Electric guitar has had all the glory for too long when it come to microphone shootouts. Well, when it comes to just about anything, but that is beside the point. A conversation with a listener of The Home Recording Show about what microphone to put in front of a bass cabinet got me thinking more than a normal human should think about the subject. My stock answer has always been to use a large diaphragm dynamic moving coil microphone. This would be your standard Shure SM7b, EV RE20, Sennheiser 421, Heil PR40, et cetera. Now the reasonable doubt to this approach started to creep into my head.
I decided to test my usual choices and conventional wisdom to see what actually happens when you try different types of microphone designs, polar patterns, and distances from the source. It was once again time for me to slip into my studio lab coat and get down to some serious business (as I have convinced my wife). I would have liked to use every microphone that I have available to me in the studio, but I knew that would do none of us any good. What I ended up doing was taking one microphone to represent each of the different varieties.
And the nominees are:
Small diaphragm cardioid moving coil dynamic – Shure SM57 -[more info via Recording Hacks]
Small diaphragm omnidirectional moving coil dynamic – ElectroVoice 635a [more info]
Large diaphragm cardioid moving coil dynamic – Shure SM7b [more info]
Figure of 8 ribbon dynamic – Apex 210 (w/ Lundahl transformer) [more info]
Large diaphragm cardioid condenser – Audio Technica 4040 [more info]
The tests that were conducted were as follows:
The Shure SM57 and the EV 635a at 1 inch to show proximity effect
All microphones at a distance of 8 inches to show standard placement
All microphones at 4 feet to show room ambience pickup
All were tracked on axis. The SM7b had the presence circuit engaged and the bass was set to flat. The Audio Technica had the -10 dB pad engaged and bass was flat. Preamp gain was fairly similar among the microphones until I got to the AT 4040. It needed far less gain even with the pad engaged.
The equipment used was as follows: my customized Fender jazz bass, direct to a Golden Age Pre-73, to the SSL Alphalink, to Pro Tools, reamped via a Radial RMP Pro, to a vintage Ampeg V4 amplifier, and finally to an Ampeg SVT 8×10 cabinet.
Are these microphones a great example of what all the other microphones in their class would sound like? No, not really. What would be?! The most important thing to take away from this experiment is the differences from one type of microphone to another. This is not about which one sounds best as much as it is what sound would be best for which particular application.
On the heels of a giant ribbon microphone shootout, I am much more likely (at least in the short term) to put up a ribbon mic in the mix just to see what happens. I think that in this shootout, it was the surprise stand out. I think that I would likely use it as a solid number 2 choice. Still my favorite was the Shure SM7b for most applications. The Shure SM57 may be a surprise to many that it did as well as it did in this application. A simple moving coil dynamic microphone should never be underestimated. They just work! Enough said!
Now, just maybe, if this idea has crawled inside your brain and laid eggs you may be more willing to take a second listen to some microphone choices you may not have previously reached for in a particular application. If anyone out there tries something different because you are now thinking about it, please let us know what you did differently and how it turned out.