Friday, February 18, 2022

Soundelux Debuts Two New Mics --- U 95 and U 195 -- AGAIN?

These are reviews from the original U 95 & U 195. If there have been changes, David Bock will let me know, 

Ty Ford
Baltimore, MD

Sometime around the year 2010 I think we'll all look back at the late nineties and say, "Tubes! They were noisy and fragile. What WERE we thinking." While there's more than a measure of truth to the statement, there are as always exceptions to the rule. I've had a tube mic here for several months that appears to be an exception. It's the Soundelux U95 ($2,900); a nine-pattern, condenser, tube mic with external pattern, power supply and suspension mount. The kit comes in two lacquered boxes; mic in one, power supply in the other. The U95 has no bells or whistles, roll off or pads. 

Several weeks later the U195 ($1,299) arrived, also in lacquered box with suspension mount. It's a cardioid only, FET condenser mic with a transformer output. The U195 FET has a pad, low frequency roll off and a unique low frequency "fat" position that increases the frequencies below 1KHz and add lots of warmth. 

In one comparison using API mic preamps, the U195 was a bit thin against a U87 until the "fat" mode was engaged. Then it was difficult to tell the two bottoms apart. The U195 develops its peak above that of the U87, which tends to favor the midrange. The output of the U195 FET is 5dB lower than a Gefell UM70, at least 10-12dB lower in output than the U87 and its U95 sibling, which makes it a likely choice for high SPL applications. 

Both the U95 tube and U195 FET are crafted by David Bock of Soundelux in LA who has been repairing Neumanns and AKGs for 15 years. "I was chief maintenance engineer at The Hit Factory," explains Bock, "Two years ago, the vintage mic market was horrible. Vintage mics seemed temperamental. I had a need for a mic that picked up certain aspects of sound. I wanted to get away from the grainey, boxeyness and harsh high end."

After a few weeks of listening to the high frequency response of the U95 and U195, I got a sense that the diaphragms were stretched more tightly than the Neumanns and Gefells. Bock confirmed it. According to him, other than the fact that the U95 has two diaphragms and the U195 has one, the capsules are the same. The membranes are six micron Mylar on which 100% gold is vacuum deposited. 

When I mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of negative chatter in the market about capsules made in China and asked where the capsules were made, Bock declined to say. However, he did say that he hand-assembles the the mics himself. Post production QC includes a frequency sweep, level and noise check. And against my prediction that we'll look back on the tube revival and shake our heads, Bock counters, "If a tube is working properly, there's no low- or high-frequency cut off. They're fantastic, they'll pass DC." 

Another part of Bock's recipe for a successful tube mic is an extremely critical evaluation of the 6072 tubes themselves. Tubes must pass four tests before they end up in a U95; a distortion test at normal levels, a maximum SPL rating with less than .5% distortion, a microphonics check and a frequency correlative noise check. Bock takes similar care in the making the U195 FET. 

The phantom power resistors are matched to within one ohm to prevent DC from magnetizing the transformer and adding distortion. The U195 FET also has a non-capacitive pad, which reduces colorations. It also has a Fat/Normal switch. In the Fat position, Bock has designed a LF boost at the internal amplifier. "It's different than adding EQ later, because that changes the dynamics of everything down the chain. You bring up all kinds of LF noise. The dynamic response and transients are negatively effected." 

IN THE STUDIO

A broken ceramic pattern switch in the first U95 resulted in a quickovernight swap. The U95 had noticeably less proximity effect than my UM70 Gefell. This would indicate it might do well in a broadcast environment where close-working the mic is the rule. Through a Millenia Media HV-3C, the U95 had a brisk top end and a not so pronounced bottom. 

Through a Mackie 1604, there was almost a metallic steely quality to the top end. My GML preamp produced a warmer bottom and with no metallic by-products; clear, strong, open and quiet. By comparison, the UM70 sounded closed down on the top end, but more persistent in the midrange and upper bass. 

Compared to a vintage Neumann purple U47 FET, the U95 was quieter and more sensitive by 3-5 dB. Since the conventional wisdom holds that FETs are ALWAYS quieter than tubes, this discovery begs several questions. Would the U95 be even quieter if it had an FET rather than a tube? 

Did Bock get the output up over the noise simply by raising the charge on the capsule or by other means? He wouldn't say. The U47 FET favored the upper bass and mids, while the U95 was decidedly brighter. The U47 FET had a peak at 3KHz, while the U95 peaked at the top end across a span of 10KHz to 12KHz. 

In the cardioid position, both the U47 FET and the U95 held their high frequency response out to 80 degrees off axis before rolling off. A later comparison confirmed that the U95 (and U195) had a much smaller sweet spot than that of the U47 FET or U87, primarily due to the loss of high bass or low mids as they were worked more than an inch and a half off axis. Mic nuzzling jocks will find the spot and stay there.

When compared with an AKG C414EB, both Soundelux mics displayed their HF peaks below that of the 414. On male voice the Soundelux mics gave the impression of being much more sensitive to high frequencies. A close listen revealed that, although their HF sensitivity was at a lower frequency, they were wider than that of the 414. So, you heard more HF info, but what you heard was on the lower end of the high frequencies. 

