Monday, May 5, 2008

Miking your cab - Part 2

I spent some time yesterday auditioning some mikes to use on my cab. I've been using - and loving - the Sennheiser e906 for a while new, but with the new upgrades, I figured I'd give some other mikes a listen and see if I like something better. Here are the mikes I tried:

From left to right: The trusty Shure SM-57, Sennheiser e906, Sennheiser MD421, AKG 414.

Here's the background on how I set up the test: I recorded 4 licks with effects strait into protools via a Focusrite ISA428. When I say strait into, I mean I skipped the amp and sent the output from the last effect into the "inst in" on the focursite. Recording a guitar sounds terrible like this, but it allowed me to send what I had recorded back to my amp using a Radial Xamp to send my amp a signal it "should" be happy with. Setting it up that way let me record each mike with the exact same guitar line so there won't be any variables in how loud I played or minor differences in style. I recorded each mike 6 times, aimed strait at the speaker in the center, edge, and in between, then angled 30 degrees at the center, edge, and inbetween. When I had all the mikes recorded I listened for which position I liked best for each mike, then compared each mike (at my favorite position) to each other.

Quirks: The process went smooth, but recording dry, then reamping had it's issues. All the ohm changes ended up making a lot of noise in the signal... I guarantee my amp doesn't have all the hiss when I play normal. I also didn't give enough volume back to the amp (I was afraid of hurting it) which was safe, but made the amp sound worse because the signal was too low. I ended up not overdriving the preamp tubes or power amp tubes enough so the tone sounds more brittle and buzzy than it does when I play normal and give the input a good signal. All that aside, my tone sounds cruddier than usual but it was consistent for the test and did the trick.

The results:

Shure SM-57
WAV (8.6 MB)

Price: $99
Thoughts: This was the most mellow of the mikes I tested. The highs weren't very clear and I had to put it in the brightest part of the speaker to get it sounding clear enough. That said, it sounds as good as the rest once it's there. It's an economical way to get almost the same sound as the other mikes that cost 2-4 times more.

Sennheiser e906:
WAV (8.8 MB)

Price: $189
Thoughts: This has been my favorite for a while and after the test, still is. Where the sm57 only had one place that sounded good, the 906 had three that were a close tie. It's designed just for guitar cabs so it sounded pretty consistent no matter where I put it. One note, DON'T get the younger brother, the 609. It's cheaper but sounds terrible.

Senheiser MD421:
WAV (8.5 MB)

Price: $379
Thoughts: This is one of the best tom (drumeset) mikes there is. Some people use them as dynamic vocal mikes, (the Mars Volta for example) and I've seen them on some guitar cabs. I found it had a natural scoop (emphasised the highs and lows) which made it hard to place on the cab. It really emphasised the highs or lows depending on how close to the center I put it. I was able to get a pretty good sound from it, but not significantly better then the 906 or 57. Basically, it will work, but it's not worth the price. Keep it on the toms.

AKG 414:
WAV (8.7 MB)

Price: $999
Thoughts: I just threw this in for fun but it's not really comparable with the other three mikes. This is a large diaphragm condenser and will behave much differently. I tried it in a regular cardioid response (like the other mikes, it mostly picks up sounds strait ahead) and as a figure 8 (picks up sound from the front and the back but not the sides). I liked it better as a figure 8, it gave a really open and natural sound. The only problem is it has to sit a few feet back from the amp and will pick up ANY noise in the room. It's great for recording when you're already in a room that's meant to sound great, but if your cab is on stage or in a room just off stage, I imagine it will sound pretty bad. The noise is pretty bad on this recording, again, that's because of how I set up the recording, it's no where near that bad normally.

If I were in the studio and didn't have to worry about noise, I could use the e906 up close and the 414 a few feet back and combine the two. Here's an audio sample of what that would sound like: WAV (8.8 MB)<-- or Flac (3.3 MB)-->. You just have to be careful of phase cancellation... I'm getting a little in this mix but it's nothing terrible.

I found that WHERE the mike was placed made a much bigger difference than WHICH mike I used. I found it easiest to get a good sound out of the e906 and would recommend either that or the sm57. More importantly than which mike you get or use, make sure you find time to experiment with mike placement and find what works best for your cab. Happy miking!


hendo said...

Thank you so much for doing this compare ... I wished I would have come across it sooner. We use 57s at the church I go to and then use in-ears and my tone always sucks in the in ears so listening to this helps me know that Im not totally coo coo and can now pick up a better mic

Mike said...

Glad you liked it. I hope I didn't come across as saying SM57s are bad! They can work, you just need to place them correctly. The bigger issue with the sound changing with in-ears vs listening to the amp in a room is you're hearing the sound that comes right in front of the speaker, not the sound from around the room - see part 1. I would see if you can come in early and play your amp through the mike and listen with your in-ears. Tweak your amp till that sounds good because that's the sound that comes out of the main speakers in the church. If this makes your amp sound worse when it's not miked - don't worry! The only sound that matters is what it sounds like through a mike.

OJP Mike said...

Thats a good point ... I just think that the 57 might be overly bright with my amp. I ended up getting a E906 in hopes that it will flatten out the tone a little. That is the thing that I was able to hear in your clips. The 57 seems to be a lot brighter of a mic than the E906 so hopefully matching the 906 with a bright amp will not make my the tone in the house overly bright. I think the one thing I could do with the 57 (which I do one one and agree with you that it is not a bad mic at all) is position it more toward the edge of the cone. I will take some time this weekend with the sound tech before worship to get something good dialed in and make a preset since we have rotating sound people volunteering. Again ... I appreciate your insight and the time you took to do the compare.