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Topic: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

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  1. #1
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    Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    Hey all,

    Would anyone who's mic-savvy have a look at this and let me know if it would be samrt to buy all 3 mics for 300 bones (CAD)? The mic in question are the Superlux SMK-H8K (pair), and CM-H8A. Detailed info below. It's tempting, but I'm ever the sucker for a "small" price tag, plus I'm a MORON concerning mic makes and models, and $300 is a lot more when it's a rip-off. Advice much appreciated,

    Belbin


    http://www.avlex.com/pdfs/CM-H8A_catalog_00-11-06.pdf

    http://www.avlex.com/pdfs/SMK-H8K.pdf

    http://reviews.harmony-central.com/r...ux/CM-H8A/10/1

    http://reviews.harmony-central.com/r...ux/SMKH8K/10/1

  2. #2

    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    This may turn out to be an incredibly unpopular answer, but I have nomex underwear<G>!

    First, you are right about $300 being a lot of money if it is a rip off!!! Put another way, the fool pays twice...

    You simply can't buy a microphone based on reviews or other people's opinions! You have to hear any microphone in the context that you want to use it, and with your own ears. Anything else is a gamble!!!

    In the old days most of us made our choices by using the gear we were interested in at other people's studios<G>. Really, I worked as a maintenance tech for years, and in addition to getting paid to play with (I mean fix) other people's gear, I also was exposed to lot's of different gear, and different recording techniques.

    If none of my friends or clients had something that I was interested in there were other ways to test drive... my local music stores kept a lot of stuff around for evals, and sometimes I could even take stuff to my studio to test it.

    So, my very first suggestion is find some way to test a bunch of different microphones. If there is a studio nearby rent an hour of studio time and just record your voice or guitar or whatever with every microphone they own. Most studios love these little projects because they are fun (in fact I'd be surprised if you get out of there in an hour!!!)

    If there really is no way to do that then purchase the microphones from a store that provides a reasonable return privilege. At the same time buy something that is considered a standard, but be honest with them, explain that you want to hear the difference between brand X and brand Y for yourself so you know which one you really want!

    Be careful - even standards are not all that standard. Some people love the Shure SM-81 and the AKG C-414, but I find both to be harsh and down right cruel in some settings. I'm not alone, but I am in the minority I suspect. I have one of each in my studio for those rare occasions when they just work, or for clients who insist on using them.

    And be realistic - I have yet to meet anyone who did not love Shoeps CMC range of microphones, but at roughly $1200 per they aren't in everyone's budget.

    It could well be that the microphones you are asking about will suit your requirements... as far as I know both Avlex and Superlux are decent names, I have not used them though.

    I have been pleasantly surprised by inexpensive microphones from time to time. A friend recently picked up a couple of really cheap tube microphones - I thought he was nuts, but in fact they work really well in his studio for the instruments he records! How long they'll work well is another issue, but one that we can only guess at!

    All this to say you need to listen to the microphones in person before you make a decision!!!

    Good Luck!!!!
    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise
    KB3KJF

  3. #3
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    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    Thanks, Bill, for the detailed response. The "fool pays twice thing" is exactly my concern.

    I am not actually shopping around for mics, but I am keeping a keen eye out for potential deals on anything from mics to monitors to software of all kinds. And I mean DEALS, since I have no idea yet if I have any chance of getting any returns on my investments. I am in the process of hustling to get some work out of the local advertising industry, and as someone who's best mic is currently an sm57, I am aware that even a passable condenser would be better for voicovers and such. So if I can get a matched pair of smalls and a large, all sounding nice (and working)for 300 bones, I'll be a pig in whassitcalled!

    As per your advice, I will see if I can borrow them for testing. A good buddy of mine owns a proper studio, and has a great ear for mics...I'm waiting for him to return my call now...

    Thanks again.

    Belbin

  4. #4
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    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by dabbler
    Hey Belbinator,

    If I might be so bold... on what and where will you be using them? It makes a difference in terms of your requirements/expectations for both resultant sound and resistance to damage.

    It seems to me the biggest thing to be wary of is build quality. If they'll last, then you'll be okay. You might look at SE Electronics and Studio Projects as low cost alternatives. They get good reviews for their price in Sound on Sound.

    Mr B.
    Ricardo,
    Such Insolence!

    Actually, it was your having made me aware of build quality as a shopping criterion that stopped me from immediately calling the seller. So a retroactive thank-you is probably in order. I would use them mostly in-house, but would not be opposed to using them for mobile/live show recording if they're all they're cracked up to be in terms of sound-pressure tolerance. Build quality is something I was hoping someone here could comment on.

