R/E/P > Klaus Heyne's Mic Lab

Why Most 'Mic Shootouts' Are Fundamentally Flawed

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I hate them. Never listen to sound samples, and never in my life would I evaluate microphones that way. Not even for clients who beg me.

1. Sound samples recorded with MP3 or other lossy formats obliterate the subtle characteristics we cherish in a good microphone- characteristics we reward by paying disproportionate financial premiums for that last bit of quality.

2. The intended audience is never present when these 'shootouts' are made. For all we know, totally different mics, preamps, cables, distances were used that may favor one mic over the other, regardless of a mic's true merit as recording tool in a real-world working environment.

3. Speaking of distances: here is the most overlooked and biggest flaw of shootouts - a flaw so big, it will render any comparison between two or more mics pointless and inconclusive: to position several mics at the same exact distance from the sound source.

We see pictures of totally different microphones with totally different sensitivities and timbres being meticulously lined up so that their capsules were aligned within millimeters - all in service to the illusion of scientific objectivity. As if we didn't know that every mic has its own sweet spot- a factor recording professionals pay close attention to. Who would place an SM58 and a U47 at the same distance from the singer?

There is science and then there is stupidity.

The SoundPure videos are the worst. They start out by saying how crazy a person must be to even want the vintage piece of equipment in their test. Little hints throughout like “thankfully, the original LA2A didn’t malfunction during our test.”

David Satz:
Klaus, I agree strongly with what you've said here. If two microphones are the same make and model and ought to sound the same, a direct comparison is a nice, quick way to check that. If they're variations on the same basic thing (e.g. a KM 84 vs. a KM 140 or KM 184), sure. If you know something about one of the microphones, then after such a comparison you will know something about the other one, too.

But when two microphones have inherently different characteristics, your judgment that microphone "X" sounds better than microphone "Y" in setup "A" tells you nothing about which one will sound better in setup "B", let alone "C", "D" or "E". Your preference may be a total fluke--particularly if you weren't there when the recording was made.

--best regards

Studio work is mic shootout all the time.

You set a mic, don't get the sound you're after, try another one.
Only in real world's practical use can a mic show its qualities, over time.

There are too many variables involved to arrange a test scenario with universal validity:

Today the saxophone sounds best with a Schoeps, next day the next sax player needs a Sennheiser MD421 - those mics are worlds apart in a "shootout", so are the saxes ;D

A well sorted mic locker helps.

It's easy to "impress" a client vocalist who knows nothing about microphones and production, that testing ten different microphones on his or her voice  - all this wonderful personal attention - which extra time the performer may well be paying for - is justified in the cause of producing a  superior product.

That the "expert" is searching for the mic that allegedly best "matches" this one voice seems superficially impressive especially if the vocalist doesnt know any better.

What is the evidence that it works or is the best method? And best method for achieving what exactly?



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