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Sweetwater Vocal Mic Shootout Discussion

Mitch: Hi, I’m Mitch Gallagher, welcome to the Sweetwater Minute. I’m joined in the studio today by Mark Hornsby, Sweetwater’s director of studio operations, and Lynn Fuston, manager of written content here at Sweetwater.

We’ve got a pretty amazing project to tell you about. Lynn, what are we talking about?

Lynn: A vocal mic shootout. We put 50 microphones in the studio, and listened to male and female vocals through all of them.

Mitch: That’s a pretty ambitious project.

Lynn: It’s huge.

Mitch: Right, so where did this come from? Where did the idea come from?

Lynn: There’s so many customers that want to know what microphones sound like, and they read on the web, and they read on the site, they read everything they can to find out what they sound like, but most don’t actually have a chance to actually hear the microphones. So the difference between reading somebody’s impression of what a microphone sounds like, and actually hearing it yourself is night and day. So that’s what it is.

Mitch: Right, right. So Mark, you’ve done obviously a lot of microphone comparisons, and you have access to an amazing mic locker in Sweetwater studios. How did this differ from the day-to-day way that you choose microphones?

Mark: I think day-to-day, like a lot of people, engineers, people have preferences. Guys that work in the studios, they have go-to microphones that they like, and we don’t have every microphone in the world back there, so this was an opportunity to put up a whole bunch of microphones in a non-biased environment, and listen to them out of context of day-to-day music workflow. You know, we’re focusing on vocals, we’re focusing on making sure the levels are all correct, there’s a lot of preparation and steps that went into that, and it’s not like working on a record where you’ve got your go-to mics, you throw up one or two things, and you go, “Oh, let’s use that,” while you’re listening to a whole bunch of different instrumentation.

Mitch: Right. So given that difference, Lynn, what does somebody take away from listening to 50 different microphones?

Lynn: The takeaway from listening to 50 different microphones is you can hear one microphone that somebody might typically say is very, very bright, and you listen to it and you go, “That just sounds good to me. Sounds clear to me.”

Another one that people might say is warm, you might listen to and say, “That just sounds dark. It sounds dull.”

So it’s the opportunity to just hear with your own two ears what they sound like.

Mark: It debunks a lot of myths. We all have — I think all of us are guilty of that. We have preconceptions about, “Well, that piece of gear sounds like this, or this microphone sounds like that.”

In reality, sometimes we’re right, and sometimes, we’re like, “Well, when was the last time I actually listened to this?” Versus something I read on a forum, or what a friend told me, or what I saw in a music video, or an in-the-studio video, so it kind of breaks down walls of reality and perception.

Mitch: And for so many of us, the way that we actually hear microphones is once they’ve been mixed in a production and gone through mastering, so comparing that to what it actually sounds like in the studio when the vocalist is just stepping up and singing can be a very different thing from what you hear on a final production.

Lynn: Right, just the raw vocal. That was the amazing thing to me, and the reason I enjoyed doing these is you line them all up, and then you sort of listen without paying attention to which is which, and you listen to A, B, C, D, and then all of a sudden, E comes on and you go, “oh, wow, what is that?”

And sometimes you look at the list and go, “Oh, that’s $9,000. So that’s what $9,000 will get you.” But other times, you listen to it and you go, “Man, that sounds really good, what’s that?” And it’s $200.

So that’s what I love about them, is out of these 50 microphones, I went back and counted them, and there’s 26 of them I’d ever used before, so the rest of them I’d never heard ever.

Mitch: Right, and you’ve heard a lot of microphones?

Lynn: I’ve heard a lot of microphones, and so I discovered several microphones that it’s like, I’m going to have to get one of those.

Mitch: Well, I think we should talk about, we have 50 microphones, and those were selected out of hundreds and hundreds that Sweetwater carries, and we tried to choose a range of prices from 50 dollars up to $9,000, something like that? And we focused very specifically on large diaphragm condensers.

Lynn: Side address condensers.

