's a time and place for comparisons and "shootouts," too, and for me that time and place is usually NOT in the middle of a session. From a production standpoint, I personally do not like to interrupt a creative flow by auditioning a bunch of microphones on every source. Sometimes, a session can be logistically planned to allow time at less-inspired periods for such "housekeeping," but for those times when there's a creative 'flow' happening, it can be better in my experience to just put something up and roll. Over time, the aggregate of experience leads one to predict what will likely work well, or narrow it down to one or two. I personally would much rather capture the best performance on the second-best microphone than the other way around.

So yeah, my mentality is to learn as much as possible about the characteristics of different microphones so that I as a producer may work with the engineer to make sound guesses in the heat of battle. But to me, this learning is best done experientially first, and intellectually a (distant) second.
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Jim Williams

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics
« Reply #16 on: May 27, 2013, 02:03:49 pm »

"Best mic for that singer" is one of those old wive's tales I hear repeated every few years.

What choice is best? Most accurate, or one that adds a little "something" someone subjectivly likes? Which 'chief subjective judge' makes the final decision? The artist, the producer, the label?

Many times I have had to switch mics on the same singer when the key changed just to retain some consistancy between tracks. Sing in G and maybe you found your "magic mic". Change to C and all that goes out the window.

As for Adel, although she's not my cup-o-tea  I believe that any decent mic would do the job well. So it goes with good talent.

This reminds me of one day back in 1980 when I was on tour with Stevie Wonder. Me, Steve and Calvin walked into the huge, all tiled restroom in the old Boston Garden, home of the Celtics. Steve was doing vocal warmups, scales and things. The tone on his voice was amazing. While standing next to him at a urinal, I said, "Wish we could get that sound back at Wonderland". Steve turns and says to me, "tell me about it".

That day I learned that there is no microphone, nowhere on this planet, not at any cost that can sound as good as Stevie, as that is where the magic comes from. Everything that follows is a lessening. Work with that level of artist you will learn that too. Recording is a compromise. To me it's an exersize in controlling losses.
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klaus

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics
« Reply #17 on: May 28, 2013, 08:54:29 pm »

The first link in the chain is not the microphone but the singer, the voice, the song, the performance.
I thought I made it clear that with "recording chain" I meant equipment and components. Sorry if I was not explicit.

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I read this comment about the 21 album:  "If the chain has Adele in it, its going to sound really really really good.  You'd need some seriously shoddy equipment to screw that one up."  An overstatement of course but I see the point nonetheless.
If the point is: "no matter what mic used, she will always sound fabulous" I'd reply: no, she won't; and she or her producer, faced with "shoddy equipment" (i.e. mic, for this discussion) will fire the studio, engineer, or whoever else made her voice sound less that spectacular.
And here we come to the core issue: the art of recording. The art of choosing the right mic will elevate most artists from competent to special, and from special to spectacular in some cases. A case in point: as far as I know, Frank Sinatra has never used a U67, despite its ubiquity in professional studios. He would not sound very authoritative with such a choice. Another case in point: I helped a famous singer with plenty of platinum sales under her belt transition from a U47 to an M49, because that mic complemented her strong points and suppressed some of the stridency in her range. She never went back (this was 20 years ago).

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If you can use the one mic for 95% of vocals, is that because that mic is "shaping the sound" or because it is not shaping the sound, and is rather just rendering the performance faithfully to the audio recorder?
Given the fact that a mic is but a poor simulation of how we hear, I want from a mic what it can actually deliver: an ability to simulate and euphemize, to the point that it enhances my listening experience, "reality" be damned. Yes, a mic can simulate reality to a small degree (i.e. recognition that what I am hearing resembles a real source), and making the musical event connect with me emotionally, by choosing the right equipment and complementary signal chain. That process, in the hands and ears of an experienced professional, will render a euphemism, and it will be arrived at mostly by intuition (read nobturner's eloquent post), just like that of the pit boss of a racing stall at Le Mans choosing the right tire composition for a race, depending on a multitude of factors.

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On dynamics, sure the mic must capture those faithfully but from there it's a production choice as to how to render those dynamics in the final product.
I don't know of any vocal recording whose dynamic range was not severely reduced, compared to the actual range of the singer.

As to other sonic manipulations that you believe could alter the character of a mic to the point of total loss of recognition: not really. You can at best retain the character of a mic  during the production/processing stage, but you cannot fundamentally alter it and retain quality. We know this from the dismal failure of mic emulators' promises.

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How did you know the ELA M251 was used on the Adele sessions? Did you work that out just from listening to the track or did you find out from other sources?
I don't really know. (I sent the producer an email). But it has the hallmark of that mic- an overall timbre, and type of overload on very loud passages I think I recognize (and love). 