On male voice, the brightness of both the U95 and U195 eliminated the need for top end EQ, and I could work both mics within two inches without proximity overloading the bottom. Both are reasonably resistant to popping. Working tightly, but across the mics, required no pop filter. Louis Mills at Flight 3 Studios in Baltimore reported similar success with males and females, but noted that the lower output of the U195 FET required maximum gain from his API mic preamps for soft, breathy, female voices.

I liked the U95 enough to record a flight of radio spots with it. Radio stations in the Los Angeles, Boston,Washington DC, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and San Diego markets can get a first-hand demo of the U95 by pulling the Mattress Discounters dubs for the schedule running 3/20-22/97, the "Lowest Prices Of The Season Sale." We recorded flat with 2-4dB of gain reduction at 4:1. During the mix we hit the voice track again at 4:1 and added 2dB of 15KHz with the help of an A.P.I. 550 parametric equalizer. 

IN CONCLUSION 

Both the U95 and U195 are handsome, well built and have the look, feel and heft of professional microphones. Both are candidates if you're looking for a mic that favors upper midrange or the low end of the high frequencies. If you've been using a "standard EQ starting position" that lifts somewhere in the 10KHz to 14KHz range these mics might do the job without EQ. Give 'em a listen and decide for yourself.


Pros: Well made, quiet, nice response
Cons: Slightly pricey, U195 has lower output

Ty Ford  © Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved
tyford.com

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BONUS EDITORIAL - Soundelux U 99

The Soundelux U 99 is the latest mic from David Bock and Soundelux.

The $2,249 list price includes; mic, donut suspension mount, power supply, 
twenty feet of Gotham GAC-7 multi-conductor cable and a VERY substantial road case. I found the more expensive ($250) suspension mount option provided an improvement in low frequency isolation. The capsule, from Skipper Wise at B.L.U.E., is a dual diaphragm, dual backplate condenser. It's mounted on a 5/8 inch diameter flexible shaft that offers some minor mechanical isolation from the body. 

The 
gold/aluminum alloy used on the 1" dual 6 micron Mylar diaphragms is thin enough to see through. A simplified frequency response chart show the U 99 to be flat to 20 Hz with a slight bump at 100Hz. From there, the response is flat until a gentle rise starting about 1kHz that increases a bit by the time it hits 6kHz. There's a further rise from about 7kHz that wiggles around a bit and reaches about a +4 at around 12kHz, after which the response rolls off rapidly, crossing zero at about 14kHz. The chart shows the response down 5dB at 20kHz. Sensitivity is rated at 20mv/Pa, Selfnoise at 17dB-A.

The construction of the mic seems similar to the U 95 which I reviewed in March of 1997. According to Larry Marks at Soundelux, the U 99 is a replacement for the U 95. Both are very sturdy and laid out with a minimum of parts. All connections, with the exception of the Sovtek EF86 tube are hardwired. 

The literature refers to a zero feedback arrangement. 
David Bock, designer of the Soundelux mics explained that zero feedback allows the output to be higher by allowing the actual transients to occur without any IM distortion. He also mentioned that the dynamic response of the mic circuit is superior with no feedback. 

The circular head grille is comprised of a coarse outer metal grille and a much finer inner metal grille. Although the dual screen headgrille offers good protection from popping, the U 99 can be popped if worked without a pop screen. I can normally work a Neumann U 87 at about 3-4 inches without a filter if I keep it 45 degrees off the corner of my mouth. I was able to do the same with the U 99. Placing the U 99 in front of the mouth at closer than four inches is inviting a pop. 

Unlike the Soundelux U 95, which had a nine-pattern switch on the power supply, the U 99 can be adjusted continuously from omni to figure of eight by a simple pot on its power supply. When severe changes to the pattern are made, a muting circuit discreetly drops the output of the mic and then restores it after the new pattern has been reached. 

My initial impressions are that the mic reminds me of the U 95 in that it has very direct and forward sound, due in part I think, to the particular presence curve. While not shy of low frequencies, the U 99 is on the conservative side. Any lack of LF was not apparent when I tried my favorite acoustic guitar trick; recording with an omni pretty much right in front of the soundhole. I had to do a little dip around 100Hz to keep the 6th (E) string from booming on my D28S Martin. The D28S is not as boomy as the D28.

In comparison with a Neumann TLM 103 through two channels of GML mic pre, the U 99 showed itself to be only 1-2dB less sensitive and with slightly less upper bass than the TLM 103. I had positioned the mics several inches apart and was speaking at them from about two inches. The difference in low end and output were slight enough so that shifting my position slightly toward the U 99, thereby increasing the gain and proximity, allowed me to inter-cut the tracks without being able to tell them apart.

The capsule passed the exhale test. Exhaling directly into the capsule resulted in no moisture-related sounds. So what we have here is a FET mic and a tube mic that have very similar sounds in this particular application.

