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Tube mics vs FET mics- what difference am I going to hear?

Discussion in 'Microphones' started by jmm22, Nov 15, 2010.

  1. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    Yes, I know that strictly speaking this question belongs in the mic forum, but there appears to be many fewer readers/posters there.

    I see that some microphone companies make tube mics. I am well aware of the overwhelming preference of guitar players and audiophiles for tube amps, but does the analogy cross over into mics? Just what kinds of differences might one expect from a tube mic? And is there anyone here who prefers their sound over FET mics?
     
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Apples vs. green apples. The source is the most important part of any recording, be it vocals, guitar, horns, drums, etc etc etc....

    I guess that a really detailed explanation would involve knowing a bit of history about electronics and the development of different protocols over the years. First. When 'tubes' were being used exclusively, there were no transistors. The engineering that went into gear with tubes at that time was bent on getting the cleanest and clearest sound possible with the architecture and the technology available. This was prevalent throughout recording, instrumentation, sound reinforcement, movie playback etc....The byproducts of some genius's figuring out that if you overdrive certain types of tube circuits you get a new fangled thing called distortion wasnt all that popular especially in the technology of studio gear, mics, boards, tape machines, etal. Which is kinda ironic in the sense that all this old technology is so highly prized because it adds a certain type of distortion to a signal that solid-state and digital simply cannot achieve.

    I digress.

    In choosing a tool to record a source with, its elementary that an engineer/recordist have some idea what a particular piece is going to perform like.....even though you dont really KNOW until you nickle and dime a certain piece to death......and in making a choice, having this knowledge, the intention of the choice is realized with the results desired.


    F*^k I am long-winded tonite....shhheeesh...

    As to your question....FET vs. Tube mics......as in ALL things audio, the better the quality of gear the larger the difference in sound between different styles of gear. A cheap tube mic with a half-assed power supply, a rebranded tube from outer Slobovia, a Chinese capsule and diaphram made by the quarter millions, and cheap low grade components, is certainly going to sound like crap next to a U87 Neumann.

    So, in conclusion, I dont think you'll notice much of a difference until you hit a certain level in quality. BUT if I were to recommend a tube mic under a grand, I'd go with Audio Technica 4060, or an ADK Area 51 TT. Both of these are sterling mics. Better than a mic of equal quality and price??......Naw, different......but at least you can tell the difference easily.
     
  3. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    Yes, but what about tubes from Inner Slobovia?
     
  4. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    :) I appreciate the reply, and perhaps I should have been more precise in outlining the parameters I had in mind, those being two mics of respectable quality, of similar architecture other than one being tube and one being FET.

    For example, I am considering an SE Z5600A II, which sell for about $850 and appears to have good reviews. I was wondering if a tube mic like this is actually going to impart something "tubey" to my sound.
     
  5. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    Or I could rephrase the question. Why does any manufacture make a tube mic today?
     
  6. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    This is in no way meant to be harsh, but I've seen you apply the 'fewer readers/posters' theory on a couple of occasions now, and it's not really accurate. Microphones are not as broad a topic, so naturally there are fewer viewers at any given time. The (# Viewing) shown on the given forums is indisputable, but the fact is the same professionals and moderators that answer your questions in the Pro Recording / Pro Audio / Pro DAW sections, will see and answer your questions no matter where they're posted. Those that moderate and contribute answers read all new posts by clicking the "What's New" tab above. In fact, the forum mods all have specialized knowledge in the areas they moderate - so that improves the quality of the responses you'll get.

    Your questions are very welcome here, and you're certainly free to do as you please (unless you tick of an administrator), but I believe it would be best for everyone if you put the posts in the proper forum. Many of the questions you're asking belong in the Home Recording / Budget Gear forums. And I think the responses you're getting would be a great benefit to other inquisitive newcomers that are here reading/lurking to educate themselves - but they're less likely to find the information if the topics aren't in the right place.

    If you didn't get a response immediately, it means either A) your questions is too vague and someone knowledgeable on the topic barely knows where to begin answering it. B) they could help, but see a short answer isn't going to do the question justice, and time doesn't permit for a full explanation or C) the professionals that could provide a thorough and thoughtful answer were probably out making a living doing the things that you're hoping to learn.

