Thursday, December 21, 2017

Schoeps MiniCMIT - Small, Light, Superior Sound

Schoeps miniCMIT
At 5 7/8" (14.922 cm) and weighing 2.75 oz (78g) the Schoeps miniCMIT ($1,999) is proof that good things do come in small packages and my hands, although bigger than the President's, are not THAT big.

The longer Schoeps CMIT 5U comes in at $2,200. Not a lot of difference in the the big game of life. Schoeps says CMIT5 and miniCMIT sound basically identical. That's because the business end of the two mics, the interference tube and capsule, are basically the same.

miniCMIT Specs
There are, however, differences. According to the Schoeps Spec sheet above, the miniCMIT runs on 12-48 V DC Phantom Power at half the current drain of the CMIT 5. That's nice for battery consumption, but the miniCMIT pays for that with lower SPL handling when the miniCMIT uses 12 V DC Phantom Power. I'm going to guess that the EIN may also be higher during 12 and 24 V DC operation.

The miniCMIT has a fixed 70Hz, 24 dB/octave low cut. That may make you want to think twice before using it for live music recording unless your intended playback system doesn't have much low end response anyway. Frankly, after hearing the miniCMIT, I wouldn't worry unless you're after the ultimate tympani or organ pedal.

CMIT Polar Response
The Polar Response chart on the left shows that as frequencies rise from 8 kHz to 16 kHz the pattern continues to narrow. If you've been using a Schoeps CMC641 on a boom for a while, you'll have to "game up" with your boom work to keep your dialog from slipping off the shoulders of the pattern.  Two shots will require more attention.

But wait! The human voice centers around 1 kHz to 3 kHz; most of it extending down to about 80 Hz and up to 5 kHz to 7 kHz. What's the mic hearing between 0 degrees and 30 degrees each side of center that tells our ears that we've got the mic in the right spot? Upper harmonics of the voice, where parts of the consonants live. That frail feature we sometimes call intelligibility. It's also where the sibilance lives. Too much sibilance is a bad thing, but just the right about allows the voice to cut through any mud and be more easily understood.

MK41 Polar Response
Now we enter that discussion point called, "Is there really such a thing as 'reach' or did some marketing guy make that up?" Reach suggests that one mic may pull dialog and other things out of the distance better than another.

It has been said that the CMIT or miniCMIT has more reach than a CMC641. Why? Because it has a tighter high frequency response pattern? Those mid and low frequencies are still there and the lower you go, the wider the pattern. They begin to resemble the response (to the right) of the supercardioid CMC641 at those frequencies. If you were recording dialog on a hard, flat surface like a parking lot and a car or truck started up 90 degrees off-axis, the shotgun would definitely pickup the engine and exhaust mids and lows very well.

So, yes, you can use an interference tube mic – a shotgun mic – and it may have a very nice beam sometimes called a presence peak that a supercardioid doesn't have. The Sennheiser MKH 416 has an impressive presence peak. It's also a lot more sensitive than a CMC641. If you're trying to "reach" with a CMC641 and switch to a 416, the first thing you notice is how much louder (more sensitive) the 416 is. If your mixer's preamps aren't all that great, you may hear system noise (hiss) when you crank up a CMC641 to get a better level for a distant or very quiet source. I've been in a situation where the only mic I had was a CMC641. I had it running though a Sound Devices 442 on the East steps of the Capitol in Washington, D. C.. I cranked up the 442 and got great sound from over four feet away because of the 442's low noise preamps and performance.

Having introduced the beaminess of a pattern, you have to make a judgement as to whether a beam is good or bad. I have heard some nasty beams; very irregular and unpredictable. I don't hear that with the miniCMIT. Schoeps goes so far as to tell you that their shotgun pattern has a rotationally symmetrical polar pattern. That means if you could rotate the mic while using it, actually spin it in your hand, the frequencies of what you were aiming the mic at won't be changed because the capsule response is symmetrical. I have heard asymmetrical capsules and you do have to be very careful when positioning them.

What Does It Sound Like?
Words to describe sound only take you so far. Here's a short video I shot here in my studio that should give you a good idea of what the miniCMIT sounds like.

Bernie Ozol
Anecdotal Notes with Bernie Ozol
I asked soundie friend Bernie Ozol (BO) to lend his ears for a play date here at my studio. Here's what we came up with.

-At 6", the CMC641 sounded brighter than the miniCMIT.
-At 4' we heard more lows around 125 Hz from the miniCMIT.
-The CMC641 had more mids, the miniCMIT had more lows.
-Bernie's Sanken CS3e sounded more similar to the CMC641.

