Today the age old question, are old mics better than new mics? Some people like the sound of old mics, while others would prefer the generally lower noise floor of new mics.
Want to skip to the short answer?
Ok, here it is: No.
But they are different though!
The inspiration from today’s post came from a video posted by recordinghacks.com in which they compare as close to like-for-like as it is probably possible to get with old vs new mics. So let’s take the famous and instantly recognisable U87i, and pit it against the newer U87Ai (although has been around for over 20 years it is still newer!) In the test they have chosen three sensible applications for the mic, an acoustic guitar, a singer and on spoken word. If there is a difference, we should be able to pick it up in at least one of these situations. However, I would have liked to have not known which mic was which until after the test, ‘mic A’ and ‘mic B’ would have eliminated any associated preconceptions of the quality of old/new mics.
I myself couldn’t sit through all the waffling after the actual comparison because it’s all so subjective, and they all say such different things. This brings up the point I want to make here, it’s all subjective. Just because a mic is ‘vintage’ doesn’t automatically make it great, it makes it old. It may be that a newer model has a better signal to noise ratio, or higher level output. The frequency response is of course going to be different, and that’s the thing that most engineers will be able to pick up and have some preference on. Anyway, have a listen to the comparisons. Make sure you switch to 720p as the audio will be much higher quality, and if you can get your hands on a pair of decent headphones then that’ll help too (laptop speakers won’t cut the mustard here). Top tip; switch to 720p and then cover your eyes for the actual comparison so you’re not distracted by the guitarist’s enthusiasm. For all three tests it’s mic A and then mic B in the same order so you can always go back to see which mic is which afterwards.
So how did you get on? Could you hear a difference? Unfortunately, I think there is still some audio compression somehow, even at 720p. Despite that I personally found it easiest to tell on the acoustic guitar. The older one to me sounds much brighter with less warm mid-range / low-end, and the transients in the guitar picking stand out much more than the newer version which sounds smoother, possibly a more consistent frequency response. I think that might be what Paul Simmons was referring too when he said the new one sounded ‘fuller’, because in comparison the old one is not picking up quite so much mid frequency, so in turn your ear is drawn to the high-range more i.e. it sounds brighter. See what I mean about it being subjective? I think the term ‘better’ is misleading here, I would much rather talk about preferences and which one is appropriate for a given situation.
If I was going to buy one, I would have the newer oner. I’m a firm believer that recording an even sounding tone actually at the source/microphone is much better than not having enough or too much of a particular frequency band. For instance, if you’re lacking in HF in the raw audio, it’s much harder to get a pleasant sounding top end with eq than if you had used a mic with more top end in it.
So, what do you think? Do you have a preference? Could you hear a difference anyway? If someone said they’d buy one for you, which one would you have?
Answers in the comments below…
[image via davetron5000]