    Best of luck, keep the questions coming.
     
  7. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    Thanks for the remarks. You make some interesting points, but from a purely probabilistic or logical perspective, and based my participation in many diverse forums (some, but not all music or audio related) I must respectfully disagree. In fact, if it were my forum, I would be inclined to fold at least one or two of the much smaller categories into larger ones, so as to boost overall traffic. As an avid reader, I can report that there are whole forums here I have not even glanced at, in spite of the fact that they may contain interesting content.

    The categorization of equipment, ideas, and the complex interactions the two can be very difficult. For example, no one could argue the fact that the SM57 will be found in pro and amateur settings, so how does one decide whether the question belongs in mics, pro studio gear, home recording, or even somewhere else? I have calculated the placement my questions as best as I can, and could make a fair argument for each possible deviation from convention on a point by point basis if necessary. I also think I can justify those occasions if I have taken some liberty with the categories that exist, by trying to phrase things in a way that should elicit interesting responses and a broader or perhaps informal dialog, although oddly, the latter occurs very infrequently, present deviation excepted ;-)

    I sometimes preface my questions with the obligatory disclaimer so as to head off the ticking off of a moderator :) While I will remain a novice at recording for some time to come, I am much more confident in my observations regarding the overall flow of readers and potential responses, and how we parcel out our limited attention in these kinds of venues. Additionally, I think these kinds of observations are sometimes best made by new or practically external observers.
     
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Manufacturers make tube mic's today for several reasons. 1) They are still manufacturing proven performers from the glory days of tubes 2) Guitarists and the partially informed are so self convinced that a valve (tube) imparts something more desirable than a transistor. Then you throw in those for transformers and those without. And then "colorless" preamps versus "color". Basically it all boils down to G.A.S. and the majority mindless herd's inability to actually use their own ears to make a decision.

    Gearslutz is like that. There is lots of good information to be had over there but the often feral pack mentality is nauseating when most of the pack that attack have never used the gear being talked about and many haven't even done pro audio.

    DVDHawk got his post correct. Nearly 100% of the moderators and other most helpful posters answer posts by the "New Posts" link up above. There are many moderators you haven't heard from yet because they only monitor their own forums.
     
  9. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I admire and appreciate your thirst for knowledge.
    I have absolutely no authority around here, so you're free to do as you please.
    I'm not here to nitpick, so we'll agree to disagree and I wish you the best of luck in your quest.
     
  10. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    Hey, no problem dvdhawk. Given my obvious technical knowledge limitations (at present) I am glad to have the opportunity to dialog in any way.

    John, based on your new information that there are yet other moderators I have not heard from, I must make another observation. Recording.org has more moderators per member than any other forum on the internet :smile: Which is ironic, because moderators are typically implemented to ummm... moderate, i.e., cut off the rude, malicious, or profane posters at the knees. It is ironic, because in my time here, I have yet to see a single exchange between members that would remotely warrant "moderating." It is a breath of fresh air really. It is apparent that the term moderator means something a bit different at recording.org, and this goes a long way toward explaining your large roster.

    So, can I be a moderator too? :cool:
     
  11. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member


    Well, like I said, quality is quality no matter the price. And at a certain level, the DIFFERENCE in tube vs. FET will become apparent. The SE mics are good mics. I dont have a lot of listening experience with most of the line and not the one you speak of at all, but their pedigree and quality control seem to indicate a decent mic for the price.

    Also, as I was trying to suggest, as a recordist, you have to choose the tool you think is best suited for your project and for the level of completion you intend for it to follow.

    This is a whole subject unto itself.......splain: A LOT of songwriters/artists become enamoured with recording their projects, certain that they will package and release the next Dark Side Of The Moon in a short time. AND they'll do it at home with just a few tools at their disposal.
    Then they discover how frickin hard it really is to get great sounds and getting them to work into an arrangement that invites the listener to play it over and over........so now the GAS sets in and the search begins for that perfect piece of kit to put them over the top..........But what about the incomplete task that they started on?

