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mic and mic preamp question

radix

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I'd like to get ASR's take on a couple questions. I'm setting up a small home studio for my own use (male vocals, midi + daw, guitar). I am looking at mics right now.

First, it seems a lot of people are shilling dedicated mic preamps as the "best upgrade to your mic." Are mic preamps somewhat the snake oil of the mic industry? It seems quite a few are really sold as colorizers, which I guess is OK as long as one knows that's what it's being bought for. I haven't seen anyone selling rhodium mic cables at least. I have a Focusrite solo and Motu ultralite mk5. I assume those are perfectly clean and flat.

The Austrain Audio OC16 (among others) have a HF notch around 7-8k (FR chart here). My understanding is this is to help de-ess. What do you think of putting this in the mic rather than handling it in post? It looks like several of the mics I'm looking at (OC16, AT4033) have a dip like this, while others (e.g. TLM102) do not.

If you have any favorite mics for male vocals, and maybe acoustic guitar, please let me know. I'm looking in the sub-$500 range (e.g. AT4033, OC16, Mk4, maybe a used TLM102). I'm making a list of candidates so I can try them out.
 

Philbo King

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AT mics are all good. Studio Projects mics are good (I have a multipattern SP B3, and it excels in everything I use it on. Currently going for around $200 US).

There are also a number of companies making decent U47/U67 clones, but you might only find a few under $500.

For home recording, LDC cardoids are great if you have decent acoustics. Dynamic cardoids are better if your acoustics are lacking.

Studio recording mics in general are not flat like measurement mics. They are selected for the coloration they impose on a sound source. It's rare to even see published FR curves for them, and generally they're curve-smoothed and averaged over hundreds of mics; so the data is rather useless.
 
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Blumlein 88

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Mic preamps, even in inexpensive audio interfaces are basically a solved problem like DACs. There is a little more variability in performance than DACs, but not a huge amount. A few usually expensive preamps color a bit, but lots of that is just hype and talk.


Sound on Sound a decade a go did a blind online comparison of a bunch of preamps. This article is about the results.

If you want to hear them yourself the files are here. You can listen and see for yourself prior to reading the above article with the results revealed.

There is an ongoing thread at Gearspace titled "Saving the music industry one magic pixie dust microphone preamp at a time."

Your preamps are fine.

I would add I'm not a fan of the AT4033. They are rather bright, and have a bit more distortion than others at levels above 90 db SPL. I had three of them at one time.
 
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Blumlein 88

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It's rare to even see published FR curves for them, and generally they're curve-smoothed and averaged over hundreds of mics; so the data is rather useless.
Agree with most of your post, but disagree with the last of it. I've several microphones and using the smoothed published FR graphs, I've developed calibration files. Most just about overlay a Umik-1 once I do that. Cardioids will droop at the low end, but otherwise match. Those published graphs are smoothed (usually to 1/6th octave I think), but they apparently are rather accurate.
 
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radix

radix

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Thanks for the insights.

Right now I'm using an ME64 (I have the K6/ME64/66/67 combo for doing some nature photography/video). I mostly wanted to compare some alternatives, as right now that's the only mic I have.

I'm mostly F2-G5 (say 80-800 Hz, with harmonics out to 3-4k), so the ME64 loses a little at the low end, but it's not too bad, maybe -3 dB.

The first mic i'm going to try is the CAD M147, as its supposed to have very good performance and variable patterns to help with my less-than-optimally treated room. I know I need room treatments more than better mics.

Given the cost of a WA47/WA67, even used, I'd likely try something like an ART tube preamp on a normal mic first, to try out a warmer sound.

I have found the Sound on Sound sight very helpful.
 

Blumlein 88

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Are you thinking of a CAD M179? I have a couple of those. Good microphones for the money. They aren't as robustly built as say a Shure microphone, but they work and sound fine. The microphone patterns come in handy.

I haven't used one, maybe this Avantone tube LDC is worth considering. On sale for $399 currently.

Maybe this would be useful to you. Have to sign up for a free account, but you get to hear 300 different microphones to compare including the CV-12. Website is a little weird, but you'll figure it out.
 
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radix

radix

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Are you thinking of a CAD M179? I have a couple of those. Good microphones for the money. They aren't as robustly built as say a Shure microphone, but they work and sound fine. The microphone patterns come in handy.
Yeah, I picked up a 2nd hand CAD M179. Should arrive in a couple days. It it doesn't work out, I can re-sell for not much difference in cost.

