Archive for the ‘gear shootout’ Category

Shortly after completing my review of the AEA N22, I was contacted by Patrick Timmons from a company I had honestly never heard of before….Feather Microphones.

Patrick said he had some mics that he wanted me to try out.  I was happy to oblige, as I love trying out new gear, and telling my audio friends about it. Patrick sent me two different models, the Black Beauty and the Blonde (ash).

From the moment I opened the UPS package, I knew that Patrick takes pride in his products. They came in an ample sized water tight pelican style case.  The mics fit quite snugly in the cushioned insert and further came in a velvet type pouch.
The mics themselves are beautifully designed.  They look like a work of art.

50f852_f25fca2cfe514091afe8e6c21f1560d3.jpg_srz_p_655_807_75_22_0.50_1.20_050f852_d17c3cd65f2e4006ac17f229b0644899.png_srb_p_400_400_75_22_0.50_1.20_0

As the XLR connector is the only thing occupying the bottom of the mic, they require a generic shockmount that will fit multiple sized mics.  Patrick happily sent me an extra to use.

I tried the mics out on a number of different instruments (drum overhead, drum room, upright bass, acoustic guitar, lap steel and ukulele) and shot it out against of few other ribbons and old standbys.  I enjoyed the Black Beauty personally, so I stuck with that one for the remainder of my testing.

(At the very bottom you will find a link to download a few samples)

Overall, I found that the Feather excels with acoustic instruments.  It sounds quite natural.  I honestly wasn’t a fan of it on drums at all. I found it to be quite harsh on the high end, which is odd for a ribbon. The cymbals had a strange bite to them which I found pretty unusable as an overhead or drum room mic, almost like some weird phase incoherence in the upper frequencies. I’d be curious to find out what causes this. I have my assumptions, but I’m not qualified to voice my speculations.

My colleague, Tim Mauldin and I recorded a few acoustic songs for singer/songwriter, Lilly Pappas, and I use the Feather everywhere I could.  We put the Feather up against a “ribbon standard” (the Royer R-121) on acoustic guitar.  The Feather had an upper midrange that just sounded “right”.  I literally didn’t EQ it at all in the final mix.   Same with the lap steel.  I had the Feather sitting in front of a Fender ’57 Deluxe Reissue.  With the exception of notch filtering some hum out of the amp, no EQ was used and no compression was used.

On upright bass, it sounded surprisingly close to my AT4050.  The Feather had a bit more “woodiness” to it. So if you’re looking for a natural sounding mic for bass or maybe cello, this mic is great. I ended up using the Feather in my mix over the AT4050.  Although the AT was more than usable and maybe even had a rounder bottom, the Feather just seemed sit better in the mix.

If you are looking for a nice neutral ribbon mic for acoustic instruments, I would seriously consider getting your hands on a Feather. They will definitely be an eye catcher for your clients as well. The only big turnoff I would say is the price.  I can get an AEA N22 which is also a fantastic ribbon for $300 less.  Granted, they aren’t for the same purpose, in my opinion, but there are a lot of mics you can also buy for $1200.  Although, I could argue that the service is second to none, Patrick is fantastic, and you would be supporting a small startup business. He was extremely responsive with any questions that I had, and went out of his way to make sure I had a good experience with his gear.

Here is a link to download a few samples of the mic.

In the zip file you will find a comparison of the Feather and Royer on acoustic guitar, lap steel, and bass.  For guitar and steel, the mics were place right next to each other.  On the upright bass the AT4050 is about 1 foot above the bridge, and the Feather is right at the bridge (so not a completely direct comparison).  There is also a song that was recorded using almost entirely the Feather microphone (all stringed instruments).  It turned out pretty amazing I think.  Virtually no EQ or compression on this track.  Vocal performance by Lilly Pappas Bjorklund, and all other instruments performed by Tim Mauldin.

Alternately, you can stream the song below.

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My friend Travis Atkinson over at AEA Microphones was kind enough to send me the new N22 Active Ribbon to try out this week. I’m always in search of a new guitar mic to use.  Let’s face it, even though we gravitate towards that SM57, we’re all kind of tired of using it.  I like a Beyer M201, and recently I started using my Beyer M69 which I’ve always blown off….it’s a nice sleeper mic.   What I really love though is a 57 paired with a ribbon.   You get the upper mid range bite out of the 57 plus the warmth and depth of the ribbon.   So I was excited when Travis told me about the N22.

