Why should we think of "what microphones heard " as a standard

when they are incapable of hearing everything there is to hear ?
Even some Audiogon yellow badges members can possibly hear better.
Unless you know a way, then, of using a pair of "golden ears" in place of microphones, all the sound in any given recording is that captured by the mics, at least that of acoustic, non-purely electronic sources (keyboards primarily, though some guitarists and bassists plug straight into the board). How can it possibly be otherwise?! The best mics DO capture close to everything they "hear"; it is how they are employed in the attempt to capture the "space" the recording is made in that remains the most elusive. J. Gordon Holt considered THAT to be the major remaining failing of our recording and reproduction technique, the remaining obstacle to achieving the life-like reproduction of recorded music.
No need for golden ears, just good enough ears.
He is right, I think, but this is not the only failing. Close to everything means far from reality. Can't they make better microphones and other elements in the recording chain ? What keeps them ?

There have been great microphones for many, many years. The Telefunken U-47 from the 1950’s ( a large diaphragm condenser tube mic) commands massive amounts of money on the used market (it is still considered the best mic of all time for vocals), and the Sony C-37A is considered it’s equal by some. Mark Levinson used B & K mics in his fabulous recordings during the 1970’s and 80’s

The electronics in the best studios (Pink Floyd’s in London, designed and built by EAR-Yoshino’s Tim de Paravicini) are at least as good as any consumer gear, and there are quite a few companies making new tube mic pre-amps (including Manley), limiters, etc.

Tape recorders themselves remain a weak link, as a listen to any direct-to-disk LP makes obvious. There are a few exceptions, the custom made recorder used by Kav Alexander of Water Lily Records being a notable one. With advances in digital standards, that may eventually be a thing of the past.

Let's not slide into tape/vinyl debate. As for Pink Floyd, DSOTM and WUWH are not good recordings, to put it mildly, whatever the reasons. If the very best microphones were made decades ago, what have they been doing ever since ?

I don’t want to hijack your thread really, but I honestly think you may be looking at the problem the wrong way.

Although I agree with bdp24’s post above, And that we, as you say, we only need good enough ears, I don’t think of this as a mic issue, but instead a "noise floor" issue and with all the sound benefits related to it. We don’t need better mics, we need a greatly reduced noise floor...and far better than most systems, for example, ever achieve...and even though at the same time we could turn around and say the same thing about the recording chain and it would be no less true.

All the hardware/wiring that could ever comprise a playback system though, whoever made it or however much or however little it costs, can only create a doorway for the signal to go through, that’s all. But, it will still be up to that signal to get through that doorway unscathed. Good luck with that. There is so much of the music signal, no matter what our source type, that is never even making it to the drivers, trust me...even under the best of circumstances. In fact, there ARE no best of circumstances, there never were...another myth IMV that deserves to be busted.

We would prefer to think of those loses that the signal encounters going through a system (Any system) as small. But, nothing could be further from the truth, I think. Once restored, I’ve found those loses to be staggering. And I think with proper amounts of noise floor reduction (passive, active or both), you will undeniably see A LOT more agreement between what the mic hears and what our (ordinary) ears hear...but, until and unless that happens, likely not.

And having lived with that difference under my roof for the last year or so to the degree I now have it, then what can I tell you about it and why should anyone care? Well...let’s start with that gulf that has Always existed between you and the performers...the ones you keep saying you are getting closer to, but never actually get there. What would you say if I told you that you can 100% erase that gulf - and do so WITHOUT relying on hyperbole. That And hearing everything the mic heard. That stuff (and more) is just for openers once you cross into the territory of what might be to gain by substantially reducing the noise floor. But, if you want the dope on all that, then you should go over to Alan Maher Designs (facebook) and go down that rabbit hole if you like, as I did. But, be prepared (in the long run, at least) to bring your wallet if you want to make the full run of it.

It’s a pretty cool time to be in this hobby at present. And the voices that have been calling on reducing the noise floor are becoming a little louder and more frequent. We see many threads on things like fuses, mats and other things that are finding new ways to take advantage of new materials like nano-carbon fiber, graphene, highly conductive ceramics and so forth that are becoming more available. I’ve been pretty optimistic for what the future of all that might yet bring for more people, both to the playback And to the recording side.