As more and more tube circuits make their way into the market, we need to remember to cast off those old "carved in stone" guidelines about tube sound and solid state sound. The Neumann M149, Audio Technica 4060 tube mics, among others, definitely don't have "that mellow tubey sound." They are cleaner, flatter and quieter than many contemporary FET mics. 

Moving back to a distance of just over two feet, the 10kHz to 12kHz bump on the U 99 and its slightly lighter low end resulted in an airier sound than the TLM 103, although the TLM 103 was by no means dull. The cardioid pattern of the U 99 is fairly wide, stretching to about 110 degrees either side of the center line. At about 45 degrees, the high end rolls off and some off-axis phasiness occurs.  Past the 110 degree points the rejection is quite good. 

The 17db-A weighted selfnoise figure is conservative. In my opinion the selfnoise of this particular mic was mildly above that of the TLM 103's 7dB-A; more like somewhere in the low or mid teens than 17dB-A. By comparison, the 16dB-A self noise of my Gefell UM 70 was noticeably noisier than the U 99 and had about 5dB less output. For a tube mic, the low selfnoise is even more impressive.

In the omni pattern, the U 99 holds up fairly well when you get 90 degrees off each side, however it does have a slight HF rolloff and reduction in level on the backside. My aging Neumann U 89 did better in retaining backside HF response in omni. The HF response through the top of the mic, although a little edgy, is also very close to that of the on axis response with some expected coloration.

In the figure of eight pattern, the nulls are deep and apparent, but there's a loss of HF and clarity on the back of the capsule. I checked to make sure my ears weren't being fooled by the fact that the backside of a figure of eight capsule is always the opposite polarity of the front capsule.

IN CONCLUSION

The Soundelux U 99 is a quiet and very  "in your face" tube mic. If you're usually rolling off the bottom and peaking the presence of whatever condenser mic you are now using, you may find the U 99 provides the sound without needing EQ. On the front side, it's very clear and present. 

The ability to tune anywhere from omni to figure of eight will be appreciated by anyone who needs more than a cardioid pattern. Pattern switching is an effective way to change the frequency response of a mic to suit one's needs. The differences in front/back frequency response may compromise the mic's ability to do the finest M/S recording and prevent its use in applications where 360 degree full frequency response is required. 

App: Studio recording

Pro: Very quiet for a tube mic, continuous pattern, high output

Con: Back capsule response did not match front capsule.

Ty Ford  © Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved
tyford.com


Monday, June 15, 2020

CEntrance MicPort Pro 2 -- A Powerful Solution



CEntrance Mic Port Pro 2
I reviewed the first Mic Port Pro in December 2012. I liked what CEntrance was doing. It wasn’t the cheapest piece on the market, but it had a nice feature set and brought more to the table than the others.

I saw MicPort Pro 2 ($279.95) and wanted to check it out because things have changed since 2012. Smart phones have gotten smarter and there are more apps. Last year, in 2019, I ordered my iPhone 11 Pro Max with 512 GB of memory. Not because I knew what it would be used for, but just because. You know how that is, right? Expect change. I took all of the pictures in this review with the iPhone 11.


As 2020 has progressed, because of COVID-19, my narration clients have been asking about recording at home. They had been able to get by with any gear for auditions, but were being asked if they could provide high quality finished tracks. My clients are not highly technical people, but at the same time, they had been around microphones, computers and audio interfaces for a while. Cheap mics, cheap interfaces and bad acoustical environments can be noisy. How much bad audio will their clients accept? There are some wonderful de-noise software solutions, but that’s just one more step to add to the workflow. Their clients didn't want to add clean up to their work flow.


The question became, how could they record audio with a good microphone as a 24-bit .WAV file for auditions as well as for real work? There are three major consideration -- quiet mic, quiet interface and nice room acoustics. Any variation from these and you have a problem. I’m happy to report that CEntrance’s MicPort Pro 2 is a quiet, well-featured way to record tracks into a desktop, laptop or (in my case) iPhone 11 Pro Max.


CEntrance Mic Port Pro 2 XLR Input
Let's look at the feature set. A sturdily-mounted XLR connector that includes a 1/4" input. You can plug just about anything with those connectors. 

While there are USB mics all ready to hit a variety of your USB ports, maybe you have an XLR mic that fits your voice better. Maybe you'd like to record with other mics for instruments. Maybe you want to plug in your guitar pickup, electric bass or Theremin. Maybe you want to take a feed from a mixer and the only connector you have at the moment has a 1/4" plug. 

Top To Bottom

CEntrance Mic Port Pro Front Panel
Let's check out the main controls from top to bottom. That small switch in the upper left-hand corner labelled Hi-Z is normally switched off, to the left. You'd move it by using something like a bent paperclip to nudge the switch to the right if you wanted to plug in a high impedance (Hi-Z) device like most electric guitars or basses, provided they have standard high impedance outputs. 