Local St. Louis guitar player, Tim Mauldin, and I were working on project so I decided to mic up the rig with the N22.  He brought in a Matchless which he runs through a Bad Cat combo minus the amp.  He brought up his newer Gretsch and I currently had in my possession a vintage ’58 Anniversary…….*insert homer drooling sound*.

Since it would be a little difficult to get all mics on the same speaker I placed the 57 on the opposite side.  Paired to together on the same cone was a Royer R-121 and the AEA N22.  I wanted to see how the N22 stacked up against the Royer in addition to how i fit with the 57.  Tim played a rhythm part for a song we were working on in addition to laying down some lead parts.  (both are posted below).  All tracks were run through a Vintech 473 and level matched as best as I could and then straight to Pro Tools HD (192 I/O).

I have to say, the N22 in a phenomenal guitar mic.  Not only did it blow the Royer out of the water in my opinion, but it’s great just all by itself!  Most ribbons I’ve used sound best when paired with another mic.  I don’t usually like them alone.  The N22, once you add a little upper mids to it and take out a bit of beef, it sounds stellar…..and that’s what we ended up using for the track.  The Royer was just a bit too woolly and dark to stand on its own.  There is a clarity to the N22 that just works.  It’s a little pricey, but compared to a Royer, definitely comes in under budget if you’re looking to spend that kind of cash.

I said that this was going to be a quick review, so I’ll keep to my promise.  If you’re looking for a new mic to expand your sonic palette on guitars, I would seriously consider this mic.  Take a listen for yourself, and YOU be the judge.  Below I’ve included some audio samples.  The rhythm guitar clip is short, but you should be able to loop it easily in your DAW.  I’ve included the 57, Royer, and AEA with both lead and rhythm sections.

Enjoy!

DOWNLOAD MIC SHOOTOUT SAMPLES

I know it’s been a long time, but I FINALLY got around to completing this whole mix test.  Luckily, things have been really busy at work.  I’ve been working pretty much non-stop since early December.

To use a phrase from the broadcast field – ‘if you’re just now joining us’ I’m testing the workflow and sonic tradeoffs of mixing ITB vs. OTB vs. summing and using different types of plugins.   If you would like the history of this test, please visit my previous post here.

So, without further ado, here are the results.  (all files are 16bit 44.1kHz stereo WAV)

All the tracks have the EXACT same start and end point.   The levels are somewhat matched, but not EXACTLY.  When you pull these up in your DAW, you may have to move faders just a tiny bit to match.  (I know, I’m a slacker)

Take a listen and see which one YOU think sounds the best.  I’d love to hear from you.  Of course this isn’t ALL about sound, it’s about the tradeoff between sound and workflow.   I’ll explain my opinions further down.

1. McDSP ITB mix
2. McDSP analog summed
3. McDSP analog summed through Vintech
4. Waves SSL ITB mix
5. Waves SSL analog summed
6. Waves SSL analog summed through Vintech
7. SSL Duality LFAC mix

So, this whole exercise was definitely an experience that both reinforced some existing perceptions and helped me to realize a few others. In past “shootouts” I usually leave my opinions out of it and let the reader/listener make up their own mind.  This time around I think my opinion is critical to this post.

Now, one of the biggest surprises that I has was the fact that  I was able to get the mixes so close to each other  for starting from scratch each time.  All in all, there isn’t a lot of difference between these.  I think this speaks to the fact that the tools used to mix are pretty inconsequential compared to the engineer him/herself and the tracking process.  Most bands these days want to rush through tracking and “fix it in the mix”.  That is the biggest mistake you can make as a band.  The SOUND of the record comes from getting the right sounds in the room at the microphone.

The band and I both liked the Waves SSL ITB mix summed through the Vintech (1073  clone) the best as far as pure sonics were concerned.  This mix was by far the most impactful, spacious, and slick in my opinion.  The standard summed mixes ran through the internal stereo mix bus of the Speck X-Sum.  The Vintech mix replaces the 2 bus mix stage of the Speck summing mixer with the line input of the Vintech preamp.  I found that the summing mixer had a much more desirable character when going through the Vintech.