The OP needs to do some more research on recording tech.  The premise is false.

A recording engineer can listen to the musicians directly and then compare that to the microphone feed (mic, mic preamp, cables, console, power amp and loudspeaker).  The engineer doesn't have to speculate or theorize, they can hear if there is any difference.

inna, the Pink Floyd recordings you cite were made long before their London studio was built, and were recorded in other studios.

Where did you get the idea that microphones are the bottleneck in the recording process? Most commercial studios have a whole plethora of mics, different ones preferred for different applications. Each has a response characteristics that makes it more suitable for one instrument than another. Mica are transducers, just like loudspeakers, but in reverse. And just as do loudspeakers, they all sound a little different. Some are known to be highly neutral in timbre, others somewhat colored. Lots of recording engineers like the Shure SM57 as a snare drum mic because of it’s slight presence peak, which makes the drum "pop" more in the mix. No one thinks of that mic as a sound "standard", but there are mics that are.

As onhwy61 mentioned, Doug Sax (Sheffield Labs) tested mics (and other pieces of recording and playback gear) by doing a by-pass test. He would listen to the musician’s in his studio, then move into the control booth to compare the live sound to that coming out of his monitors (custom built horns, by the way). Doug was after maximum transparency and life-like timbre (not all engineers are), evaluating each pieces by how little it changed the sound in ways other than it’s intended purpose.

The reason John Bonham’s drums sound the way they do on Led Zeppelin’s recordings is not because of the mics used to capture their sound, but rather how those mics were employed. Bonham wanted a "big" drum sound, so he played his drums undamped (no muffling used, leading to an open, ringing sound), the opposite of Ringo and Levon Helm (The Band). Then his engineers didn’t use close-micing (putting each mic right up against the drum head), but rather put a number of mics a fair distance away from the drums, with "room" mics placed even further away. That increased the room-to-drum ratio/balance, and required Bonham to create his own balance between the different drums and cymbals---the balance couldn’t be "fixed in the mix". There is much more that can be said on the subject, as it is a large one.

The CD that Tony Minasian put out recently, Drums & Bells, which has  tremendous dynamic range, was recorded with one of his cheaper mics. 
Tony told me it cost under $50. 

It all lies with the engineer and how he records it.

All the best,
By the way, the Shure SM57 is also commonly used to mic snare drums on stage, so ironically any given player's snare drum often sounds very much the same on a recording as it does live.
I didn’t say that microphones were the biggest problem., but that’s the beginning of the recording chain - microphones in the room.
Yeah, I know it about Pink Floyd. Who did those recordings ? They could’ve at least cleaned the record head and used decent cables.
As one who has been concentrating on lowering the noise floor of my system for the past several years, I’m in complete agreement with Ivan_nosnibor’s above post.

Once the noise floor is lowered beyond a certain level, the realism comes out in spades. This is what we’ve been raving about in both the Total Contact and Omega E Mat threads. This is what Ivan_nosnibor touched on in his above post.

I also agree with nonoise’s above post regarding the recording engineers. They can ruin or make a recording sound great. One test that most of us can’t make is a comparison between a commercial release of a recording, and one that has been burned to a CD direct from the master tape with little or no EQ involved. Flat transfers are truly great ... they make human voice and instruments appear real.

I check out most music recommended here on this site and also in the audio magazines using Spotify. Not all, but most, are drenched in artificial digital reverb and sound as though the recordings were not recorded in a studio, but in a cave. There’s a huge difference between an excellent recording engineer who understands this concept ... and other’s who cannot keep their hands off of the dials and levers.

Simplicity is the answer in my opinion.


Let me go back to the beginning. The world of music recording is comprised of two, completely separate entities: the audiophile, and the mass market. Audiophile recording engineers evaluate microphones in purist terms---accuracy, etc. Inna, your question is a valid one when speaking of them. But the bulk of your music collection was recorded by engineers with an entirely different approach---using microphones to get a "good" sound, the sound they want. What constitutes good to them? One thing it isn't is literally accurate sound.

