Thursday, June 28, 2012

Knockoff Mics

Yesterday I wrote about not buying cheap gear and how unhappy you'll be if you skimp when you really should shell out. "Buy your second one first" is the motto. Today I'm going to tell you just the opposite. When it comes to Chinese knockoffs of expensive mics I have a place for them in my box. (Yesterday's Post)

Before you get your patch bay in an uproar let me explain why. I needed a better mic around the shop at work for the intern to record voice overs with, and I also needed a mic to take out on location for ambients on video shoots.  Would a Shoeps or a Sanken be a wonderful choice? A Neumann perhaps? Well, would you give a $5000 mic to the intern or take it out on location? Probably not.

So in doing my research I heard that a particular brand of cheap mic actually did a pretty good job at making a product that you could actually use. I don't know what all the secrecy is for, we're not sponsored here so you may as well know it's MXL. Sure everyone's got horror stories of cheap mics that promised to be as good as the big boys, but I'm not expecting it to be that good. I just need a large diaphragm, multi-pattern mic that I'm not scared to hand to a seventeen year old or take out in the wind. That said, while there might be some quality issues with the MXLs, in general they're worth at least what you pay for them and in some instances a good deal more. (I hear tell that their M63 is nearly as good as a Neumann U87 and it's three grand cheaper!) 

Well, the day of reckoning arrived and I sat at my desk with a shiny new MXL 4000 in front of me. To the uninitiated it looks pretty impressive and I'll admit that even I thought it was pretty good looking. No physical defects, clean lines, nice grille. I plugged it in to my USB interface which I know to be pretty clean with just a little noise creeping in at high gain levels. I plugged in the mic, turned on the phantom and was greeted with a warm, rich vocal in my cans. I cranked the gain, it hissed slightly. I switched it to omni, I heard the A/C fans and my office mates typing. I recorded a voice over test and some acoustic guitar. The results were not earth shattering but for a $200 mic it easily outclassed anything else we currently have laying around. 
Later on in the day my boss grabbed it to do some spoken word on an album he's working on. It sounded so good compared to the Beta 87 he usually uses that I didn't even realize it was him for a minute! Then I set it up on stage as an omni and then cardioid to see how it would work for a vocal quartet we have coming in. Gorgeous in both cases and only slightly prone to feedback in omni mode. 
Would I be happier with a pricier large diaphragm mic? Probably. Would I have anything left in my mic budget for Audix drum mics, AKG overheads, replacement lavalier elements? Not a dime. Am I happy with my purchase. You bet.
So Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Taken together yesterday's post and today's would seem to be in stark opposition. But it just goes to show you that in the audio world, rules are rules and you should always stick to them... until you don't. Happy shopping!

1 comment:

  1. Jon, I agree. A mic costing over $3k will almost always sound incredible, but the performance of the import copies and less costly next gen designs have improved so much in recent years that it is a difficult argument to fork over all that cash (especially when I could spend it on the NEXT weakest link in my rig). For my money, I can't justify a $3k mic when a $500 copy will get me 85% of that sound, and a $1k copy will get me 97% of it. Mojave Audio's gear is a great middle ground mic that I think falls into the latter description. For the former, I think of the pair of Oktava MK-012s we have been using as drum overheads for a while now. They sound almost indistinguishable from the AKG C451B they are based on. Of course, there are some subtle differences that can be heard in a recorded shootout, but in a live scenario, I think it would take a guy with Dave Rat's ears to tell them apart. I my opinion, a lot of the differences between a decent knock off and the expensive brand name mic can be overcome with good mic placement technique and judicious EQ. Let's face it, even the $3k mic will give you a crap sound when it is poorly placed!


You're the Scotty to our Kirk