We both agreed that the mics were of a class that probably only other sound sensitive folks and ourselves would care which of these mics we chose to use.

Wind Noise

The miniCMIT, like any sensitive condenser mic, needs protection from wind and boom swings. I typically leave the Schoeps B5D on my CMC641 all the time, even in the studio, just in case it slips out of my hand or the mic clip and does a dive to the floor. Here's a Rycote video to fill you in on wind gear that they say are Perfect for the miniCMIT.

My studio is very quiet. It's not unusual for me to hear things in the studio that you'll never hear on location or possibly on sound stages. I compared boom swing noise and found that my CMC641 with B5D picked up less wind noise from simply swinging the mic as you might need to do for quick dialog. I was using a common foam filter on the miniCMIT. Most of the miniCMIT noise was low frequency swishes. Not with the B5D, but that a very special piece of gear.

Gold-plated shield plate
RFI Shield
The Schoeps specs refer to the special RF shield construction and RF bypass circuitry. I wasn't in any severe RF environments during my testing and had no problems. Because there are no surface switches on the body of the miniCMIT, there are no holes in the body that might allow RFI to enter. That's a good thing. I don't have a CMIT 5U here to help me make the point, but I do wonder if Schoeps did anything in particular to shield the switch holes on the CMIT 5.

In addition to the gold-plated shield (above), Schoeps also uses RFI shunting circuitry (below) to  block RFI.

Capacitor network across the signal leads
Has Schoeps finally put to bed the old problems encountered in high humidity environments? I'm not sure. In the 20+ years I've had a CMC641, I have only had 3 incidents of noise possibly due to humidity. That stopped when I stopped taking the capsules and bodies apart for storage after shoots. I was putting them back into those cute little containers. Exposing the gold-plated power supply/body and capsule contacts to air allows schmutz to collect on the connection rings is a BAD IDEA. That schmutz eventually prevents a solid connection between the body and capsule resulting in sputtering/futzing noise problems.

What happens when you're in a rain forest for eight weeks? I don't know, but, here, the Baltimore/DC area is pretty darn humid in the Summer. The additional problem is that when schmutz accumulates on the diaphragm in a highly humid atmosphere, conduction across the moisturized schmutz can occur. That conduction over such a sensitive place creates noise. When that happens, it's time to send the mic back to the manufacturer to have the capsule and diaphragm cleaned. Anything you can do to keep the capsule clean is a good thing. Maybe leave the capsule and power supply connected and cover the capsule with a plastic baggie for storage. I wonder if, in the future, Schoeps might consider powering the capsule with an RF voltage as Sennheiser and Rode do.

In Conclusion
If you budget is tight, you need to stretch your money, and you don't need all of the features of the CMIT 5U, then the miniCMIT deserves a hard look. Oh and if the blue color is a problem, the miniCMIT can be had in grey or chroma green.

Technique, Inc. © 2017 All Rights Reserved – Please consider subscribing to this blog and my YouTube Channel. If there's a piece of gear you'd like to hear, please let me know.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thoughts On Recording Music Instruments At Home

My Home Studio
I was recently asked about how to approach home recording of acoustic guitar. How much does the quality of the gear matter? How much does the space matter?

While all of that is important, your most powerful tool is how well you understand what you hear and how you work with that to get a good recording.

People with a lot of critical listening experience will do better with gear that's not so good. You can have the bridge of the Starship Enterprise at your finger tips, but it you don't know where the SUCK BUTTON is, your recordings will suck.
Sony MDR7506

For me, the process normally starts with a good set of headphones that you can come to terms with. I like Sony MDR 7506. Are they flat? No, they are a little bright and the low end is a little big, but I understand them. They make sense in my head. 

I move mics and players around accordingly until I hear what I want to hear. Do a rehearsal of sorts until I'm happy. Provide a good headphone feed for the players and singers and then hit the red button. When I listen to playback, yes, that's what I wanted to hear!

Recording Blumlein with Mike, Dave and Van 
Jazz recording engineers used to make great recordings with the group all playing together in a relatively small space. Yes, there was bleed, but it didn't matter. That's because they understood the sacred geometrical relationship of multiple mics (mostly figure of eight ribbons) placed properly among the players.

Rudy Van Gelder from Hackensack, NJ was one of these guys. He died last year.

