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How big of a difference are we really talking about?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by TheArchitect, May 29, 2005.

  1. TheArchitect

    TheArchitect Active Member

    I've been researching any number of mics in the under $1k category and I find myself not really seeing a lot of difference between them on paper at least and even when it comes to reviews. Since its not really practical to test drive that many mics thats what I have to go with at least to narrow the field a bit. So the questions are these....

    Is a $3-500 Audio Technica really any better or worse than a $3-500 mic from any other name mfg? Same question for other price points like a kel HM1 vs AT2020? Finally, 4 figures for a mic just isn't in the cards for the forseeable future as I am upgrading my Pre's and sound card. So, are we talking about night and day differences between say a Neuman TLM-103 and a AT3035 or is it a more subtle improvement? With better pre's these differences would become more pronounced I would assume since there are fewer preamp anomalies to disguise them?
     
  2. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    I am gonna say yes and no.
    I am such an ass. :lol:
    But seriously, I say yes because...the Audio Technica's are nice mic's.
    But I also say no because...I wouldn't recomend getting any 3 mic's the same. Not if you are strapped for cash.
    Why not get 3 different mic's.
    Heres my point, each mic sounds different (unless they are the same type of mic of course) and each mic recreates the instruments signal differently.
    So, some mic's can do 1 or 2 things great. And thats about it. And other mic's can do just as good , but really shine on the other instruments.
    Try to find one mic for guitar, bass, kick, cymbals, or whatever, and another mic that does good on overheads, vocals, ect, ect. you get my point.
    Hope it works out
     
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey TheArchitect!

    This is an EXCELLENT question - one worth of being a sticky!

    Yes, you are absolutely right - if you were to judge mics by reviews or their paper stats, you wouldn't get very far. Too many of them look so close to the same on paper. And frankly, I've become disgusted with reviews of late - it appears that no one ever has anything critical to say about a product. I would love to open the pages of recording magazine and see a review of a mic that says "I couldn't find a single practical use for this mic simply because at no point did it give me any improvement over the other $99 clones on the market." (I actually took this snippet out of a review that I wrote and was never published b/c it was too scathing!)

    To answer your questions - yes, there is a difference between <$1k mics (and for that matter there are many in >$1K mics too.) There are many fine manufacturers of great mics in the under $1k market. To name a few - Audio Techinca (though you mention the ATs, I feel it's important to understand the non-subtle differences between the 40 series and 30/20 series - they are far more well made despite the quality of their lower series - and their sound is quite refined. In other words, you will get better mileage out of their pro mics b/c they work great with various pres, need very little tweaking and can offer some excellent "signature sounds'), Audix (a personal favorite of mine - I like them so much, I became an exclusive dealer for them!), Blue, Rode and Groove Tubes.

    Below that, you get into a different category of mics - budget mics. Many of them are PRC made mics which literally come off the EXACT same assembly line as many other brands and offer no difference whatsoever. Then there are some gems in the budget mics - MXL (Marshall), SP, and CAD. In general though, the "signature sounds" conjured up by budget mics are not sought after, rather they are usually the bane of most project studios and, besides the room itself, the single largest factor requiring correction on the recording.

    Am I opposed to budget mics? No, not at all. I think they are a valuable tool which allow musicians to really get into recording and enjoy it. Those musicians often find that, when they go to the "big" studio, they are able to better understand what is going on and the workflow is MUCH smoother. That's not to say that you can't make a serious album with the KEL or the AT 2020 (afterall, a lot of the sound you get is what you do WITH the mic not what mic you're using...), it's just that you'll rarely find these as mainstays in a serious studio's mic closet.

    Exceptions to the above statement DO occur. For example, the SP C1 is actually becoming a mainstay in studios across the US and if the hype surround the KEL mics is true, you may see many more of these in big studios too.

    Ultimately, it comes down to:

    -What is the best mic your budget will allow?
    -Can YOU hear a difference between mic A for $200 and mic B for $800?
    -How serious do you want to be?


