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Weird Gear - Microphone Shootout!
By The Mesmers - 7/31/2006

My purchase of yet another microphone prompted us to do a classic microphone shootout/comparison and review of our inventory. We've acquired up quite a slew of the sound-grabbers so it was nice to take stock of their sonic variation. What is the character of each mic? Which is best for what application?

So here it is for your consumption: a classic microphone shootout complete with audio files for you to listen to, info on how it was all recorded and mixed, and info and our reviews of the mics. We'll be adding more mics to the list as time goes by.

If you find any of this info useful feel free to show your appreciation by buying one of our CDs. Thanks!

Large Diaphragm Condensers
Manely Reference Gold Listen speaker About
coming soon Neumann KMS-105 Coming Soon
Rode K2 Listen speaker About
Rode NT1 Listen speaker About
coming soon Electro-Voice n/d 3578 Coming Soon
coming soon Sennheiser 421MD II - (M) Coming Soon
coming soon Sure SM57 Coming Soon
coming soon Sure SM58 Coming Soon
coming soon Sure Beta 58 Coming Soon
coming soon Turner 33d Coming Soon
coming soon Turner 99 Coming Soon
coming soon Turner 9d Coming Soon
Ribbon (Velocity)
coming soon RCA Varacoustic - (p) Listen speaker About
coming soon RCA Varacoustic - (V) Listen speaker About
Altec 639b Altec 639b - (R) Listen speaker About
Altec 639b Altec 639b - (D) Listen speaker About
Altec 639b Altec 639b - (C) Listen speaker About
coming soon Turner 101c Coming Soon
All Mics Combined Listen speaker

How The Recording Was Done

The recording chain was:

Microphone -> Yamaha PM-2000 -> MOTU 828 mk II -> Tracktion

All mics were set to cardioid mode (where applicable) with no bass roll-off (again, where applicable), and positioned on-axis about 6 inches from the singer.

The Yamaha PM-2000 preamp is built with discrete opamps (with standard 990 pinout, although mine are still filled with the original Yamaha NE80100 and NE80200) running in class A/B. The inputs and outputs run through Tamura transformers, but for this test we tapped the signal (unbalanced) at the insert point so the output tranny isn't in the signal path. This pre definitely has it's own vibe but can sound somewhat API-like when pushed.

The MOTU is set to record at 24 bit/48k with the input channel set at +4; despite the -6 output level at the insert point (sue me). I have to "jiggle" the power toggle between us/europe every couple weeks in order to eliminate clicks on output... guess I should have saved for the RME.

Recording was done using the fabulous Tracktion software by Mackie (cough... cough... we are currently entertaining endorsements). Special thanks to Julian Storer for this great piece of software.

NOTE: Fitz was smothered in Realtraps during recording but you can still hear ceiling reflections on mics with figure-8 and omni pickup patterns (mostly the Altec). I don't normally care but it can be distracting when comparing the mics (sue me again).


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How the Mixing Was Done

All the recordings presented here have no EQ, reverb, or compression applied and the guitar is mixed deliberately way back. Each vocal take was normalized and mixed at an identical level with the guitar. The differences you're hearing are almost entirely due to the microphones themselves and this test should provide a pretty good approximation of the timber of each. If anyone is really interested we can provide you with the wav files instead of the mp3s.

The issue of consistency of the takes themselves comes into play as well, but listening back I have to say I was pretty even throughout. In fact, listen to all the mics combined:


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Altec 639b

Altec 639b  microphone

The Altec 659b is a gorgeous looking mic and was highly innovative for its time. It incorporated both ribbon (velocity) and dynamic elements as well as variable pickup patterns. It also has the distinction of being the only ribbon mic with a creased element.

For purposes of this test we used the cardiod pattern and put the mic into three different modes:

The sound was excellent and both Jay and I loved the "D" position on my vocals. This mic will mostly likely be putting in an appearance on the next album.

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Manely Reference Gold

RODE k2 microphone

"Ahh!" we both sighed when we heard this. Smooth, rounded, and "sweetened" in that elusive but magical way. THIS is a great microphone with all the sheen and gloss befitting it's exorbitant price tag (only great luck on EBay landed it in our hands). The sound is also noticeably more compressed that the two RODEs. This will most likely be the vocal sound for the next album. Highly recommended.

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RCA Varacoustic

RCA Varacoustic microphone

This is a high-quality, vintage ribbon microphone from the 30s that was used widely in music and radio. Interestingly, this model was used on the old radio show The Shadow! (insert mad cackling laugh here)

Jay loves it on acoustic guitar. We both liked it on my voice but found the Altec to be a bit more flattering. It's warm and rounded but almost too much so for my baritone timber. I imagine it would really shine on a more strident vocalist.

We recorded it in two of its three positions: P and V, but we don't really know what those letters stand for.

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Rode K2

RODE k2 microphone

This microphone will always have a warm spot in our hearts as it was used for almost all the vocals on the first album. We'll probably move on to other gear for the second record but this handsome piece of Australian hardware served us quite well.

I like the sound of this mic. Very "tubey" and vintage, but Jay declared it was like "an ice pick to the forehead" in comparison to some of the other mics. It certainly sound cheaper or more lo-fi than then Manley, but that's not always a bad thing...

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Rode NT1

no image

This mic is often now derided as being the instigator of innumerable "cheap Chinese condenser mics with over-hyped high ends" but back when it was released it was hailed as revolutionary for offering reasonable condenser mic performance at a fraction of the competition's price.

This was my "ice pick in the forehead" mic. I thought the sound was thin and so over-hyped on the high end that it was actually painful to listen to. Ugh! Jay liked it and thought it sat well with the guitar. I doubt we'll use it on vocals but we've been testing it with recording bass with good results.

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By The Mesmers - 7/31/2006 |