Reading about him taught me a lot. I had the opportunity to do some Blumlein recording with a pair of AT4080 ribbon mics a few years back. In one session, with Mike White (guitar & vocals), Dave Mattheiss (guitar) and Van Ertel (pedal steel). I had a pedal steel speaker cabinet, two acoustic guitars and a vocalist all going at the same time to two tracks – a stereo master if you will.

As you can see from the picture, I positioned the players, paying particular attention first to their guitars. Mike, the singer/player was a right hander, so the body of his guitar was a bit to the right. I put Dave, the other guitar player to the left to balance that – so their guitars were physically and electronically "panned" prior to recording. I had to do some experimentation with the right height for the pair of mics to get the voice to guitar balance level right. I also had to deal with relative loudness and had each player move in or out a half step till I got that balance right.

I put Van's Pedal Steel speaker at 180 degrees, directly opposite to Mike's vocal, so it was centered, but on the back side of the mics. I then moved it closer or farther until I got the right level. I recorded each mic to a separate track. Afterwards, I panned each track fully and added some 10k shelf and a little reverb. You can hear the clacking of the pedal steel pedals in the first few moments of the recording. Here.

Additional thoughts:

Square rooms are bad. I think there's data to prove that rooms with a 3:4:5 ratio also suck, but I can't find it right now.

Where you sit in any room makes a difference.

Windows normally are bad unless you are clever with mic placement. And even then noise from the outside can get though most single pane. Even then, enough glass can make otherwise well thought out equipment and placement a futile effort.

Your space should have the right balance of absorptive and diffusive surfaces. I'm not in your space, so I can't really tell you what to do about that here, but simple stuff like where you put a couch, what art and book cases are on the walls and what's on the ceiling all combine to make up the sound of yor space.

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Technique, Inc. © Copyright 2017 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 16, 2017

AES - NYC 2017 Part 2

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
By thursday, day two of the AES show, crowds were lining up at the on site Starbucks to prepare for another assault on the AES Exhibit Hall at the Javitz Center.

As I mentioned in the first of this series, NAB - NYC was in the space adjacent to the AES Exhibit Floor. Plenty to see. Next October, AES will be back at the Javitz, and will not be on the West Coast until the January NAMM show.

This year I was pleased to find a greater number of "so new we haven't even priced it yet" gear. The Triad-Orbit Starbird mic stand was one. This is a reversioning of the original George Starbird stand from the 1960s. Updated parts, new well-implemented ideas, bringing this stand into this millennium, not only for microphones but also for lights and cameras.

As demonstrated in the video below, this stand is designed with a pneumatic lift, so when you have heavier mics or other gear at the end of the boom, you just twist the clutch open on the mast and it slowly rises as a result of pneumatic pressure. Very useful and very cool.

Next is an accessory piece from Cloud Microphones. I reviewed and had some helpful design comments with their JRS34 a few years ago. Roger has a box that I'd heard about but hadn't had my hands on yet; The Cloud Lifter Zi. The Cloudlifter Zi is a phantom-powered box that incorporates variable impedance control into an active DI for low output balanced mics, guitar players, bass players, keyboard players. The Zi provides up to +25dB of gain for XLR microphones and lo-z sources and up to +15dB for 1/4” instruments and other hi-z sources, via the Neutrik combination dual-input connector and Hi-Z to Lo-Z CineMag instrument transformer. I'll let Roger tell you more about it.

Lectrosonics has been a major player in location sound for many years. Leave it to them to respond vigorously to the changes in technology and the market. One of their new systems is the M2R and M2T wireless in-ear monitor or IFB. Here's Lectro's Karl Winkler to tell you more about it. 

Now for something completely different. Still in Beta testing as of October 2017,  RackFX empowers you to hook up with a studio somewhere across the Internet and send them files to be processed by their equipment, then the files are sent back to you. This includes the idea of using a certain mic and a certain amplifier AND being able to move the mic in front of the amp to get the sound that makes your "happy light" turn on. Watch as David Jones of RackFx.Com walks me though this new concept.

Not for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket, The API Legacy AXS console begins at $200k. It's obviously for "grown up" recording facilities, or kids with way too much money. Listen, though, as Todd Humora walks us through the "High Cotton" of this great console.

From the "Ain't seen nothing quite like that" department, Here's Zaxcom's Glenn Sanders with the Zaxcom ZMT3-HH hard-wired, wireless mic that even has its own recorder. What!? A wireless hand-held mic with an XLR connector for hardwiring? Then, Glenn gives us a tour of what's new with the Zaxcom DEVA 24.  Glenn's mic was feeding a small amp and speaker in his booth and, unfortunately, you can hear some of the cancellation depending on where we were standing. (Sorry)

Zaxcom takes first and second place in the ASNQLT department with the new ZMT recording body mic. (below) So amazingly small, yet so feature packed.