The console mix turned out pretty good I thought.   I was a bit concerned going in that this one would be a disaster.  I haven’t mixed on a console in a long time and I was not completely familiar with the room/speakers.  Surprisingly I was making pretty much the same sonic moves as the other mixes.  I did have to do some submixing due to only have 24 Pro Tools outputs.  I was surprised by how compressed it was compared to the others, but I guess that makes sense (many more amps, electronics, and the 2 bus mix compressor in the actual console is much more forgiving and therefore you can push it more).  The stereo image was definitely the widest on this mix.  As far as workflow is concerned, this reinforced  that I love the sound of analog consoles, but I don’t really think it’s worth the hassle.  It took a long time to get everything running, there’s always the whole session recall issue, and there were maintenance issues while mixing.  Two channels were not working which meant I went from 22 channels down to 20.  The dynamic IN buttons on nearly every channel had to be exercised profusely before the signal stopped cutting out.  HOWEVER, once I was setup on the board, I didn’t get a good mix going in a much shorter time than the other ITB mixes.  I did do the SSL Duality mix last though, so that could have something to do with it.  By that time I kind of knew what needed to be done.

I kind of have the same thoughts about the summing mixer.  Unless you have something like a Dangerous 2 Bus with no pan/volume pot and one that is normalled to the patchbay, it’s kind of pain to deal with the setup and patching of an analog summing mixer.  I think it made a significant improvement in the sound, but is it enough to justify the cost of a nice summing mixer and all the setup time and lack of recall?  I’m not sure.  Depends on the project and my workload that week I guess.

All of these are totally usable mixes.  There aren’t significant enough differences in any one of them for me to say, oh I don’t like that.  I was assuming the Waves SSL mix would take more time because I’ve been mixing so long with EQ that has a graphic display.  I was wrong.  I love the SSL “sound” for rock and using those plugins helped me achieve the desired effect more quickly. I do also like the idea of using the same plugin on each channel just like a console to get a more glued sound.  In the McDSP mix I was also using a few random plugins like the Waves RenEQ.

I would like to thank all the guys in Highway Headline for lending their awesome musical talents for this project.  If you like the song, please check on their webpage.  It should be available for download shortly.  http://highwayheadline.com  I’d also like to thank Colson Wilhoit for assisting on the console mix at Webster University.  This test was very insightful for me and I hope you benefit from it as well!  Talk to  you soon!

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

SSL Duality Analog Console

SSL Duality Analog Console at Webster University

Man, I am REALLY bad at staying current with this lately!  I had something planned when Avid release the new s6 console, but I kind of lost interest.

I usually get around to writing a blog post when I’m tackling some sort of issue myself.  There are hundreds of audio blogs out there that do the normal reviews and tutorials.  I think my blog has stayed away from that for the most part.   So keeping with the theme, I have another dilemma.

In working at a studio that is completely “in the box”, I don’t know if I can say that I’ve ever been completely satisfied with my mixes.  I’d like to blame it on a lot of things.  I know I SHOULD only be looking inward and saying the cause rests solely on my mixing skills.  I’m sure that’s a large part of it, but there are definitely some revelations I’ve had along my career that have let me know that there is definitely a gear element there too.

Hardware compression over software compression, analog summing (which I’ve covered in a previous post), proper 2 bus compression, etc…have all added small pieces to the puzzle.

I DO, however think a large part of what I”m missing is mixing on an analog desk though.

SO…..that brings me to my  test.

I’m setting up a little challenge for myself.  I want to mix a song  in a few different ways and see how each comes out.  I will play them back in a double blind test and determine which sounds best.   Here are the different mixing methods.

1. Completely ITB using my usual go to plugins.  (mostly Waves and McDSP Channel G)
2. Completely ITB except using the Waves SSL bundle (unfortunately I don’t have it, so i’ll have to get a demo from Waves)
3. Take the mix elsewhere and mix on an SSL Duality.  I think the REAL SSL will make a huge difference, but it’s been a while since I’ve mixed totally analog, and I will be in an unfamiliar monitoring environment so it might all even out.
4. ITB McDSP mix going through a summing mixer
5. ITB Waves SSL mix going through a summing mixer.

