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Gems in the Rough

March 12, 2023

Lucy Grubb wanted to have a video made of her acoustic performance of a new track ‘Magpie’, to enter the GemsOnVHS annual contest – #GemsInTheRough2023. The requirements are an original song and a video specifically made for the contest. If you are not familiar with it, Anthony Simpkins’s GemsOnVHS was begun about 12 years ago and comprises a mass of field recordings (or, rather, videos) of what might be broadly described as folk musicians. The musicians (almost all relatively young) are mostly from the US, but not exclusively so, and they are mostly lesser-known artistes without recording contracts or large followings. There are exceptions, of course, such as the recordings/videos of Willie Watson made two or three years ago – long after he had come to fame with the Old Crow Medicine Show and, then, his solo career. Some other well-known musicians have been caught by GemsOnVHS at an early stage in their careers, with the videos doubtless helping them along the path: the most obvious example is Sierra Ferrell. It isn’t quite a case of a latter day Alan Lomax, but it is a great way of finding some more obscure, but talented musicians, not least as few will ever have the commercial success that means they will make it to the UK. And the intimate field recordings resonate with my own interest in such an approach.

The requirements of the annual contest don’t mean that there is a need to follow the GemsOnVHS production style: indeed, many competition entries are made using no more than a smart phone. Given the weather (very wintry here last weekend, when Lucy blew back to rural Norfolk for a couple of days) an inside location was pretty essential, so I suggested the workshop of woodcarver Luke Chapman: Luke’s a good friend and another talented musician, and I have been recording him over the last few years, more latterly in his workshop. It has a reasonable acoustic and seemed suited to Lucy’s music and the ethos of GemsOnVHS. While Anthony Simpkin has always favoured near-invisible miking (relying on lav mics), I’ve not been so convinced about this one element of the GemsOnVHS productions: it seems a little contrived and rather contrary to the honest field-recording approach, and suggests undue emphasis on the visuals. Anyway, I much prefer visible mics (above all for audio quality) when filming field recordings of music: and it is good to see, or rather hear, that many others do as well – perhaps most notably the folks at Playing for Change.

Of course, not all microphone techniques are equally visible or as suited to field recordings. So to keep the set-up simple and comparatively unintrusive, for this recording I went for a variation on double mid-side recording. Using three SDC mics, the fig 8 was set conventionally pointed at Lucy, just above the top of her guitar, so that its lobes faced left and right; immediately below this a supercardioid (Rycote SC-08) pointed upwards to capture the vocals, and immediately above the fig 8 a cardioid (Rycote CA-08) pointed downwards to the guitar – aimed around the 12th fret. There is a Sound on Sound article by Hugh Robjohns from a few years ago that discusses and illustrates the approach. The two different MS pairs can be decoded separately and combined as wished. Doing this as a one-man band, camera work was necessarily simple, which suited the nature of the contest. I used three cameras, two on tripods and one hand held (sans gimbal) to give a bit of energy to the video: a Lumix G9 with a Meike T2.2 35mm cinema lens; one Lumix GX80 with a Meike T2.2 16mm cinema lens; and another Lumix GX80 with a Panasonic f1.8 25mm lens. I took lights, but left them in the car: it seemed over the top, and, while a combination of daylight and fluorescent strip lights might not seem ideal, the combined diffuse lighting works OK and keeps it real.

We did three takes of Lucy’s song and went for the third: there was no audio editing at all (processing was limited to adding a high-pass filter, setting levels, choosing stereo width whilst decoding the MS pairs, and adding a little reverb), and the video editing was simple too (a little bit of colour matching and then grading). Anyway, here’s Lucy’s entry:

Audio Gear DIY Projects

If only boom poles could grow legs…

February 17, 2023
Options for mic supports outside: camera tripods, lighting stands and a boom pole.

Field recording can mean mics on a pistol grip for a quick grab of a sound, on a boom pole for something equally quick but harder to reach, or clipped to a bag or hat for some stealthy ambience recording. But much recording outside – and that includes music – requires something more stable and static in the way of support so the mics can stay steady and the recordist can step right way to monitor from afar – not least to avoid capture of rustling, breathing and stomach gurgles from the recordist. Strapping mics to either side of a tree (‘tree ears’) can work, but, of course, there may not be a suitable tree to hand in the right place, so, mostly, it’s a case of taking a stand with you. The trouble with that, of course, is that there are no commercially available stands that have been purpose-built for field recording: so it’s a case of making do with what’s out there. In this post, I’m going to look at the conventional options I have been using in different situations, plus one additional option that I have put together recently and which others may want to try.

