Microphones - cheap vs expensive at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > The Tools of DV and HD Production > All Things Audio

All Things Audio
Everything Audio, from acquisition to postproduction.


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old May 12th, 2009, 06:16 AM   #1
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: LOWESTOFT - UK
Posts: 2,125
Microphones - cheap vs expensive

I've been reading lately on some other video forums some very conflicting stuff about choosing microphones for video. What really got me was the suggestion that cheap always means rubbish, and expensive always guarantees excellence. A few people had bought budget microphones and were treated pretty curtly for suggesting they thought they were good. Sometimes people had recorded a few examples of bad - middle and good, but after listening to the files, they didn't sit quite right with my own viewpoint. So I figured it would be useful to do the tests myself, and put the video up for viewing - and make the audio files themselves available. The project was far more time consuming than I first thought, and the finished video and files are by no means perfect. I've detailed all the errors and snags on the download page, so people can assess for themselves. Watching the video this morning on this laptop means I can't even hear some differences, so there's plenty of room for thought here. Have a look at microphones for video and you can view the video and download the files. The video is also available for download from Microphone Comparisons - price v quality on Vimeo so you can investigate a bit further.

Out of all the microphones I tested, only one cheap one stood out for being a bit 'unpleasant' - but it's not much different to some of the camera built in mics I have tried over the years.

My guess is that plenty of people will have different opinions - that's good. Others will moan about the technical flaws (I know most of them - but frankly only spotted them too late and re-rendering was the only option!). So comment is great, but don't shoot the messenger for trying to give people the chance to make their own minds up.

My own thoughts are pretty much that cheap mics can produce good results - but expensive ones don't automatically guarantee good results either.
Paul R Johnson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 12th, 2009, 07:33 AM   #2
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: New York City
Posts: 523
I haven't yet read or viewed your links but I can easily say two things:

Yes, when you buy a more expensive mic, you will get better sound quality. However, the more quality you want, you have to pay extremely large amounts of money. My $300 stereo mic sounds pretty darn good to me. But I have no illusions that a much more expensive mic will sound better but I can't hear the difference and am not willing to pay for a difference I can't hear.


More importantly I think, when you pay more for a microphone, you'll get a better build quality. My Sennheiser MKE300 worked great. But it was made of plastic. I've seen metal shotguns that had been bent and straightened with no apparent impact on sound quality.
__________________
Andy Tejral
Railroad Videographer
Andy Tejral is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 12th, 2009, 12:44 PM   #3
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Los Angeles, California
Posts: 2,070
Paul:

A lot of what you have heard is true but you have to look at what your needs are, in which kinds of situations you will be recording in, who your audience is and what their expectations are for quality. In audio, there is a law of diminishing returns at work. This means that as you spend more money, the differences between mics, for instance, become smaller and finer. The differences are legitimate and are there but can you or your audience tell the difference?

Audio is much more dependent on skill than gear. Any sound mixer on this board will tell you that a close mic'd $200.00 hyper is going to create a better recording than a $2,000.00 hyper from ten feet away, you cannot refute the laws of physics. Skill and technique are what make good sound, better mics are just a tool that sounds slightly better until your ears and audio palate are "tuned in". The best audio is the audio that works well in the project, moves the audience emotionally and is essentially, transparent. You don't notice great audio (unless you do it for a living), but you do notice that the show/project just works.

For most neophytes, the smartest investment you can make is to hire a professional sound mixer. Almost all low budget projects have terrible sound because the producer thought they could "handle the audio themselves". No matter how you study and which gear you buy, you aren't going to make as good of a recording as someone with twenty or thirty years of experience in doing it. You won't know which tools to use in which situations, how to use the tools correctly, etc. Sound recording is an art and science, it's not a "thing" that you just pick up and start doing well. It's no different than throwing a grip and lighting truck at someone who doesn't have experience at lighting. They will not become a DP just because they have a grip and lighting truck at their disposal. Audio is the same way. Do it yourself usually equals bad sound.

That said, I would advise you to do some reading.

Here is an article I wrote quite a few years ago that should be required reading for beginners Location Sound: The Basics and Beyond

Here is a microphone shootout so you can listen to the differences between $200.00 and $2,000.00 microphones. I recorded the samples myself and while you should be able to hear the differences, you can make great recordings with cheap mics IF you know what you are doing. If not, doesn't really matter which mic you buy As I Hear It - Choosing the Right Microphone

Oh yeah, you are going to need lavalier microphones as well Audio In Close Up - Which Lavalier Should I Use?"

But seriously, if you care about your audio, hire a pro. If you are a hobbyist or intend to become a professional location sound mixer, at least the articles above will give you a clue as to what is involved.

