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Small Condenser Mic Comparison
Old 18th November 2009
Small Condenser Mic Comparison

Hello Everybody,
I recently did a mic comparison article for Flatpicking Guitar Magazine featuring small condenser mics. Here are links to the article and to the location of the audio files:
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine: Articles: Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Comparison
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine: Articles: Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone Comparison - Microphone List

The article outlines which mics were used as well as the parameters, but for the sake of this post I'll list them:
Neumann KM184, Charter Oak M900, Josephson c42, AKG c 391 b,
Audio-Technica 4021, Rode NTS, Audio-Technica 4051, DPA 4011,
AKG c 1000 s, Audio-Technica ATM450, Peluso CEMC6, Schoeps CMC64
Shure SM81

I'd love to have your comments. Thanks.
Old 18th November 2009
Gear Nut
Good job man! Thanks mucho for taking the time to do all of that. If I understood the answer key correctly, I tended to prefer the KM184 & SM81---I wonder if it is because we are so used to their sound over the years??? All of the others were very usable for my taste, except for the AKG 1000s, which I am afraid I have never liked on anything

Thanks again,

Old 19th November 2009
Lives for gear
jnorman's Avatar
nice playing.

my order of preference was:
km184 - nice and balanced overall, clean and musical
at4051 - beautful, open sound
at4021 - obviously a new contender in the mic price range
sm81 - i was not expecting this one - much smoother than i thought.

thanks for posting - i love doing blind listening, and was pleasnatly surprised at my results, since i own km184s and at4051s.
Old 19th November 2009
Gear Addict

Fantastic comparison, thanks!

I listened to the Little Brown Dog files at 48 kHz and wrote the following quick notes:

1 - nice balance, musical
2 - plastic
3 - plastic, veiled
4 - bright, unbalanced
5 - unbalanced
6 - smooth, sweet
7 - nice balance
8 - nice balance
9 - too bright!
10 - thin, muffled
11 - lively
12 - full, lively
13 - thin, unbalanced

To me clip 1 sounds the most "realistic" of the bunch. Every other mic sounds like it's doing something to the sound in terms of accentuating certain frequencies. That being said, I think most of the mics are very usable and offer slightly different colors. The only ones I had a negative reaction to were 2, 3, 5, 9, and 10. My top picks would be 1, 7, 8, and 12.
Old 19th November 2009
Lives for gear
didier.brest's Avatar
Rode NTS does not exist. Is it Rode NT5S, which a single microphone identical to both ones from the stereo pair NT5 ?

I preferred DPA 4011 and Schoeps CMC64. But I found the Josephson C42 becoming the best one after EQ (+6 dB shelf below 200 Hz, - 6 dB attenuation around 6 kHz, Q = 2).
Attached Files

C42_EQ.mp3 (1.51 MB, 10606 views)

Old 1st December 2009
Gear Head

I am a long time musician but an amatuer at self-recording who has started to acquire some moderately priced mics in the last year. This was a lesson for me in several things:

First of all, that there are a lot of good mics out there and we are lucky to have all of these companies competing in all of the various mic type market segments. While I would only own 2-3 max of any type of mic, I'd take any of these myself and in the future probably will not be as tight arsed about making a decision. I am confident that I have a good source sound and tonal abilities as a musician that none of these mics are going to make me sound bad. Or better. They'll get what the get and 99% of that will be ME.

Secondly, I learned that I could recognize the mics I use - the C42. I suspected it as soon as the track started. And while I did think they were clicky in this guy's case and had a slight bit of upper mid annoyance, these would sit in a mix very well, are not clicky in my case (probably more technique or placement in my case) and they do have life and presence.

Third, there is control in the low end and great musicality in the Shoeps - I now get why they are imitated. Thanks!

This is a lot like taste testing my favorite vacuum tubes in audio or guitar amps. All different but all good.

Edit: wow just looked at the pricing spread of these mics. some of you have golden ears but I would be great with a pair of C42's and Peluso's and then would get on with life. I don't have a studio to run, but just sayin'.
Old 1st December 2009
Gear Addict

After a quick comparison I liked Neumann and AT 4021. I read about the latter once but forgot about it, obviously a welcome addition to the market.
Old 8th December 2009
Here for the gear

First of all, this a well laid out piece of work for objective comparisons, thank you. (great playing too). I am seriously searching for a pair of SC mic's and am trying to make myself believe that the KM 184's are not as far ahead of so many other mic's - even ones comparitively priced. But for the life of my ears, the 184's in this comparison are fuller in every aspect. I did like other mic's, (Peluso)for sure, and if the 184 wasn't always there, I'd easily pick one, or 2. But it is there, and it's scary how good they sound.
Old 8th December 2009
Lives for gear
James Lehmann's Avatar

Great shoot-out, and wonderful playing. You did a great job of repeating the performance so accurately for each take.

