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Old March 15th, 2004, 08:51 PM   #1
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what makes a good mic?

What makes a good mic?[list=1][*]design?[*]materials used?[*]workmanship?[*]or price?[/list=1]
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Old March 15th, 2004, 10:09 PM   #2
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I'd say numbers 1, 2 and 3. No if you have all of those the price may be up there.

If you can't hear the difference, or don't appreciate the difference then it's no good either. There is also reason, if a price is unreasonable or not within a budget then that is also not a good thing.

Go to Musicians Friend or one of the New York City audio discount sites and there are hundreds of mics. out of that many mics there may be a dozen or so that may be acceptable for our uses.

If you go to a site like Markertek, B&H or Full Compass, then most of what they sell will be of usuable quality.

Head to Location Sound, Trew, Coffey or stores like them and the dozen or so mics they carry are all good, but they ain't cheap either.

Beyond the mic is the rest of the audio chain. Any weak link can destroy the whole process. Bad cables, lousy preamp, crappy analog to digital converter.
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Old March 15th, 2004, 11:50 PM   #3
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You will never really know about 1,2 and 3 unless you have the epertise to dissasemble a microphone and analyze everything that's inside. Even then you will not really know. A microphone is like a musical instrument: even though there is a lot of science involved, some mics really just have a great sound and some just don't. And some very low cost mics have a great sound. Now depending on what you need, some mics may be better than others. I would suggest insead of focusing on these three aspects, which one can really never be sure about anyway, focus on the specs of the mics that interest you and find a way to try them out before buying. And make sure you have a clear idea of what you need. If you will be doing interviews in a war zone you will need a very different mic than what you would need for reoccrding a live concert in Carnegie Hall. Tell us more about what you will be doing and how much money you expect to spend and we might be able to suggest some specific models or at least a type of microphone best suited to your needs.
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Old March 16th, 2004, 12:00 AM   #4
 
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Price is far lower than anything else, but it all boils down to your ears and the need for the mic. A live shoot of an interview, a shoot of a band on a stage, news gathering with a reporter, documenting a flamenco guitarist....all call for a different mic.

Sound is subjective so there is no *real* answer. As an experiment once, we did an entire song consisting of 20 tracks using the same mic.... A glue on mic from a computer store. Granted, it wasn't perfect, but it sounded very good. It was an experiment in processing more than anything.
A good mic just helps get great sound faster and with predictable quality. But as Brian says...pre and cables...count as much as the mic.
With a good front end, you can do ANYTHING.
With a pair of BK4001/4011's, my Hardy pre, I'm set for most situations, even though I'd never take my BK's on a shoot. I have taken most of my AT kit in to shoots, which fills 3 SKB mic boxes.
Mics are like people. Some have likeable personalities, other's don't.
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Old March 16th, 2004, 12:38 AM   #5
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Thanks for the answers! So I guess that when some company makes a cheap mic, and the company accidentally gives it a personality, its sticker price will rise. Maybe my Apex 191 will be worth more in a couple of years? Naaa. It's just that I don't understand why some mics cost so much. It's nothing more than a little stick, after all. At least a good mic will keep its value, as suggested. :-))
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Old March 16th, 2004, 01:21 AM   #6
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To put in a way that you will understand. My son in law commented that he though people were nuts spending $500 on an SLR. He figures a $20 point and shoot is good enough. Mind you he thinks Bud is a good beer and puts salt, catsup and hot sauce on everything before he tastes it, but my daughter loves him :rolleyes.gif:

Now I know your camera gear is worth a darn site more than $500, so does that make you an elitist sucker? A decent lens is worth more .

You like Leica glass and bodies, heliopan and B+W filters.

I don't like spending money, I get a lousy feeling usually. When I listen to the Schoeps MK41 it made everything I own sound like crap. I was only too happy to pay for that one.

And the Apex is a damn good mic for the money.

note: Frank and I are good friends, he likes to bait me sometimes, but we're both 'peggers so I let him get away with it.
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Old March 16th, 2004, 02:05 AM   #7
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Okay, I get it. Yes, I would spend $3,000+ on a camera body, depending on the body, of course. You got me there. But when I don't see or know what the difference is, between a good mic and bad one, it makes it more difficult to understand. Not to help matters, sales people add more to the confusion. That's why I ask these type of mic questions---and I can bet that there are a whole bunch of other members in my shoes (regarding mics). :-))

My shoe size is 9 & 1/2. :-))
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Old March 16th, 2004, 08:14 AM   #8
 
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You know....this could lead off to a rant thread, so I'll be careful.
With todays hiring practices, most every store selling this kind of gear out there is an equal opportunity employer. They'll hire any idiot.
Those who actually know the mics aren't going to settle for working in a store selling them. The ones that sell them read about them in forums like this one, in magazines, manufacturer propaganda, and other sources. Sure, this provides an opinion and baseline....but that's it. Either they can't due to lacking resources, or due to laziness, but they rarely take these things and try them out. When it comes to specific subjects like this, I personally never take the word of a salesman unless I know him.