Best of luck,

Dan
Dan Brockett is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 12th, 2009, 01:44 PM   #4
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: LOWESTOFT - UK
Posts: 2,125
Thanks Dan - you missed the point a little. I'm quite aware how important sound is, on it's own, or for moving image - but it does seem that audio experts on video forums seem to work on the premise that expensive is good, and cheap is not. While I also see where that comes from, the picture people don't seem to have the same hang-ups. My real issue is that it's the right tool for the job that really matters. My first sound job was a long time ago, and was a Nagra with cystal sync. I'd like to think I do know a bit about audio matters after all these years. I totally agree with you about the physics, and the law of diminsihing returns. My real complaint is in slavish sticking to a forumla without trying new things. I've been using B3 lavs for a long time, and only tried DPAs two years ago - and only because B3s weren't available. Now, I use them all the time. I was just resistant to even trying new stuff. In the studio, I've always listened to a voice first, and then chosen a microphone that flatters it. I've never been one of these people who always uses a U87 on the vocals automatically. with a limited inventory available, and often no extra budget to hire in extras, the matching exercise is critical. I've got a pair of decent ears, but often can't detect differences on some material between the expensive and the cheap. Of course there are rubbish mics, but there are also some gems.

Forgive me - but I spend quite a bit of time travelling around studios here in the UK and am seeing more and more unusual kit. This years new tool seems to be ribbons in all shapes and sizes. They sound different, and not automatically better.

I've not read the article you linked to yet - but I will, even though at 50, I'm not a beginner. Theatre and TV sound have paid the bills for quite a while - on and off

My beef is simply the attitude that money makes quality - with no exceptions.

There are some expensive mics that I think are really grim - and many of the precious ones found in older studios have an amazingly coloured sound, and yet they are seen as the jewel in the crown. Stick them on an unsuitable sound source and they sound horrible. SM57s are still so common on snare drums, but there are far better ones around - as long as you don't want the classic Shure snare sound. If you do, then what's wrong with using them. For a while, I did theatre in unusual venues - musicals in a circus ring - and I lost an 816 on the first night when it got jumped on. I replaced them with Audio Technicas, and lost a further two. The difference in quality between them was noticeable to me, but with a bit of subtle eq, it went away - and worked.

I guess I'm like most people, and the best mics get used the most - BUT - sometimes the number twos are actually very good - and this is what I'm trying unsuccessfully to get across.

I've got video kit with 2/3", 1/2" and soon 1/3" sensors - and rarely find the same attitude from the video people. People on forums like this ask what's the best $6000 camera and nobody says they are all rubbish, you need to spend $15000! In the audio sections that's exactly what happens, and anyone who suggests using the cheaper ones gets savaged.

I don't understand this. The point of my video is simply to let people see if they can hear the differences - some are obvious, some much more subtle, and at least 3 people have told me that they like the sound of the Samson C01 which is dirt cheap.
Paul R Johnson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 12th, 2009, 04:58 PM   #5
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Gloucester, UK
Posts: 34
I already own a Samson C01 and have done for some time. It's a beautiful mic and have recorded some beautiful vocals on it. Also, we have an SM58, which has recently been downgraded for use by the harmonica player. Why? Because we found these brilliant Yoga dynamic mics at Maplin. They don't have as much gain or tone as the SM58 straight out of the box, but EQing the vocals produces brilliant results every time.

I don't see why video production is so far away from radio or music production in terms of its attitudes towards audio equipment. The results are more important in those medium but they will use anything as long as it gives them the sound they want.
Steve Mellor is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 12th, 2009, 05:23 PM   #6
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Los Angeles, California
Posts: 2,070
Paul:

I understood. If you explore my microphone review article, you will see that the best value microphone I discovered is the AudioTechnica AT875R, which retails for under U.S. $200.00. I believe that so much that even though I own a couple of Sennheiser high end mics, the AT875R has been my main travel mic for the past year and I have recorded programming for A&E, Paramount and a bunch of corporate programs with it alone. Great mic and very cheap.

While I love the way the Schoeps sound, with their new upcoming price increases, they are becoming impractical for anyone other than a professional sound mixer to own.

I don't subscribe to the belief that cheap = lousy and expensive = good.

Dan
Dan Brockett is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 13th, 2009, 05:57 AM   #7
Major Player
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Austin, TX
Posts: 383
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
Thanks Dan - you missed the point a little. I'm quite aware how important sound is, on it's own, or for moving image - but it does seem that audio experts on video forums seem to work on the premise that expensive is good, and cheap is not. While I also see where that comes from, the picture people don't seem to have the same hang-ups.
Paul:

I don't think that's true at all. However, what you'll find a lot of the "experts" recommend are tried and true products that will provide you with excellent audio and last you a life-time. To put this another way, you could walk into Harbor Freight here in the US and purchase a drill for around $29 US, or walk into a Home Depot and pick up drill for $79. Both are made in with one thing in mind, cost. Will they work? Yes. Will they last you more than one or two projects? Doubtful. On the other hand, spend an additional few dollars at Home Depot, pick up a better drill at $130-150 dollars, and chances are that product will last you a lifetime. Which is the better bargain in the end?

