Microphone survey results

by Daniel H. Steinberg

The results are in for our informal comparison of four microphones. If you'd like, compare the mics for yourself before reading the rest of this as I'll be telling you which mic is which and sharing the thoughts of the reviewers.

Many of the reviews came via email or IM from people I know. An interesting trend is that broadcasters tended to like Microphone B (which is a classic in their field) and musicians tended to like Microphone C. Not only that, but both groups tended not to like the other one. People who liked Microphone B described C as "tinny" and people who liked microphone C described B as noisy. For a studio mic I think I am still going to choose between B and C but the choice is difficult. Rematch below Oh, and yes Ron - I've been drinking a lot of coffee.

The Microphones (spoiler)

The mics were: (A) a Shure SM 57, (B) an ElectroVoice RE 27, (C) a Heil PR-40 and (D) a Heil PR-20.

These are all dynamic mics that were recorded into an MBox and into my G5 using Audio Hijack Pro with no processing (other than a pop-filter on the mics).

Microphone A - An old standard

The shows so far have been done with the Shure 57. It's a great reliable mic and is famous for taking a beating. Here are some paraphrases of the comments we got on A "A nice all-around sound, although a bit flat." "A is a bit flat but has less noise than D." "More bass, pretty hot from two inches away." "Distorted up close." "Mic A at 2 inches sounded good. Deeper for some reason." "A second choice, but it has a good proximity effect." "Excellent noise rejection, quite a bit of bass effect with proximity effect." "Thin and crispy at six inches, distortion and a huge proximity effect." "Middle of the road at six inches and boomy without much clarity at three inches."

By the way - my boss and my wife liked A the best.

Microphone B - Broadcaster's Favorite

The person who initially recommended I try B gave some of the most interesting feedback on it. "The ambient noise rejection was bad. It will probably be too much trouble even if you take steps to reduce computer noise." Online feedback added, "A lot more background being picked up, including a slight hum." Another identified "some noticeable vibration. I'd go with B if you can determine what the vibration is at the first part of the loop." "B is the clear loser of the bunch." The RE 27, like all mics in this test, was on the same surface as my G5 and not in a shock mount. It may have been picking up vibrations that way.

So the negatives tended to focus on the hum, the noise, and the bass. The positives were "more treble and midrange, good overall." "Sounds good at close range." "B is pretty good all the way around." "Boomy, full bodied feel, but that may not be the best choice for everyone's voice." "B has more bass response than C, which is good, but more ambient noise." "Mic B, no question. I like the extra bass a lot. At 3 inches, it's NPR city." "Best mic at six inches by far."

A guy I used to work with in radio wrote "B sounds clean and crisp and there was only a slight difference in the dynamics from a distance and close-up."

Microphone C - Musicians' Favorite

The Heil PR-40 is clearly marketed as an alternative to the RE 20 and the RE 27. The positive feedback we got for this microphone could go in a press release. The negatives were that it sounded thin or tinny. "Weakest one so far and a bit up on the treble side. Sounds better and rounder at 2"."C is too treble sounding. You can hear the breath hitting the mic too."

"Mic C, 6 inches: Very clear and precise; I felt like I heard all that was there to be heard. Great sound, but better be a controlled environment.
Mic C, 3 inches: Yeah, lovely sound here. I even heard what sounded like your chair squeak as you moved away from the mic at the end." "Mic C seems to have good clarity at 6 inches and still gives a nice rich tone up close. It should perform well in a variety of situations." "C is the winner -- richer sound, less noise, clear." "C seems best of the four with a little distance. It seems to have a broader spectrum than the others. There is also a
slight noise canceling component in C. It was not as clean up close and I
actually heard a little clipping." "Excellent noise rejection, slight and pleasant proximity effect, prone to picking up p-popping."

My sister wrote "I like mic C best--at both 6" and 2-3". Your voice sounded clearest with this one, and I heard the least background noise."