Schoeps' ORTF-3D Outdoor Ambiance set up uses 8 supercardioid studio quality microphones: 4 * CCM 41 + 4 * CCM 41 in a rather amazing enclosure that creates a plug and play solution for capturing 3D ambience. Schoeps' Helmut Wittek gives a great explanation of this new array and demo files can be downloaded here.

Schoeps MiniCMIT
As I wrap up this report I need to mention a few items I saw that you should know about.

First is the Schoeps MiniCMIT miniature shotgun microphone. It runs on 12, 24 or 48 V DC Phantom Power. I haven't heard it yet but hope to soon. At $2K USD, you probably won't see many of them out there, but they may be just the ticket for some discriminating buyers with discriminating ears.

The TASCAM DR-701D is a four track recorder that also has two additional internal mix tracks plus SMPTE Time Code in and out.

It has four XLR/TRS inputs with Phantom Power, dual built-in omni mics, brackets on top and bottom for DSLR mounting. It records to SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards up to 128 GB and can be recorded at resolutions of up to 24-bit, 192kHz. 

In addition to the four XLR/TRS inputs, a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack input with optional plug-in power is provided for connecting an external stereo mic. DR-701D audio signal can be output to an external camera or recorder from the HDMI OUT or line output all for a ridiculous $449.99 USD!

sE RNR1 Ribbon Microphone
The sE booth was very interesting. This RNR1 ribbon microphone caught my eye. (How could it not!)

It's the first mic Rupert Neve has designed and will be part of the sE Rupert Neve Signature Series. It's a straightforward figure of eight pattern with a high-pass filter. It's touted as having a frequency response approximately 3 times wider than competing ribbon mics, giving it a performance similar to a condenser mic. Again, I did not hear this mic but would very much like to. By comparison, The Audio-Technica AT4080 ribbon microphone that came out several years ago has the sensitivity of an AKG C414 condenser microphone.

Taytrix Stackable Gobos

You don't think of Gobos until your ears tell you that you need them. Stackable Gobos by Taytrix just seemed to make a lot of sense. Every studio should have a few of these around to make your life easier and make your sound tighter. 

Taytrix Stackable Gobos
That's about it for me for AES 2017. As usual, it was a great show and I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new ones and learning once again that there's ALWAYS something new out there.

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© Copyright 2017 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 3, 2017

AES - NYC 2017 Part 1

Big Time Building on NYC/s West Side
Autumn in New York City. Great weather for walking the 11 blocks to the Javitz. We stayed at the Stewart Hotel on 7th Avenue which was on the AES short list and enjoyed the Niles restaurant within the hotel.
Stewart Hotel Lobby

Even from our 17th floor room overlooking 7th Avenue, the noise of New York was plainly audible. I had my own ear plugs with me, but noticed that the hotel had provided two pair in the desk drawer. The Stewart Hotel web site gave an "enhanced" impression of what the rooms were like. They were clean and well maintained but a lot smaller than those rooms shown on their web site. 

The Javits Center is perched on the west side of town overlooking the Hudson River. Until 2015, that part of town has been somewhat isolated because there was no subway service. Clearly, if you build it (the mass transit system) they will come. At AES 2015, I reported the opening of the 7 Train stop, a block south of the Javits. As I walked the 7 Train stop and on to the Javits this year, I was taken by the large scale and very tall developments being built. 

The sight reminded me of flying into Las Vegas one year for NAB and seeing the recently completed Luxor Hotel languishing in the middle of nowhere. One year later, it was completely surrounded by other buildings that ran all the way to the ever-expanding Las Vegas metropolis. BOOM!

AES Show Floor
Next year, October 2018, the AES will NOT be in LA or SF. It will be back at the Javits. This breaks a long standing tradition of AES shows bouncing from coast to coast each year. Why? I think the Internet has finally begun taking its toll on trade shows.

NAB Show Floor
This was also the first year for the NYC NAB show at the Javits at exactly the same time as the AES show. The show floors were right next to each other with a connecting concourse. One ticket got you into both show floors. Huddling together for warmth?