But WAIT!! CEntrance even includes a little metal thingee taped to the inside of the box to use on the switches. They think of EVERYTHING!
Switch Thingee
You can't hurt the MicPort Pro 2 by having that switch in the wrong position, but the audio may sound wonky. The upper right-hand corner is labelled HPF. That's a High Pass Filter. It passes the high frequencies, but blocks the low frequencies.Maybe you're outside and the wind is a problem, maybe the microphone you're using is too bassy, you can't get the 47 pedals on your pedal board working right, you can roll off some of the low end with the High Pass Filter. It's pretty tame, but it will make a difference. 

The top knob is for Input GAIN adjustment. The Shure SM 58 and Sennheiser MD 421 mics I tested are Dynamic Mics. They're great mics, but they are not as sensitive as condenser mics, To get them to the right level for voice work, I had the GAIN knob almost all the way up. For the Neumann TLM 103 I tested, I had the GAIN control up to about 2PM, or just over half way. Th

There are two LED lights to the left of the GAIN knob. The yellow one indicates that the MicPort Pro 2 is receiving signal from the mic. The red one is a peak flasher and lights when the signal goes above -6 dB. That's a warning light, but it's also very functional. The best use of it is to adjust the GAIN knob so your voice (or other audio source) makes that red light flicker just a little. That means your audio level is not distorted, but isn't too low. The sweet spot!


The middle knob, IN_USB,  is for adjusting the balance between the audio coming in to the MicPort Pro 2 with the audio coming back out of your recording device. That's very important if you are stacking tracks and need to hear what's already been recorded. Because of the circuitry that audio went through, it will be heard slightly later than the input. That's called latency and if you're doing VO and hearing yourself directly as well as from the recording device in real time, the sound in your headphones will be a little weird. If it's too disturbing and you're just tracking your voice, turn the IN_USB knob full counter-clockwise. Then turn it counter-clockwise to hear playback.


The third knob, MONITOR allows you to vary the volume in your headphones. I tried Sony MDR 7506 and cushier Audio-Technica ATH-M50 and found the headphone output of the Mic Port Pro could be raised to uncomfortably LOUD levels. Plenty of gain.

There's a lot going on on the bottom, so let's zoom in for a look. Under the MicPort Pro 2 logo are a USB port and a 1/8" stereo headphone jack. That LEFT USB port is for moving audio back and forth between the MicPort Pro and your recording device.


CEntrance MicPort Pro 2 Bottom Control Panel
Below those two are the 48 VDC Phantom Power switch you need to power externally-polarized condenser mics, some electret condenser mics and a handful of new ribbon mics that use Phantom Power to power a small piece of circuitry inside the mic. You can leave it off with the use of any other mics.

Moving to the right/top there's the LIMITER ON/OFF switch. If you tend to like to push the levels high as you can, this soft-knee limiter will save your butt. It's mostly engineered to keep the human voice from pushing too high and distorting. If you have talent with uneven, peaky voice levels, I'd use the LIMITER even knowing that the red Peak Flasher LED was set to -6 dB. 


Under the LIMITER is a second USB port. Use this port to power the MicPort Pro 2 or to charge its battery. Battery? Yes an internal rechargeable battery that should last about 5 hours, less if you're using Phantom Power on a condenser mic like the Schoeps CMC641
 (BTW, the Schoeps CMC641 is now available in Chroma Key Green!

Phantom Power may also be needed to power some Electret Condenser microphones and a few of the newer Ribbon mics that need power for an onboard amp circuit. 
Bottom right is where you'll find the On/Off button. Press and hold. The LEDs next to the button will wink a few times during power up or power down. If the battery is fully charged, you see all three LEDs. They'll go out as the charge level goes down. 

That's it, right? NO! CEntrance slyly put a threaded nut on the back side of the MicPort Pro so you can mount it on a camera stand or other device with a 1/4" - 20 mounting bolt. Why? As sturdy as it is, after plugging in a mic, a USB cable or two and headphones, MicPort Pro 2 can easily skitter in a lot of directions unless it's held in place. You may not have a camera tripod, but having something to keep the MicPort Pro 2 steady is a good idea.
                      
CEntrance MicPort Pro 2 on Camera Tripod

For some time now, audio gear makers have been finding ways to engineer in safe guards to keep inadvertant increases in input levels from going into distortion. CEntrance has done it three ways; with their -6 dB peak flasher, their on board LIMITER and by designing a two track USB output with one track 12 dB lower than the primary track. So if things go really crazy and you overdrive the Left Track, you've automatically got 12 dB of headroom to save your recording. Nice! While this makes the MicPort Pro 2 virtually unclippable, you can overdrive the Limiter and get some pretty gnarly audio, but you have to be very clueless to do that.

I like the sound of the preamp in the MicPort Pro 2. I'd characterize it as clean and quiet. 

SPECS
If you're a tech, here are the specs for the MicPort Pro 2. With the Gain knob cranked all the back, the max input on the XLR connector is +5.8 dB V (+8.0 dB u). With the GAIN knob cranked back, the 1/4" balanced TRS input takes a whopping +27 dB V (+29.2 dB u). The maximum current for +48V is 10mA. I don't know a mic that uses that much current for Phantom Power. OK. Fine. Everything looks set? What's next? 

