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Three microphone tested on female vocal - the results!

Last week, Record-Producer.com tested three microphones on female vocal. Which did you prefer? Could you identify the tube mic? The answers are here...


Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who responded in the recent microphone test. It takes courage to put your ears on the line and test your perception in this way. Also, it takes courage to risk having one's long-time established preconceptions tested. We all have them, myself included.

It's worth going over the test conditions once again, for clarity. Remember that this is only one test - one person singing with standardized microphone positioning. With a different singer, the result might be different. And where the mic position is kept as much as possible the same for each mic, plainly there is no opportunity to optimize the position for each mic. That would be a different test, and useful in different ways. But although any one test can never be definitive, it helps build up an overall picture of what a mic really sounds like. The test conditions are these...

  • The three microphones were set up as close as practical to each other, at the same distance and angle to the sound source. So the performance you hear is identical for each mic.
  • The preamplifier was a Focusrite Octopre. Gains were set appropriately for each mic, but very quickly so we didn't lose a take.
  • The recording was made to 24-bit resolution on a Pro Tools HD system. The best take was selected and edited out, then each track was normalized over the duration of that take. The bounce was done using 16-bit dither.

These are my findings (but bear in mind I already know which mic is which)...

Mic 1 to me sounds fairly accurate. Not too much or too little of any frequency band, not noticeably distorted in any way. It captures the sound pretty much as it is, ready for further processing and blending into the mix. I would be happy to use this mic.

Mic 3 (notice I skipped one) is definitely on the bright side. In fact I would say that in comparison to the others it is on the brash side. Although I would be happy to use this mic if it were the only one available, to me - once again in comparison with the others - it sounds cheap. There could be a reason for that - it is cheap!

Now, Mic 2... When I auditioned the tracks soon after recording, an associate happened to come in. He is an engineer whose perception of sound and skill in working with sound and music I greatly respect. Without knowing what I was doing, nor looking at the screen, he heard the three tracks and when he heard Mic 2 he was almost jumping up and down in excitement. His description was that the sound was "just there" and didn't need any EQ. He further speculated about what he could do to it with his Gyratec X, but that's another story.

Anyway, my view of Mic 2 is that it is audibly distorted, to an extent that would be noticeable even in isolation, not needing a comparison test to bring it out. However, it is a nice distortion. The history of recording since the 1950's has schooled our ears to like this sound. It is the sound of recording.

Oh by the way, I like Mic 2.

But you don't want to know what I think, do you? You want the real results. And here they are...

Selected as preference Identified as tube
Mic 1 0 1
Mic 2 14 3
Mic 3 10 16

What is very interesting is that Mic 2 is the majority preference, yet Mic 3 is identified by most as the tube mic. This indicates that people don't prefer a mic just because it happens to have a tube in it, they go for the sound.

Mic 1: Neumann U87
Mic 2: Neumann M147 (tube)
Mic 3: Shure SM58

All the mics are recent and undamaged. This was the first time this particular M147 was used.

The first response is clearly going to be to ask why the U87 received no votes of preference. Not one. One possibility is that it captured a neutral sound and therefore lacks character. Perhaps we prefer mics that have something other than a bland sound.

But that doesn't mean the U87 is a bad mic. If a mic is neutral in character, it is easier to do things to the sound with EQ and compression. There is no way the 'tubiness' of the M147 can be removed, nor the 'cheapness' of the SM58.

I'm not going to come to a conclusion since plainly this is only one test out of an infinity of possible ways these mics can be used.

However, next time I'm recording vocals, first out of the mic cupboard will definitely be the Neumann M147. Luvvit!

Do you want to comment on this article? Then please bear in mind the following points:

If you think that testing in general is invalid, please explain why.

If you think that this particular test is flawed, within its stated parameters, please explain why.

If you have suggestions on how this particular test could have been better performed, within its stated parameters, your comments are welcome.

Suggestions for other microphone tests are welcome.

Please click here if there are broken links or missing images in this article

By David Mellor Monday March 13, 2006

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