The instance I cited above, of micing a snare drum with a Shure SM57, a mic with a presence peak deliberately designed in (the mic is intended for on-stage vocals, where a presence peak makes the singer more audible) is a good example. A mass market recording studio engineer often uses a different mic on each instrument, the sound of the mic used to get a specific sound, one having nothing to do with literal accuracy.

A drumset is often recorded with this collection of mics:

- An Electro-Voice RE20 on the kick

- A Shure SM57 on the snare

- AKG 414's on the toms

- Small diaphragm condenser mics (often Shure or Sony) overhead for cymbals, and on the hi-hat

Each of those mics produces a different recorded sound when used in the same application, the engineer obviously not so much concerned with replicating the actual sound of the drumset, but rather of getting a "commercial" drum sound. I routinely watch an engineer A/B his recording of my drums with a CD of a current hit record, and make adjustments to narrow the gap between the two.

Not only are the mics not used to achieve an accurate recording, the feed from the mixing board is passed through many outboard pieces of outboard electronics on it's way to the recorder. The worst of them imo is the parametric equalizer; when it's adjustment knob is rotated, the sound of the recording is drastically changed, no longer bearing any relationship to the unequalized sound.

It's not simply the microphones whose sound should not be assumed to be providing an accurate recording, but every link in the entire recording chain. The electronics that the sound captured by the mics are passed through are far more responsible for the sound you hear on the vast majority of your LP's, CD's, etc. than are the mics themselves.

My learning journey started by listening via Stax cans to microphone feeds before and after tape on the high speed Revox ..... and comparing that to what I hear in the acoustical space of the performance....

i will say from a physics point point of view transducers tend to have the highest distortion... converting one kind of energy into another is difficult

there are some fantastic new ribbon and other microphones out or in development, some just as colored ( intentional) as the big $$$ rare vintage gear

Royer comes to mind....

cool thread

My next project will use an Ambisonic microphone array ( vintage if I can find it )....

check out Cowboy Junkies - Trinity Sessions for a taste...

dig your inputs Eric
my experiments are two microphone only, so my commercial drum sound sucks!!! Ha

tomic601, I have made live recordings of my own bands, using a pair of small diaphragm condenser mics straight into the two channels of a Revox A77. I used the same mics into a simple Sony mixer and then into a Teac 3340 4-track to make studio recordings. No EQ, no compression, no electronic reverb or echo, no nuthin’. Those tapes sound more natural (life-like timbres of both instruments---drumset, electric bass and guitar, acoustic piano and guitar, sax---and vocals, the recording itself more transparent) than 99.99% of my Pop (non-Classical. Classical recordings is a completely different matter) LP’s and CD’s, and I have used them to evaluate loudspeakers for years. I monitored on my Stax Lambda Pro ESL Earspeakers.
And that's not even pro tape decks and no high end microphones, I suppose. It says a lot about how bad most commercial recordings are.
I think it's generally accepted that both microphones and loudspeakers (mechanical transducers) are by far the weakest links in the audio chain. 

Both can feature differing technologies and both are still far from a desirable  <1% distortion. But we can measure this distortion and we can hopefully keep  reducing it further.

Studios spend thousands of dollar on good microphones to capture the real sound and hundreds of thousands on gear to alter the sound to the producer's taste.  Ask anyone who actually worked in recording studios.  There are exceptions of course - MA recordings, Water Lily, Reference Recordings.  But those are really exceptions. 
Microphones certainly are transducers, the recording equivalent of the phono cartridge in playback. They therefore are more inherently prone to distortion than are electronics, but the way in which outboard processing is used by the vast majority of recording engineers (aside from guys like Kav Alexander of Water Lily), the electronics are actually more responsible for the lack of audiophile-quality sound found on most of our LP's and CD's than are the microphones used. Ask Ralph Karsen (atmasphere) if you don't believe me ;-) .
Yeah, microphones and speakers - the beginning and the end. As important as everything else in between is, I would get it right first.
I live in the Boston area and I have attended many concerts. In trashy night clubs and at the symphony hall.
Back when I was obsessively trying to remember what I heard to compare it from records. (while going home and my ears still ringing). I finally remembered an article in TAS where the mics were hung from the ceiling for a classical recording and thinking to myself, What am I doing? I can never afford those tickets besides, they wouldn't let me hang from the ceiling anyway.  hmmmm
Eric and Inna..... truth...
i grew up with a dokorder 4 track and a microphone/ line level mixer ... rock/punk/rockabilly stuff... so when I built the mobile rack at retirement I was convinced I needed a mixer - budgeted an absurd # for a compact Neve console.... lucky I know somebody to borrow from first... ALL downhill on the simple 2 microphone stuff....

btw about to cue up a nice Waterlilly  in a minute....

btw the A-77 is a killer portable RtR, carry handle built in !!!!!!