Per the shots to the left taken Thursday afternoon, the AES floor was a lot busier than the NAB floor. Did bridge, tunnel and parking fees keep local and regional people away? Hard to say. I heard the Friday attendance figures were much higher. Maybe there was too much work during the week and some took an early weekend on Friday.
AES and NAB join forces

Some folks said the NAMM show is now the big west coast audio show and that pro audio has combined with the more MI (Musical Instrument) market segment that NAMM used to attract. BTW, going forward, AES will fold into NAMM on the west coast. The January 25-28, 2018 NAMM show at the Anaheim Convention Center will include the AES. And the AES will join NAB again in 2018 at the Javitz Center October 17-20.

AES Exhibit Entrance

Sorry for the preamble, but it's all part of the experience for me.  Yes, the AES exhibit hall was buzzing with new circuits, hardware and software. As I entered, the first booth I walked into was Avid's. I'm a Pro Tools user, always looking for something new to help me in my workflow. I saw a lot of plugins dealing with mastering and surround. I'm not so much interested in them at the moment, but something else caught my eye.

Audionamix @ AES
Audionamix. They make a line of software that allow you to change the vocal and music levels in mixed audio. It lets you change the level of melody instruments in a mix. I don't have a need for this technology at the moment but maybe you do. There are six versions of the ADX software; ADX TRAX, ADX TRAX PRO, ADX TRAX SP, ADX TRAX PRO SP, ADX VVC and ADX SVC. Here are their online demos. They sound pretty impressive, but I always wonder how long it took them to find the perfect material to make the demo shine, and how long it took for them to do the work to make the demo sound as good as these do.

Stepping out of the Avid booth, my next destination was the Manley booth where I ran into EveAnna Manley and her new $3,780.00 Manley Silver Reference studio mic. I'll let EveAnna tell you about it. If everything works out, I may be reviewing this one.

My next stop was Mark Fouxman at the Samar booth. Mark makes special ribbon mics and transformers. This year he also came to the show with two new mics and mic isolation gear that aren't even on his web site yet; one for a mic, one for a mic that includes acoustic decoupling of the XLR connector and one called Omni Puck that can be used to isolate mic stands from the floor or as a very nifty drum head absorber. Check out our conversation for the details!

David Bock's booth was not far. I had reached out to him earlier this Fall and he told me about the Bock 67, his newest studio condenser. Again not even on his web site yet!! Here's what he had to say about it.

Anyone who uses professional mics is aware of Lundahl transformers. I was surprised to see Per Lundahl himself at a booth and stopped by to ask him a question about toroidal transformers that I've been researching this year. If you're a designer or manufacturer, check out the Lundahl web site for more information.

One of the things I like best about AES is that you just never know what or who you'll run into. I've managed to encounter Les Paul and his son, George Massenburg and folks I meet online in the many forums in which I participate.

It's not always about main stream pro audio. Paul Ackel of Ampridge was showing an intriguing small shotgun mic that can be matched with a smartphone. There are film festivals for films shot only on cell phones. Here's a very incomplete list

Here's Paul to show you how this little sucker works,

Paul also had a nifty little Blue Tooth clip on omni mic; The Mighty Mic W+. I can see that being useful for many things, including SAG-AFTRA members who sometimes do selfies to audition for film roles. Mics with cords don't work because the cords are cumbersome and sometimes too short. You link to your phone, clip the mic on yourself, start an app and hit the record button. Check it out. I finally got one to play with and found the fidelity of the lav over Blue Tooth wasn't that great for demos, but maybe you could use it in a pinch.

More next time from Alan Hyatt at Trident Audio Developments who has a new console. A brand new mic from Eric Blackmer at Earthworks. An 8 channel 3D mic array from Schoeps' Helmut Wittek. A digital wireless hand-held mic and a mini wireless body mic from Glenn Sanders at Zaxcom. A new console from Todd Humora at API. David Jones from RackFM with a new way to rent your outboard effects gear to anyone anywhere in the world that's very ingenious. More wireless technology from Karl Winkler at Lectrosonics. A variable impedance front end from Roger Cloud at Cloud Mics. Innovations in mic stands and mounting hardware from Ryan Kallas at Triad-Orbit. Next time.

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© Copyright 2017 Technique, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Aston Origin Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Aston Origin and Spirit
Both the Aston Origin ($299) and the Aston Spirit ($449) have been out a while. My life intervened and demanded that I do other things. I’m back, I think, and thanks for your patience. The first Origins and Spirits, delivered just before my life left the road for parts unimaginable, were pre-production models. They arrived Pin 3 High. When I alerted the company, they told me that these were just pre-production models and the production models were Pin 2 High.