Mitch: Side address, and we also specifically focused on female vocals and male vocals. So let’s talk about the process, because in my mind, I’ve looked at mic shootouts that people have done before, and there’s always been some kind of failings there, if you will, you can look at it and say, “Well, that wasn’t really unbiased,” or, “That wasn’t comparing apples to apples.”

How did you ensure once you had these 50 microphones that the process was going to truly be unbiased, and that you were going to be very rigorous about comparing the microphones?

Lynn: Well, first off, just backing up a little bit, when they wheel a cart in, and they’ve got 50 microphones in boxes, and it’s stacked about this high, and about this wide, and this long, it’s overwhelming. It’s just like, “Wow, what have we gotten ourselves into?”

And it takes — it took a day to set it up, took two days to record, and then another day to get everything back in the boxes. The only way to make sure that you’re doing a fair comparison from mic, to mic, to mic, to mic, is to put them all in the same space, at exactly the same height, same distance from the singer, and make sure that they’re calibrated.

Mitch: What does that mean, calibrated?

Lynn: Calibrated. You need to make sure that the levels are all the same going into the microphones. The singer is going to be consistent, hopefully consistent, but you need to make sure, because the gain on all of the microphones is going to be different. In this particular test, some of the microphones only required 10dB of gain, some of the microphones required 39dB of gain, and it’s fairly well known that something that’s louder is going to sound better, so if you put two microphones even, two identical microphones up, and one is 3dB louder than the other, then you’re going to say, “Oh yeah, that one is better.” Even though the only difference is the fact that it’s louder.

So what we had to do is very, very carefully control the volume to make sure it’s a level playing field.

Mitch: And what was the process you went through to do that?

Lynn: Oh, it was intense. Step one, we got all of the microphones on stands that would not — we used latch leg stands to make sure that they wouldn’t sag, because everybody’s used a stand where you start with the vocal here, and by the chorus, it’s down here, and then it just keeps coming down.

So we used latch leg stands to make sure that they were all the same, we checked with Nick D’Virgilio who’s singing, and then got the microphone at the right height, then we measured that, we measured the distance from his voice to the microphone, and then we had him sing to see how loud he was going to be singing, and then set the gain with the first microphone that way.

Then we went back and took a 1kHz tone through a speaker in front of the microphone, in front of each microphone, and put out the same level in front of each microphone, and we calibrated that for distance, for the center of the diaphragm and height. We locked it all down, and every microphone was calibrated that way. So that’s how we did it.

Mitch: That’s a lot of work right there.

Lynn: It’s a lot of work.

Mitch: What preamp did you use for this?

Lynn: We used a Millennia Media HV-3R.

Mitch: Mmhmm. Which allowed you to get how close in your calibration?

Lynn: It’s stepped in 1dB steps. There are other preamps that have continuously variable. They’re typically not that accurate, and some are 5dB steps, and it’s like, the Millennia Media is very, very clean, it’s very, very quiet, when we were checking it out to begin with, we ran all the gain on all of them up to 69dB, and the noise floor was just barely noticeable at all. So that was the reason we chose that.

The other reason we chose that is it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. There’s not a lot of variables. You can’t change input impedance, it doesn’t have drive and other switches things like that, it’s just a known in the industry. So that’s what we did.

So we calibrated all of those within one dB, and then we printed the tone so we could come back and adjust those later to get the differences to within a tenth of a dB.

Mitch: Right, so it was accurate to within a tenth of a dB from microphone to microphone, which is a pretty painstaking process to make that happen. You know, normally when you’re recording, you’re not working in that small of increments.

Lynn: No.

Mitch: So Mark, when you’re setting something like that up, you were running Pro Tools and getting it all configured. How did you set that up so you could efficiently move from microphone to microphone and not have the singer waiting as you went?

Mark: We did them in banks of eight microphones. So we setup eight microphones, and we had it already height wise and everything measured out in the room, so every time we switched a mic, we could get the capsules exactly where the previous eight were, so we setup eight microphones, male vocal, a verse, a chorus, female vocal, verse and a chorus, had to get a box for Kat for her to stand on, because she’s not as tall as Nick, so we could get that height exactly the same in terms of capsule ratio to their mouth, and have that same distance.

