One expensive microphone or many cheap ones?

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by audio creature, Aug 27, 2005.

  1. audio creature

    audio creature Active Member

    Jun 3, 2005
    Decisions, decisions....

    Time to make a qualitative leap. Split between a U87 or a couple of cheaper but good mics:

    perhaps the bright, but in an excellent way SP B3, the TLM 103 and the Rode NTK, for times when deliberate colour is required, though it seems to sound great on a few sources but terrible on many.

    I mainly record vocals and guitars (acoustic or rock), and live in a small town which makes demoing mics, practically impossible. The pre I use is a Focusrite ISA220.

    Recent listening tests of available reference material (Listening Sessions, Kurt's sound files and some U87 only recordings) have been an absolute, eye (or ear) opener (i.e. thanks guys).

    First thing that is clear is how much one is influenced by knowing what equipment is being listened to. Always knew this, but blind tests have shown this to be a huge factor. In fact blind tests are the only thing that will tell you anything as far as I'm concerned now.

    The next thing that has become apparent is (as has been abundantly made clear be many of the true professionals on the forum) is how much each source will have a different mic / pre combination that is most suitable.

    This to me is obvious from Listening Session 2 (

    Is the SP B3 recording ( worse than the more costly TLM103 ( ) on this source? When I blind tested the tracks relating to mics of interest from session 2, I was pleased to be able to discard plenty of the cheaper mics easily.

    But then it came down to these two that were not a whole lot far off. The TLM103 does indeed appear to exhibit that extra openness, that would make this voice sit better in a mix, but only by a lwhisker. On other factors I believe the B3 to produce a slightly more enjoyable recording.

    Shame there was no U87 in the test. Then in Listening Session 5, I found that every single low or medium priced mike was unsatisfactory or even believable (including the TLM 103) in some aspect to my ears. On the other hand, again to my ears, Kurt's U87 guitar recording, is miles ahead of all the cheaper or mid-priced mikes in Session 5 as well as the cheaper setups he compares it with in his recording.

    The U87 is probably the qualitative level I'm looking for but it may well be that I can get more out of having a palette of different mics that will match each source better.

    what would you do? Do you think that it is possible to get the same quality by having a wider but cheaper mic pallette or is a high quality mic the only way to go?

    Thanks, if you read this far.

  2. Digger

    Digger Guest

    It's good to hear that you are trying to listen before buying. A friend and I recently finished conducting an extremely thorough set of mics tests on over 21 mics on both a male and female vocalist.

    We tested mics ranging from $300 to $7000 USD and the results from blind listening tests on decent quality monitors (BM6A's) were very surprising. I am trying to put together a website , similar to listening sessions, just to see what other impressions people have.

    My top three vocal mics for the male singer were 1) Charter Oak SA538 (2) Rode K2 (3) Soundelux ELUX 251 - the moral of the story was that in initial blind listening tests with 6 people; A) the most expensive mics were not always the favorites and B) there was a lot of consistency in peoples favorites.

    From my own personal experience I have found that while a U87 is a often used , jack of all trades, workhouse it is not necessarily your best choice for a vocal mic. Knowing what I know today and understanding your needs I would reccomend one of the 3 I metioned (the first two are a lot cheaper than the third) and a good dynamic for recording guitar, SM57, 421 etc.. (assuming it is electric guitar you are using).

    If you are recording acoustic guitar than the K2 would work quite nicely. The K2 and the SA538 are very different sounding mics and I am pretty certain you can get both for the price of a U87. The Charter Oak is not available in a lot of places but I got mine from Alto Music - good luck and I hope that helps.
  3. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    as has been suggested above

    it is a must for you to have a couple of industry standards to fall back on and compare to ...

    perhaps a dynamic like the Shure 58 / 57 or Senn421 / e609
    Beyer 88 perhaps

    and from the condensers
    N-U87, AKG-414 (a little out of fashion these days) ... or from the newer range TLM Neumanns.

    If you do a lot of stringed instruments then a Ribbon may be needed.
    Royer 121 perhaps

    and again as said above
    you must "to listen before buying"

    the more you learn .. the more confident about purchasing you will be
  4. audio creature

    audio creature Active Member

    Jun 3, 2005
    Thanks guys, for your valuable input.

    I'm now a little weary of the Rode valve microphones, after hearing the terrible results of the NTK on some acoustic material (for example listening session 5). There is simply no tonal balance, the fatter strings of the guitar are oh so low and the thinner strings shrill. It just isn't a believable guitar recording.

    Is the K2 much different from the NTK? Anyone know where I can find some sound files of the K2?

    It's interesting to note that Kev still recommends the industry standards such as U87 to fall back on, or perhaps for reference.

    I suppose what this really reveals is that one should still have a U87 as well as others that may suit a particular source. In my case I would be stretched even to get the U87 alone.

    Is there much difference in sound between the U87 AI and the earlier models? I say this because I could probably look into getting one used and plenty of older ones seem to crop up. Also, what about Neumanns with the same capsule but different power arrangements such as the old U77, do they have the same sound?

    Thanks again.

    Gregory :wink:
  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Hey Gregory!

    There's so much to comment on here - mostly positive.

    I am glad also that someone is listening to mics before buying them - avoiding the advertising hype and getting to the meat. However, be aware that in any of these listening sessions, there are so many variables that can't be tested against. The Listening Sessions stuff does a good job at countering most of this stuff, but things like placement, perfect gain zones (that gain range on the microphone that makes it sing or come alive), etc. can't accurately be controlled.

    In truth, most every single mic they tested should be able to work just fine in the scenarios that they threw at them.

    As for the U87 and the SM57 being references or benchmarks - it's only because of their market share that they should be considered so (much like the NS-10s). Meaning - they may not be THE mic, but they are common and therefore everybody in the biz knows the sound of these mics. You can use these as "jumping off points" for comparisons.

    As for the Rode - these mics are phenomenal and a great value. In the case of the Listening Sessions, I can see your point, but again, I have to stress that there are variables that they simply can't test and still remain "fair."

    If I had to recommend a great mic though at a great value - I would say:
    Gefell M930
    Charter Oak SA538

    :cool: J.
  6. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Whittier, California, USA
    Dear Santa:
    I know its still August but I wanna a Gefell M930.... actually, make it 2! With the stereo bar, pretty please. Thank You. :D

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