I was then sent production models, an Origin and a Spirit, both Pin 2 High. This time the Spirit worked with my Sound Devices 442 and 664 Mixers and my GML 8304 Classic preamps, but not with the mic input on my JVC HM650 camera. There the signal would waft in, stay for a few seconds and then waft out for a few seconds and repeat. It’s the only time my camera has shown such a problem. I reported it to Aston and they were very interested to find out what THAT was about. Perhaps it was something in the input topology of the camera preamp, but the Origin worked fine, so it had to be something to do with that particular Spirit. A new Spirit was sent and works quite nicely with the camera. Maybe the current requirements in the Phantom circuitry of the wafting Spirit were somehow on the hairy edge. Aston said 4mA was a good feed for the Spirit, which the JVC is capable of. My Schoeps CMC641 need 4 mA and they work quite well into my JVC HM650 camera. Go figure.

Both the Origin and Spirit are large diaphragm, externally polarized, studio condenser microphones. I’m a member of the “Brighter Is Not Better” club. These mics are not over the top bright. They’re just, well, solid. More on the Spirit later. In this review I want to focus on the Origin.

Moving On

SMT on Origin Circuit Board
It’s obvious that Aston has taken great care to do a bang up job on this mic. Per Aston’s website, they did a notable amount of listening research with double blind testing on capsules and associated PCB boards. After the larger group vetting, five final capsules were chosen after more vetting, and then they narrowed the combination down to one for each model. The Origin is solidly built and has some nice features. The Origin circuit board uses state of the art SMT (Surface Mount Technology) and everything looks quite tidy under the hood. 

Rubber-Lined Shell
The inside of the body shell is lined with a section of black rubber sheeting to reduce body resonance. A clever steel mesh and inner screen sit inside the wavy outer headgrille, providing RF and pop protection. The mesh continues across the top of the mic. 

Double Mesh Headgrille
Origin Capsule Front
The Origin features a one inch, center-terminated, large diameter diaphragm with a transformerless output. Lots has been written about how edge-termination and center-termination affect the sound of a mic. Because of the other design differences in play, the decision as to which one is better is far from clear. Aston seems to have gotten it right in how they implement the center-terminated capsule.

The Origin capsule sits on a flexible yoke. (Note the cable tie at the base of the flexible capsule post.) It's supposed to help in isolating the capsule from the frame. My Neumann U 89 i “boinked” louder than both the Origin and Spirit when directly tapped. The base of the capsule is flat and metallic. That would normally be a reflective surface, yet I don't hear any obvious reflections. Perhaps the mesh provides enough diffusion to prevent that.

Origin & Spirit w/Triad-Orbit M1-R Adapters
Both the Origin and Spirit bodies are made with a standard 5/8” threaded socket in the base to allow for mounting to a boom arm or mic stand. Unless you have adapters on your stands, boom arms with adapters, or something like a Rycote Lyre suspension mount, this limits the ease of placement for these mics. The Rycote Lyre suspension mounts are very functional, but I find they take up a lot of space and are a bit fussy for positioning LD studio condenser microphones. Placement is, well, EVERYTHING, so, what do you do? 

Triad-Orbit M1-R
Atlas Swivel Mount
I have several Atlas Sound SB 36W mic stands with triangular bases on wheels. At the end of the boom there’s a swivel mount knuckle with a four inch stub and a standard 5/8” thread. This allows mics to be positioned very precisely. 

Atlas used to make 5/8” to 5/8” knuckle adapters for smaller boom arms that have a 5/8" thread, but unfortunately quit making them some time ago. I found some very nice adapters at Triad-Orbit, a US company in Kingston, Washington. They make a wide variety of stands, arms and associated hardware. The Triad-Orbit M1-R was perfect for the Aston microphones, allowing me to attach them to my smaller DR Pro mic stand boom arms that have the standard 5/8" stub. The MR-1 provide an excellent way to position these mics so you can get them exactly where you want them.

The Origin’s 23.7 mV/Pa Sensitivity is .7 dB hotter than the Neumann TLM 103. That makes them two of the hottest mics on the planet. The Origin has a selfnoise of 18 dB-A weighted versus 7 dB-A for the TLM 103. Comparing the Origin and TLM 103 in the quiet of my studio, I could hear the difference in selfnoise, but it didn’t sound as great as 11 dB. Yes the .7 dB extra sensitivity mitigates some of the selfnoise difference, but not 11 dB worth. The shape of the selfnoise of the two mics is also slightly different. The Origin has a bit more high frequency content than does the TLM 103; a SSSS as compared to a SHHH.