Lynn: Yeah, because when you’re calibrating 50 microphones, you don’t want to calibrate them for the male, and then turn around and calibrate them all again for the female, so we were trying to find the most efficient way to do that.

Mark: Yeah, and to setup 50 microphones in one space, in any acoustical environment is going to sound different at any particular point in that room. I mean, Studio A here at Sweetwater sounds great, but one wall has got glass, one wall has got windows up high and has absorption underneath it, so to have them all in a confined space to where each bank of 8 is in the same acoustical environment is also important.

Mitch: Right, for reflections from around the room and all that affect. One thing I’ve noticed people miss before in shootouts is they’ll measure, but they actually measure to the grille of the microphone. What’s the problem there?

Mark: Every grille is different.

Mitch: Where the diaphragm sits is different inside each of those microphones, so you guys actually had to go through with a flashlight, figure out where the center of the diaphragm was, both forward and back, side-to-side, up, down, because it varies in all of those microphones.

Lynn: Right. And this brings up another point, no matter how careful you are and how scientific you try to be, there’s always going to be one little thing, so we did the first eight, and sang through the first eight, and we realized that one of the singers was measuring with the string, we used a string to make sure that the distance was the same, from her mouth to the front of the head basket. Which you know, sometimes the head basket is a half an inch away from the diaphragm, sometimes it’s an inch and a half away from the diaphragm, so it’s like, “ugh.”

So we had to go back and do them all over again. It’s like, “Okay, same string, measure to that center line, so that you’re the same distance from the diaphragm.” Because as anybody who has worked with microphones and compared knows, especially when you’re dealing with cardioids is you’ve got proximity effect, so if you’re an inch closer to the microphone, it’s going to sound different than if you’re an inch farther away. So if you’re doing a comparison, and on one microphone, you’re three inches away, and on one microphone you’re five inches away, it may look very similar to the singer, but it’s not going to sound the same, even on the same microphone, so we had to be very, very consistent about that.

Mitch: So I have to ask. The one variable that’s uncontrollable, if you will, is the performance of the vocalist. So why not just put a speaker up, and play music through the speaker, and use that for your source?

Mark: How many people are recording speakers with their microphones at home?

Mitch: That’s a good question.

Lynn: That’s the bottom line, is what we were trying to do is get rid of variables, but what I’ve come to before when I’ve considered doing this is, okay, if you have a singer, especially if you get a professional studio singer who can sing very, very consistently, they’re going to give you a really reliable, repeatable performance.

Think about the variables that you introduce when you put a speaker in front of a microphone. Let’s work our way back. One, is it a single-way? Is it a coaxial speaker or is it a two-way speaker? If it’s a two-way speaker, where are you, as far as the intercept between the woofer and the tweeter? Some speakers, because of the dispersion on the high end, if you get too close, it’s going to sound different.

So there’s that, there’s the amplifier that’s in the speaker, there’s the original microphone that it was recorded with, the original preamp, the original converters, so in order to eliminate one variable, you’re introducing about eight more variables.

But the bottom line is like Mark said, it’s like, how many people are actually miking speakers?

Mitch: Right. The other difference, to my mind, is that a speaker certainly moves air, but not the same way that a singer’s mouth does. You don’t get “p” pops off of a speaker for example in most cases that I’m familiar with. So there’s those kind of things that are created by a singer that result in the air that a speaker doesn’t necessarily do.

Mark: It’s funny you mention that, because we didn’t use a pop filter on any of these, and for the most part, Nick and Kat are both comfortable singing in front of a microphone, they knew there wasn’t a pop filter there, so they were trying to be sensitive when they hit a “p” that might be plosive, but even though they’re doing that, some of the microphones, it reacts fine to. You don’t hear them at all. Some of the microphones you still hear a lot of it, which is another good comparison between the different mics, the different capsules, how they’re performing, in terms of low end and proximity effect.

So that’s interesting too. At first glance, when we were listening back to the files, and you’d hear a pop, you’d go, “Ah, it’s got a pop in there.” But actually, that’s not a bad thing, and this type of comparison, because this isn’t going on a record, this is for us to listen to how a piece of equipment is responding.