Mic's are expensive only in part due to the costs of manufacturing. The lion's share goes to R&D. I worked very closely with Audix when they were first getting going several years ago, and their costs even for designing an import mic that they slapped their name on, was quite high. They needed to amortize XXX in sales rev to break even after R&D. That takes a while. It's not like Audix or anyone else can pop open an AT and say "THAT'S how they do that!" and then proceed to copy the guts.
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Old March 16th, 2004, 09:21 AM   #9
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Here are the specs to examine when comparing mics in your price range:
  • Sensitivity (the ratio of conversion of sound pressure level to electrical voltage or power, typically measured in millivolts per Pascal with the mic exposed to a reference SPL of 94 dB at 1 kHz). Overall, louder devices sound better, though a wide dynamic range (read: expensive) preamp can compensate for a lower sensitivity microphone.
  • Wide, flat frequency response over the entire range of human hearing and then some. This can usually only be obtained by empirical testing on individual microphones, as the curves on manufacturer's spec sheets tend to be idealizations. (If only there were something along the lines of dpreview.com for microphones!)
  • Wide dynamic range, which consists of high headroom (maximum undistorted sound pressure level) and low self-noise (SNR), although you may prefer one over the other in a microphone for specific applications: when recording vocals, low noise takes precedence; high headroom is priority for drums. For the most part, dynamic range is more of an issue for the recording medium than the microphone, since the dynamic range of a good microphone will far exceed that of any extant recording medium. This goes to emphasize the further point that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a microphone is only as good as everything that follows it in the signal pathway: the cables and connectors, the power source, the amplifiers, the A/D and/or recording heads, etc., not to mention everything in the playback chain, D/A, amplifiers, and speakers, and so forth. Your ears! Your brain!

There are also a number of external factors that microphones can be designed to reject (wind and pop noise, external EMF from wiring and fluorescent lights), but in controlled conditions (recording studios and indoor movie sets) these can be minimized so as not to present problems for the microphone.

Other specs such as pickup pattern have to do with the microphone's application, not its relative quality, but polarity pattern should maintain frequency reponse consistency over its range, that is, the response curves should look more or less the same over all angles of input.

Finally, is the microphone from a reputable company? Regardless of price, if a mic doesn't perform as advertised, what the specs claim is irrelevant.

We could start a list of reputable manufacturers and rank them, but occasionally someone would cheerlead for an underdog brand on its "value" merits, undermining the whole endeavor. Brands generally recognized for their reputation include Sennheiser, AKG, Neumann, Rode, Shure, Leem, Sony, Telefunken, Beyerdynamic, Audio-Technica (on the lower-price end of the spectrum)... I see a lot of "Blue" gear advertised (for recording studio work--not for field audio) but I've never heard of anyone using it. I'm sure others will chime in on their favorites. The importance for reputability as far is microphones go is not that they are high in price, but that they perform as advertised for their price class. Thus even a value brand like Avlex delivers value, since you know what you're getting before you put your money down.

And, it should be said, after a certain price point the law of diminishing returns dominates. Surely, except for the most specialty application, no factory new microphone is worth much more than $1,000.

And of course there's no substitute for experience with a variety of different microphones, so take my advice and make friends with someone who has a stock of mint vintage AKG C12s laying around.
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Old March 16th, 2004, 10:03 AM   #10
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What RS said is true . There are mic's with perfect specs that sound like crap.

I listened to all of the sales razzle dazzle from one mic manufacturer. He went on to explain how he tensioned the capsules while facing east and juggling 2 squirrils, quenching the finished mic with sweat from a virgins brow, the specs were there and the sound was just OK.

When I A/B'd the mic against a Schoeps it was as if some one had lifted a fog. Mind you there was a $500 difference. I think audio is part alchemy.

I agree with Douglas. Most salesmen use their heads as a hat rack. The cheap chinese copies of good mics are flawed. A few come close to creating a sound but ultimately the quality isn't there and the flaws will start to become apparent.

Companies like Audio Technica make excellent, professional quality equipment that comes very close to the super premium for a fraction of the price. Their best shotgun is still $650 (4071) This stuff will still be working an worth 74% of it's value in 5 or more years.


I
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Old March 16th, 2004, 11:21 AM   #11
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I can understand more clearly now. Thanks everyone. And thanks, Robert, for that info.
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