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Shouldn't the flattest mic be the best?
Old 8th May 2017
  #1
Shouldn't the flattest mic be the best?

There are lots of mics that have amazingly flat frequency response plots. And yet, I rarely see them mentioned when we discuss best vocal mics.

Wouldn't having the flattest, most uncolored, recording of a vocal make the best starting point? To that you could add EQ, compression, coloration to taste.

Why don't you reach for a flat vocal mic?
Old 8th May 2017
  #2
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You could come at that question from many different angles. Here's mine:

My primary work is in advertising. Mainly radio spots, plus the occasional (I hate the term) jingle. The voice, whether speaking or singing, needs to cut through and the words have to be intelligible without making it necessary to pull back the band or sfx or whatever and rob the spot of its energy.

For VO, one of my (and many people's) go-to tools is the Sennheiser 416, which gets the job done via a hefty rise around 5k plus some fairly obvious distortion.

For music, tube + transformer is the recipe, but it's the transformer that really matters. Whenever someone from the outside world sends me a VO or vocal recorded with a transformerless mic other than a 416, it's a struggle for me to make it cut through and still sound nice. Assuming it sounded nice in the first place.

Neumann has been on a quest for flat, clean and neutral for quite a while now, and none of those mics work for me. And when they try to do all that and hit a price point...
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Old 8th May 2017
  #3
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Originally Posted by Lynn Fuston View Post

Why don't you reach for a flat vocal mic?
Most people want something that sounds subjectively "linear", NOT flat. There's a big difference there.

"Flat" is a word that within this context is often confused and misused which can be misleading.

Let's look at a concert PA system as an example. In my own experience nobody wants to mix on a flat system. Sadly, only measurement folks seem to understand that the PA is not actually flat. Every engineer refers to their "preferred" frequency contour as "flat" regardless of the way it measures. Even seasoned pros that should know better - I have been amazed by this repeatedly without fail. Go figure.

This is less of a problem in the recording world, but the point is, we don't want flat, we want flattering.

Sure, I could certainly try to sculpt something good out of a source that sounds boring, thin and clinical, but who has time for that? Paying clients sure don't. Why not get it right as close to the source as possible, with minimal time and fuss.....

My 2c on this.
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Old 9th May 2017
  #4
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I think flat and transparent is the way to go. Then adjust in software as you describe. What you can't adjust is directionality, and some other aspects. But a good wideband, flat low distortion microphone you color to please for each project would seem the best way to go. Just not how it has been done.

I have developed calibration curves for a few of my mics based off a calibrated measurement microphone. They do sound much closer that way. Most sound cleaner and more real to life. Then you can add ripples or bubbles in response as needed. Still they don't sound identical after this just that differences are much reduced.

Some things like tube or transformer sound I don't have a way to mimic though there are companies with plug ins that claim they can.
Old 9th May 2017
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bambamboom View Post

This is less of a problem in the recording world, but the point is, we don't want flat, we want flattering.
So what's flattering.. Big smiley face EQ?

I really like having a high shelf on the sides and some Pultec-ish low boost on my master buss for this reason!
Old 12th May 2017
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lynn Fuston View Post
There are lots of mics that have amazingly flat frequency response plots. And yet, I rarely see them mentioned when we discuss best vocal mics.

Wouldn't having the flattest, most uncolored, recording of a vocal make the best starting point? To that you could add EQ, compression, coloration to taste.