Because I wanted to use the 512 GB of memory in my Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, I had to find a way into it via its Lightning Connector. I had the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter from a previously failed experiment. Although the description did NOT say anything about audio, it did say this,

“The Lightning to USB Camera Adapter supports standard photo formats, including JPEG and RAW, and SD and HD video formats, including H.264 and MPEG-4.”


That almost worked. I could hear my voice in the headphones during record, but I couldn't hear playback unless I unplugged the Lightning cable from the iPhone and listened to the iPhone speaker; an inelegant solution.
DO NOT USE THIS ADAPTER!

Apple Lightning to USB 3 Adapter 

Instead, use the 

Apple Lightning 

to USB 3 

Camera Adapter 

shown on

the left 

< -----here!

THIS ONE WORKS!!

The other one

DOES NOT WORK!

The specs for the Lightning to USB 3 Adaptor offered this, “Transfer your digital camera's photos and videos to your iPad with Apple's Lightning to USB 3.0 Type-A Camera Adapter. This adapter plugs directly into your iPad's Lightning port, providing a USB Type-A port for your camera's data cable. Your iPad will automatically open its Photos app so that you can choose which media to import. Additionally, various USB-based peripherals, including Ethernet adapters, audio interfaces, and card readers, can be connected through the USB port when the adapter is connected to power via its female Lightning Connector.

The Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Adapter transfers data at USB 3.0 speeds on the 12.9" iPad Pro and at USB 2.0 speeds on other compatible iPads. It supports standard photo formats like JPEG and most RAW files as well as SD and HD video formats such as H.264 and MPEG-4. The adapter is compatible with all Lightning-enabled iPad models, including iPad mini.” 

I used the short mini USB to Type A USB cable that came with the MicPort Pro 2 to exit the MicPort Pro 2 and plugged it into
 the Type A connector on the Apple Lightning to USB 3.0 Type A Camera Adapter. 

I plugged the Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Adapter into my iPhone. Immediately, a window opened and asked me if I wanted the Adapter to be updated. I clicked on "yes" and it was quickly done.

For Android users the CEntrance manual offers this: "For Android devices, an "OTG cable" or USB micro B to USB C cable is required. For Windows devices, download an ASIO driver from the CEntrance website."

Because my first effort would be to get audio in and out of my iPhone 11 Pro Max, I checked with CEntrance to see if they had a list of iOS apps that worked with MicPort Pro 2. Here it is.

Audio Evolution (iOS/Android)
Auphonic (iOS -- Android Recorder)
Auria Pro (iOS)
BandLab (iOS/Android)
BeatMaker 3 (iOS)
Cubasis (iOS)
Field Recorder (Android/iOS)
FL Studio Mobile (iOS)
Garage Band (iOS)
Luci Live (iOS/Android)
N-Track (iOS/Android)
Tieline Report-IT (iOS/Android)

Some of these apps are pretty simple. A few are free. Others have a lot more going on. If you work in audio, you'd probably learn some things just by visiting these sites.

I had other iOS apps to try as well. Rode Reporter, for example. It's very simple. For my clients, I like simple. Unfortunately, Rode Reporter glitched the audio every time the iPhone screen got dimmer or brighter. I reached out to Rode and they thanked me for the info and suggested that die-hard Apple iPhone users can use the following work-around.

Go into the iPhone 11 Pro Max Settings > Displays & Brightness and set the Auto-Lock to NEVER. The main Rode Reporter Record window with the timer and meters stays lit and the audio doesn't glitch. By the time you read this, Rode may have already fixed the problem. At present, their software provides 48 kHz, but not 44.1 kHz. I suggested that they have both. The MicPort Pro 2 supports 24-bit, 192 kHz, btw. This is no bargain basement chip!


How do you get the recorded audio off the iPhone? One of my biggest pleasant surprises was Apple AirDrop. You can go to the recorded audio files on you iPhone, select one or more files, click on the small "arrow up" icon and if there's an Apple product that supports AirDrop close enough, the iPhone will see it. Touch the right AirDrop logo for that Apple device and BOOM the file is transferred. Most excellent!!

Further Into iPhone
Trying to use Garage Band for iPhone was a miserable experience. Maybe if you’re an ADD gamer and have multiple thumb twitch disorder the app will appeal to you. For me, it was just a jumble of things and no fun at all. The regular version of Garage Band, for your desktop or MacBook Pro is different, and a lot easier. 

After a bit of looking around I found Auphonic. It looked free and seemed to be able to do the job. The specs even mentioned that it records 24-bit wav .caf files. Just like the QuickTime .mov container, a .caf container can contain many different audio formats, metadata tracks, and data. It is not limited to a 4 GB file size and a single .caf file can theoretically save hundreds of years of recorded audio due to its use of 64-bit file offsets.

GarageBand, Soundtrack Pro, and Logic Studio use the .caf format for their loop and sound effects library. 
I’m pretty sure my iPhone 11Pro Max doesn’t run Quicktime as most of us (me included) know it, but OK. Not being limited to a 4 GB file size is also a plus. But, would MicPort Pro 2 work with the Auphonic iPhone app?