Mitch: Right, right. I was very impressed, I sat in on a session, and observed some of the setup, and also Nick and Kat singing. How consistent they really were was very impressive as they went from take, to take, to take, and were very careful about comparing earlier takes, because we were doing them in banks of eight, so we’d go back and refresh, and work forward, and there was a lot of thought in a process to doing that so they would be very consistent.

Was there other things the singers had to contend with?

Mark: Fatigue. I mean, it’s not — I don’t care how good of a singer you are, if you’re going to sing the same thing 50 times, and you’re constantly referencing a certain way, that’s taxing for I think any musician despite what you’re singing or what you’re playing, and we’re only human. So starting at ten o’clock in the morning, two o’clock in the afternoon, five o’clock in the afternoon, temperature, where’s the moon at, all the important stuff, it takes a lot on our end listening to them and making sure, “Okay, that’s the same,” and them doing the same as well.

You know, “What’d I sing before? Okay, new bank of eight, let me hear a clip of what I did, okay, we’re good.” So concentrating on placement, dynamics, note choice on the performance, you get so focused on that stuff, then fatigue sets in, and then, “Oh yeah, there’s that whole pitch thing,” stuff that you normally focus on a lot when you’re recording a vocal track, like pitch, for example, isn’t as important — still important — but not as important as placement, what notes, where are they at physically, don’t move, trying to capture all of these physical actions to make it repeatable.

Mitch: Right, right. That was one thing I noticed watching the two of them sing is that most singers who have experience, both in the studio and on stage, they work the microphone. They come in, they go back, they move off-axis a little bit or whatever, they had to be very careful to really position themselves and hold themselves right there. That introduces a lot of variables.


Mark: They were thrilled about that too. [laughs]

Mitch: Yeah, I bet. But that’s a fatiguing thing too, to have to maintain that level of distance.

Lynn: To think about not moving. Well, most people don’t realize, I’ve been very fortunate to work with professionals, and a lot of people don’t have that luxury, and don’t have a singer that can deliver exactly the same performance 50 times in a row, that know exactly what they’ve done, can remember what they’ve done, and just deliver a great take. Some people, if you get one good take out of 50, you’re lucky. So…

Mitch: We had these marathon sessions, and recorded all the vocals. What happened after that? Was there EQ, was there processing?

Mark: We backed it all up on a hard drive immediately.

Lynn: And then had a party.

Mitch: The most important thing, right? Then what happened, was there EQ applied? Was there compression? They were singing along with tracks, and then you were soloing those tracks. Were you doing different things in those situations?

Mark: So once we got done backing everything up, naming. Going back through and making sure everything is named properly, checking everything against our sheet. File management is huge when we’re delivering 50 different files.

Lynn: Times four.

Mark: Yeah, times four, right. So getting all of the file management stuff done, but the raw files that people were able to download, there’s no EQ after the fact, there’s no compression after the fact. They are the actual take from the microphone to the preamp into Pro Tools, 24, 96 wav. You can open a Pro Tools session, you can import the files into other digital audio workstations, and you’re hearing what we heard that day in the studio.

Mitch: So there are actually two different ways that these are available, right? Or actually three, if you want to think about it that way. There’s the full Pro Tools session that has the full resolution files that you can download and open up in Pro Tools, there’s the download that has just the audio files that you can load into any DAW, and they all line up right at zero, and they all play back, and you can compare that way, but we also have a page at where you can click on previews. Now, what’s happening with those previews?

Lynn: The previews are just like you would find at iTunes. It’s a round radio button that has a play and pause, and what you can do is we made 320kbps mp3s, which are higher resolution than even iTunes, and with those files, we took ten second snippets. The originals are a minute long with a wide dynamic range. With these, we took ten second snippets of the male and female vocals soloed, and the male and female vocals with tracks. Somebody can go through the page and pick a microphone, and just click that button and hear it.

So with those, we did apply some compression on the tracks to make sure that the level was compatible with something that somebody would be listening to online.