Your Great River pre-amp does the good ones justice and exposes the short-comings of the others beautifully!

Quite frankly quite a few of these mics would be fine with me. There are a couple of obvious turkeys - the C1000 with no mid, and the Rode with a typically artificial muffle, and I don't really like the c391 or the SM81 or the AT 4021 - but for the most part once you reach a certain level of quality many of them work very well and the more subtle differences are coming down to fractional differences in the take and mic placement. Like any shoot-out, this gives you a flavour and some ideas to try but it would be an unwise engineer to select a purchase based only on the evidence here.

Too bad you had to sell your old KM84 and couldn't have thrown this into the mix as a wildcard (although I understand you wanted to limit it to currently available stuff) - in every other acoustic guitar shoot-out I've listened to this mic has mojo like no other and goes some way towards explaining why second-hand prices on those puppies are so exorbitant.
Old 12th December 2009
Lives for gear
SANDS's Avatar

really liked 1 and 6

just had headphones, used 44.1

loaded them all on the same track in Reaper. Many of them were clipping Reaper on playback.

Is that an NT5 on 6?

I have a pair of them if so, maybe that is why I liked 6.
Old 13th December 2009
Gear Nut

I first listened without looking at the key. The mics that caught my attention initially were 2,3,5,7,8,11,12. I continued to listen to those samples blindly and narrowed the field down to 2,5,7,8. I then looked at the key, and was surprised at a few things.
While the Schoeps sounded very smooth and refined, I found them to sound a little to colored and felt they lacked some life.
Although I thought the DPA was well balanced, it just didn't do anything for me. Interesting, this is the second acoustic guitar test I've listened to with the DPA 4011, and both times I didn't find it to be anywhere near as good as their omni's, which I dream about on occasion.
The two mics I kept coming back to were 2 and 5 (Josephson C42 and AT4021). I was particularly impressed with the AT4021. Very impressive showing in this test, especially considering the price and competition.

Great test overall! One of the better one's I've come across here.

Old 16th December 2009
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Piedpiper's Avatar
Ironically, the beautifully balanced smooth playing and tone, partly due to the heavy rounded pick, doesn't offer enough potential problems for the lesser mics to reveal themselves. If the playing/tone had been rougher there would have been more high frequency information to show up the nasties more. Nice stable of contenders. I was on the panel of Mike Jaspers SDC shootout for Tape Op and was just going over the files again when I ran across this thread, kind of a small version of same, with all the above choices being represented and then some. Although I found it more difficult to choose between these in this context due to the aforementioned issue I still found myself preferring the DPA and the Schoeps.
Old 16th December 2009
Gear Addict
Fieldstone's Avatar

Only listened to the rhythm wavs. But my favs were.


The others sounded either very similar with little character or sounded thin. Worst to my ear was 9. #4 sounded middy.

If I had to rank my top 4, I'd say:
12) woody, nice, even, refined
13) robust bottom, less top end than 12. what I'm used to hearing.
1) full and a pinch of brightness
8) even sounding, like an Avenson Audio STO2.

I'm not sure what sounds "real" since I haven't heard the source...but when I picture a guitar in a room in front of me...these four make it happen.

Old 11th January 2010
Gear Head
On that webpage in the first link you list a Rode NT2 as mic number 2.

But isn't the NT2 a large diaphragm rather than a small diaphragm?
Old 12th January 2010
Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments on the mic comparison.

There's one small correction to make: One of the links lists the Rode mic as an NT2 while the other labels it an NTS. It is in fact an NT5 taken from a stereo pair (NT5S). Sorry about the typo.

I'll be printing a summary of comments in the next edition of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine based on your comments here as well as from emails I've received.
Old 25th January 2010
Lives for gear
Mike Jasper's Avatar
Very well done. Much better consistency and variety than my tests, although I think since mine combined picking with rhythm it was comprehensive enough. Still, it would have been nice had I used a click track, since that's the only way I could have kept a consistent tempo. But then I didn't realize I was doing a test for Tape Op until 20 mics in or so (I tested 84).