Microphone D - A stage mic

The Heil PR-20 worked much better when worked close than far away. "At 6" the sound was a bit tinny but with some of the lows accented as well. At 2" the sound becomes rounder and sounds better. " "Another middle-of-the-road for me. A little less clarity, and a little fuzzier, although still not as boomy as Mic A. There was slight improvement closer on this one. As an alternate for field work, I'd look at D, and keep it close (or post-process it more)." "Less bass. a little poppy 2" away." " D was a bit thin at 6" but fattened up nicely up close. " "D has a richer sound than A but lets more background noise in." "D is very flat sounding, but is the cleanest sounding (no hiss)." "D felt like it had more background noise than the others" "D: A little tinny at 6"; pleasant at 3" (probably more proximity
effect than any other)." "I like B overall. But D has a solid clean sound close in."

The results

The favorites were clearly bimodal. Most people liked the RE 27 or the PR 40. Many of the respondents didn't even comment on the other mics. Many identified that the decision was clearly between those two while others who championed one of them despised the other. I still find myself on the fence. I like the way I sound better in the RE 27 and yet there is the issue of noise.

REMATCH ADDED To address the noise issue, I moved the microphones ten feet away from the G5 and ran them through the Aphex 230 with a little compression and some gating. Here is a rematch for the

So, did you change your mind?


2005-11-23 07:19:43
Speakers vs. headphones
Did respondents generally note whether they were on speakers or headphones? I really liked B (yep, I come from broadcasting) until I listened on noise-cancelling headphones and heard all the room noise... yikes! Then again, since this is for a podcast, there's also a question of how people are listening to the podcasts: on earbud headphones on a bus, or over car speakers in traffic, or at their desks, or what?
2005-11-23 15:38:26
What was the point?
Was the point of this review to hear the differences between some microphones or to show that you might as well toss a coin when you plug them into a poor quality unbalanced input?

How do you evaluate the dynamic properties of a microphone when you crush them with a compressor/gate?

Even if your readers are planning to plug directly into a computer, the useful life of microphones is measured in decades. A future computer may have a better input or, more likely, they will get tired of poor sound and invest in better outboard gear. Give the microphones a chance to show their stuff and plug them into a decent amp and converter, if not a top quality one. Try making a recording in a quiet room, the most important piece of gear of all.

2005-11-23 16:03:42
Two Winners
I’m one of the musicians who initially preferred the Heil PR40. Listening on my big headphones, I still prefer it—albeit by a much smaller margin, because the RE27 is so bassy up close.

But both mics sound good to me, and the RE27’s bass boost could help on earbuds.

Whichever one you end up with, you may want to try damping the reflective surfaces in your studio. That would let you back off the mic a bit. Right now, all the mics are picking up room reverberation at the six-inch range, which makes the sound metallic and hollow. I sometimes make an ersatz vocal booth by pushing the hanging shirts in my closet aside and recording there.

2005-11-23 18:05:13
What was the point?
Was the point of this review to hear the differences between some microphones or to show that you might as well toss a coin when you plug them into a poor quality unbalanced input?

No, the point was to test the mics in the environment in which he'll be producing the podcast, using the techniques used for the podcast. So what the mics sound like in perfectly quiet rooms, without compression, etc., are irrelevant, because that's not how they'll be used.

2005-11-24 05:13:39
What was the point?
I've been lucky enough to test microphones in very expensive professional studios (as has many of the respondents). I didn't think reporting those results were relevant to podcasters. So what I've been trying to do is show you my evolution with my home studio thinking others may benefit from the experience. In fact, some of the testers had suggested I use the mics in my current set up.

I know that I have benefited from these experiments. People with better ears and better taste than I have made great suggestions in the talk back. I'm sorry that you haven't gotten much from the exchange. I've found it invaluable.

The downside is that it's a slippery slope. I use a better mic, I need a better interface. I use a better interface with a better mic and the lack of sound-deadening is audible. This could get expensive!