Mic stands

Conventional mic stands have little value outside unless in the tamest of environments (think streets, pavements, patios and lawns), being heavy and, with their circular or short fixed tripod bases, have no adaptability to uneven terrain. Not to be sniffed at if you have nothing else – and a short mic stand (the sort you might use for miking a kick drum or a guitar amp) could work fine for recording out in nature with mics near the ground – but not something I’ve found an attractive option.

Lighting stands

Lighting stands are great alternatives to mic stands indoors, not least for getting mics up high for, say, recording an organ, choir or orchestra: obviously they aren’t so good when you want a small footprint, or a short boom arm. They are also useful outdoors, and with a wide range of sizes, can cover a range of uses. When hiking/travelling light I often take a Manfrotto 5002 Nano Plus stand, which folds down to 52cm (it can fit in a rucksack with a blimp), yet extends to 1.97m. It has one slightly extendable foot so has a bit of adaptability to uneven terrain, though nothing very dramatic. It’s the beefiest of the Manfrotto Nano stands (taking a 4kg payload), but I can’t pretend it is rock solid: out in the wind anything above its shortest length is a bit hairy. I tried out the slightly lighter Manfrotto Nano Pole stand in the local camera shop, since it is lauded by some field recordists and looked good on-line, but it was not for me: it was so much flimsier than the 5002 Nano Plus stand and the removable centre column can hardly pass muster as a boom pole. At the taller end of the spectrum, I have a Manfrotto 1004BAC: this is my go to stand for recording acoustic music indoors when not close miking, and I’ve used it outdoors too many a time. It is in a different league than the little Nano Plus stand, rising to 3.66m and carrying up to 9kg (but still only weighing 3kg): it can happily support my chunky stereo bar and, even, my massive windshield for two LDC mics. Outside, though, it has the downside of lighting stands: the legs are designed for a flat surface and the tripod legs only rise a short way up the central pole or column, so it is prone to wobbliness and vibrations especially when extended.

Camera tripods

Many field recordists use camera tripods, and with good reason: the better engineering and, above all, the stability of legs rising much higher take away most of the wobbles and vibrations; many models can collapse far smaller than even the diminutive Nano lighting stands; many models can get mics close to the ground, unlike lighting stands; the legs are adjustable for length and angle, so the tripods can be used pretty much anywhere, even in water; and, of course, they can be used for their primary purpose too (less to carry, say, when hiking to the recording location). Obviously, adaptation is needed to connect mic clips/suspensions, or a stereo bar to the camera head (or remove that), but this is basic stuff: and use of quick-release plates means that you can swap from an audio to camera set up in seconds. There are a few downsides of varying significance: above all, camera tripods lack height, naturally enough being limited to average eye level or a little above; at full height the footprint of the tripod can be a bit large (not really an issue if, say, recording natural ambiences); with no full-height pole/column element, cable routing can be a bit fiddlier; and some tripods can take longer to set up than, say, a Nano Plus stand.

Options for mic support outside, left to right: Gitzo GB3560 carbon-fibre boom pole, Manfrotto 1004 BAC lighting stand, Manfrotto 5002 Nano Plus stand, Manfrotto 055 Pro camera tripod, and, then, the same at two different heights with a boom pole clamped to it (and, no, I don’t have three identical boom poles and three identical 055 tripods…!).