    These days its almost easier to simply put together a decent DAW and songwrite until the songs themselves stand alone without benefit of 'tubes' or high-end this or that......and then take it to a studio and really record something that you know is right.


    But having a nice budgeted studio that a person can operate without losing the house or the transportation device can be a joy.

    So having a nice mic, tube or not, is always a good thing and ,chosen carefully, is one of the parts that wont lose money as quickly as other parts. For what you are doing, a really good mic is imperative. Something that does voice as well as acoustic instruments. Does it NEED to be a tube device?

    Absolutely not. Can it be? Yes, most definately.....just dont think that cheap tube crap is better simply because an ad says so, or that its better because theres this general trend circulating amoungst the half-truths on the net that a tube makes a whole lot of difference.
     
  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    We haven't had to "moderate" in almost a year with maybe two exceptions. Things are pretty civil around here. Civil really isn't my specialty and I have to work on that. I'm more of a hate and discontent plug 'em between the eyes at 800 meters kind of a guy.

    There are one or two mod's for each different forum. Usually those mod's specialize in those areas. I can only "moderate" actual posts or move them from my forums. There are a couple of super mods that have more universal control and access. Basically, I have the time available to check on the new posts pretty frequently as do a couple others. Summertime however and I'm too busy to do more than a drive by once in a while and other folks pick up the slack.
     
  13. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    Very interesting and informative post Davedog, particularly as it relates to songwriters/artists who travel down the road of self recording. I guess I fall into this category, but there are no illusions here. I know that recording is very difficult, and thus I have complete respect for the art of the recording engineer.

    My recourse to self recording is rooted in pragmatism. I am a prodigious music writer (at least in quantity) who is much better at writing than performing. I also have no natural musical talent (it did not help that I started playing guitar at the relatively late age of 16) and thus I have to work very hard and quite regularly to sound competent. Realistically, I can only hope to furnish some music if I have the luxury of recording on my time, alone, and without the pressures of performing in a real studio.

    There are things that might give me an edge at self recording, and they are ferocious self criticism, and the patience to try as many permutations as necessary to render something that works well. Of course the former might prevent me from releasing anything, but I am enjoying the process of learning the art of recording nonetheless.
     
  14. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    This place operates a little differently than the typical forum.

    Some topics/headers see little action, but randomly blow up.
    Also the involvement of our wise moderators (and non-moderators).

    They've got the job b/c their value to our community has been noticed for some time.
    IMHO, we're lucky to have them, and this site, for those reasons.

    /end thread derail...

    John hit on the crux of your question - it's about "flavors". Which you like and which are right for the job.
    I like color, tubes, and transformers. Unfortunately I own too few in actuality.
    There's plusses and minuses to all gear.
    The only way to know when to use what, is to do it.

    The folks here can point you in the right direction, but ultimately you have to experiment, and learn your gear and learn to trust your ears.
     
  15. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    In the case of guitar amplifiers this is true, no? In the case of microphones, both tubes and FETs impart something that the other cannot, but of more importance is the surrounding circuitry. Whether one gets more bang for the buck at cheaper levels in transistor or tube mics, I'd hazard transistor.

    My general attitude when picking things off the shelf in a rush is that in a tube circuit the response to dynamic change (slew rate) is lower; resulting in (if the circuit is good) a smoothed dynamic approach, perhaps translating to more warm and fuzzy; whereas an FET is faster to respond, more accurate, detailed and crystalline, for want of better adjectives.

    The Z6500 certainly has some good reviews and the usual 'I am a seasoned pro and its all I use'-type comments in its marketing, I had I believe a SE3600 or 5600 for a few days and it had a really unpleasant sonic signature so I sent it back.

    I'm always happy to try cheap alternatives and sometimes they are good and stay, sometimes not. I do think that its a bit pot-luck sometimes, either there is bad QC and therefore 'good' and 'bad' batches of the same mic, or the cheaper mics inconsistencies sometimes are cancelled out by the untreated home studios' frequency anomalies!

    Really if you are looking to put down $850 on a mic your retailer should allow you to try at home and return 'as-new' if not satisfied.