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Klaus Heyne
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Timtape

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #18 on: May 29, 2013, 01:36:38 am »

Thanks for the responses. Too much to respond to in one go so I will just reiterate the main issue.

Basically I question the notion that 10 top producers would independently of each other, all choose the same vocalist and mic combination. I'm happy to be shown conclusive evidence that they consistently would, but without that evidence, I regard it as verging on, as one person might call it, "magical thinking".

Recently I got myself into forum hot water by pointing out that in a "mic shootout" conducted by a well know  magazine, the expert listeners  came to the same agreement as to which mic suited which vocalist, after a group discussion, rather than casting their choice secretly and independently.

From a practical point of view, I encounter many novices on forums who have all sorts of audio problems which often  turn out to be unrelated to the mic, and yet the number of times they mistakenly implicate the mic suggests there is some basic misunderstanding going on here.
 A chain is only as good as its weakest link. Sometimes that weakest link is the mic but often it isnt. The weakest link may not even be gear related at all but rather lack of skill and technique in using what you already have.

Cheers Tim 
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klaus

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #19 on: May 29, 2013, 03:25:52 am »

Well stated. And don't even get me started on "mic shootouts"!
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Klaus Heyne
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Jim Williams

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #20 on: May 29, 2013, 12:11:35 pm »

The mic is just one factor. The cable, mic preamp and conversion can have an equal amount of sonic influence. Post processing, compression, EQ, etc. makes it even more unlikely anyone can ever guess what was used with any certainty. After a year or so, I can't remember what I used either, if anyone ever asked.

I can think of about a dozen or two mics that could be used, no idea on compression, EQ, autotune, etc. No, no guesses from me!

I do find frequency plots helpful. Polar plots are even more helpful. Better to have some information than none. You can get a general idea what you will get looking at one, especially if it's done individually for that one mic. Like a score or a schematic, you do need to know how to read them.
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soapfoot

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #21 on: May 29, 2013, 01:39:45 pm »

Jim,

It's funny that you should mention the cable.  I have thought about this a bit lately-- It's something to which I seldom if ever pay attention. I do know from experience that low-level instrument cable runs can vary sonically from make to make (and certainly from length to length).  I've always considered it possible that the same could be true for line-level balanced runs, but I haven't experimented much.

You place it here in a list with microphone, preamp, and conversion. I'd always assumed its importance would be much further down-list from these parts of the chain. Is that a flawed assumption, in your opinion?
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Timtape

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #22 on: May 30, 2013, 05:37:39 am »

Brad,
Jim hasnt chimed in yet although I'm sure he will.

Here's a quick response FWIW:
 If we start with a good quality balanced cable, fed by a good 150 ohm mic its influence on the sound will be negligible on short runs. Beyond some cable length it will start to have an influence, first as a slight loss at the highest frequency we are considering, say 20khz.

But I think the effect of the cable length can be easily overstated.  On typical runs back to a mixer at the back of a medium sized venue I would have thought it was pretty negligible and other factors such as mic placement and use, would have a far greater impact.

Unless these losses can actually be quantified, in this case as a loss in db at a certain frequency, per a certain length of cable, it can all get a bit wooly, and misunderstandings can abound. Again, it has to be quantified. That puts it in some sort of perspective.

For me, if I was mixing sound  at a live gig and the length of mic cable was creating a loss of 1db at 20khz, it would not bother me in the slightest, at least not to the point of feeling the need to install  low output impedance distribution amps back to the mixer! 

Cheers Tim

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soapfoot

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #23 on: May 30, 2013, 11:35:34 am »

Unless these losses can actually be quantified, in this case as a loss in db at a certain frequency, per a certain length of cable, it can all get a bit wooly, and misunderstandings can abound. Again, it has to be quantified. That puts it in some sort of perspective.

See, measurable quantifiability is not that important to me-- only repeatable perceptual differences (as in "I can consistently hear and confirm a preference for one or another.")

I'm OK with things getting a bit nebulous and unquantified and "wooly." To me it's not important that I measure a difference, only that I can hear one-- and my personal experience leads me to feel that the two are not necessarily intuitively correlated (or, more to the point, we don't always know to measure for the right thing!)  Again, (relating squarely to the more central thrust of this thread), measurable frequency response is only ONE part of the story-- and what happens in one system may change when employed in another system (with different impedances for source and load, etc)*. 

To quote my friend and colleague Allen Farmelo, a big part of what we do constitutes "skating on the thin ice above Lake Placebo."  We're often dealing with very fine grades of perception here, and that's OK.  Sometimes you only feel a wisp or hint of a difference, or preference... on another day it may not be there, or you may have the opposite preference. Some preferences are only built up or understood over time, with context and experience. This is all OK with me and doesn't drive me up the wall... it's all just a part of those tiny improvements that (hopefully) add up in aggregate to a superior result.