    Thanks for the info on alternatives-I saw them on sweetwater's site after being inspired to look around myself. That might be an alternative, but as in my last post (made, I believe, while you were typing yours), I'm wary of letting my budget creep up too quickly. I'd rather get some sense of "ROI" before I "I". Djaknowwha'ahmean?? (How do you write Bristolean, anyway?)

    Thanks,
    Belbin

  5. #5

    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    This is only my opinion nothing more, stay away from all CAD mics.
    The Avlex Superlux SMK-H8K (pair) are noisey, stay away from them, and CM-H8A is a large diaphram mic that sounds pretty nice, but is not as quiet as Neumann's, Schoeps and other industry standard mics.

    I agree with Bill Thompson about the SM-81, that thing is useless to me. I have dynamic mics with smoother high end. The AKG 414 depending on which age and exact model can be very false sounding on certain things, including vocals.

    I did a recording a few years ago before I got into computer based audio, and here is a demo of some excerpts from a friends Jazz CD that I recorded produced and mixed. His name is Rick Zelle. I used all Avlex and Superlux mics on this recording. I will post what kind of equipment was used to record it after you have had a chance to listen to it.

    The mics used were..
    kick drum Superlux PRA-218B
    snare drum Superlux PRA-238B
    Hi-Hat Avlex Ci35
    mounted toms and floor tom Superlux PRA-238B
    stereo overheads for cymbals Superlux PRA-238B with windscreens removed Guitar amp Superlux CM-H8A
    acoustic upright bass Avlex Ci35 and pick up (direct feed)
    piano two Superlux CM-H8A
    vocal Superlux CM-H8A

    The piano mics were left absolutely flat as well as the vocal.

    I own Neumann's, AKG and an array of other nice mics too. It is not necessary to pay a ton of money for microphones, especially if you are not hired based on what you have, but more for what you know.

    A bunch of customized Neve mic preamps and some vintage tube mics are not going to make your recording sound good,,, you are. Of course you have to have nice equipment, but you can expect to get incredible results without loosing your life savings.

    Another fantastic value is the Oktava MC012 and MK012 mics. Don't waste your money on a matched pair. If you are recording for the Boston Pops or the London Symphony Orchestra, then buy matched pairs if you want.

    Just some level headed honest advice from a guy who has been recording with all kinds of stuff for 35 plus years.

    Dan

  6. #6

    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by belbin
    Thanks, Bill, for the detailed response. The "fool pays twice thing" is exactly my concern.
    I prefer not to comment on how, exactly, I learned that!

    Quote Originally Posted by belbin
    I am not actually shopping around for mics, but I am keeping a keen eye out for potential deals on anything from mics to monitors to software of all kinds. And I mean DEALS, since I have no idea yet if I have any chance of getting any returns on my investments. I am in the process of hustling to get some work out of the local advertising industry
    I understand! Almost 20 years (and a large wad of cash) later, I still keep an eye out for deals!!! It is one way to build the tool set...

    This is a strange industry! The size of the investment needed to play for real is orders of magnitude smaller than it was 20 years ago, but it still nothing to sneeze at. AND, the chances of making it back are slim.

    I think we're all a little crazy!

    If I were starting out all over again I absolutely would NOT buy any budget gear! I'd figure out a way to make do with good gear (and less of it) purchased cheap.

    I have a slight advantage because I can buy dead gear and repair it. I have done this more than once<G>. That does not, however, extend to microphones or tape heads! (Actually, I have a pair of Sennheiser MKH-405s that were part of a set of 8 that I took as payment for fixing all 8. I love the microphones, but I'm pretty sure I did not end up getting such a great deal! AND, the capsules were fine.)

    Quote Originally Posted by belbin
    and as someone who's best mic is currently an sm57, I am aware that even a passable condenser would be better for voicovers and such. So if I can get a matched pair of smalls and a large, all sounding nice (and working)for 300 bones, I'll be a pig in whassitcalled!
    Do NOT sell the SM57 short! I've used them for voice overs, acoustic guitar tracks, cymbals... come to think of it there is very little that I have not aimed an SM57 at!

    And, I do not think a large capsule condenser microphone would be my first choice for voice-over work! I use an EV RE-20 most of the time, there are a couple of voices that like a TLM-193, and every once in a while I use a Groove Tubes MD-1. Oh yeah, did I mention that I have used the SM-57 for voice-over work<G>...

    I'd bet that the two condenser microphones get 1/10 or less of the voice-over work! And they are nice microphones, just not quite what I, and my clients, want to hear in a voice-over!