Part of the reason I want to try the Waves SSL bundle is because I also have access to an SSL console for a similar comparison, and I’m really blown away by how DIFFERENT I’ve mixed on these plugins in the past and how aggressive it sounds.    The 2bus comp blows me away every time.  I just can’t get that kind of punch and forwardness out of any other plugins.

To be honest, I’m hoping that I get an amazing mix out of the Waves SSL bundle so I can stop lamenting over not having an analog console.  I hope those plugs get me to where I want to go.  Then I can just buy them and get it over with.   (and then be pissed at myself for not doing it YEARS ago!)

To keep all other elements of the mix equal.  I will apply the following rules.

1. Time limit for every mix will be capped at 3 hours.
2. I will only mix a verse and chorus to keep me on track and not wasting time.
3. The song I use needs to have a fairly minimal track count.
4.  All automation/editing needs to be done ahead of time.
5. All time based effects (reverbs/delays) will be pre-set ahead of time and limited to stock Avid plugins for compatibility

Basically the only thing I want to have different, is the channel EQ/Compression, and 2bus compression on each, as well as the summing matrix.  I’m debating on whether or not to allow myself to use saturation/tape/console emulation in the completely ITB mixes.

I will post the results when I’m finished.  It might be a few weeks so I can make the arrangements for the SSL room and summing mixer.

Now…to find a song to use.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m recording another EP for St. Louis metal band, Black Fast.  So I decided to do some testing on my Peavey 5150 to determine which speakers sound the best, what mics to use, and what microphone preamp to use.

You already know I love a good shootout!  😉

Since the test was already done, I decided that I might as well put the results on the ol’ blog.

THE SETUP

I’ve got an original Peavey 5150 (the signature version) and a Peavey 5150 straight cabinet with Sheffields on the bottom and Celestion Vintage 30 on the top.   I mic’d the the upper left hand speaker with a 57, just a little bit off center close to where the dustcap ends.  The guitar was a Hamer Studio USA model with Seymore Duncans.  My playing is…..bad.  The recording was done at SmithLee Productions.

Peavey 5150 metal

Mic’d up Peavey 5150 to reamp for preamp test

I recorded myself playing a riff direct input to Pro Tools HD and reamped the EXACT same performance out the head so the ONLY difference you are hearing here is the preamps.  Everything else remained the same.

The preamps used were:

1. Amek 9098 (2 channel 1U version)
2. API 3124+
3. Classic Audio Products of IL VP26
4. Sytek MPX-4A
5. Vintech 473 (switched to 300 ohms)

I’ve included the files (somewhat volume matched, you may have to adjust a little) with the same guitar performance being fed to 5 different preamps.   Click the link below, take a listen and tell me which one YOU prefer!

DOWNLOAD

 

 

Golden Age Projects Pre-73 vs. Vintech 473 – A Neve 1073 clone shootout

Yes, ANOTHER Neve 1073 clone shootout.  Just what you always wanted….

I FINALLY got my hands on a Golden Age Projects PRE-73 to compare with my Vintech 473!  Obviously it would be nice to have an actual 1073 to compare to, but hey…..I’m not made out of money here!   (but that may be coming later on down the road.  Stay tuned)

Now, just like with all of my shootouts, I’m not going to go into great detail about what I thought for two reasons.

#1 My opinion is really irrelevant.  The audio speaks for itself.  Download and listen.  I could go on for 3 pages about what I think, but that’s completely pointless.  A [clip of audio] is worth 1,000 words.

#2 I loath reviews and shootouts where the reviewer goes on about how “transparent, warm, airy, 3D, up front, smooth, detailed, etc” a piece of gear is.  That’s just a bunch of crap that most reviewers put on the page to make minute differences seem big; or a $10,000 piece of gear SEEM like it’s worth every penny compared to a $500 piece of gear.  Audio is a game of inches.  Don’t let anyone fool you or tell you otherwise.