I saw that audio test kitchen a while ago. I should play around with it some more, now that my mic list has stabilized some.
 

dasdoing

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It's kinfd of stupid to search the perfect FR of a mic when you gonna EQ it anyways imo.
preamps "sound" often refers to their saturation behaviour when they are purposfully overdriven
 

Bergante

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There are three key characteristics that define a mic preamp. One of them is purely a technical problem solved long ago: hard performance data like frequency response, S/N ratio, etc. Nowadays high performance preamps have gone down in price thanks to new components being available.

The other characteristic is "personality", ie non linear distortion. It's not something you can just reduce to a percentage number because it's non linear, hence complex. So what do you get with a boutique preamp? With some you get that special distortion that gives more "sparkle", maybe a subtle improvement to consonants when recording vocals. It can be subtle but not insignificant. For instance, what´s special in the SSL audio interfaces? The "special distortion button".

The third characteristic, although a solved problem nowadays, is how they couple with difficult microphones. Transformers, which are more fool proof, are frequently used in expensive preamps but nowadays there are excellent electronically balanced options.

Is it worth it? It depends on what you want and your budget. A big studio will have an impressive palette of microphones and preamps to choose from. For a project studio I would go for for neutral preamps with the best "hard, measurable" performance. You can add some distortion digitally when you need/want/like it, but you can't remove it after the fact when the signal has been recorded with the preamp distortion.

I have a couple of Midas XL48 8-channel preamps for live recording and I love them.
 

Inner Space

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So we start down the rabbit hole of more myths in pro audio.
Yes indeed, and worrying about mic preamps is a dumb myth, most often due to simple misattribution. Try this thought experiment: you buy a new preamp for your home system. To install it, you have to move your rack and speakers. Afterward, the sound is better. (Or worse.) Great new preamp, you think. (Or, lousy new preamp.) Wrong! It's 99% certain you put your speakers back in a slightly different position.

Same in the live room. Microphone placement is 99% of the game. The choice of preamp is a flea next to an elephant. It's the 21st century now - ADC the mike ASAP and work in the box.

In the OP's case, for male vocals, again, put 99% of your thought and effort into mike placement. Voice sounds come mostly from the mouth, but also the chest, neck and nose. (In some cases, vocal sound can come out of the ears too, but too low level to worry about.) Experiment with more than one mike. E.g. Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car", which folks mention a lot as a distinctive vocal sound, had a mike at her mouth, but crucially, because she doesn't like to sing without her guitar, the guitar mike was picking up chest sounds. The blend made the track.

Takeaway: the only two things that matter are the mike/room interface, and then eventually the speaker/room interface. Everything in between is trivial.
 

thecheapseats

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I'd like to get ASR's take on a couple questions. I'm setting up a small home studio for my own use (male vocals, midi + daw, guitar). I am looking at mics right now.

First, it seems a lot of people are shilling dedicated mic preamps as the "best upgrade to your mic." Are mic preamps somewhat the snake oil of the mic industry? It seems quite a few are really sold as colorizers, which I guess is OK as long as one knows that's what it's being bought for. I haven't seen anyone selling rhodium mic cables at least. I have a Focusrite solo and Motu ultralite mk5. I assume those are perfectly clean and flat.

The Austrain Audio OC16 (among others) have a HF notch around 7-8k (FR chart here). My understanding is this is to help de-ess. What do you think of putting this in the mic rather than handling it in post? It looks like several of the mics I'm looking at (OC16, AT4033) have a dip like this, while others (e.g. TLM102) do not.

If you have any favorite mics for male vocals, and maybe acoustic guitar, please let me know. I'm looking in the sub-$500 range (e.g. AT4033, OC16, Mk4, maybe a used TLM102). I'm making a list of candidates so I can try them out.
I'm mostly clueless regarding consumer audio - the d to a side - however I've spent decades working the a to d side...

it seems over the last several years with the increasingly large number of utoob talking faces doing their thing - there's a lot of chatter regarding mics and 'speaking' into a mic...

very little of that has anything to do with capturing the performance of a person 'singing' into a mic, or recording an instrument with a mic (your applications state above)...

a quick reading of the mic pres you own right now are likely perfectly adequate... tips ->> use the mic that sounds best on the singing voice you're recording... if you don't have mic choices maybe borrow a few...

there are both large and small condenser mics at your price point that will perform well - certainly some dynamics if they happen to sound good on the voice you're working with at the moment... maybe a bit of soft-limiting if you have it (and know what you're doing)... just capture the performance... don't mess with recording eq decisions you can't fix and must live with later on...

therefore, a mic with a 'notch'? to help de-ess?... ummm no...
 