Boom pole with camera tripod

Advocates of the little Manfrotto Nano Pole stand often cite the removable centre column for use as a boom pole as a key attraction, although, as I said above, it’s a very poor substitute for a real boom pole and the stand itself is flimsy too. But the idea has merit: it is so handy having a boom pole in the field (great not just for any dialogue, but also for those hard to reach sounds – once you use a boom pole you will come to appreciate how many such sounds can be recorded, or better recorded, with the reach and the distance from you it provides – or when moving around, sans stand, catching quick close-up sounds) and it’s annoying carrying bits of kit that have very similar – and duplicated – elements to them. So it’s a pity that no manufacturer has scaled up the Nano Pole idea to produce a more stable stand, perhaps with leg geometry more like a camera tripod, with a decent-sized carbon-fibre boom pole at its core (or, better, the ability to incorporate a range of different boom poles from different manufacturers). I’ve looked for tripod legs that could be used to cobble together something with my boom pole, but with no joy. Then I had the idea (doubtless not the first or the last to do so) of mounting the boom pole to a camera tripod head with the bottom of the pole resting on the ground (crucial for giving stability), essentially making a four-legged stand. Looking around, the nearest thing I found to this out there is a tripod pole bracket made by Hague Camera Supports for attaching an aerial camera mast to a camera or video tripod: rather too massive and laborious for the sort of slick set up I had in mind, but it was reassuring to find someone thinking on similar lines. So to my rather smaller and quicker to use solution: a quick-release 30mm rod clamp (made by Camvate) fixed by two 1/4″ screws (i.e. ensuring no rotation) to an Arca-style quick-release plate. Both the plate and the clamp can be fixed to the tripod and the boom pole in seconds, and the pole can be set vertically or at an angle, with its bottom end firmly planted on the ground. It can be used with any of my Arca-fitted tripods – from the reasonably substantially Manfrotto 055 pro with large ball head, down to my little Benro travel tripod. And the advantage? Well I can use the tripod alone for mic support when convenient; I can use the boom pole alone when useful; and I can combine the two in seconds to get a far more stable tall stand than my current most substantial light stand (indeed, at 4m long, taller than my Manfrotto 1004BAC) with completely adjustable legs. It was a very blowy day today, so I was able to confirm stability in fairly extreme conditions (using Rycote Nano Shields with fur as windshields): at the 1.97m height of the Manfrotto 5002 Nano Plus stand it was completely stable, while the Manfrotto 1004BAC had a significant wobble, and the Nano Plus stand was worse still (both given extra stability by a heavy camera bag hung off them); and at the full 3.66m height of the 1004BAC the boom pole set up did wobble a bit, but less so than the lighting stand and, crucially, vibrations/wobbles calmed down much more quickly. Obviously, as would be expected, the advantage afforded by the taller legs of a camera tripod vs those of a lighting stand diminishes as the boom pole gets towards its maximum of 4m and also as the boom pole sections reduce, but it was interesting to see that the lighting stand didn’t out perform it at such height. For £30 for the rod clamp (and others may find/need different and better solutions for their boom pole), I have another flexible set-up to add to the choices when I take my sound gear out into the wilds, especially when I know the terrain won’t suit a lighting stand.

Top left, Camvate 30mm rod clamp; bottom left, the rod clamp (given a little internal lining to be gentler on my carbon-fibre boom pole) screwed to an Arca-style quick-release plate; and right, the boom pole then attached via these to the ball head of a camera tripod.
And outside in high wind with the boom pole fully extended (about 4m). If setting up for longer in such wind I’d have hung my sound bag off the tripod for a bit more low-down weight.

Audio Gear

Small windshields

February 12, 2023

I’m a believer in using decent windshields whenever you can: if you can manage a blimp then use it. My rig placing two omni mics end-to-end in a blimp as an alternative to, say, an AB pair in Baby Ball Gags on a stereo bar is very much following that approach: it also has the merit of being more portable and easier to set up in the field. And my previous tests on windshields confirmed my approach: even in light wind a Classic softie, for example, performed worse than a full blimp. And with more compact blimps, such as the smaller Nanoshields, it isn’t the case that you have to stick a small omni, cardioid or hypercardioid mic in a large windshield designed for shotgun mics. Sometimes, however, its necessary or possible to adopt something smaller than a full blimp. Examples include discreet recording of urban ambiences with a couple of small mics clipped to, or poking out from a bag; an almost still day; where you simply have no room to transport a blimp or two; tiny mics that are hard to rig in a blimp; or where you want to try some mic configuration that doesn’t lend itself so well to a full blimp (e.g. ORTF when you don’t have a dedicated ORTF blimp, or are using longer mics; or tying mics to either side of a tree – ‘tree ears’). I have a couple of options for such scenarios: a pair of Rycote Baby Ball Gags with furry covers, and a pair of the much cheaper and smaller Rode WS8 (furry slip-on windshields). I was intrigued, however, by reading very positive reviews of the cheap Movo windshields, especially the WSTT50 for small SDC mics such as the Line Audio CM4, so I bought one for the princely sum of £9.95 thinking it could be a better performing alternative to the similarly-sized Rode WS8 for those occasions when I do require the smallest and lightest windshield other than a foam. The Movo windshields, with their use of ballistic nylon, look very much like copies of the Rycote Super-Softies, but the WSTT50 at least has the merit of having no Rycote equivalent: it is about half the length of the smallest Rycote Super-Softie and, therefore, an attractive proposition for small mics – ironically such as those made by Rycote themselves!

