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Seven pro microphones tested, with audio - THE RESULTS!

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 06, 2006
So you think you can spot a Neumann U87 from a Shure SM58? Many Record-Producer.com visitors tried. Here are the surprising results...
Seven pro microphones tested, with audio - THE RESULTS!

Firstly an enormous thank you to everyone who responded. It takes courage to put your ears 'on the line' and risk being shot down in flames by people who are not willing to be tested themselves.

Here are the mics again (right click, save target as)...

Before I tell you what the mics are, maybe I should tell you my own preferences for this application. Bear in mind that it is me speaking, and I don't know what my voice is supposed to sound like. So I'm just saying which mics I prefer.

My favorite is definitely Mic 5. It has a full sound, sibilance is not too excessive, and although the bass end is exaggerated due to the proximity effect, it could be tamed with EQ.

Mic 6 is my second favorite. In fact I find it hard to tell from Mic 5. The difference to my ears is that the sibilance is starting to 'clog up' a little with just a hint more HF distortion.

My third favorite is Mic 1, which surprises me (since I know which mic it is, and I never previously thought that I rated it highly). I find the EQ balance to be somewhat adrift, but it could be corrected with a little effort. In terms of sibilance, I find this mic completely acceptable. In fact if I think long enough I might decide it is my favorite after all. But Mic 5 is more ready to use 'straight out of the box'.

Fourth is Mic 7. The sound is good - nice and crisp. What I don't like about this mic, and I never have, is the fact that when you handle the mic, the housing makes a very characteristic sound as it rubs against the skin, and I will swear that I can hear this in the sound of the mic. I'm going to devise a test for myself on this point, to see whether I really can hear it. But I feel as though I can, and sometimes that's all that matters.

Same applies to Mic 4, but even more so. So Mic 4 comes in in position five.

Starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel now. In next-to-last position six is Mic 3. It is excessively sibilant and 'boxy'. Perhaps the pattern isn't as tight and it is picking up more room sound. But in this application I just find it unpleasant.

Absolutely last is Mic 2. The frequency response is all over the place, and the bass is so exaggerated that it is picking up ventilation noise from outside the booth (in which ventilation was switched off and I was suffocating).

So, the results, from your response, and the mics identified...

Mic Votes (best) Votes (next to worst) Votes (worst)
1 AKG C1000S 2 2 7 AKG C1000S
2 AKG D112 1 3 17 AKG D112
3 Sennheiser MD421 8 3 4 Sennheiser MD421
4 Rode NT2 6 1 1
5 Shure SM57 7 0 0 Shure SM57
6 Shure SM58 12 2 0 Shure SM58
7 Neumann U87 6 7 3 Neumann U87

So the winner (in this application) is...

The Shure SM58!

And the loser is the AKG D112, but you could have expected that which is why I asked for the 'next to worst' preference. As a bass instrument mic however, it is in a class of its own.

So the real worst mic is the AKG C1000S, followed by the Neumann U87.

In my earlier test where the Neumann compared unfavorably with the Shure SM58, several people commented that the U87 must be broken. Well if Neumann's quality control is so bad that they supply mics that are broken when they leave the factory, this could be a possibility. This is a new example of a U87 and my first test was, I believe, the first time the mic was used. Nevertheless, I will take the trouble to test it against another sample of a U87. If the result is interesting, I'll publish it here.

In conclusion... actually there isn't a conclusion. Choice of microphones is very subjective, and you should always choose the one that sounds best to you.

But Shure will probably be raking in some extra SM58 sales. Better buy one quick before they see this and put the price up!

Notes on the testing procedure

As you might have noticed, these microphone tests have upset more than a few people. So to answer commonly made points, here is the official Audio Masterclass opinion on testing...

  • Testing is good.
  • Objective testing can illuminate subjective opinion.
  • There is no such thing as a conclusive test that denies anyone the right to an opinion.
  • Although a series of comparative tests should only have one variable, often it is impossible to achieve this - in testing microphones for the voice for example.
  • Tests are most useful when the parameters of a particular test are clearly stated. However, a test does not necessarily have to be made in clean-room laboratory conditions to be useful.
  • A test for one application, i.e. speech, does not necessarily predict performance in another, i.e. singing.

Comments on this are welcome. Please remember that the majority of Audio Masterclass visitors are very serious about audio and prefer comments to be constructive. For instance, "These tests are invalid" is not constructive. "These tests are invalid because..." will hopefully lead to a constructive and informative addition to the debate.

A post by David Mellor
Monday February 06, 2006 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)