Why don't you reach for a flat vocal mic?
I'd say this assumes that the goal of a vocal recording is to capture the experience of hearing that singer in that room as transparently as possible. And that might be the goal sometimes, but I think it usually isn't. For one thing, the vocal recording is going to be mixed with other sources, whether recorded simultaneously or not, and this is an inherently non-transparent process; no matter how flat your mics are and how uncolored the circuits or algorithms you're mixing through, the product of multiple separate tracks mixed to a single stereo output is unlikely to sound exactly like hearing those tracks all together in real time and space. If you want that kind of transparency and fidelity, you should record everything at once with a stereo pair -- and for that application, people do often choose the flattest mics available.
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Old 12th May 2017
  #7
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I think this is approaching it from a theoretical premise - flat = good - that doesn't hold up so well in the real world. If you're developing a microphone, and aiming for quality, then while you will of course take precise measurements, it's not mathematical plot-points that will (or should) drive various component and design decisions: it's "does it sound better" in a number of real-world situations. That's why, at the other end of the equation, studio engineers for the last 50 years have been making their mic selections based on what best suits the sound source in front of them, rather than trying to find one, perfectly-linear microphone and using EQ for everything else. (Though, as 90% of Slutz know, Steven Slate has recently put their considerable expertise - and, I can only imagine, considerably expenditure - into developing as linear a microphone as possible, at an affordable price point.)
Old 17th May 2017
  #8
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I use DPA d:Facto II vocal mics for live
use AND live recording. They are flat from 100Hz to approx. 11 kHz with a 3dB bump at 12 kHz. In use I usually flatten out this bump and love the clean sound and flat response. I have never
missed the 2 to 9kHz edginess of so many mics.
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Old 17th May 2017
  #9
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I genuinely think flat-frequency mics are great. But it's difficult to know what that is.
Most brands, including Neumann will smooth out their charts a great deal, and many others, in particular cheaper or smaller manufacturers, will have quite a bit of variation between individual mics. Lots of small resonances and dips in frequency response fail to show up in their marketing blurb.

Many things like distortion can have very different textures – as any guitarist knows, there is nice and nasty distortion, and intermodulation of high-frequency, high-amplitude content is going to sound a lot rattier than a nice few even harmonics.

The most annoying characteristic of most large-diaphragm, side-address mics, to me, is the often mushy treble, very apparent in acoustic guitar transients and in sibilants. Most pop and rock nowadays has crunchy, crusty esses and other sibilants and I absolutely hate it.

I have been using a DPA Linear vocal mic for recording, and it has a ****-ton of proximity effect, well up until the midrange. But once it's EQ'ed out, it sounds more natural than most LDCs.

Then again, it really is a matter of taste. The current flavour-of-the month is the hipster, harsh vocal with weird digital reverb so to an extent I refuse to say fidelity matters that much in the end. The worst is I like a lot of new music – I just wish I could peel off the crusty top-end off!
Old 17th May 2017
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Folkie View Post
I use DPA d:Facto II vocal mics for live
use AND live recording. They are flat from 100Hz to approx. 11 kHz with a 3dB bump at 12 kHz. In use I usually flatten out this bump and love the clean sound and flat response. I have never
missed the 2 to 9kHz edginess of so many mics.
I didn't see your post! You should try out the new Linear one. The top end is sweeter and the polar pattern slightly better behaved. I don't miss the extra top end one bit.
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Old 17th May 2017
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lynn Fuston View Post
There are lots of mics that have amazingly flat frequency response plots. And yet, I rarely see them mentioned when we discuss best vocal mics.

Wouldn't having the flattest, most uncolored, recording of a vocal make the best starting point? To that you could add EQ, compression, coloration to taste.

Why don't you reach for a flat vocal mic?
If the vocalist was flat as well, there may be phase cancellation problems.
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Old 18th May 2017
  #12
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Originally Posted by johnny nowhere View Post
If the vocalist was flat as well, there may be phase cancellation problems.
But if the singer is sharp, they cancel each other out. Perfect!
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Old 18th May 2017
  #13
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Most measurement mics are very flat and cheap. I think they sound horrible.
Old 18th May 2017
  #14
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I think I wouldn't choose a flat mic because i'm gonna have to EQ the **** out of everything even more than you would without choosing a flat mic. When you're miking **** up, you're trying to get it to sound in the ballpark of how the record would sound. This is also why we position mics in certain ways and whatnot.

Let's use drum overheads as an example. If you know you're going for something darker on overheads, then why choose a mic that's flat as possible? In this case, maybe you'd opt for ribbon mics, where the top end sort of rolls off nicely. Maybe you want something with very articulated highs.. Small cap condensers would be a step in the right direction, for sure.



