Mic Evaluations in Church Productions

By Brent Handy
Contributing Writer
July 24, 2013

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Stop! Don't read any further until you have read my two previous articles. One article talks about the mic test and what it is about. The next article is a list of microphones to be tested. This will save me from having to re-post monotonous information. Once you have read the other two, please continue.

Please refer to the aricles below before you proceed with this one.

Can You Hear the Difference?

Mic Reviews

The Testing Method

Nearly all of the manufacturers made recommendations for getting the most out of their mics, in specific applications. Only one of them made suggestions for microphone placement technique for the recording process. (For more information on microphone techniques, please read the previous articles, or visit www.dpamicrophones.com.)

The "fair comparison" test consisted of comparable mics in the same position, in the same configuration, on the same source. All manufacturer's recommendations were recorded at this time.

The "unfair comparison" consisted of using dissimilar mics, in the same configuration, on the same source. I did this, because most of us have to make mics work in an unintended application, in a pinch.

The sources recorded were:

80's Baldwin Grand Piano

6 and 12-String Acoustic Guitars


Reed/Horn Ensemble (Saxophones, Trumpets, Trombones)

Male and Female-Soloists (in various ranges)

Male and Female-Duets

Mens Ensemble

Mens Choir (80+ voices)

Choir (70+ voices)

The Spoken Word

Contemporary CCM Band (drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals)

The review sessions went well. We are all still friends. (Some people get quite frazzled during the recording process. I know of some musicians that will not even go into the studio building that they have recorded in.) Historically, equipment reviews have been edited through rose-colored-political-correction lenses. This is not true here.

During the week that we recorded, Oklahoma had a record number of tornados. If we didn't have a few tornados in the air, it was just storming big time. Fortunately we received no damage. We were not able to record all of the intended sources. We did do enough to call it complete.

Why The Spec Sheets aren't Here

We are concerned about comparative sound quality, not "the best" specs. We can only compare mics by ear. No two manufacturers provide complete test data, or conduct their tests the same way. Even if there were a standardized way of testing a mic, specs cannot relay how the microphone effects the tone/timbre. Some of the best spec'd equipment is not very fun to listen to.

Consider the noise specs. Some manufacturers post preamp noise specs as the spec for the entire microphone. Some manufactures use a dBA rating as opposed to a dB rating. What's the difference? About 10 real-world decibels of noise. Few manufacturers post the specs for the entire mic, and if they do, it is in dBA's.

Positive Impressions

All of the microphones were great at something and good at others. I would not hesitate to recommend any of them to you. The following summarizes my thoughts on individual mics, during the course of the sessions. These are not technical thoughts, but notes made when something struck me as being positive.

Audix SCX25:

"Great on piano from 440 down. The low mid resonance is not bloated. The bottom is tight! Above 440, captures the percussive elements well. 8kHz with this mic has a dramatic effect on the tone. Easy to place."

"Great guitar mic! Very detailed top end. Finger and mechanical noise sounds natural, unexaggerated. The bottom is good. This mic and a 1dB/1.0 Q boost at 60Hz is great. I don't need the Pultec."

"I LOVE this on females! Uncolored low-mids. Nice sheen."

"Barritone and trombone reproduction is faithful. Captured and reproduced the elements and mechanical noise of the sax. Oboe = oboe. Not my favorite trumpet mic."

"Male vocals sound good. Big and full. Not colored/exaggerated enough on the bottom end for thin bass voices. Pop vocals sound great."

"Rack toms sound nice. Floor tom sounds big, powerful, tight. Aluminum snare is pretty darn punchy. Just outside of the kick drum is NICE!"

Audix M1290:

"Great choir mic. Lower profile, richer tone, higher output, thus less noise than the installed industry standard mics."

"These would be great for a small, portable choral or recital recording rig."
"Easy to place."

"Good attack on acoustic."

"Hi-hat and percussion had nice high-end detail."

DPA Microphones 4023:

"Uncolored! Somebody get me a Steinway! Truer to the source than any other mic reviewed. Revealed harsh 350Hz to 375Hz lower mid-range. Good solid bottom end. Great detail on the top. Attack was captured. EASY to place!"

"Great choir mic! Quiet. Not a hiss and boom mic like the installed mics. Realistic, full-bodied. Smooth sibilance. Reproduced the 250Hz boost in the choir area. Detail revealed the tail of the room decay."

"Easy to place on guitar. Reproduced the guitar as it is."

"Easy to place on drums. Nothing needs eq (thank God for a drummer that can tune his kit..rare!). I need these on the whole kit!"

DPA Microphones 4052:

"Somebody get me a Steinway. NOW! Realistic and un-hyped. The mounting system is GREAT!"

"Ambient reproduction is stunning. I got fooled with the Sony headphones listening to a playback. I turned my head a few times."

"Strings, horns, reeds all sound great."

"My new overhead set-up!"