People have different styles. Some are really unsettled by the notion of accepting something that cannot be proven with non-listening test results. I'm more of the camp that the best methodology for determining how something sounds is to listen to it. 


* this is actually another thing we really should bring up here regarding the marginal (at best) utility of documentation purporting to show a microphone's performance. If a microphone has, say, a 50 ohm output impedance but we amplify it with a preamp expecting to see a 600 ohm input, it can change the performance rather noticeably... ringing/overshoot, changes in frequency response, etc.

Certain microphones are more sensitive to this than others... older RCA ribbons can have dramatic changes in high-frequency extension depending on the input impedance of whatever you're amping them with.

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Jim Williams

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #24 on: May 30, 2013, 12:05:08 pm »

Cable differences can usually be heard here only because anything that could mask those differences has been already corrected/optimized. It is the last step after everything else is exhausted. I wouldn't bother unless you have done everything else to the system first.

Being said, anyone can do these 'tests'. I use either Ray Kimber's excellent stuff or I use military silver/teflon braids or low capacitance LAN cable like Belden 9182.

Set up a fast, clear condenser mic and get a 20 foot run of Ray Kimber's AGSS pure silver/teflon 3 braid. Swap to any other 20 ft. cable, it's very easy to hear the differences. At $80 per foot, you ought to. Steady-state signals from analyzers don't replicate the violent dynamics of real music. This is why that Kimber wire may not measure any differently in the audio band than a common XLR cable. Run it through a 100 mhz network analyzer and the differences start to show up.

Most will never experience this level of resolution, the admission price keeps the masses out of that venue. For many musicians, it will expose too many mistakes and may not gain favor with them.
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Timtape

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #25 on: May 30, 2013, 02:22:41 pm »

See, measurable quantifiability is not that important to me-- only repeatable perceptual differences (as in "I can consistently hear and confirm a preference for one or another.")


To me the two go hand in had, and are not opposed to one another.

These days I cant hear anything above about 11khz. Should I ignore what the measuring instruments are telling me about what is going  on above 11khz just because I cant personally hear it? I suggest I would be a fool to ignore it.

Cheers Tim
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klaus

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #26 on: May 31, 2013, 07:08:43 pm »

If we start with a good quality balanced cable, fed by a good 150 ohm mic its influence on the sound will be negligible on short runs.
Says who? My experience has taught me otherwise. There are significant enough differences between cables, that I throw in the type and length of cable I use for my work with all of my mods, so that I have some control over combination and the end result.
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Unless these losses can actually be quantified... it can all get a bit wooly, and misunderstandings can abound. Again, it has to be quantified.
To this day, hard science has been unable to quantify some the most important parameters in audio, due to the complexity of scientifically analyzing how a sensory perception comes about and how its nerve signals are to be interpreted (the ears are the transmitters here, like the nose is for olfactory sensations, the palate for gustatory, etc. ) You can call it "wooly", but it's unrealistic, and, for the sake of good audio, entirely unproductive to discard a whole category of experiences, only because our microscopes are not good enough to "quantify" them and establish a easy link to causality.

Think of psychiatry as an example: no bio markers have ever been conclusively linked to any psychological diagnosis; yet, we readily accept that some people suffer from PTSD, schizophrenia, etc...

I find this endless discussion about "can't measure (cable, capsule, tube, amp, etc.) differences, therefore none exist" tiring, and am personally done with it, certainly on my forum. Believe what you wish, but, as with religion, it would be best to respect those who don't share yours, and leave it at that.


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Klaus Heyne
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Jim Williams

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #27 on: June 01, 2013, 01:04:34 pm »

See, measurable quantifiability is not that important to me-- only repeatable perceptual differences

That is a logical concept if you only mix for yourself. For those with greater sensory perceptions, that is sonic robbery.

Sort of like raving about the latest deaf musician or blind artist.
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soapfoot

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #28 on: June 02, 2013, 09:34:34 am »

Jim,

Point noted.  I should have phrased it differently, I suppose.

In cases where I can hear a difference between two things, I'm not overly concerned with which "measures" better, only that which sounds nicer to me. In those cases where I can't hear a difference, there's no harm in going with the one that ticks all the boxes from an objective standpoint, I guess.
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Jim Williams

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Re: Actual frequency response of high end mics: how useful?
« Reply #29 on: June 03, 2013, 11:33:06 am »

If your hearing bandwidth is 11k hz, I would use another person to gut check the tracks for me. It's no different than using another set of eyes to see the details your tired eyes miss.

Got a kid?
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