Pardon this long post, but I wanted to print a summary of the comments received both on this site and through emails from the readers of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. I also included some of my own observations for what they're worth.
Mic 1 - Neumann KM184 ($1158): This mic was the biggest surprise of the project for me. More people picked it as their favorite than any other mic, and given the legendary status of its predecessor the KM84, that’s no small thing. Many of you commented on its “bright, but full” sound, and I suspect the brightness is one reason many people have rejected the KM184 in favor of the somewhat darker-sounding KM84. If you judge this mic on its own merits however, I believe it’s worthy of serious consideration for the flatpicking guitarist.
Mic 2 - Josephson c42 ($505): A couple of people picked this mic as their favorite, while many others found it to be too bright. One person discovered that changing the EQ on the recording raised his opinion of the c42, and that’s certainly something to consider. It fared well in the “best-bang-for-the-buck” category, and I thought it was the most unique-sounding mic in the project. Personally it wouldn’t be my first choice for recording a flatpicking melody, but its airy quality might make it a good choice for fingerstyle or rhythm.
Mic 3 - Charter Oak M900 ($619): This mic didn’t get many comments good or bad. I thought it was a decent-sounding mic, but perhaps a bit thin and bright. In my opinion it lacked the personality of the Josephson and the evenness of the Audio-Technica mics.
Mic 4 - AKG c 391 b ($599): Like the Charter Oak, this mic didn’t raise too many eyebrows. Some thought it bright and unbalanced, while others included it in longer lists of mics they thought were okay. It was nobody’s favorite and nobody’s “best-bang-for-the-buck.”
Mic 5 - Audio-Technica 4021 ($499): This mic was another surprise. A couple of people listed it with their favorites, and many others picked it as the “best-bang-for-the-buck.” Because of its evenness and balance, as well as the price, it’s a strong contender in that category. It’s a darker-sounding mic than others in this price-range, which I personally tend to prefer for flatpicking.
Mic 6 - Rode NT5 ($349): People seem to either love or hate this mic. It was picked by a couple as a favorite, while others chose it as their least-favorite. There’s no question this is a bright-sounding mic. Those who liked it seemed to be familiar with it, and it’s not unusual to prefer what we know. Others found it to be unbalanced, harsh and artificial-sounding. My personal opinion is that this mic is too thin and bright to be a viable choice for flatpicking.
Mic 7 - Audio-Technica 4051 ($595): Several folks picked it as a favorite and nobody had a bad thing to say about it. Not bright or harsh, this mic has, in my opinion, a smooth and even quality that compares favorably to the most expensive mic in the project – the DPA 4011. I had the engineer toggle back and forth between the two while I tried to tell them apart, and I picked wrong a couple of times.
Mic 8 - DPA 4011 ($1949): The priciest mic in the project was also the favorite for quite a few folks. People loved this mic for its balanced sound and darker qualities. Those who criticized it tended to think it lacks life or personality. The 4011 has a reputation for being transparent, and that can be either a good or bad thing, depending on what, where and how you’re recording. It’s not a mic you see used that often for flatpicking, but I have to confess I love the 4011. In my opinion, no other mic in this project besides the Schoeps has the ability to capture nuance and detail like the 4011, especially with a solo instrument. But I’d recommend comparing it to the AT 4051 before deciding if the extra money is worth it to you.
Mic 9 - AKG c 1000 s (399): Nobody who commented tended to like this mic. It topped the list of least-favorite, and comments ranged from “no mids” to “harsh, thin and muffled.” I’ve seen it used in live situations with good effect, but I believe there are better choices in this price-range.
Mic 10 - Audio-Technica ATM450 ($449): This mic didn’t get much attention from anyone who commented, and the AT4021, which costs just a little more, is probably a better choice for a flatpicking. Having said that, I thought this mic had a certain charm all its own. Its unique design uses a side-address like a large-diaphragm mic. Its sound is more dissipated and airy than the other two Audio-Technica mics, which might make it a good choice for rhythm guitar.
Mic 11 - Peluso CEMC6 ($345): As its name suggests, this mic is modeled somewhat after the legendary Schoeps CMC6. Only one person picked this as a favorite mic, while a couple of others commented that it sounded “close to the Schoeps.” I have to confess that one of the reasons I started this project was my desire to compare these two mics. But I personally didn’t hear much similarity between them. To my ears the Peluso sounded thin and bright, lacking the body, depth and fullness of the Schoeps. The differences are more obvious on high notes. Compare the sound on The Little Brown Dog 23 seconds into the example to see what I mean. Granted, it’s only a fraction of the price of the Schoeps.
Mic 12 - Schoeps CMC64 ($1715): This is the second highest-priced mic in the project after the DPA. Almost as many people chose it as their favorite as the Neumann. Those who liked it used words like “woody, lively, balanced, controlled, sweet, tight low end, and beautiful” to describe the sound. A couple of people found the sound to be too “colored.” But it’s hard to deny the detail this mic delivers, and on the high notes it really sings.
Mic 13 - Shure SM81 ($592): The Shure is a well-known and often-used budget mic for both the studio and for live applications. Several people picked it as a favorite while others found it to be on the thin side sound-wise. For flatpicking, I would personally choose the AT 4051 over this mic. Coming in at about the same price, I think the Audio-Technica has much more depth and richness than the Shure.
My own favorites, price aside, came down to this:
First choice: Schoeps CMC64. For a while I had a hard time deciding whether I preferred it over the DPA, but after having the engineer toggle back and forth between them on a passage with notes up the neck, my mind was made up. I also felt the Schoeps held up better in the mix when listening to the rhythm and melody together.
Second choice: A tossup between the DPA 4011and the KM184. In other applications such as classical guitar the 4011 would likely have been my first choice, but for flatpicking I didn’t think it had the personality of the Schoeps.
The KM184 was a mic I expected to not like very much and I was pleasantly surprised. I found it to be very similar to the Schoeps in character, but the high end is just a bit looser. Again, try listening to both mics 23 seconds into The Little Brown Dog to hear the difference in their high end.
Best Bang-for-the-Buck: For me the Audio-Technica 4051 wins in this category hands-down. It sounds to my ears like a mic that costs a lot more. It’s a little more full and rich than its little brother the 4021 and worth the extra expense in my opinion.