Rja4000

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Well...
First all microphones are different.

They, of course, have different FR, but not only.
They also have different max SPL, noise, directivity, sensitivity to handling noise, robustness and resistance to shock and moisture, to feedback,...

Looking for a good male voice mic... for what use?
Studio only ? Stage only ? A mix ?
While walking ? Or static ? Or very static ?
Handheld or on tripod only ?
While playing an instrument ? Which instrument ?
Inside only or also outside ?
In a quiet or noisy environment ?
...

A few of my favorite voice microphones:
Audix OM7, Neumann KMS105, DPA 4066, DPA 4088,...
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

For accoustic guitar, I like the DPA 4099 and Neumann KM184 (or KM84, but they get expensive).
Well, it's just what I have and use.
And I mostly use them live.

BTW: I also happen to have a TLM 103.
If you go that way (large membrane condenser), make sure to get yourself the corresponding shockmount.

About the preamp:
There are measurable differences between mic preamps.
That doesn't mean that they lead to audible differences in practice, if you're carefull and know what you're doing setting them up, since, most often, the limiting factors, by far, are the mics and the environment.
But they do exist.

Dynamic range vs Gain.png

NB: In above plot, the Millennia measurement is not limited by an AD stage, so the comparison isn't really valid. And the ADI-2 Pro isn't a mic preamp, of course. I just added it to give a point of comparison.
 
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DVDdoug

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People often complain that the preamp built-into their interface doesn't have enough gain for dynamic mics when recording "normal voice". They seem to to be more-optimized for condensers, which typically have 15-20dB more output.

...Some people also complain that condensers pick-up more room noise. That's true and the noise is more "noticeable" BUT they also pick-up more signal so the signal-to-noise ratio isn't worse and if you match the levels there's no difference (assuming the same pickup pattern and frequency response, etc.) And the stronger electrical signal makes a better signal-to-noise ratio for the preamp noise.
 
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radix

radix

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@Inner Space Thanks for calling out mic placement. I have started experimenting with it. I've mostly been working with "point the mic to the mouth, not the mouth to the mic" strategy. I will also try different vertical alignments to see what happens. I think the advice of get a clean ADC fast, then muck with it later is good advice for me as I'm really trying to conquer the basics right now.

@Rja4000 thank you for the comments. The use is for my home studio only. So, pretty static setup. Tripod use only. For male vocals (not voice over or podcast), acoustic guitar, and electric guitar amp (at reasonable volumes).

My room, right now, is about 40 dB C-weighted noise. At least that's what my 11 year-old sound level meter says (not sure how far out of calibration it is). I'm working on relocating some equipment to a different place and putting up room treatments.

My background is mostly in live (or live-in-studio) 90s college rock, punk, grunge, where it was mostly all SM57/58 or similar, plus a couple specials for the drums. So in addition to that being 40 years ago (and all analog to tape), most of the techniques were different.
 

Blumlein 88

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Just to throw something out there, you might be happy with a ribbon microphone. There are some in your price range. They are colored, but usually nicely so for voice and strings. You likely have enough gain for a modern one though maybe just barely. Main issue in a smaller space is what it picks up from the rear. However you can get a sense of whether that is a problem using your M179 in figure 8 mode. I've been meaning to try EQ on an M179 vs my cheap Avantone CR-14 ribbons, but haven't gotten around to it.

SE electroonics VooDoo VR2 and VR1 are available in an active and passive version. The active doesn't need very much gain. Both are pretty flat in response and presumably not colored much. At least in the USA they are in your price range. Cascade Vin-jet's are sort of old school long ribbon microphones with a flatter response than some though not as flat as the SE offerings. Some are as little as $200. I've not used any of these myself.

Cascade Vin-Jet
1679175559542.png


sE electronics VR1 and VR2. The active VR2 would require 16 db less gain. The VR1 and Vin-jet need about the same amount of gain.
1679175600280.png


For comparison here is the M179 in bidirectional mode. It would require 20 db less gain than the VR1 and Vin-jet.
1679175629747.png


And here is the response of my CR-14s which sound way better than you'd think just looking at it. It is colored.
1679175656445.png
 
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HarmonicTHD

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I have a couple of Rohde NT1 (condenser mic). Pretty linear and good SNR. I think the NT1A is even more linear if I remember correctly. Both also pretty affordable. Behringer is a knock off, which is surprisingly good too, but I rather give my money to the original manufacturer/ designer.

The Motus and Focusrite are pretty clean too with SNR above 100. I measured mine for SINAD in a loop back test and it even slightly exceeded the manufacturer spec.
 
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