YES! There’s an orange gear wheel in the upper right corner of the Auphonic screen that allows you to configure the recorder. I could choose from among the three iPhone mics or the CEntrance MPP 2. It also provided for Format (AAC or PCM), Sample Rate (Default, 44.1 or 48), Channels (Default or mono), Precision, (24-bit or 16-bit) Input Gain (-12, -24, -36) and Headphone/USB Monitoring adjustments. After making my selections and hitting “Done” in the upper right-hand corner, I began hearing something weird in the headphones. 

Oh, right, MPP 2 passes two channels. One is the main and the other is -12. When I set the iPhone down and it went dark, the audio returned to dual mono mod, but didn't glitch as the Rode Broadcaster software did. When I picked the iPhone back up again and swiped to return to Auphonic, the split track was again obvious. Turning the Input_USB knob on the MPP2 fully counter clockwise allowed me to hear only the input and that was less distracting. 

The Chapters feature is also a nice touch. There’s an image labelled “Add Chapter” just below the digital time readout that allows you to add chapter markers as you go. That may be helpful to mark different takes. You can also click on the current chapter and change its name or remove it. Cool! Any level above -12 causes the record level meters to show red. 

Nice! Then, not so nice. With Auphonic, you need to log in and create an account. After that your productions are uploaded to their servers and you pay as you go. There are six levels of membership. With "Free" you get up to two hours per month. 100 hours a month (Auphonic XL) is only $89 USD. 
Auphonic does have some nice features, but not today, thanks! 

TWISTED WAVE
Twisted Wave’s free version went well. Their "export by email link" export feature is pretty cool. It uploads your recorded file to Twisted Wave servers and sends a link to an email address. I quickly received an email with a link. Clicking on the link resulted in me getting a page from which I could either play the audio directly from their web site or download it. I downloaded the file and pulled it into Pro Tools 11. There was one very small tick about 1:19 into the clip, but not as bad as with the Rode Reporter software.

GARAGE BAND (not iOS)
I connected my Neumann TLM 103 to the MicPort Pro 2 and connected the MicPort Pro 2 to my Mac tower via a long USB 2.0 Repeater Cable. I opened a session in Garage Band ’11 (6.0.5),  went to the Garage Band Preferences panel, chose Mic Port Pro for both input and output. Below that was a box to click on that offers, “I want to hear my instrument as I play and record.” I chose it and clicked on “Create.”

I added new stereo track by going to the Garage Band Track tab and clicking on New Track. I was presented with the choice of Software Instrument, Audio Microphone or Audio Instrument and Drummer. With the “Details” drop down menu I could choose Input 1, Input 2 or Input 1+2 or none. Although I was after a mono voice track, I chose Input 1+2 to allow me to record both the main and the -12 dB track.

Instantly I heard the mic in my left ear. I swung the IN_USB knob on the MicPort Pro 2 from full clockwise to the center and heard myself in both ears with a slight delay due to the trip through the MicPort Pro 2. Then I clicked on the small orange icon on the Garage band track panel to disable throughput and heard myself from the MicPort Pro 2 input without the latency. 

I set the gain knob on the MicPort Pro 2 so that the TLM 103 was just barely lighting up the red LED flasher. That level showed lower on Garage Band's metering, but I remembered that the MicPort Pro 2 flasher fires at -6 dB. I readjusted the MPP 2 headphone output to my liking and hit the red record button on the Garage Band transport and recorded a voice track.

I got a good take, but while I was recording, the waveform levels in Garage Band indicated that both left and right tracks were the same level. When I hit the Mac keyboard space bar to stop recording, the wave forms instantly showed the 12 dB level differences. I hit return on the Mac keyboard and hit the keyboard space bar again to hear playback. I was still hearing my live mic in my headphones as well as playback until I turned the IN_USB knob on the MicPort Pro 2 full clockwise.  

After recording a two and a half minute track and making sure it had no glitches, I then set about to export it so that I could bring it into Pro Tools on the same desktop computer. Under the Garage Band “Share” tab, I could Send Song to iTunes, Send Ringtone to iTunes, Send podcast to iWeb, Export Song to Disk and Burn song to CD. I chose Export Song to Disk. I was offered the choice of compressing the file or leaving it in its original quality. I chose NOT to compress and clicked on EXPORT. A window popped up allowing me to name the file and export it to anywhere on my computer. It also indicated that the file was an .AIF file. No big deal today, but I thought I was going to get a .WAV file.

PRO TOOLS
Importing into Pro Tools 11 was a snap with the two track file on the timeline, no glitches and all good! For a section of one file, I purposely drove the Input GAIN knob so the left channel was in the red. I used the LIMITER. You can hear what that does to the audio on my test files. 

Apple Logic Pro, both on my Mac Book Pro and Studio Mac worked well, but how about Pro Tools? I've been using Pro Tools for over 15 years. It's still my "go-to" app for audio. With Pro Tools, there’s another principal at work.