Maybe you're doing a rock kind of band, and you want a really clicky kick in mic that can also support some bottom in tandem with a kick out mic.. I'd probably choose a D6, which has some scooped midrange. And kicks have a ****load of midrange. But I'd choose a mic far from flat, because it's already somewhat "eq'd" to be closer to what I imagine the final sounds will sound like.

Accuracy of sound definitely isn't what everyone's after, for the exact same reason why people still love analog outboard gear, tape, or even plugins that emulate those things.

Distortingjack's posts here are interesting, and honestly, i haven't tried using very flat mics (Earthworks comes to mind when i think of super flat mics) to do any recording. For a room test once, yeah. I imagine they might be really badass room mics or overheads, but only if the room and cymbals are pleasing.

I'm rather inexperienced/still a novice, and I have a pair of sE condensers that have a very flat looking chart. How do they sound? Not so great. Probably for reasons beyond the flat frequency response (which may hardly matter when you realize that, as distortingjack has suggested, the chart might not actually be 100% accurate).
Old 18th May 2017
  #15
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Noooo.... would I want the flattest sounding guitar or flattest sounding snare drum to modify myself later? I want recording equipment that enhances the source in a way that has depth, oodles of character and deals with any undesirable qualities like harshness or s***** transients.
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Old 18th May 2017
  #16
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Actually I prefer a great mic that takes little to no fuss when it comes to eq-ing and a nice tuned room for them to play with. But on the other hand, (depending on the material) a good stairway foyer works nice too instead of a tuned room.
Old 18th May 2017
  #17
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It really does depend on the source...I typically like to use a microphone that adds some color and gets me closer to the way I want the track to sound in the end, but I once listened in on a shootout for someone who was selecting a microphone for an opera singer. The microphone they decided on was one of DPA's large-diaphragm microphones, which was the most neutral-sounding of the bunch (which were maybe half a dozen microphones in the $5K range). It wouldn't have been my choice in just about any situation but that one, but for that singer and style of music it was perfect.
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Old 18th May 2017
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Amphibian View Post
Most measurement mics are very flat and cheap. I think they sound horrible.
Take for example the DPA 4006A.

Flat? Sure.

http://cdn.dpamicrophones.com/media/...sponse-DPA.jpg

Cheap? The good ones, not so much. And these are the good ones.

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/4006

And on the right source, they sound phenomenal.
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Old 18th May 2017
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amphibian View Post
Most measurement mics are very flat and cheap. I think they sound horrible.
I assume you have been using entry level to mid-market stuff. Basic acoustic measurements do not need a low noise floor, or low distortion figures. Unless you go for really good ones, you'll get a mostly-flat frequency response, but an omni (usually kind of shabby) pattern, harmonic and intermodulation distortion in the treble (especially when it gets loud – measurements are seldom done at high levels, and mid-volume close-mic singing can easily overload a cheap capsule), and lots of hiss.

If you try an Earthworks or a Brüel & Kjær measurement mic, you might change your mind. DPA is an offshoot of B&K and uses the same capsules on many of their mics – I can't say that the guys recording classical music would say they sound horrible.

My own experience with high-end, linear mics, is that they need less work than coloured mics, even on pop or rock music recordings. I don't need to muck about with the treble when it doesn't sound metallic, phasey, or mushy.
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Old 18th May 2017
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lynn Fuston View Post
Take for example the DPA 4006A.

Flat? Sure.

http://cdn.dpamicrophones.com/media/...sponse-DPA.jpg

Cheap? The good ones, not so much. And these are the good ones.

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/4006

And on the right source, they sound phenomenal.
I was talking about the Behringer measurement mics for instance. Of course you had to find one of the most expensive one out there to prove me wrong!
Old 18th May 2017
  #21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Amphibian View Post
I was talking about the Behringer measurement mics for instance. Of course you had to find one of the most expensive one out there to prove me wrong!
I'm just talking about a mic I've owned and used and found to be incredibly versatile. Drum overheads, piano, choir, acoustic guitar. These DPA mics are amazing tools. I bought a pair of B&K 4007s in 1980. And they weren't cheap then.

http://www.coutant.org/bruelkjaer/

And we ARE talking about good mics, right? Finding tools that are wonderful.
Not finding bad mics. Bad mics are easy to find.
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Old 18th May 2017
  #22
Look at this frequency plot. And that scale is not 5 or 10dB increments. Those horizontal lines are 1dB!