For those following along

water Lilly WLA-WS-13
trumpet and organ
just read the groove and know it is gooooooooooooood

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Recording is far more than mic selection. As others have said it’s not about accuracy, but what sounds good for the application. To mic a guitar amp there are a lot of common go to mic’s and positions with respect to the speaker cone to give the sound the engineer is looking for and how it is intended to sit in the mix. Mic’s go to preamps which all have their own characteristic sound, chosen for the application, ie fast solid state for snares, tube pre’s often used to soften vocals. Most all big ticket items! Then come a/d converters to go into the box and most everything happens in the digital domain after that, ie mixing, applications whith plug ins for compression, delay, eq, reverb etc etc etc. to alter each track. Drums may have 7 tracks which are mixed down as a sub mix.  The tracks are eq’d with linear eq plug ins to sit in the overall mix and not occupy the same frequency bands, cut mud, and have the instruments and vocals sit right and be at the correct volumes. Often automation is applied to vary volume and eq in each tack through time. Then the mix goes for mastering where the final sound signature, eq, limiting, compression, reverb (very little), and levels are set. Intros and endings are faded, tacks ordered etc. What sound is desired through mastering is flavours that change through time and of course genre.  East coast sound, California sound blah blah. T Burnett has a characteristic production sound exampled by Allison Krause/Robert Plants Raising Sand which is rich toned, not crisp, limited high end, mellow, strong mids, it’s a real signature sound. My point is any relation to knowing accuracy of the original instruments is meaningless. The final product is the work of art and how it sounds is hopeful what was intended by the producer.  Everything has been modified along the way many times and ways. The producer is the constant hand.  If you have a good audio system, hopefully you can reproduce close to what was the final work,of art. When the audiophile makes choices on equipment, it will have it’s own signature sound I.e. dac filters, and the use of interconnects as filters /tone controls which may have little to do with what the intended album was supposed to sound like. That’s the preference of the listener, not a reflection of accuracy of reproduction.   Mellow tube amps for home audio give you more of that T Bone Burnett slant to the playback, all fine if that’s what you want.  The reason studios don’t get bent out of shape about mic cables or interconnects is they chose a high quality transparent cable and that’s what’s needed. There is so much eq and manipulation after the cables once in digital it really doesn’t matter at all. 
Yeah, digital matters a lot - it should be eliminated once and for all, along with the "black boxes" it is in and those producers and engineers who run the show. There is no audiophile reason I am aware of to convert analog into digital at any stage. 'The world is analog stupid' ! At least to us, I would add.

flashbazbo’s post says it all; that’s EXACTLY how almost all commercial recordings are made. It is also the reason why using any of them in the attempt to assess the accuracy of a system, or loudspeaker, or any other component, is pointless. One CAN make other judgments about the above (transparency, low level detail, PRAT, dynamics, "involvement", etc.), but not (timbral) accuracy. The recording itself is not literally accurate, so even a "perfect" loudspeaker (if there were such a thing) would not be able to produce a completely natural sound from such a source. In the end, the accuracy of the microphones used to make any given recording matters little after the signal they create has been subjected to all the electronic manipulation and processing that commercial recordings are.

In contrast, audiophile engineers work very hard to create exactly the opposite kind of recording---as close to a virtual replication of the original acoustic event as are they capable. Those engineers DO value the accuracy of the microphones with which they make recordings, some of them going to great lengths to optimize their performance, including building their own mic pre-amps, tape recorder electronics and heads, etc. Both Roger Modjeski (Music Reference) and Tim de Paravicini (EAR-Yoshino) have worked on the equipment used by engineers such as Water Lily's Kav Alexander, perhaps the greatest living recording engineer.