Companies like Avid/Digidesign/Pro Tools, until recently, operated with a very closed system. In other words, you needed Pro Tools software running on a computer that was attached to Pro Tools hardware. Anything else just wouldn’t work or wouldn't work very well. While parts of their libertarian user base complained about the approach, I understood why Pro Tools wanted to limit access to third-party hardware, but w
ithout all of that proprietary handshaking, what would happen if I tried to connect MicPort Pro 2 to Pro Tools 11? 

I did learn one new trick. To get Pro Tools to see the MicPort Pro 2, I needed to press the "n" key on the computer keyboard when starting Pro Tools 11. This brought up a window that let me choose different I/Os. I had already connected the MicPort Pro 2 to the Mac tower via the long USB 2.0 powered cable. Pro Tools saw the MicPort Pro 2 and after I chose it, a production started up after a screen that informed me that things were different than when using my DIGI003R. 

I added a stereo input track, selected MicPort Pro 2 for a input, clicked on the record ready button and it worked just fine. No problems. I was actually a little surprised that it was that easy. I have that file, using the Neumann TLM 103, the MicPort Pro 2 and Pro Tools 11 on my DeskTop Mac. 

I have WAV file samples using a TLM 103, an AEA R84 ribbon mic and an original Sennheiser MD421 dynamic mic. You can hear what happens when I insert the LIMITER and HPF. 

Here's a link to a playlist of MicPort Pro 2 files using TLM 103, Sennheiser MD 421, Shure SM58 and AEA R84 mics, softwares, three different recording softwares on three different devices. 

The MicPort Pro 2 Manual is right here in case you ever need it. 

IN CONCLUSION
The CEntrance MicPort Pro 2's heft tells me that it's a solid piece of gear. It has a lot of well thought out features. Yes, there are cheaper devices that sort of do what it does, but there's usually something missing at the lower price points. It's a mic or line level device. You can run it on its rechargeable batteries, although you can also power it from the USB port on the right.  

BONUS INFO
I go back to my original thought. With enough memory in your iPhone (and memory is cheap these days) you can have your own quiet little studio set up. No spinning drives or fans.

People have a tendency not to think about the importance of having a proper acoustical environment. 
I want my clients to feel confident about their work. It's a two-parter; no noise from the outside and no reflections inside. I have my clients send me a short WAV file of their best effort, so I can hear what they're doing. If I can hear the room, or the neighbor's dog or lawn mower, we have to come up with solutions. 

Technique, Inc. © 2020 All Rights Reserved
Contact Ty Ford at; www.tyford.com

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Deity S-Mic 2 Shotgun Microphone - Third time's the charm

It's been interesting to watch Aputure, ostensibly a company that manufactures professional video lighting fixtures, push its way into the location audio market with microphones. Andrew Jones' work to bring the Deity S-Mic 2 Shotgun to market has been impressive because, in meeting him, he obviously cares about audio, knows about it, has additional "outside the box" experience and perhaps most importantly, he listens to and responds to the market.

The Deity S-Mic 2 is a shotgun microphone with pop filter and simple clip in an extremely sturdy road case for $359 USD. If you think it looks familiar, from the outside, it's almost a direct copy of a Sennheiser MKH 416 that sells for $999 USD.

Deity S-Mic 2 Shotgun Microphone







The S-Mic 2 is the third iteration of this mic. Each iteration has been the direct result of listening to the market. Lower selfnoise, more LF response and cautions about moisture and RF sensitivity have been heard and responded to. If you watch the video below, you'll hear what the S-Mic 2 sounds like. I also compare it directly to a Sennheiser MKH 416.



Then, with permission of Deity, we did the Dunk Test.




And then there was the results of the dunk test!



Without water damage, the low frequency response of the S-Mic 2 is slightly less than the MKH 416. As demonstrated in the video, while the difference is noticeable if the mic is within the proximity range, at farther distances of a foot or more, the difference on the human voice (mine) is negligible.

The S-Mic 2 doesn't have the presence peak that the MHK 416 has. That world known peak is great for pulling dialog out of the mud, but if you're mudless and your talent has any excessive sibilance, the MKH416 can be edgy and you'll have to do some de-essing in post.

S-Mic 2 EQ Curve





Watch and listen to the first video with a focus on the high frequencies. While graphs can sometimes be dollied up to look better than they are, what is obvious is that on the two graphs above and below, the S-Mic 2 starts to drift downwards at 2 KHz. The 416, on the other hand, begins to rise at 2 KHz. This reflects fairly accurately that the MKH 416 is brighter than the S-Mic 2. 

MKH 416 EQ Curve

As can be heard on the first video, the patterns of both mics are very close. The S-Mic 2 either has a wider pattern or the shoulders of the pattern are a little softer. Not by much, but a little.

In the RF Resistance Department, like my MKH 416 (an old one with point to point soldering), the S-Mic 2 has a well grounded brass tube. Both Deity and Sennheiser are now using Surface Mount Technology (SMT) on the circuit boards. This can result in reduced RF problems because the leads of the components are so short that they can't really act like RF antennae.