I have a AA battery-powered wall clock in the studio. It ticks very quietly every two seconds. The selfnoise of the Origin almost masked the ticking. The lower selfnoise of the TLM 103 revealed the ticking quite plainly. This begs the question of how quiet a mic has to be. If you’re recording rock and roll with amps turned up to eleven, I don’t think you’ll notice the selfnoise. How did the "back-in-the-day" masters deal with a 17 dB-A selfnoise? Analog tape hiss did a great job of masking the selfnoise.

If you check out the polar response of the TLM 103, you’ll see that the front lobe stays very constant from 125 Hz to 8 kHz. I’d call it a “generously wide and uniform” cardioid pattern. Both mics getting more narrow over 8 kHz. A simple Hiss Test reveals that the TLM 103 pattern is wider around 6kHz than the Origin. Past about 25 degrees each side of center, the HF response of the Origin begins to roll off. The TLM 103 goes wider, almost to about 70 degrees with very soft shoulders. There are no awkward lobes of noise or phase anomalies at the shoulder of the Origin pattern; the highs just go away. 

As the diagrams below indicate, on the low end, the Origin begins to roll off at about 125 Hz. The TLM 103 at 70 Hz. Both mics begin to rise at about 3 kHz. The TLM 103 gets up a bit faster, hitting +4 at 6 kHz. The Origin gets to +4 at about 10 kHz. I've had more than one vocalist with excessive energy at 6 kHz when they bear down on a note for emphasis – enough so that I need to pull that energy out with parametric EQ to keep them from sounding harsh. I didn't have them here to test the Origin, but I'm guessing that I'd have to pull down a bit less.

The TLM 103 hangs on to 15 kHz before dropping to -4 dB at 20 kHz. The Origin begins to fade at about 11 kHz and drifts down at a less severe angle to 20 kHz. At the end of the day, the TLM 103 should be brighter and will have more bass. In the Hiss Test, the differences in high frequency response were negligible, perhaps because the low end of the TLM 103 was filling in more of the lower frequencies.

TLM 103 Frequency Response
Aston Origin Frequency Response
Because the Origin has a center hot spot for high frequencies, you may be able to take advantage of it by turning the mic directly toward or slightly away from the source to increase or decrease the high frequencies it picks up.

Aston Origin Polar Response

You can hear that in the video below as I check out the polar pattern and frequency response of the mic and compare it to a Neumann TLM 103.

I’ve spent over thirty years doing voicework for radio and for numerous freelance projects with a lot of critical listening. As a result, I can tell a lot about a mic using just my voice. The voice doesn’t have those upper frequencies, though, and because of that, I turn to my acoustic guitars. In this case, I used my D28s Martin. The standard D28 has a huge bottom. The D28s is much more balanced across the strings. You can hear that as I try different positions with the Aston Origin in the above video. On my MacBook Pro speakers, the low end sounds slightly overdriven due to the limitations of the speakers. As more and more work is done for small speaker playback, we need to be more careful about EQ. 

Josh Polak With The Grand J-28 LSE Martin
Josh Polak has been here recording a CD project. I was comfortable enough with my experience with both the Origin and Spirit to use them to record Josh. I had Josh play as I moved the two mics around while listening to a pair of Sony MDR 7506 until I got the right stereo image. I had the Spirit in cardioid. He used my now discontinued Grand J-28 LSE baritone Martin for several pieces. Its strings are 17-70 and I keep it tuned at least four semitones below standard E-e guitar tuning. As such, it has a huge sound. I had to pull the mics a bit farther back than with a standard acoustic six-strings to capture it properly. As shown in the picture, here's Josh playing the Martin with both Origin and Spirit mics deployed for a stereo capture. The audio file I recorded is proof that the speakers of my MacBook Pro are not worthy to play this piece because the bottom end of the Martin is just too darn big. Sounds great on my home system though. How about yours?

In The End
What we have here is an underpriced mic. The Origin is a mic that’s performing above its retail price and is well-designed enough to be used on a variety of sources. This doesn’t happen that often! Thanks again for your patience and please subscribe to this blog and my YouTube channel. Keep an eye out for my review of the Aston three-pattern Spirit. 

Stay tuned! I just got back from the AES show in NYC. Gimme  couple of weeks and I'll have video demos and other associated content. 

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Thanks to Kathy Phelps for her editing help. We are still not in agreement with one sentence. Find it and win a nickel!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Audio-Technica AT8024 - Good Things In Little Packages

Audio-Technica AT8024 on a JVC HM 650
The landscape is littered with little “shoe mics”; those mics designed to slip into the hot or cold shoe of a DSLR or other digital camera. 