"Men's ensemble with A/B set-up was very realistic. The mic handled the SPL's and transients better than any other ambient mic reviewed."

Audio Technica AT-4040:

"Good on piano from 440 up. VERY detailed, flatteringly bright top end. EXCELLENT top register jazz and southern gospel piano mic! Captures and reproduces percussive attacks VERY well. From 440 down the bottom is tight. not exaggerated. Captured mechanical noise during mutes."

"Helps female alto voices cut through the mix."

"1st and 2nd Tenor voices cut through with this mic!"

"Strings have a nice sheen."

Audio Technica AT-4040 Continued:

"Great hi-hat, cymbal and over-head mic."

"The boosted hi-end is great of the wooly acoustic guitars."

Audio Technica AT-4047:

"Good piano mic above and below 440. Pretty impressive below 440. Nice bottom. Also a great southern gospel and jazz mic, accentuating the percussiveness of the piano. 4kHz and 8kHz reproduction requires careful placement."

"Stand up bass being plucked is VERY hard to distinguish from a Neumann U47! There is not $4,000.00 worth of difference. Strings sound ok. Violin can be shrill."

"Oboe is nice on this mic. Captures the breaths, and the airiness of the instrument."

"Drums, percussiion, overheads, hi-hat, etc all sound good."

"Female vocals sounded nice. Alto and baritone voices cut through!"

Audio Technica AT-4050:

"I love this mic! Great group vocal and solo mic. Nice, clean, modern sound. The detail on the top is boosted, but not excessive."

"The mic handled female vocals well that were VERY close and intimate. Proximity effect is very flattering to females. Powerful, full-bodied vocals."

"Choir sounded very good in Stereo A/B and M/S modes."

"Very versitle!"

Audio Technica AT-4041:

"Great on hi-hat, over heads, cymbals, etc. Great at capturing metal brushes on snare."

"Flute was reproduced faithfully. Handled the peaks without distortion."

"Big woody bottom on acoustic guitar. Flattering to the nylon stringed guitar."

"Piano from 440 up was very bright, sparkly. The attack of the strings was very detailed, and will punch through a dense mix."

"Captured and reproduced the trumpet without sounding harsh at 2kHz, unlike others tested".

Rode NT4

"Super easy to set up. I wish the top pivoted to a 90 degree angle."

"It does what it says it does. Faithful stereo image on anything in front of it."

"Handled the dynamics of the ensembles and the men's group."

"Faithfully reproduced all the room's sound."

"Flattering top end response worked on the percussion table items, and the cymbals over head."

"This mic and a mini DAT would be great for convenient location recording."

Rode NT-1A and NT1000

"Versatile mics."

I don't want to short you on any information about the Rode mics. I honestly didn't write much about these mics. It wasn't because I thought that they were undeserving. Quite the contrary, as I used these mics as my "safety" mics, just in case something crashed in Pro Tools land. I thought that they were pretty great. Both of them have a smooth, un-edgy, open sound to them. I found their boosts to be very musical. In my opinion, the NT1000 could be the modern day Neumann U87 (read as Swiss Army knife of microphones) for the church on a budget.

ADK Area51 TL

"Very nice on piano. Big, warm sound! Very detailed top end above 440. Bottom, below 440 is very flattering through this mic. Very exciting sound!"

"Distant ambient mic-ing applications are very realistic, very nice. So many patterns. so little time."

"M/S and A/B Stereo techniques yielded great results. They never sounded harsh when the SPL's got high. Thin male and female voices sounded thick and smooth."

"Acoustic guitar detailed on top and full in the middle. Thickened up the 12-string without adding to much mud."

"Nice, smooth top end on strings. No shrill kitty-cat noise."

"VERY nice on close, intimate tenor male vocals! Can make a thin man sound thick."

"Great alternative to the Beyerdynamics MC740. I would try this on anything once."

ADK Area 51 TT & A Really Unfair Comparison

I took the ADK tube mics down to The Church Studio, Tulsa, OK. The Church is owned by Steve Ripley (of Ripley Guitars and "The Tractors" fame). I wanted to compare the ADK's to some Neumanns. The Neumanns are pristine U48's, worth about $9,000.00. They are a multipattern version of the U47 (an industry standard), which many manufacturers now emulate (Lawson, Soundelux, etc). The ADK is under $1600 retail.

Steve was demo-ing the new Telefunken ELAM 251 reissue. (If you are not a recording buff, or have never heard of the ELAM, or AKG's C-12, then go to www.telefunkenusa.com to learn more. This is a new release of a vintage industry standard, and it costs $12,000.00. The case alone is nicer than any luggage that I own!) So now it is really unfair, right?

With the ADK, Neumann U48 tube and the Telefunken correctly amplified by the preamps in the Neve 8068 console, we listened. First we listened for self-noise. Second we listened for conductive noise. And last but not least a sonic test drive.

Noise. The ADK was the most quiet mic of the three. It was VERY quiet for a tube mic. Actually, it is VERY quiet compared to most condensers. The ADK TT did an excellent job rejecting RF, unlike the Telefunken.