RF or DC?
There are insulative areas on the capsule between the diaphragm and the backplate and/or ground. When the moisture and dirt bridge these insulative areas, current flows where it's not supposed to. That causes noise.
One of the main selling points of the MKH 416 is that the diaphragm is polarized by an RF voltage rather than a DC voltage. Rode copied this attribute in their NTG-3 shotgun microphone. The use of an RF voltage seems to eliminate the problem.

Here's more from Wikipedia: "RF condenser microphones use a comparatively low RF voltage, generated by a low-noise oscillator. The signal from the oscillator may either be amplitude modulated by the capacitance changes produced by the sound waves moving the capsule diaphragm, or the capsule may be part of a resonant circuit that modulates the frequency of the oscillator signal. Demodulation yields a low-noise audio frequency signal with a very low source impedance. The absence of a high bias voltage permits the use of a diaphragm with looser tension, which may be used to achieve wider frequency response due to higher compliance. The RF biasing process results in a lower electrical impedance capsule, a useful by-product of which is that RF condenser microphones can be operated in damp weather conditions that could create problems in DC-biased microphones with contaminated insulating surfaces. The Sennheiser "MKH" series of microphones use the RF biasing technique."

Got it? No? Go back and re-read it...slowly. Savor it. This is an important point. Going forward, the Deity S-Mic 2 does not use RF voltage on the diaphragm. The Deity S-Mic 2 uses DC voltage. Problem? Probably not because of what else Deity has designed in, but I guess we won't know for sure until a number of them go into the Amazon, or Washington, D. C. in the Summer.

There are some who claim this as the "sometimes" problem with Schoeps mics. My own experience with two Schoeps CMC641 is that the problem is not the diaphragm, but the connector rings on the capsule and body. If you regularly unscrew the capsule from the body, you allow schmutz to build up on those surfaces and that causes noise problems. Once I cleaned those contacts and left the capsules screwed on to the bodies, I stopped having noise problems. 

Deity S-Mic 2 peeled open
What else has Deity done to prevent these problems? On the left here are the guts of an S-Mic 2. The first thing we notice is the splayed metal screen from top to bottom with two slight indents to allow the set screw to secure the brass shell to the internal tube. This conductive screen shield wraps around the mic body, shielding the innards from RF.

Next there's the "inner veil", a papery like sheet that wraps tightly around the tube. The lower section, below the screen, is the chamber in which the XLR leads and plug sit. (see below)

Deity's point man, Andrew Jones, says, "We have 1/8" of pure solid brass around our PCB and capsule. We've tested it against a 100mw Zaxcom ZMT3, transmitting within an inch of the microphone and zero RF signals could be heard."

That's a good, solid test, but (sorry to be a bit conservative here) experience has shown that RF can be tricky.

As another hedge against moisture, Jones says the boards inside the mic are treated with a coat of clear epoxy to prevent moisture penetration. Below is a shot looking under the metal screen at the circuitry and back end of the XLR connector.  You can't see the epoxy because it's clear, but it's there. OK, all of these things make me feel better about the moisture issue.

Inside the S-Mic 2 Circuit Boards and Connections
The Deity S-Mic 2 is a backplate charged electret mic. Let me stop right now and say, you can hear or read stuff that says "True Condensers" are better than "Electret Condensers." If someone hands you that crap, kindly stop listening to them. You can continue to bob your head as though you were listening to them, but DON'T LISTEN! 

I have discussed this with a number of German Tonmeisters over the years who worked for AKG and Neumann. In every case they responded by saying that, certainly, electret microphones can be made as good as externally polarized microphones. So, good electrets are better than bad externally polarized mics and good externally polarized mics are better than bad electrets. 

Juice Use
You could take the position that, in the field, when you're running on batteries, the S-Mic 2 will eat your batteries more slowly than an MKH416. That's because the S-Mic 2 is an electret with a charged backplate. Looks at the specs. The S-Mic 2 will run at 24 or 48 V DC and pulls 1.5 mA. That's probably 1.5 mA at 48 V DC and even more current at 24 V DC.

That's the thing about Phantom Power. Power is voltage times current. P = I x E. Sure you may be able to run a mic at a lower voltage, but it will make up for it by drawing more current or by added distortion because you're starving the mic.

The MKH416 pulls another half a milliamp more than the S-Mic 2; 2.0 mA. Not a major difference since mics like the Schoeps CMC641 pull a hefty 4.0 mA when powered by a 48 V DC Phantom Power supply and 8.0 mA when running at 12 V DC, but still more battery consumption.

The Deity S-Mic2 is also available as a kit with foam windscreen, mic stand clip, Rycote pistol grip/suspension mount and furry and very rugged case.

Deity S-Mic 2 Kit
In Conclusion
What we have here is a very ambitious offering from a company not as steeped in microphone history as Sennheiser or Neumann, but coming up fast.

Although you should always make your own judgements about the sound and operation of your gear, if you're a solid MKH416 user, an S-Mic 2 could begin life for you as a very good sacrificial substitute when you don't want to put your MKH416 in peril and then allow it to earn its stripes. In the short time it's been here, I personally think it deserves at least that. If you've been using a Sennheiser ME66/K6P, I think this will be a step up for you.

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