In Jeff's shootout, I preferred the AT4051 to the AT4021. In my test, it was the opposite, but then I did have more time with the AT4021. Also, in my test I placed each mic where I thought it sounded best, generally in the 12th fret area but varying from 4 to 10 inches away -- if I thought the mic sounded better closer, I'd move it in. Too boomy? I'd move it out. Not scientific, but it's what I'd do in a real session.

In this test, I liked the Schoeps best then the KM184. That's the best KM184 sound I've heard on guitar I think, although--as my test also proved--KM184s work just fine on acoustic guitar despite what you might hear from all the naysayers. For my taste, the C42 and the Peluso are just way too bright. That said, listen to the acoustic guitar on a Black Crowes album and way too bright seems to be the modern sound.

I guess I like midrange, so the 4021, 4051 and SM81 sound just fine to me. The DPA 4011 sounds good too, but it didn't stand out. Maybe that means it's the most natural. The one I liked the least was the AKG c 391 b. Yikes.

I would have liked to have heard a better AKG example, say the C480. And I wish the Beyer MC930, Mercenary KM69, T.H.E. KA-04 and a Gefell M295 or M296 had been included. But there's always something more to hear.

Good job, Jeff.

Old 25th January 2010
Lives for gear
Piedpiper's Avatar
Originally Posted by Mike Jasper View Post
That's the best KM184 sound I've heard on guitar I think, although--as my test also proved--KM184s work just fine on acoustic guitar despite what you might hear from all the naysayers. For my taste, the C42 and the Peluso are just way too bright.
As I said above, the use of a thick pick on this test means you won't have the opportunity to hear the down side of bright mics. The source guitar sound doesn't have any high frequencies to get out of hand. Not the best test in this regard, because of how nice and round the guitar actually was being played.
Old 1st March 2010
Lives for gear
gutr2's Avatar

Man what a great test! Tons of appreciation from me!

As much as I wish you had used better converters, the different sonic quality of each mic got captured really well.

I was considering getting the Peluso or Josephson as my second pair of SDC, but I think it'll have to wait until I can afford the Schoeps. I replaced my KM184's by a pair of KM84's and don't look back, twice the price, twice the mics (at least). Good luck!
Old 7th March 2010
Gear Nut

Nice job! It definitely goes to show you get what you pay for, as I liked the Neumann, DPA and Schoeps the best. However, I was really surprised by the Rode. It was really bright, but it had a nice drop off in the low mids so you couldn't really hear the harmonics fighting each other in the body of the guitar. I think it would sit in a mix better than a lot of the cheaper mics. The worst offender was the SM81 at the beginning of the fifth bar in Red haired boy. That's just ugly.

That being said, I could make a nice sounding record with any of these with a nice EQ. It goes to show, good solid playing is the most important part to getting a good sound.
Old 2nd May 2010
Small Condenser Mic Comparison

Great comments on the mic comparison guys. Thanks so much. In retrospect I have to agree with Piedpiper that the test would have been more revealing with a brighter-sounding pick. If I do something like this again I'll take that into consideration.

I also agree with the comment that better conversion would have helped the test. Since this project I've replaced my MOTU with a Prism Sound Orpheus and I'm really amazed at how much of a difference it makes. I believe the DPA and Schoeps would have been done much more justice with this converter than they were with the MOTU, and the differences between all the mics would have been more dramatic.

But that was part of the learning experience too. This project was illuminating for me on many levels. Thanks again gang.
Old 3rd May 2010
Lives for gear
Piedpiper's Avatar
Originally Posted by troxelj View Post
Great comments on the mic comparison guys. Thanks so much. In retrospect I have to agree with Piedpiper that the test would have been more revealing with a brighter-sounding pick. If I do something like this again I'll take that into consideration.

I also agree with the comment that better conversion would have helped the test. Since this project I've replaced my MOTU with a Prism Sound Orpheus and I'm really amazed at how much of a difference it makes. I believe the DPA and Schoeps would have been done much more justice with this converter than they were with the MOTU, and the differences between all the mics would have been more dramatic.