Mitch: Right, because you might play those back on computer speakers, on your phone, whatever, with earbuds, and a little bit of compression helps. So to truly get the experience of comparing these microphones, you need to download either the high resolution files and load them into your DAW, or download the Pro Tools session if you have Pro Tools.

Lynn: Oh, absolutely. And our hope is that the people who are wanting to listen to all of these microphones want to hear the best example that they can without any compromises in audio fidelity at all, so our hope is that they’ll download those, and take the time to go through and listen to them, because we did soft phrases, there are loud phrases, you can hear just all kinds of difference between them.

Mitch: Low, high, you tried to cover the range of a vocal.

Lynn: A huge range, and the snippets that are online, it’s just a phrase. It’s a preview, that’s all it is.

Mark: So the ten second clips that are online that are the vocal and the playback track, they do have a hair of reverb on them, there is no EQ, there’s also a little bit of compression. In particular, on the female vocal performance track, the dynamic difference between the verse and the chorus is very drastic, and we wanted to create an experience to where if people are listening on their phone, or their tablet, or their laptop, where the sound wasn’t jumping up and down, so we did apply compression.

So on just those playback — those ten second clips of the vocal and the track, there’s a little bit of compression, and there’s just a little bit of reverb for more of a real world experience. There’s no EQ. There’s no EQ on the backing track, and there’s no EQ on the vocal, but there’s just enough glue there to where when you’re just playing back those ten second clips, they’re consistent, they’ve got a little bit of verb on there for more of a real world pseudo mix kind of example, but when you download the files, none of that stuff is there. It’s all unprocessed, 24 96 wavs.

Lynn: And somebody can go back and add compression, they can add EQ, they can add delays, they can play like it’s in a real mix, and set it up so that this is exactly what they’d sound like in a mix, then swap from A to B to C to E, all the way down.

Mark: More importantly, they can hear what it would sound like on how they would mix it in their own studio. You know, everybody’s got their own go-to plugins, compressors, reverb, effects, vocal chains, they can process these files and audition those in their own studio the way they like to work.

Mitch: Right, and still hear the difference in the microphones.

Lynn: Absolutely.

Mitch: So speaking of that, you guys have heard a lot of microphones, you’ve done a lot of comparisons. Was it really that dramatic of a difference between all these microphones when you got 50 microphones there, by the time you listen to them, do they all just sound the same?

Mark: Oh, absolutely, there’s a difference. You know, when you get — and the differences stand out more when they’re back-to-back like that. What you think a certain microphone sounds like, in reality, having it right next to seven others extremely fast, and then once we’ve done all 50 and we go through them, it’s amazing the differences that you not only hear, but you realize that some things you thought were north are actually south, and vice versa, and there’s some pleasant surprises int here, and there’s some stuff in there that you go, “Wow, I never thought that sounded like that.”

Lynn: For me, being able to listen to them over the course of two days, as we recorded, versus being able to go, A, B, C, D, in rapid fire, it’s shocking how much difference there is between. It really is amazing.

Mitch: So are there particular things that people should be listening for as they’re auditioning these microphones?

Lynn: One of the interesting things — and I always learn stuff when I do this — one of the interesting things to me is that there were certain microphones that would stand out, and I would go, “Man, that sounds great on the verse.” On the chorus, maybe not so much. But then there are some microphones that sounded great on the chorus, on the verse, I really didn’t care for it that much.

So where I always end up is I need more microphones. That’s just me, I always end up needing more microphones.

Mark: Another observation, a lot of people get focused on the solo button, which is why that track is in there, so if you want to solo it you can, but the bigger challenge is don’t solo it, listen to those tracks in context with the playback track, and that’s more telling sometimes than just listening to a soloed recording. You know, soloed is great, because it’s like, “Alright, how’s it feel, turn it up, turn it down,” but at the end of the day, when we’re working on music, people listening to a song don’t hear a soloed vocal, they hear a vocal in the context of a track, so that’s really where the rubber meets the road in my opinion is how does it sound in a track?

50 microphones, the track stays the same, so the track is equally important, and to some degree, a very common ground for the entire thing.