    There is a "sound" associated with voice-overs for some more theatrical voice-overs that is definately large capsule condenser... specifically U-87-ish, but that sound is also associated with specific voices! That is a distinction that some people forget<G>!

    Quote Originally Posted by belbin
    As per your advice, I will see if I can borrow them for testing. A good buddy of mine owns a proper studio, and has a great ear for mics...I'm waiting for him to return my call now...
    Good! I think you'll have fun, and learn a bit to boot! And having a friend who has listened to a lot of microphones is an added bonus!!!

    One last thought... not every good microphone costs a fortune! I have a handful of oddball microphones that I have picked up over the years that I still use. The funniest is probably a Teac PE-120 (Nakamichi also sold this microphone with a different model number). I think I paid $100 for it, and I did modify it so that it did not need an internal battery.

    It is a quirky thing, but it handles big boomy dreadnaughts better than almost anything else I've used except a Schoeps CMC-41 (I think that's the hyper cardiod model). The little Teac overloads (even with phantom power) on almost any percussion device, and it stinks on vocals, and I can't use it as a room microphone because I only have one, but dang, on those big boomy guitars it rules!

    Have fun!!!
    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise
    KB3KJF

  7. #7
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    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    Thanks Dan,
    This what I need: for anyone with with red lights for these products to flash them at me!

    It's getting late, so I'll give a listen tomorrow, and let you know what I think. Unless the recording absolutely disgusts me, I'm likely to still see about the ol' test drive, so as to pass my own judgement, but I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    Thanks again,

    Belbin

  8. #8

    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    belbin, if you're looking for instrument mics - i.e. for acoustic guitar, etc. - the Oktava MK019 (maybe it's MC019 - the cardioid one) is very good. I have a matched pair - because I got lucky. They sound very close to the Neumann KM84s (not the 184s), although of course the build quality isn't the same. Flat small-diaphragm condensers with good detail.

    For voiceovers and other large-diaphragm condenser applications you wouldn't go wrong with a Shanghai U87-alike such as the MXL ones. They sell for $80 or something ridiculous like that. No they're not U87s, but they don't sound like garbage either.

    Moving up from there, the Studio Projects mics knock me out for the money. They're character mics (not that that's bad, of course) - quite bright - but their high end sounds expensive, which is unusual for pretty cheap mics.

    You should also look at whatever Røde makes in your price range. My best LDC is a Classic II, and it's world class. High-end, but they make affordable mics too.

    There are lots of great mics, but those are a few affordable choices.

  9. #9

    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    My advice would be to never, ever buy anything based on reviews in magazines and other people's opinion alone, especially not microphones where both needs and impressions are so different from person to person.

    Earlier this year I was looking for a good and inexpensive microphone for those rare occasions where I choose to harass my neighbours by singing with my not-so-perfect voice. I spent time looking through magazines, including Sound on Sound which apparently reviews just about everything favorably, but I ended up contacted a store and got a deal about buying 6 or 7 microphones and then returning the ones I didn't want to keep.

    Based on that I can tell you this: Microphones are very, very different from one another, both in build quality and in the way they suit your needs and voice. I can see someone recommended Røde, however the one I had home made everything sound muddy, can't remember the model but it's in the $270 - $450 range.

    I ended up choosing an AKG C 535 EB, which I have not regretted. My neighbours might, though.

  10. #10

    Re: Inexpensive Mics: Smart Buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Batzdorf
    You should also look at whatever Røde makes in your price range.
    If you think you need matched pair... you can get a Rode NT5 matched pair new for $400. You can probably get B-stock, factory resealed, or used for closer to $300. I think I paid around $350 (new on sale) a couple years ago.

    Then ask yourself why you want a large diaphragm condenser... if you want a cheap character mic you can get an MXL, Oktava, etc. for anywhere from $50 - $100 for the low end. Or if you you just need a good vocal mic, and can worry about "character" later (i.e., channel strip plugin, tube modeler, whatever) then just use one of the NT5 mics to record vocals. The NT5s are what they are -- not great mics compared to $1000 pairs, but for the price they'll give you an accurate representation from 20Hz - 20kHz. With an appropriate amount of filtering, boosting, and enhancing you can get whatever character you want out of that.

    The advantage of putting a little extra money toward something like the NT5s would be overall build quality and component longevity, as others have noted, as well as improved performance when it comes to self-noise and SPL handling. If you want to then spend an extra $50 - $100 on a cheap large condenser, at least it's just that one mic that you can get a good 5-7 years out of before worrying about components failing.

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