All three mics had minimal conductive noise. The shock mounts isolated the microphones well. The ADK metal hardware broke. It felt fragile compared to the Neumann. But, a Neumann shock mount costs as much as an ADK, A51 condenser microphone ($250). So, once Larry Villella told me that they would correct the problem and replace the unit, I didn't give it another thought.

Sound. For Ripley to use something other than his 48's says allot. He is has a Grammy-nominated signature sound. The ADK replaced the Neumann and the Telefunken on a vocal and acoustic guitar track. The tracks will appear on his upcoming Tractors children's album. He liked it.
I found the ADK to be my favorite female vocal mic. It allows the vocal to cut though the mix. This high end has a color and character that will not work on everything. The boost from about 8kHz to 9kHz caused me to reach for the De-Esser plug-in a few times. I liked this mic on the piano, overheads and stereo A/B recording. Actually, I had good result with everything except the trumpet

Cardioid mode yields a nice presence boost. The proximity effect is not excessive. I was able to achieve spectacular results with soloists standing from 2" to 4" from the mic, using a pop screen. Duets stood about 8"-12" from the mic, with an added height of 1". While recording a duet, one of the mothers monitored on a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones, powered by a Furman HA6AB amp/mixer. Her jaw dropped, and she sat for a few moments after the second take. Her eyes were filled with tears. It was not because anything she said, but the stark realism. She had never heard that before in their recordings.

The ADK has four basic pattern selections, Cardioid, Omni, Figure-8 and Hyper Cardioid, with progressive variations in between. Omni is great for recording choir, ensembles, orchestra and piano in Stereo A/B configuration. One mic in Omni, one in Cardioid in M/S configuration is stellar as well. I like this mic in M/S.

Every mic has a short coming. It would also the mic's strength. The top end, from about 8kHz up, has a unique, bright presence. A similar effect, in the extended high's, can be found in other vintage microphones. This is the reason that specific vintage mics are desired. That said, I would not use this mic, or any other mic, on everything.

If you want a world-class alternative, for those applications where an AKG C12, Telefunken ELAM, or Neumann U47 (including clone) would be desired, then the ADK TT is for you. You could stand as a steward with a clear conscience before God Almighty, knowing that you saved the church $7k to $10k by buying this microphone.

Shure KSM-137

I have owned a pair of these for almost a year now. These are great general purpose mics. I did not write anything down in my notes about them. I knew how they sound. But as I listen to the sessions, I can tell you that this a very good acoustic guitar mic. I also used this mic on cymbals, snare, and even inside the kick drum (to get the click). If I had more, I would stick them on all of the toms once. The mic did well on steel guitar applications, in front of a Fender Twin, Duece, and Peavey Nashville amps. It is also a good vocal mic, solo and choir.

"You want the truth? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!"

For honest, uncolored sound, seriously consider the DPA microphones. Once you have heard them, and experienced their mounting hardware options, you will understand why they are the choice of major networks, theater, film, broadcasting and recording production companies.

When it comes to gain, the DPA's required a bit more than the other small diaphragms. I was sitting right at 51dB for ambient applications, 42dB for direct applications . Even with the increased preamp gain, and inherent increased preamp noise, the sum total of the noise was significantly less than any other small diaphragm at lower gain (42dB and 35dB respectively).

A computer truism is valid here. Garbage in, garbage out. These mics make you work!

For churches with dedicated studios on a limited budget, I would REALLY consider the ADK, Rode and Audio Technica mics. I could package these mics with a proper pair of preamps, and you would sound as good (electronically anyway) as any world-class studio. In fact, there are some world-class studios that have these very mics in use, daily.

For larger churches with a "proficient" engineer staff, I would recommend using some of these mics on stage. For years I have used Shure KSM44's and 32's on stage for guitar cabs, overheads, etc. Audio Technica's were on stage last night at a Def Lepard concert here in Tulsa, as they are on thousands of other stages throughout the world. Shure and AT enjoy a very strong presence in the touring market. While Rode is not as large corporately, they have the sonic fortitude to make it on a stage.

Some churches do recording without a dedicated space and/or require dual-purpose mics, Please consider the Audix and the Shure lines. All of Audix's SCX, D-series and Micro lines would fair well in either application.

Can I hear a difference between these mics and mics costing triple or double the price? Yes. There are some very beautiful sounding mics out there. Given scope of the productions and skill levels of a church staff, the differences would not be substantial. I could not justify the expense of any mic over $1600.00 retail.

I would like to say thank you to all of the manufacturers (Audix, Audio Technica, Rode, DPA, Shure, etc), Jim Ramsey and Eastland Baptist Church, Tulsa, OK, Steve Ripley and The Church Studio, Tulsa, OK, Harvey Young Airport, Tulsa, OK (for disturbing the session).

Please watch this next week for the final article and the MP3's.

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