Bruel and Kjaer Calibration Chart

1dB down at 20kHz.
Old 18th May 2017
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amphibian View Post
I was talking about the Behringer measurement mics for instance. Of course you had to find one of the most expensive one out there to prove me wrong!
Those Behringer ones are not measurement mics. They are trash. They do not deserve to be sold as such. One of the big calibration companies out there just stopped doing those because they were so poor:

Cross Spectrum Labs – Behringer ECM800 Calibration Services Stopped
Old 19th May 2017
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DistortingJack View Post
I genuinely think flat-frequency mics are great. But it's difficult to know what that is.
Most brands, including Neumann will smooth out their charts a great deal, and many others, in particular cheaper or smaller manufacturers, will have quite a bit of variation between individual mics. Lots of small resonances and dips in frequency response fail to show up in their marketing blurb.

Many things like distortion can have very different textures – as any guitarist knows, there is nice and nasty distortion, and intermodulation of high-frequency, high-amplitude content is going to sound a lot rattier than a nice few even harmonics.

The most annoying characteristic of most large-diaphragm, side-address mics, to me, is the often mushy treble, very apparent in acoustic guitar transients and in sibilants. Most pop and rock nowadays has crunchy, crusty esses and other sibilants and I absolutely hate it.

I have been using a DPA Linear vocal mic for recording, and it has a ****-ton of proximity effect, well up until the midrange. But once it's EQ'ed out, it sounds more natural than most LDCs.

Then again, it really is a matter of taste. The current flavour-of-the month is the hipster, harsh vocal with weird digital reverb so to an extent I refuse to say fidelity matters that much in the end. The worst is I like a lot of new music – I just wish I could peel off the crusty top-end off!
I used to believe what you are saying about the published response curves and the distortion. I don't think so anymore.

I had a thread not too long ago where I measured quite a few mics to see if pairs of the same mic matched or not. I was surprised how well they did. I was using an inexpensive UMIK1 measuring mic. Not a reference grade B&K by any means.

Not only did the mics match in pairs, when I corrected response using the goofy advertised overly smooth looking response curves well, most mics above 200 hz came close enough to overlapping each other and the measuring mic it makes me think the curves must be for real. Yes there are numerous small peaks and dips in room with a speaker as a source, but those curves must be generally for real to match that measuring mic which also must be reasonably good in basic response.

Distortion? Well the speaker I used as a source was measured by a publication in an NRC anechoic chamber including distortion measures. Generally it is around .3 % THD at 95 db sound level. All the mics I measured also showed such levels and the general trend very, very similar to the NRC measured curve. Whatever the distortion level of the mics used it was far enough below .3% it didn't effect the basic results.

So surprise, surprise those ad curves aren't big fat lies, and lots of condenser mics are pretty good in terms of distortion.
Old 19th May 2017
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by esldude View Post
Not only did the mics match in pairs, when I corrected response using the goofy advertised overly smooth looking response curves well, most mics above 200 hz came close enough to overlapping each other and the measuring mic it makes me think the curves must be for real. Yes there are numerous small peaks and dips in room with a speaker as a source, but those curves must be generally for real to match that measuring mic which also must be reasonably good in basic response.
2 things with regards to that. First is that if you don't have an actual professional measuring system, you won't get to see the actual measurement no matter how you go about it. I'll post professionally-measured charts as an example:




I couldn't find this kind of un-smoothed chart for any cheap measuring microphone, but you can see what the real response is for a mic from a better brand, and how wacky the sound coming from the back is.

The second thing is, speaking specifically of the Behringer one which was the one referenced above, somebody took 80 of them and measured their response charts:



Now, if you get lucky you surely might have received some of the flatter ones. You might not get so lucky. This goes for any cheap product you buy, ever.