The same goes for audio. Are we 'hung up' on gear? In some ways yes, but that's because we know what works and what doesn't work. To use your example, the picture people are just that. People who see things, expect to see things. Sound is ALWAYS the last thing 99% think about, I'm not pulling that out of the air, I'm using experience here. When I get hired, I the eyes of the producer start glazing over when I start talking audio, they don't give a hoot about sound until they don't have it. All they care about is "can you get me sound?" In some cases, I have to explain why it won't sound good, but in most cases they don't care because they have the visual look they want. That's where pulling out the exotic mic, might give me an edge and give me the tool I need to try to get some sound that can be useful later. Dig through these forums, look at how many threads by picture people are "how can I fix this sound?", these are almost always done with equipment that is akin to the $39-79 drill but more importantly not only done with the tools designed for limited use, but in the hands of inexperienced people. Give a carpenter the $39 drill, he'll do his best to make that drill work to its full potential, he'll know the limitations of it, and not push it beyond what it is capable of doing. The inexperienced person pushes the unit (usually without knowing it) and burns up the motor. The same is true with audio equipment. You give a pro some the less expensive equipment and experience will still get you better sound than quality equipment in the hands of inexperienced people.

Dan has provided some wonderful guides to equipment of all price ranges and quality. But it's not all about gear, it's about knowing when to use certain types of equipment and when to use something else. Picture people tend not to know when that is... go to any of the 48 hour film festivals, watch the results. The visuals are usually great, the audio usually suspect. Why? Because picture people are passionate about pictures, not sound. On the other hand, many people including myself are passionate about sound and that's why we're in this field. Do I have exotic gear? Sure, but only because I've been able to buy it from doing jobs over the years. You don't start out with a full kit, and unless you have money to blow, you don't buy every $39 drill, you examine your budget and needs, knowing you'll do this more than once and make your decision based on that. Picture people I don't think do that enough.

I'm not a snob when it comes to gear recommendations, but I do try to steer people towards equipment that will last them a lifetime vs. the limited 'one-time' use. The links Dan provide I think take that one step further and provide you the ability to see and hear the results of various equipment at all price levels.

Wayne
__________________
Mics: KMR 82 i, NTG-1, MKH418S, MKH8040, SR77, QTC1, QTC40, SR30
Recorder: Zaxcom Deva 5.8 & MIX-12. Wireless: TRX900 stereo, Lectro 411
Wayne Brissette is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 13th, 2009, 07:41 AM   #8
Trustee
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Cornsay Durham UK
Posts: 1,941
I would use an expensive mic if I could justify the cost, in my pro life I have been lucky to use a 416 and other fine mics.

But as for my home set-up a rode ntg-1 or the sony camera mic that is on my S270 is fine for most of my applications.

As said I know their limitations and as I am an expert in audio post I know what I can use from location sound and what will be beyond the recovery limitations of my pro tools set-up. I also have two G2 radio mics and if used correctly they can get some good results.

An old friend once said that all microphones sound the same, not true but the only way to tell is by doing an AB test.
Now who can tell me what mic's were used as vocal mics on all those classic records that we all have, OK most of them will be a neuman U87 but do we care, not really and at the end of the day it is all about the performance and the content rather than the gear used.
__________________
Over 15 minutes in Broadcast Film and TV production: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1044352/
Gary Nattrass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 14th, 2009, 12:20 AM   #9
Trustee
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: United States
Posts: 1,158
as has been said, better quality gear simply stacks the odds in your favor getting better results. mics are a lot like learning to play an instrument in terms of learning to place them and boom them on moving people.

on 1" computer speakers, mic PLACEMENT will be more audible then type, but in a theater, or even well setup home viewing room, you'll much more clearly hear the difference between the cheap and expensive mic. if your work never gets heard on speakers that will reveal the difference, thats one thing. I do know my material gets heard on everything from small speakers to theaters. therefore I made the investment over several years into really good mics because there really is a difference.