These tests, therefore, are even more limited than those of my larger windshields. They are far from a comprehensive comparison of all, or even many, small windshields, but, nonetheless, may be of use to someone else out there: I hope so.

When using windshields care needs to be taken to ensure optimum fit. With the Baby Ball Gag it is self-evident, but with small push-on windshields the useful function of a small air gap is in front of the mic is usually beneficial. The following wav files each comprise three short clips separated by silence: first is the windshield pushed fully on the mic; second is the windshield pulled back to create a 10mm air gap in front of the mic; and third is the windshield pulled back to create a 20mm air gap in front of the mic. All other variables remained unchanged. The wind source is a fan, and the mics used were Rycote CA-08 cardioids.

In both cases there is, as expected, a substantial benefit of leaving an air gap in front of the mic. With the Movo WSTT50 this was slightly better at 10mm than at 20mm (about 2dB difference), and with the Rode WS8 the reverse: given that the latter was not very secure when pulled back so far, I have gone for a 10mm gap for both windshields in tests below.

First up, I took the windshields into the garden in very light wind, using omni mics (Rycote OM-08). Both windshields performed reasonably well, although it was evident that there was a little more wind noise with the Movo WSTT50. I had higher hopes for this and was surprised, so I set up the two windscreens over a fan indoors to examine the difference with more significant and consistent wind, and without the distraction of ambience (passing cars etc.). An initial test with Rode NT55 omni mics confirmed that there was significantly more low-frequency rumble with the Movo WSTT50 as evident by comparing the two wav files:

Swapping out the NT55 omni capsules for cardioid capsules produced more wind noise, as would be expected, and the increased low-frequency wind noise with the Movo WSTT50 is all the more evident:

Spectograms for ambience recordings with the Rycote OM-08 fitted with the Rode WS8 (left) and Movo WSTT50 (right). Although recorded at 96kHz the vertical scale shown is only up to 24kHz as I wanted to focus on performance of the windshields in the audible range. The large spikes (left) are from the gate lock, and the small swirly blobs are birdsong.

Back in the garden I noted that there didn’t seem to be any significant audible or, with a spectogram (see above), visible difference between the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50 in terms of high-frequency loss. I was surprised, however, that the (increased) wind noise from the Movo seemed to be extending into higher frequencies than the noise from the WS8. It’s easy to get such things wrong and with the WS8 producing less overall wind noise anyway, it could have all been in my head. So, to explore this more carefully, again I moved inside and this time rigged two cardioid Rycote CA-08 mics on a short stereo bar (turned vertically so the mics were one above the other, about 200mm apart) fixed to the end of a boom pole. Fast boom swings, then, provided a means of just hearing the sound of wind on the windshields, without the effect of wind on the environment or the distraction of ambient garden and street noise, or, of using a fan, any mechanical noise.

Here are the wav files with a few forward-only swings with the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50:

The results are revealing: as you would expect, a very fast boom swing with the WS8 produces a significant amount of low frequency noise, peaking around 25Hz and falling away quickly to around 100Hz; the WSTT50 has the same low-frequency noise (albeit more of it), and, confirming my impression from field use, a lot more above, extending up towards 400Hz.

Comparison of the noise from a forward-moving fast boom swing between the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50.

Making the same test with the WS8 and the Rycote Baby Ball Gag showed two things: first, the WS8 out-performed the Ball Gag when the latter was bare (perhaps not surprisingly as the plastic mesh sphere presents a lot of scope for wind noise generation) and, second, that the Baby Ball Gag with its fur on significantly outperforms the WS8.

Comparison of the noise from a forward-moving fast boom swing between the Rode WS8 and the bare Rycote Baby Ball Gag.
Comparison of the noise from a forward-moving fast boom swing between the Rode WS8 and the Rycote Baby Ball Gag with its fur cover on.

