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

Why Most 'Mic Shootouts' Are Fundamentally Flawed

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--- Quote from: klaus on June 28, 2020, 01:10:37 PM ---
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 several 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?

--- End quote ---

I agree, Klaus. The SM58 is equalised for close vocals, the U47 isn't. At the same distance, they will sound very different. Used as per their respective user manuals, not nearly so different.

This is what I am talking about. Lining up the capsules of five mics in one plane, without any regard for the individual sweet spots which rarely if ever coincide.

Case im point on this picture: a dual-backplate mic design with considerable low-frequency processing (U67) will prduce an entirely different proximity effect than a single backplate mic with zero electronic frequency shaping of the low end (U47)

Two years after starting this thread people continue to distribute "shootouts"on the internet without documenting methodologies or identifying vital sound-shaping microphone components. Results are then consumed and commented on, again, with no inquiries into methodology or (sub)component details.
To sum up and expand on the fallacies of this approach:

1. Ignorance and incuriosity persists about the unscientific, untenable methodology applied to these comparison tests. Methods are never disclosed or detailed by the producers and never questioned by the consumers - an unscientific, wobbly foundation to forming a fact-based opinion or to making an informed purchase decision.

2. As prices for vintage originals (which are then often "shot out" against current-production copies of the same model) have skyrocketed in recent years, "shootouts" also have skyrocketed, which can give a potential buyer with limited financial means the illusion of being able to achieve sonic excellence on the cheap.

3. Test conditions are so far beyond any realistic setup and working experience encountered in professional recording scenarios that a microphone costing less than 1/10 of another one it is compared to, sounds somehow indistinguishable from it.

4. Lively discussions ensue about a 60+ year-old M49 having a "slightly preferable" midrange, compared to a brand-new M49V reissue, without verifying capsule version and condition, tube health, power supply voltages, and other vital checks. This is akin to comparing performance of two otherwise similar cars - one veteran, one brand-new, one worth millions, the other a mere fraction - without as much as opening the hood.

As demonstrated in my previous post with photo, disregarding the relevance and individual variation the proximity effect has on pressure gradient microphones does gross disservice when evaluating a mic's optimal distance from a sound source.

Here is another example of the "sin of equal distance" (and another example demonstrating the ultimate sin of compqring mics with different capsule topology at the same, unrealistic distance from the sound source): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTUcnWDMPJs

What is also striking to me: true professionals working in successful commercial studios never participate in these amateur contests. It's usually people publishing these tests who have some sort of financial interest in the results, or buyers who have succumbed to confirmation bias: I own the cheaper copy, and, see? It's just as good!

So why then even bother talking about it?
In the absence of rigorous discussion outside of self-interest, and by continuing to ignore pleas to use a more scientific methodology when examining sonic impressions of high-end microphones, the current trend of sloppy mic comparisons will eventually take hold and become the new working standard.

It will cause headaches, heartaches and remorse down the road for those who took these tests seriously and made purchasing decisions based on them.

One point about positioning the mics in the same place.

It doesnít really reflect how someone would tend to position a mic in typical context. It does reveal differences with proximity effect, and possibly some other differences.

At GS, someone made a thread titled something like U47 Test 2. It may be the first time Iíve really engaged in one of these comparisons, and the main reason I did is to deflate the idea that all of the mics actually sounded like U47. It was quite easy to discern the brand of each mic, and a fair amount of that was because of the copy mics not having proper proximity response/sub bass extension. There were other discrepancies of course.

If a user just worked the mic as typical, the discrepancy in proximity effect would have been less clear because there would be another factor involved.

When it comes to recording, the proof is in the pudding. It is always fair to judge a mic by a recording created with the mic, itís just that the judgement should be limited.

It is important to stress:

* Differences in proximity effect between microphones are magnified the closer you get to the capsule.

* Differences between capsules (and their processors which amplify the capsule's output) need to be recognized in comparison tests. Therefore, each mic should be positioned to its sweet spot, where the mic's proximity and other characteristics are subjectively perceived to be optimal.

But few testers seem to have the courage to involve what I find is paramount when evaluating microphones: making a decision at what distance a microphone sounds best. THEN you have something worth comparing.


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