OTH, when you can't get ideal mic placement, thats when you'll REALLY appreciate the better mic's because they will do a better job. this is especially true with schoeps mics and off axis sound where they have more even attenuation across frequencies then other mics. in post simply bringing the level up may be all you need and it will be ok. with a cheaper mic it may have a more notched sound that will take more eq to try to match.... and thats were the better gear shines, when life isn't perfect.
Steve Oakley is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 14th, 2009, 10:33 AM   #10
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Bothell Washington
Posts: 174
If you go to the Trew Audio web site and look up the Mixer Links pages: Trew Audio: Sound Mixer Links most all of the Pro Location Sound Mixers listed will have an equipment list. I find this very helpful on my audio equipment purchases.

I have a extensive background in Film Photography and I have said for years a used Nikon lens is far superior than a new Vivitar lens. I would rather buy a used Lectosonics Wireless mic (in good shape) than spend the same money on a new Audio Technica unit.
Mark Boyer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 14th, 2009, 03:21 PM   #11
New Boot
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Kent, UK
Posts: 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
I've been reading lately on some other video forums some very conflicting stuff about choosing microphones for video. What really got me was the suggestion that cheap always means rubbish, and expensive always guarantees excellence. A few people had bought budget microphones and were treated pretty curtly for suggesting they thought they were good.
I think I know the website and thread you're talking about. It's interesting to note the threads, particulalry as I would say the conclusions are mirrored here. The start point, however, was slightly different. The question posed by the OP was whether a USB mic would work for a voiceover (and not a debate on the relative merits of cheap microphones). In his case, the cheap soluton was the most appropriate one. He was pleased with his results.

However, it was subsequently noted that the cheap solution, although fine for his needs, did not represent fantastic quality. This point was made to ensure that any misperceptions were cleared up. To summarise:

Quote:
...if you want to raise your game, you should be "training" your ears and, when you do, you'll realise just what your USB really sounds like, compared to other microphones....

...The bottom line is... Yes, your USB mic will sound okay but don't assume that it's the dog's gonads and try to tell us that "a $60 mic can be just as good as a $500 mic". Only if the $500 mic is a $50 copy being sold as an original.

Last edited by Marc Peters; May 14th, 2009 at 04:01 PM.
Marc Peters is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 14th, 2009, 04:14 PM   #12
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: LOWESTOFT - UK
Posts: 2,125
...... but that's exactly the problem - people's ears can be trained and many think that the usb type microphones do offer sound that works. I'm not trying to say that something like a U87 (there's one on eBay now for a grand, second hand) won't be better. It certainly could be, but maybe plugged into a 'quality' pre-amp or a channel strip on a premium analogue desk should be added into the story. A quality microphone plugged into a modern camera's analogue inputs might be pointless, as the signal chain isn't up to the same standard. If the A/D conversion is carried out in the mic, then the signal chain isn't going to downgrade the quality. My own experience of the preamps in various mixers is that they vary in quality far more than microphones. The reviews of the common usb microphones seem to indicate that people are pleasantly surprised by them. I don't think it's really good to talk on one forum about content on another, but in general terms, what really annoys me is that people buy products, use them and are very happy - yet others in audio, then tell them they are wrong, and then use the argument that if they can't hear the difference, it's their hearing, or aural acuity that is to blame.

With the decline in the large professional style recording studios and artistes of all statures recording in project studios, is it any wonder that choice has widened and people now are willing to try new products, and not stick to old favourites?

Whenever video sound people discover new audio products, it seems they just wish to dismiss them out of hand. Recording and theatre sound people are much more open to new products, and trends change on a year by year basis.
Paul R Johnson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 15th, 2009, 01:41 AM   #13
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
......Whenever video sound people discover new audio products, it seems they just wish to dismiss them out of hand. Recording and theatre sound people are much more open to new products, and trends change on a year by year basis.
Paul, really, you should stop smoking that stuff. I work in this business now for a long time and am fairly familiar with what's going on there and me thinks your crusade isn't exactly based on reality.
Karl Lohninger is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 15th, 2009, 02:43 AM   #14
Major Player
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: London, UK
Posts: 792
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
.
Whenever video sound people discover new audio products, it seems they just wish to dismiss them out of hand.
Dan Brockett, who I suppose you would call a video sound person, did a really thorough and useful job of reviewing many microphones. If anyone reading this thread hasn't been there I recommend visiting his reviews.
It was quite clear to me when I read his reviews months ago that he had very good things to say about a relatively cheap and unknown microphone, the AudioTechnica AT875R.
__________________
http://www.gooderick.com
Richard Gooderick is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 15th, 2009, 07:42 PM   #15
Major Player
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Monroe, NY
Posts: 686
I agree 100% with the premise that the proximity of the mike is the key to better sound. Authors like Jay Rose agree with that premise as well as evidenced by his books and his posts over at DV.com

John
John Peterson is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > The Tools of DV and HD Production > All Things Audio

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 11:23 AM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network