But that was part of the learning experience too. This project was illuminating for me on many levels. Thanks again gang.
True enough but it can also be iuseful to see how things show up in the context of a more pedestrian system.
Old 22nd May 2010
Summary and my own thoughts

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.
Old 23rd May 2010
Lives for gear
Piedpiper's Avatar
To summarize my own findings, the DPA just sounds like the source, with unparalleled ability to resolve harmonic textures. The Schoeps adds vivid color to a very clear palette. They both serve well in different contexts. The 184 is just too edgy, but you won't hear it in this context with that round tone gotten with the thick round pick, as I said before.
Old 23rd May 2010
Gear Nut

Thanks for the well-thought out and phrased summary. And thanks again for the test. This was easily one of the best comparisons I've heard and seen on the internet.

Old 24th May 2010
Lives for gear
Michael_Joly's Avatar

Yes, great summary of comments. That post alone should be stickied as primer in how to write succinct comparitive analysis of mics.

btw - I would have loved to front you a mod'd Oktava MK-012 for your test. Especially since it holds its own so well against the KM 84.
Old 26th May 2010
Lives for gear
thismercifulfate's Avatar
Thanks, I enjoyed this shootout very much! I just got an AT4051a in the mail today and I haven't yet tested it, so naturally I was curious to see how it would fare in this shootout!

I downloaded all the 44.1k WAV's of Little Brown Dog and listened with my AKG K601's through a cMoy Penguin peppermint micro amp. I made notes as I listened to the different sound files and went back and forth to compare them. I like to note which ones sound similar and pick out what the little differences between them are. Here's a summary of my notes:

1 - (No notes on this one, as it was initially my point of reference.)
2 - Brighter, but also more focused/narrow and forward than 1.
3 - Like 2 but a little more full and rich, refined.
4 - Darkest so far. Smooth, least string sound. Maybe a bit too muffled.
5 - Right between 1 and 4. Pleasant, but nothing exciting.
6 - Like 5 but closer to 4 than 1. Nothing special.
7 - Very nice low end! Natural top-end. Features the whole guitar.
8 - Like 7 with more presense and clarity. Fills hi-mids "missing" in 7.
9 - Plastic-like sound. Narrow, no sparkle. Like a dynamic mic.
10 - Lots of detail, sounds closer to guitar than 7, but not as forward as 8. Low end is lacking.
11 - Between 2 & 8. Pretty forward. Tone stands out. Focused, no sparkle.
12 - Full sound. Nice clear detail. More forward than 10, nicer than 8.
13 - Accents wierd hi-mid frequency. Like having stuffed sinuses.

So it seems like I liked mic 12 - The Schoeps CMC64 the best, followed by mic 8 - The DPA 4011 and 7 - the AT4051. Reading my notes on the AT4051 makes me very happy. I got mine used for 150 bucks, and there it is in the top 3 with $1715 and $1949 mics! Hell yeah! I'm not surprised that I very much disliked the SM81 and the AKG C1000B's. It's consistent with how they have fared for me in other shootouts and using them myself.
Old 26th May 2010
Lives for gear
Mike Jasper's Avatar
I also used an AT 4051a in my test but preferred the AT 4021, as did most others who evaluated the mics.

However, in this Flatpicking test, I believe he used an AT 4051b which has a slightly different sound. Don't get me wrong, the AT4051a is a nice mic too, but it doesn't sound the same as the b.

Old 29th May 2010
Gear Head

I went in blind, took notes, and the Neuman and DPA were among my least favorites. Not flaming either mic - just my take on this shootout. This could be good for my budget, but perhaps an indictment of my ears..

Great post.
Old 29th May 2010
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Mike Jasper's Avatar
Originally Posted by sae2111 View Post
I went in blind, took notes, and the Neuman and DPA were among my least favorites. Not flaming either mic - just my take on this shootout. This could be good for my budget, but perhaps an indictment of my ears..

Great post.
But what did you like? If you found that you preferred the Audio Technica mics, then your dislike for the Neumann and DPA pretty much makes sense to me. It would mean you don't like much high end in your acoustic guitar, regardless of the quality of the high end.

Old 31st May 2010
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amfortas2006's Avatar

i found Charter Oak to be very noisy.

I liked Schoeps, AT 4051, DPA, Neumann in that order. Neumann seems to be much hotter then the rest (thus louder)

Peluso was also noisy. The other AT microphones were good (especially 4021).
I didn"t like Rode, AKG or Josephson on this.
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