    I hope this helps.

    J. :)
     
  4. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

  5. Big_D

    Big_D Well-Known Member

    Well done Jeremy!
     
  6. TheArchitect

    TheArchitect Active Member

    I appreciate your thoughts and comments. Sorry for the confusion though, 3-500 should have been $300-$500. I'm not looking to buy 3 of the same mic. Maybe a pair so they can be used as a stereo pair on a drum kit or an acoustic or something.

    Cucco,

    I appreciate the comments / explanation. It certainly brings into focus a lot better where the mic market is at. My closet at the moment consists of a SM57, a Senn 609 and a pair of shure built, Radio Shack branded electret condensers. I see much room for improvement in the condenser category. :) 1 Large diaghram and a pair of small diaghrams is the goal but I want good, if not great stuff that I will use for a while and not upgrade again in 6-12 months. I have big expectations of my recently aquired Brick to be a significant improvement over the Mackie Pre's and I want to do the same with the mic's.
     
  7. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    Just to add to the topic...the mic's are about 50% of the improvement. Like you stated above, the Brick is better than the Mackie pre's.
    The other 50% is the pre-amp's.
    Of course you have to know what you are doing, for this equation to add up to 100% :wink:
    That comment is just to keep the cry babies off me, that think "gear does not matter"
    Don't start crying :cry: (anybody)
     
  8. J-3

    J-3 Active Member

    Hey Arch, there is a big difference b/t a AT and a TLM. I have a 4050 and a 103 and both are great mics. Both are very different. The 4050 is multi pattern the tlm is card only. The 4050 is nice on ac instruments but I never use it for vocals b/c the tlm is much nicer for that. imo. Unfortunatly the only way to know how much you'll dig a mic or whatever is to get it in your hands and use the thing. I get more milage out of my TLM but you may not. The ultimate goal is to have a bunch of differnt mics/pres etc so that you can mix and match for each sound source to get the "just right" sound for what your doing. If I had it to all do over again I'd spring for the most expensive multipattern mic and pre I could find. Forget the cheaper stuff 57's etc are easy to come by after you have a $4000 pre / mic combo which you will get way better results out of than 10 cheap mics and pres. I promise. I make records all the time that have the Great River, EL8x and R-121 on 90 percent of the record. NICE!

    Good luck, use your ears not reviews!

    J
     
  9. TheArchitect

    TheArchitect Active Member

    I don't doubt that they sound very different and each has its place in terms of applications.

    I guess what I was driving at is the question of one being clearly "better" than the other or simply "different". Admittedly subjective terms but to a relative newcomer who doesn't necessarily have a history with "industry standards" its a question that you ask yourself. Certainly 20,30,40 years ago there were only a handful of top shelf mic builders and you necessarily paid the price for them. Is Neuman for example still so far superior to the competition today that they can demand that price or are they simply so entrenched as a "standard" that people just reach for them on reputation alone and don't question the price tag on it or what other options are available? I don't know the answer to that but its certainly a question that has crossed my mind.

    I'm a semi pro recordist at best. I don't mind splurging on a nice piece occasionally but by and large I need to know I'm getting value since there is no income to justify the purchase, just a love of recording. For example, If a SP C1 could cop a U87 close enough that only very skilled ears could tell in a blind test, that would be good enough for my needs. 3-5 times the cost to get the last 5% doesn't fit my budget the way it would a commercial studio operation. If the differences are night and day 1k plus might still be a non starter for me but there would at least be a value propsition to consider.
     
  10. DeeDrive

    DeeDrive Active Member

    Just a note on the SP C1. I had a C3 for a while, and couldn't believe the value that mic offered. The C3 and C1 are basically the same mik with the addition of more polar patterns on the C3. I normally use a 4050 for damn near everything from vocals to acoustic guitar, and I thought the C3 stood right up there with it in terms of quality. I've owned plenty of "cheap" mics in my days, and most of them are not worth having simply for the fact that they're are all marketing and sound just plain bad. But there are some good ones out there.
     

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