There is an article in German that goes into great detail into other brands:

1000 Mikrofonkalibrierungen - eine Übersicht

Quote:
Originally Posted by esldude View Post
Distortion? Well the speaker I used as a source was measured by a publication in an NRC anechoic chamber including distortion measures. Generally it is around .3 % THD at 95 db sound level. All the mics I measured also showed such levels and the general trend very, very similar to the NRC measured curve. Whatever the distortion level of the mics used it was far enough below .3% it didn't effect the basic results.
95 dB is really rather quiet for what a microphone is used to handle. Due to the inverse square law, a moderately-loud close-miked vocalist can be 20-30 dB above that, screaming way more. You can literally deafen someone by shouting in their ear – that's what you're doing to the microphone when close-miking.

Also, due to the uncorrelated nature of audio used in that kind of test (usually different types of noise, or sine waves), intermodulation distortion doesn't usually show up and needs to be measured separately. Did you do those tests?

Some people have on here, here is the thread:

Gearslutz – Microphone distortion measurements


Make of those results what you will.

You didn't mention self-noise, which is also a problem with these mics. If you've ever recorded a quiet guitar part or a whispered vocal at more than a few inches from a mic, you might have heard a bit of self-noise even on decent studio mics. A cheap measurement mic's noise floor can be 20 dB above that.

Behringer don't even quote any of these specs, for a good reason.

Now, I don't trust DIY measurements because there are so many variables to take into account – and sorry to say, even less if it's only anecdotic and absolutely no insight as to the process. A couple of small articles on methodology (you can't just grab a speaker in an anechoic chamber, do some sweeps, and compare to another mic):

Earthworks Audio: How Earthworks Measures Mics

Bruel & Kjaer – Application Notes: Microphone Intermodulation Distortion Measurements using the High Pressure Microphone Calibrator Type 4221

Now, a last thing, but a big one: omni small-diaphragm end-address condenser electrets are the easiest type to make out of all of them.
You have them on your phones, your laptops, everywhere. Pressure transducers are child's play compared to dual large-diaphragm variable pattern models. The frequency response of a measurement mic is going to be a lot flatter, at any angle, than a similarly-priced cardioid or supercardioid.

And here's the kick: in a great-sounding room, I could record moderately-loud pop/rock vocals with the cheap-ass Behringer measurement mic and make it sound pretty decent. You can hide the hiss in the mix, you can process the treble if it sounds a bit ratty, and the polar pattern can't go that wrong in an omni of that type.

But I'd never buy one, except for basic PA calibration (which is what it's for, really).
Old 19th May 2017
  #26
Quote:
Originally Posted by DistortingJack View Post
95 dB is really rather quiet for what a microphone is used to handle. Due to the inverse square law, a moderately-loud close-miked vocalist can be 20-30 dB above that, screaming way more. You can literally deafen someone by shouting in their ear – that's what you're doing to the microphone when close-miking.
When we were setting up for our mic comparison, I measured the volume level coming out of the female vocalist's mouth at about 6". It was not a high-tech measurement, just more of a "I wonder how loud she is" curiosity.

Using the Decibel Ultra app on my iPhone 5S, with the mic 6" from her lips, I measured a peak reading of 129.5dB.

Potent.
Old 20th May 2017
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DistortingJack View Post
2 things with regards to that. First is that if you don't have an actual professional measuring system, you won't get to see the actual measurement no matter how you go about it. I'll post professionally-measured charts as an example:




I couldn't find this kind of un-smoothed chart for any cheap measuring microphone, but you can see what the real response is for a mic from a better brand, and how wacky the sound coming from the back is.
Actually yes I can show that unsmoothed measure. No that is not what is published, but I can show the result using my own microphones. BTW, even the second one you have above has likely had considerable smoothing applied to it.

