Austin Schroeder (RATM, Backstreet Boys, and many more) and I have been close friends for a very long time. Austin and I talk about gear a lot. From consoles, to outboard gear, and one of my favorite subjects, microphones. He asked me if I would be obliged to help him with a project he's working on and I was absolutely thrilled to lend a hand and my studio for this. Through some very generous friends he was loaned a handful of microphones plus some microphones we already had. He is looking for a good microphone for dialog and speech. His wife has a very successful career in voice over and they are trying to find the right solution for her and to build a good environment in their home for her to work.
So we set up a couple of microphone stands and patched straight into a couple of channels on my Universal Audio Apollo 8 to get consistency.
We tested each of the tube and condenser mics without high pass filters engaged, no pad engaged, and did a test per available polar pattern that each of the mics had available. The biggest thing we noticed that was consistent across all of the microphones was that in cardioid pattern and even more so in figure 8 pattern, the proximity effect was very noticeable and there was a substantial low end build up that led to plosives that were unpleasant to hear. We didn't use a pop filter because we wanted to hear the microphones as directly and authentically as possible and to test those tolerances as well. We didn't experience the same issue with the two dynamic mics we used though, which were only cardioid patterns. The tube and condenser mics all sounded more even and smooth in omnidirectional pattern and that low end build up did not occur. However due to us testing in a live end/dead end listening environment we did observe that in omnidirectional pattern they picked up a substantially greater amount of the room ambience than we had expected.
The first mic we tested was a Shure SM7B. It's one of the most versatile and well known microphones for voice, dialog, and many other applications. I happen to own two of them. We recorded three channel simultaneously. One was direct into the pre amp and the other two we wanted to see if a couple different level boosters imparted any tone while boosting the signal. We used a SE DM-1 Dynamite. It's an inline preamp that that resembles the standard inline attenuated although is designed to do the opposite. It requires 48v phantom power which any modern mic pre amp can supply. The third options was the Cloud Lifter CL-1. It is also and inline signal booster however it resembles a DI box by comparison. The DM-1 and CL-1 provided exactly the same gain and there was indiscernible tone between the two. It did seem like they provided some extra clarity and definition to the channel without the boost.
Pictured Above: Shure SM7B
Secondly we tried the SE 2300 and the SE 4400A. We found the SE 2300 to be even across the entire spectrum. It also had good presence. The SE 4400A also had similar characteristics but didn't have the same warm midrange that the 2300 had. It seems like an attempt to recreate an AKG 414 and is pretty close to it.
Pictured Above: SE2300
Third we used the SE RNT and SE Gemini II. The RNT is really a nice microphone. It had great articulation and body. It had presence and was pleasant. It seems to have been designed to compete sonically with the either a Manley Reference Mic or a Sony C800G. The Gemini II sounded good but due to the amount of tubes in it, felt like it was very focused on the midrange and to me sounded mushy and less articulate that the RNT. I do believe it has it's place perhaps a male vocal like a crooner. I could also see it perhaps for nylon string guitar recordings.
Pictured Above: SE RNT
Then we tried the SE Z5600A II and an EV RE20. The SE Z5600 II had a similar sound to the Gemini II but less of that midrange tone and was clearer. The EV RE 20 is build for dialog and speech. It just works. It's tried a true. It sounds like it was tailored specifically for voice. I do like to use it on many other sources but there's a reason you see it myriad radio stations and used for widely for broadcast applications.
Pictured Above: SE Z5600A II
Lastly we tried a brand new Neumann U87 with an older U87. Austin already had the older U87 but was convinced there was something wrong with it so we wanted to do a side by side comparison to make sure. This mic just sounds amazing. It always has, always will. It had the flattest response of all of the mics we tested and had all of the other characteristics we were looking for like presence, warmth, clarity, focus, articulation, etc. I know that I need to add one if not two to my arsenal hopefully someday soon. I've been using them for over 20 years now and achieved great results every time.
In conclusion, all of the mics sounded great and I can imagine how I would use each one for specific applications. The Neumann, EV, and Shure mics have years in the field and all sound great and they are all "go to" mics for many applications and for good reason. SE is a newer microphone company that is putting out some really good products. I have written about their ribbon mics in a previous post regarding Noah Cyrus' performance for VEVO. There are so many newer microphone manufacturers. So many to sift through and find the things that are great. This kind of mic shootout is fun if you can get your hands on these products to make this kind of determination for yourself. I'm glad Austin wanted to involve me in this and I have added some things to my wish list.
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