Each time I see one, I look for improvements in sound, suspension mount and ease of use. Today I’m looking at the Audio-Technica AT8024, which comes complete with separate foam and very effective furry wind covers and lists for only $249.

The stereo signal from the AT8024 is derived from a set of electret condenser Mid/Side capsules; a front-facing mono capsule and a side-facing figure of eight capsule behind it. That bulge at the base of the interference tube is where the two side-facing capsules sit. 

AT8024 Body and Switches
One of the switches on the AT8024 has three positions; Off, Stereo and Mono. In Mono, the mic employs the Mid capsule only. In stereo, the mic uses both Mid and Side capsules and has a internal matrix that provides a fairly narrow stereo pattern to the 1/8” TRS plug.

These features allow the AT8024 to be used with cameras with either a 1/8” mono or stereo input jack. This is a real problem solver because some DSLR cameras have a mono input and some have a stereo input. Pugging a standard mono mic into a stereo input often results in the audio going only to one channel in the camera. No problem, just switch to Stereo. Switching to Mono puts the center capsule audio on both the tip and ring and results in Mono.

AT8024 Pop-out Battery Sled

The mic is powered by one AA cell that lasts for 80 hours. The pop-out sled is very well designed and easy to use. The green LED indicates that the mic has been switched on. When the LED turns red, it’s time to change the battery. 

In every audio forum I participate in, including the Creative Cow Audio forum I lead, are warnings about camera-mounted microphones. As a professional location sound practitioner, I know that the best spoken word audio recordings happens with the microphone within 18” of the person talking, with the right boom mic, a boom operator and a mixer to feed the camera or record separately. Once you get more than two feet away from the talent, most of the quality of the even the best mics begin to fade. I was, therefore, impressed by how well the AT8024 fared.

Built-in, on-camera mics have two additional problems. First, they conduct even the most casual handling noise and that noise becomes part of the recording. My JVC HM 650 camera, which uses SD cards, has a very distracting fan motor noise that is conducted through the body to the built-in mic. In addition, if the camera operator talks or makes noise, the mic will pick up those noises. Second, I don’t know many camera manufacturers who use really good capsules for an on-camera mic.

To reduce handling noise, you need a separate mic with a suspension mount that isolates the mic from the camera body. The AT8024 has that and it’s sturdy and simple. As my video demonstrates, while there is some hand noise transfer, it’s extremely small compared to the built-in camera mic. 

There’s a switchable, 12 dB/octave, 80 Hz low frequency roll off to reduce low frequency noise. There are also a 10 and 20 dB pad. These pads are very useful for run and gun shooting in wildly varying volume levels. Yes, you do have to figure out the best gain staging for camera and mic levels, but being able to knock 20 dB off at the mic should let you get in front of some pretty loud machinery or a rock band without clipping.

I recorded a set by “The Old Part of Town” at Edith May’s Paradise, a house concert venue in Jessup, Maryland. I was about 20 feet from the stage, used the 10 dB pad and had no problems capturing sound from the amps, acoustic instruments and PA. The AT8024 has a very pleasant sound with music. If you find it a bit too organic, running the audio through a limiter in post and just catching the peaks can put a nice polish on the track. I didn’t do that for this particular clip.

My good friend Brian Glock helped me test the AT8024 during the Towson, Maryland July 4th Parade. He had the AT8024 set at -20 dB and the camera audio input set to Auto for this clip. He was doing lots of run and gun that day and didn't have time to manually adjust the camera audio. Drum and bugle corps by their very nature are VERY LOUD and the horns are frequently "blatty." The Auto feature on Brian's camera cranked the volume up and I think I can hear some of its processing, but when I pulled the waveform up, I only saw one flat top.

We also tested the AT8024 at Atwater’s, a local soup and sandwich shop. At a distance of 18 inches, you can hear that the ambient noise is distracting against a normal speaking voice, so, as always, there are limitations. 

Meanwhile, down in my acoustically treated studio, the AT8024 surprised me by how well it sounded at distances of three feet or more.

I could talk all day about how good or bad the custom made AT8024, wind protection accessories are. In a word, they are invaluable. Here’s some outside footage that confirms how well the foam and especially the fuzzy work.

Capsule frequency response is smooth and the the mono and stereo patterns behave nicely.


Down to the small hook at the base of the mic that allows the cable to be snugged close to the body to keep it from flapping around, the AT8024 is an example of thoughtful design. If you do need a camera-mounted mic, look hard at this one for the above reasons. And at $249 for mic, foam and fuzzy, what’s not to like?

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