What I WILL say is that I liked the 473 better.  But it’s BARELY different.  The two preamps are VERY close to each other.  I wouldn’t be completely disappointed if I had a rack of 4 Pre-73s rather than my Vintech.  Well, I take that back.  Yes I would, because my Vintech has an AWESOME EQ on it.  The point is, if someone swapped out my Vintechs with GAPs, didn’t tell me, and put a sheet over my rack, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

THE TEST

Keeping phantom power out of the mix I used a Shure SM7 mult’d (split) at the patchbay going directly in each preamp at the same time and then going directly to Pro Tools.

SM7 -> patchbay split -> Vintech & GAP -> Digidesign 192

The interface was a Digidesign 192.  Both the GAP and the 473 are stock from the factory (no mods or special transformers)

I recorded snare and voice.  The voice was mine and a snare was a vintage Ludwig Black Beauty.  I recorded myself speaking a few sentences and then recorded 3 hits on a snare drum.  These are all separate files available to download below.  You will also find a phase inverted file that shows the difference between the two preamps.  I took one of the three snare hits (level matched) and inverted the phase between the two preamps.  The last file is the phase inverted difference between the two preamps.  They do a pretty decent job of canceling out all things considered!

Gain on both preamps was set at 50db for voice and 30db for snare with the output all the way up on each. The GAP was 3.5db hotter on its output.

I set up a Pro Tools HD 9 session at 24bit 96kHz.  There was no processing anywhere from mic to final file output.  I set the level to be equal between both pre’s  in Pro Tools and normalized the files to -3db.  (with an SM7, the output on speech can be quite low.)

Files were exported to 24bit 48kHz WAV files for download.

THE FILES

Below you will find a download link with 5 files.

1. GAP Pre-73 – Voice
2. Vintech 473 – Voice
3. GAP Pre-73 – Snare
4. Vintech 473 – Snare
5. Phase inverted snare

Get the files here ->  DOWNLOAD!

ENJOY! Don’t forget to leave feedback and let me know what you think!

Vintech 473 – http://www.vintech-audio.com/473_info.html

Golden Age Project PRE-73 – http://www.goldenagemusic.se/goldenageproject/uk/index.htm

I originally thought of doing this when I found out my drummer had bought the new BLUE handheld encore 100.  I”m always interested in new snare mic possibilities as I’ve gotten bored with doing the same old 57 thing time and time again.  I’ve tried the Heil PR20 and wasn’t super impressed it despite the hype.  I’d LOVE to get my hands on the Josephson e22s, and see how that compares, but unless Josephson feels like mailing me one for a week (hint hint!), I don’t see that happening anytime soon. As far as I know, no one in town owns one.

Anyway, I’ve done my own little mic shootout.  Nothing special.  I used four mics and I will explain why I chose each one.

THE ROUNDUP —————————

Shure SM57 – if I need to explain why I chose this one, you’re probably reading the wrong blog 😉

Blue enCORE 100 – Obviously, the point of this little experiment.  It’s smiliar to a 57, and I wanted to see how in compared.

Neumann KM84 – I frequently put this on a snare as an alternate or an addition to a 57.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  VERY snare dependent and song dependent.

AKG 414EB – A colleague of mine told me a little while back that many New York engineers would use this.  It’s very unconventional, so I was intrigued.  I don’t think I could ever bring myself to actually put this on a snare for fear of it getting hit.  Especially considering that I have one sitting on my desk right NOW that needs repair from a drum stick hit.  Not cheap to fix.  But then again….it’s all about getting good sound right?  😉

SESSION SETUP —————————

This shootout was done in the main tracking room at SmithLee Productions. All mics were calibrated to within 0.2db using a test tone.  Not in the most scientific way, but it served it’s purpose.  The signal chain was an API 3124+ though Digidesign 192 converters into Pro Tools 7.4 tracked at 24bit 96kHz.  Mic cables were all 20ft Canare.

Now, all of this nice setup comes to a screeching halt when you realize the type of source material I had to work with!  I’m sorry people, but all I have here is a metal Tama Swingstar snare (Remo Ambassador heads).  Not the greatest sounding snare in the world.  So I’m going to make up this bullshit story about how less than optimal source material makes for better testing parameters because it better brings out the subtle nuances of the microphones.  😉

ANYWAY, I’ve attached pictures of the whole setup.

WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE? —————————

So without further ado, here are my personal OPINIONS on what I hear.  (For those of you what would care to hear the samples, please leave a comment and I will get you the files.  I haven’t sorted out my hosting issue yet)

SM57- Your standard expected snare sound.  No surprises here.  The low mids are pretty fuzzy compared to the others.  The top end it pretty boring.  Not really doing anything special

BLUE – Upper mids are undefined.  The low mids and bottom are nice and tight…best of the four.  It’s present, but not in a “fake” way if that makes sense.  Sometimes mics can be too hyped via added EQ, this one is not.  It has the best snap out of the four, and was definitely the most “different” sounding.  Not sure if that’s good or bad.  I guess it’s good if I’m looking for something different huh?

KM84 – Way too bright for my taste.  The mids are pretty scooped too.  Surprisingly, with this mic, you can’t hear as much sound emanating from the snares.  Maybe useful to know just in case.  The KM84 tended to sound to paperly on this snare.  Like I said earlier, this mic can be hit or miss depending on the drum itself.  I have a feeling it works better on wood snares, rather than metal ones.

414EB – Definitely the most realistic sounding out the 4.  I was pretty impressed with the sound of this mic on snare.  I had never tried it before and I wish I could again, but like I said, this mic isn’t easy to place on snare and could very easily get wacked by a neophyte drummer.  It has a tight bottom end and crisp highs.  I would totally use this on maybe a jazz kit were I’m going for realism and the drummer isn’t smacking the kit to death.

CONCLUSIONS —————————

Well, this was definitely a worthwhile experiment.  I may have to borrow the BLUE again next time I have a tracking session and see how it does in more of a real world situation. If it weren’t for the phasey upper mids, I think this mic would be a 57 killer on snare.  Dammit!  I need to try this on guitar now.  Time to bring an amp in!

I think I realized why the KM84 is more of a supplement than a replacement due to it’s tonality.  And 414, why can’t you cost less?  I wish I could use you.

I’m not going to go overboard in my reviews of these things because this stuff is so subjective, and sometimes I really dislike reviews.  You never know if the reviewer is playing to his or her advertisers and sometimes they get too detailed for fear of not being thorough enough for the nitpicky readers.  So there’s my opinions.  Hopefully it helped!

VOCALS ———————–

I didn’t want to make a complete assessment by just doing a single drum.  I think that’s unfair, and I wish I would have had the foresight to bring my guitar amp in too…maybe next week..

Unfortunately, like the crappy drum, I’m very sick this week.  I was too anxious to get this done though, so if you want the samples, you’ll have to bare with my nasally mucus vocals.

The same setup was used, except positioning obviously.  One of my BIGGEST pet peeves for shootouts is when the same source isn’t used.  You can’t make a judgment on which sounds better if they are different performances!!!!  How hard is it to see multiple mics up at the same time people?  SO, all of my mics are occupying roughly the same space.  Same signal chain is used as well.

Obviously these aren’t choice mics for recording vocals, but again, I wanted to try these out on another source BESIDES snare.

SM57 – Not my cup of tea for vocals.  First off, ground hum….yuk.  The 3-4kHz range got a little annoying.  This mic sounded more compressed than the others.  I know that’s an odd choice of words, but it’s the only way I can describe it.  The only thing I actually liked about this was the low end rolled off nicely for vocals.

BLUE – Again, a harsh upper mid range.  Not AS bad as the 57, but still noticeable.  It’s smoother than the 57 but it doesn’t cut as much.  Might work out better for female vocals.

KM84 – Definitely the lowest noise floor of the bunch, which the BLUE coming in 2nd.  This mic seemed very unnatural for vocals.  I liked the high end of this mic the best compared to the others (bright by natural) but it ended there.  Everything else was sub par.  Not that it matters too much, because I doubt I’d ever use this on vox.

414 – Holy cow this was a noisy beast.  Very high noise floor.  I was really kind of underwhelmed by this since I’ve used it on vocals so many times, but maybe it just didn’t fit MY voice well.  It sounded the most “plastic” and was very dark.  Oddly enough, despite those things, it sat in the mix the best (untreated)  go figure.

—————————————-

So there it is.  My first shootout.  Hopefully you enjoyed it.  I’ll have more to come soon!