Quote:

The second thing is, speaking specifically of the Behringer one which was the one referenced above, somebody took 80 of them and measured their response charts:
This I ignored as I specifically said nothing about the Behringer
Quote:


95 dB is really rather quiet for what a microphone is used to handle. Due to the inverse square law, a moderately-loud close-miked vocalist can be 20-30 dB above that, screaming way more. You can literally deafen someone by shouting in their ear – that's what you're doing to the microphone when close-miking.

Also, due to the uncorrelated nature of audio used in that kind of test (usually different types of noise, or sine waves), intermodulation distortion doesn't usually show up and needs to be measured separately. Did you do those tests?
Though I also didn't show it yes I have done IMD measures. I realize sound levels can reach well past 120 db spl on up close recordings. One of the points is these mics seems low distortion at levels you might use for say a two mic stereo recording. The specs for most mics list a 1% or a bit less distortion at the rated limits (130-145 db usually), and that is not terribly hard to believe.

Quote:

You didn't mention self-noise, which is also a problem with these mics.
Nope didn't mention it though self noise specs for all the mics I have are readily available. They also seem to be relatively in line with the specs in use.

Quote:

Now, I don't trust DIY measurements because there are so many variables to take into account – and sorry to say, even less if it's only anecdotic and absolutely no insight as to the process. A couple of small articles on methodology (you can't just grab a speaker in an anechoic chamber, do some sweeps, and compare to another mic):
I didn't use an anecdotic (sic) chamber. I would however trust the Canadian National Research Council to know how to use their anechoic chamber as they do considerable research into speakers.
Quote:

Now, a last thing, but a big one: omni small-diaphragm end-address condenser electrets are the easiest type to make out of all of them.
You have them on your phones, your laptops, everywhere. Pressure transducers are child's play compared to dual large-diaphragm variable pattern models. The frequency response of a measurement mic is going to be a lot flatter, at any angle, than a similarly-priced cardioid or supercardioid.
So you didn't really think about what I wrote or the point I was trying to get across.
Old 20th May 2017
  #28
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I think a better description would be an accurate mic, not just flat frequency response, but also good time domain response, low distortion, low noise, etc.

So an accurate mic could be the best choice, provided you actually want an accurate picture of the source. Snapshots of good musicians playing good instruments in a good room, not a recipe for success in today's music world.
Old 20th May 2017
  #29
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The flattest mic would add the least amount of coloration to the captured sound, meaning it would (theoretically) sound the most true to the acoustic sound it captures. Sometimes that will give you the desired result, sometimes it will not.
The more room-natural acoustic kindof sound you want, and the less HIFI hyped thrilling pop-music-ish, the flatter mic you could use.
But if you want hyped HIFI thrilling pop-music-ish vocals, go with colored mics, like Manley Reference LMC, AT4033 etc.

I've tried very flat mics, recently the SE Electronics RN17 for example, which has an amazingly flat curve. It certainly sounds flat, in the sense of a movie film or book feeling 'flat'. Musically, it doesn't have much of 'a soul', it doesn't 'say' anything, it has no voice of its own, it offers little more than capturing the sound, and a huge SPL range. Strong words perhaps, but coming straight unfiltered from within 'the zone', that's a bit what I felt. Though I respect the craftsmanship to be second to none. Making flat mics probably isn't easy.

A flat frequency response isn't all there is to it. Sometimes that curve refers to the membrane itself, but you also have other factors which affect the sound noticeably, like the capsule which resonates more at certain frequencies and volume levels than others, and the amplification circuit in condenser mics etc.

In my years, I have come to feel that a mic that gives me what I wish to get, right out of the cable so to speak, is better than capturing something first and adjusting it later, to become something like the first example sounds right out of the cable. It's not only that the latter approach seems to add an additional step in the process, but I've come to believe that more often than not the end result also ends up sounding ... with a bit more natural, self-evident quality to it. Somehow, things seems to get that way when you enrich/add on to an already limited bandwidth recording, rather than dull down/subtract from a wide bandwidth recording.

Last edited by Sk106; 20th May 2017 at 11:50 AM..
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Old 21st May 2017
  #30
Gear Addict
Isn't it preferable to get the sound you want at the source instead of using a flat mic and EQing in post?
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