Mitch: Building off what both of you said, I expected hearing all of these microphones that this one would be brighter, this one would be darker, this one would have more low end, this one would be more mid-rangey. I expected those kind of differences. What I was amazed at was the dynamic differences between the microphones. The way that even some of the less expensive microphones really had powerful dynamic shifts between the soft and the loud parts, and that was something I found myself really focusing on as I was listening, especially in the context of the tracks, like you were talking about there, because it’s going to make a difference in first of all, the way the vocal is perceived with those dynamics, but it’s also going to make a difference when you start applying compression.

Mark: You know, picking the right microphone, whether you have three or four microphones in your collection or 50, it doesn’t matter, getting the right microphone — and right translates to correct for that particular day, that particular song, that particular singer, that’s what a lot of this is about too, when you find the right match for what you’re recording that day, that does so much of the heavy lifting into the mixing process than trying to correct something that was recorded on, let’s say a really bright or harsh singer recorded on a really bright microphone, that’s really hard to undo after the fact.

But if you get a darker microphone for a singer like that, or vice versa, however you want to cut it up, then a lot of the work is done, and all you’ve got to do is turn up the fader, add a little bit of compression, reverb, whatever your style is, but you’re not going down this corrective path of, “Oh, I’ve got to turn down the top end, now I don’t hear the articulation,” and that’s a very frustrating place to be, and we’ve all been there, so hopefully this will help educate and hopefully minimize some of those hardships down the road.

Lynn: The other thing is I think sometimes people are looking for a microphone, like the perfect microphone that’s going to sound good on everybody. It doesn’t exist. There is not a holy grail microphone. I’ve got some microphones that sound great on 70% of the people, but sometimes I’ll put up my best microphone through my best preamp, and somebody will stand up to sing, and it’s like, “Wow, that really sounds bad.” I mean, it just does. It’s like, unusably bad.

Then it’s like, “Okay, I got to dig for something else and find something else.” There really is not a perfect holy grail vocal mic, so one of the advantages of doing things like this, is you find, “Okay, if I’ve already got this one, where’s another one that’ll contrast with that that will work on that other 30% of the vocalists that might come in?”

Mark: You know, we’re real fortunate to have Lynn involved in this, because he has such a history in the word, “Shootout.” You’ve done a lot of recordings comparing microphones, and microphone preamps, and I remember being at one of those sessions years ago in Nashville, and…

Lynn: You were? I don’t remember that.

Mark: Well, you never spoke to me anyway, but that said, even today, going through this process, he’s done these before, you’ve done shootouts, we’ve done shootouts together in the studio, you still hear stuff where you go, “Wow, I wouldn’t have expected that.”

And even when you think you know a lot, there’s always something that comes along, maybe it’s a new microphone, or maybe it’s just you haven’t heard that microphone on a singer that sounds like that. There’s always that thing on forums, “What’s the best microphone for vocals?” And that’s kind of a rabbit hole that just never ends. It’s an open-ended question, and it’s self defeating in a lot of ways, but the intent is pure I think, people just want to get a great performance, and to hear a wide range of microphones like this in a non-biased environment, there’s none of us sitting there going, “You need to like this one” or “You need to like that one,” it’s just here’s what they are.

I think it was very educational, and it was certainly educational for us. There were inexpensive microphones where we said, “Wow, I can’t believe that sounds that good,” and there were microphones that were several thousand dollars that we thought, “Wow, I thought that sounded different than I remember it.”

So it’s a lot of education, and hopefully it’s a lot of fun for people checking them out.

Lynn: For people of that mindset. For people that think, “Hey, sitting down and listening to 50 microphones, that sounds like a good time!”

But no, it’s very educational, and I always learn stuff, that’s the reason that I do this, is just it expands your horizons. It’s sort of like getting new colors on the palette, and you’re accustomed with working with these particular colors, and then it’s like, “Oh,” then you hear something and you think, “You know what, I might not use it on vocal, but that would sound amazing on this type of guitar,” or something like that. I love exploring and finding things like that out. Because you can’t have enough tools.

