Howard Rabach

Bassist – Live Performance + Studio Sessions

First up, a trio; AT-4041 (pair), Earthworks SM40, AEA N8

June 25, 2015
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Specs:

  • Audio Technica AT-4041 Small Diaphragm Condenser microphones (pair):

    Audio Technical AT-4041

    Audio Technical AT-404

  • Earthworks SR40 – HD Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone:

    Earthworks SR40

    Earthworks SR40

  • AEA Novo N8 Ribbon Microphone:

    AEA Novo N8

    AEA Novo N8

    The set-up…

I decided to run these tests as ‘real world’ as possible, for my work (I will not be posting the audio here).  This first test was done recording an acoustic guitar.  The initial setup was as follows:

For all the takes, I ran everything as ‘clean’ as possible.  All three mics required 48v phantom power (yes, even the ribbon!)  I ran Mogami Silver cables to my XLR patchbay, leading to the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 audio interface.  All mic preamps were set at 7.  From the interface, they went through my PC straight to my DAW (Reaper 4.78) with all tracks set to 0db.  

 – Instrument:  Guild D-125 all-mahogany dreadnought body/rosewood fretboard, with D’Addario Bronze Phosphor Strings; X-Heavy pick (1.10 mm)

  • AT-4041 pair as overhead mics, capsules at about 6′ from the ground, 45 degree angle, X/Y pattern; one towards the neck, the other towards the body

  • AEA Novo N8 at guitar/lap height, front-faced towards where the neck and body of the guitar meet

  • Earthworks SR40 at same height as N8; pointed towards the fretboard.

After a couple of false starts, I recorded a first take of about 1:30 of me “playing” the acoustic (butchering is more like it).

Findings:  As expected, the 4041s as overhead mics work very well; there was the expected sizzle of the bronze strings, and a little too much pick noise.  However, I can definitely see why these are used as overhead mics for this kind of a situation (as well as others).  The SR40 was quite a bit more ‘boomy’ in the lower mids – didn’t expect that much proximity effect, though they are often used as overheads for acoustic pianos.  The real winner overall was the N8; wow!  Totally blown away by this mic.  In listening back to the track, it had a clarity and upper mid presence that I normally wouldn’t associate with a ribbon mic (that said, I’ve only recorded with Cascade ribbons before so I suppose my perspective is limited).  It truly captured the attack of the pick on the strings without being harsh, it picked up some finger movements on the fretboard (but not distractingly so), and filled out with the presence of the guitar body really shining through the lower mids and bottom with strong clarity and warmth.  A combination of the N8 with the AT-4041s really presented the guitar in it’s most ‘alive’ sound.  More on that later.

For ‘take 2’, I lowered the 4041s about 12″ or so, and moved them to where they faced directly down between me and the guitar body.  I switched the SR40 and the N8 with each other as described above, and moved them slightly closer in a more traditional X/Y pattern, but the direction reversed from above.

With these changes, the AT-4041 pair really came to life – and not just in the >3K frequencies.  Though still a little ‘bright’ sounding, they became a little more lively and less shrill than in take one.  Most likely with some placement tinkering I’ll find there sweet spot – but I’m close.  The SR40 still disappointed this close to the instrument – I was testing a theory –  and I was right (use an HD mic this close to a dynamic source like a strongly strummed acoustic – LOTS of proximity effect).  The N8 stole the spotlight, again offering a balanced, even tone across the spectrum.  A mix of all three mics, regardless of the SR40’s boominess, produced a well-rounded, very usable recorded track.  (now the performance was terrible, but that’s the musician’s fault, not the mics!)

I recorded a third take only for the SR40, just to figure out better where the mic kept it’s mojo.  I set it up as an overhead, directly above me and the guitar, about 5 feet above.  THAT was the mark – as an overhead mic, it opened up it’s sonic curtain and really bloomed.  All of a sudden, there was clarity, there was frequency response across the board, yet it still retained some warmth and intimacy – I can definitely see the potential of this mic, but it will take some placement work to really figure out it’s place in my work flow.

Final thoughts…

Now I have some direction, and feel really good about the results so far.  Going forward, I’ll be running tests with all of the other mics, each getting it’s own test as above, then moving into some combinations.  With some session work coming into the studio over the next month and on, I’ll look forward to sharing some audio clips of performances that won’t make you wince!

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