    If you are looking to outlay $850 on a mic because its $1000 at the retailer and $850 online with no means of returning it; I wouldn't be able to bless the purchase of an SE microphone, and in fact I will never take a chance on mics like that - I either buy new and reputable, or second hand if I can go and test.

    I think most here including myself would suggest a Rode K2 is a purchase you are unlikely to regret.

    As regards the positioning of this thread, I don't mind it being here for now but it will probably get moved to Microphones when it quietens down!
     
  16. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest

    Thanks for the reply Jeemy. It is interesting to see you are from Edinburgh, birthplace of James Clerk Maxwell, arguably the greatest contributor to the knowledge of phenomena that underlies virtually everything used by the recording engineer. Einstein only had two pictures of other scientists on his wall, JCM and Michael Faraday (another "electrician" of sorts.) Apparently, at one time a picture of Newton also hung there, but fell one day and was never put back.

    I concur entirely with respect to being able to either trial mid priced mics, or buy from a retailer with a good return policy, to avoid being saddled with something one does not like.

    It is worth noting that most of the good reviews are for the Z5600A II, which has a few upgrades from the older Z5600, which is likely the one you tried, unless it was a 3300 (they never made a 3600) which is an FET mic. Did the mic you tested have its own power supply?
     
  17. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Yes it had a power supply. But I don't think honestly it was a 5600. Or a 3300. I don't want to publicly go for or against a company. Just as I said before, if you want to lay down $900 on a non-industry-standard mic with good marketing but zero feedback on Ro_Org, buyer beware. Good feedback here has never let me down and thats something I can say with certainty and definitively.
     
  18. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    No official authority but I'm sure I speak for at least some of the mods here when I say that you have a great deal of respect. I personally look forward to your responses on topics that I know are up your alley. Free school is good.
     
  19. jmm22

    jmm22 Guest


    Hmmm... That's not exactly true. Supermod Davedog says (in this thread) the "SE mic are good mics" although in fairness, he does also qualify his listening experience of the line as a whole. I am confident there are a few Ro_Org members with SE mics who may not have had opportunity to comment on them. And an industry standard can only come about through pioneering folk who are willing to try new things, in order for a given thing to even have the opportunity to become a standard, which cannot be the case for SE yet, given how young the company is. Mind you, the SE 2200A appears to be making headway in becoming something of a standard at its price point. The many remarks about this model are universally favourable, and I think there is saying that all of the people cannot be wrong all of the time. :wink:

    It would be too restricting to limit purchases to that which might be volunteered by a handful of respondents at Ro_Org. While I greatly value the opinions of recording.org members when they have specific experience with an exact model, I am somewhat more free thinking when it comes to any piece of gear that may not have good reviews here merely by virtue of there being no one who has actually tried it. For example, when I needed an interface, I asked here about the Saffire USB 6. There were no favourable comments, and perhaps one or two that indicated Focusrite's lower cost gear was questionable, but frankly, I am very happy with it, and it is better than my old Firebox by orders of magnitude.

    It's funny that my very first post at Ro_Org was in regards to a new DAW program. I asked for opinions because I thought I could coast through my reintroduction to recording by just getting people to tell me what I needed, but within days, I realized I will have to become versed in all aspects of recording, including gear acquisition. Actually, I am very savvy in this regard, and have had pretty good success in sorting out which reviews and comments are bonafide, and which ones are questionable. One thing that SE has over other companies is their trial program, as found on their website. They will send mics out for trial, and if there is any other mic company who will do the same, I would be glad to learn of them. This is a wonderful incentive to get potential customers interested without fear of making a bad decision, and it shows the company has faith in its product. I like companies who think and market like this. I plan to take advantage of this trial, and will report back on my observations.

    I hope you don't read anything negative in my post. I very much value the opinions of you and many others, and fully recognize their noble purpose in protecting a new recording enthousiast like me from making a bad decision. I am merely compelled to provide a little balance and broader context to remarks that could be read the wrong way. :smile:
     
  20. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I appreciate that hueseph. You can tell I never had to learn anything about what makes computers tick. Thank goodness you and John are over there putting out those fires. I'm a power-user, but don't know much about what goes on under the hood. I'm blissfully ignorant over here with a couple old macs and an abacus.
     

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