Mark: I love what Lynn said there, the word color is a great word to use. You know, you love blue, you like red, I like green, everybody’s got preferences, everybody’s got favorites. This isn’t about a better than, best than scenario, this is about comparing technology and hopefully, applying that resource to your own art and what you’re trying to do as an educational tool.

There’s a lot of great products out there, we know that obviously here at Sweetwater. People go down that rabbit hole of better than, best, they’re searching for some holy grail a lot of times, because vocals are so important, that doesn’t exist. They’re just different. Every singer is different, every microphone on any given number of singers is going to sound different, and hopefully this will help educate and break down some of those barriers, especially when people get confused on, “Oh, this microphone is the same price as that microphone, but how does it sound different, why am I looking at this frequency response chart, what does that mean,” well, just use your ears. Check out the files and just use your ears.

Mitch: Well guys, I have to say congratulations, because I’ve been a part of a lot of shootouts, and a lot of comparisons, and I’ve never seen anyone do things in such a rigorous fashion, and be so scientific about making sure that you’re really comparing apples to apples, and so the opportunity to sit down and hear these microphones in that type of hyper controlled environment, that type of hyper controlled situation, man, that’s just amazing, so thank you for all the work you guys put in, because it was a tremendous amount of work.

Lynn: It really was, the other thing I wanted to point out is it’s very, very enlightening when you said colors, or I said colors, just when you see…

Mark: I said colors first.

Lynn: You said colors first, okay, when you see the analogy I come back to is tools. It’s like, “Okay, if you had to pick one hammer,” it’s like, okay, well would you rather have — if your one hammer is a sledge hammer, then when you’re trying to do finish work, then you’re out of luck.

So every time we do microphone shootouts — every time I do microphone shootouts, I always come away going, “Okay, there’s a tool that I don’t have. That one fits a need that I don’t have.” You know, and I may have 20 or 30 microphones, but it’s like, “That one. I don’t have that color.”

And there are some microphones that just sound incredibly dark. You can put them on a vocal, and go, “I can’t imagine ever using that.” But on a kick drum, or on a bass cabinet, or on a huge orchestral bass drum, man, that kind of bottom end.

Mitch: Or a voice that’s thin and really bright.

Lynn: Oh, a voice that’s — yeah, absolutely. Again, it’s just tools. It’s tools in the tool chest.

Mark: And I’ve got to say props to Lynn on all of this, because he’s done these shootouts, and he’s the most thorough person I’ve ever met on getting it right, even down to same microphone cable brand, same 30 foot length, whether it’s going from the power supply on a tube condenser into a wall, or it’s going to the microphone to the wall, all the cables had to be exactly the same length, exactly the same brand. So that’s pretty through.

Mitch: That’s pretty tweaky.

Mark: So hats off to you.

Lynn: Well thank you, for these comparisons to have any meaning at all, they really have to be single variable. You have to control everything from microphone cable, microphone cable type, all of these things that we know may make little differences. I mean, it may be only half a percent or one percent, but things like the distance, the space in the room, the length of the microphone cable, everything. Everything makes a difference. Any engineer knows that everything makes a difference.

The only way to have a fair comparison where you can compare A to B to C to D is to make sure everything other than that one microphone is exactly the same. So…

Mitch: Well that’s an amazing achievement. Thanks, guys.

Mark: Thank you, Mitch.

Mitch: I appreciate you taking time today to sit down with us, and describe the process and what you went through there, because it is an amazing opportunity for people to hear these microphones, I really can’t overemphasize that.

Lynn: It really is. The number of people in the world that have the opportunity to sit down and listen to 50 microphones, side-by-side, as far as I know, has never existed before.

Mitch: I really encourage you to go to and check out the vocal mic shootout. It’s an amazing experience, an amazing opportunity to hear all these microphones in your own studio, in your own listening environment, the way that you’re used to hearing audio.

If you’d like to discuss the shootout, there’s a forum going on currently during the month of May, 2017 at GearSluts where you can talk about these microphones with other engineers.

Thanks to Mark, thanks to Lynn, I appreciate you guys coming in.

Thank you for joining me for the Sweetwater Minute. I’m Mitch Gallagher.




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