When I did the initial tests there were only light winds, and these then died away almost entirely for the best part of a week: unusual in February in Norfolk. But a week later a brisk and gusty wind returned, providing a good opportunity to check whether the Movo windshield was unfairly tested by very light winds, or the winds created by a fan and boom swings. So I went back out into the garden with a pair of omni mics (Rycote OM-08) on a stereo bar on a low stand as in my first test, and here are short clips of the results:

Again there is a clear difference between the two windshields, with the Rode WS8 handling the gusty and turbulent wind much better than the Movo WSTT50. And here is a visual expression of that difference:

Comparison of the noise of gusty wind recorded in a village garden with an omni Rycote OM-08 fitted with the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50.

For the sake of completeness, I also compared both the Rode WS8 and the Movo WSTT50 to the Rycote Baby Ball Gag (with its fur on) again: the latter hugely outperformed the Movo, and, as expected, was a bit better than the WS8 too. Here are the sound files comparing the WS8 and the Baby Ball Gag:


There’s nothing very radical for me to conclude here in relation to my Rode WS8 and Rycote Baby Ball Gag windshields: the latter with its fur on outperforms the former in terms of wind noise reduction. What was surprising, given some on-line positive reviews, was that the Movo WSTT50 falls so short of the Rode WS8, in a range of situations and conditions, and with a range of different mics. Well, perhaps not such a surprise in that Rode is a more established microphone manufacturer, and its full blimp is not at all a bad performer. Having done these tests, I can’t say I have any further use for the Movo WSTT50 (and am glad I didn’t buy a pair of them!), but, at the price of a couple of pints of beer it was worth a test. Whether others find a use for them, or have had more luck with a different model, is another matter: but if wanting small and cheap, I’d recommend the few extra pounds for the WS8 (c.£23); if having a bit more to spend, perhaps consider the Baby Ball Gags with fur windjammers. But, whatever you use (and there are many other smaller slip-on windshields for SDCs), it might well be worth doing some comparative testing before using in earnest!

Audio Gear

Rycote’s new mics, part 2: omni

December 1, 2022

Following on from part one of my tests and review of Rycote’s new mics, it’s now time – in part two – to turn attention to their new omni mic: the OM-08. A pair of these arrived from the folks at Stroud a bit after the cardioid mic (CA-08) and the supercardioid mic (SC-08), hence the separate blog post. Much of what I said about the cardioid and supercardioid mics applies equally to the omni mics: again the specs of the OM-08 can be read on the manufacturer’s website; physically they are pretty much identical (although, being omni they lack the slots to the rear of the diaphragm); ditto for handling noise and RFI (excellent in both cases); and, as you’d expect with an omni, the OM-08 fares still better with wind. Self-noise is also excellent at 11dBA (compared to the 12dBA for the supercardioid mic and 13dBA for the cardioid mic): and, again, this figure seems to be spot on. So what’s left to test with the third of the new mic models? Plenty still, fortunately, so here goes:

A bit of music

First up, I headed down to visit guitarist Luke Chapman in his workshop (by day Luke is a woodcarver) to make a series of tests. The first one is comparative: it alternates between a pair of the Rycote omni OM-08 mics and a pair of Rode NT55 mics (with the omni capsules: that is, the NT45-O capsules, which sound a lot nicer than the cardioid capsules – indeed, the omni capsule is even rated by such luminaries as Tony Faulkner). The second test sets a single OM-08 to record the guitar, then compares it to progressively narrower-patterned Rycote mics (the cardioid, supercardioid and shotgun mics) with the distance increased proportionally to reflect the polar patterns of each. And the third test is just a longer clip of an OM-08 pair on the guitar. As expected, and this is no disrespect to the omni capsule of the NT55, the Rycote OM-08 holds up well to my ears; and the OM-08 matches well with the other Rycotes.

For those of you wanting a musical comparison with a higher-end mic and, indeed, without the audio compression that comes with YouTube, it’s on now to some WAV files of tests of a church organ. With Norwich Cathedral organ (my easiest to access test instrument) currently in pieces at Harrison & Harrison’s workshop in Durham, I thought about local parish churches nearby and remembered that Heydon church organ (a Wordsworth and Maskell instrument from 1883) has just been restored, so with the permission of the incumbent, I headed off with old friend and organ recordist Jake Purches of Base2 Music for a bit of testing. Jake brought a pair of his Sennheiser MKH 8020 omni mics along for comparative purposes. Five such omnis form the core of Jake’s rig for his recordings of the likes of organists Jean-Paul Imbert, Darius Battawalla and Wayne Marshall and they provide a sterner comparison than the Rode NT55 mics: and, of course, Jake is a tougher critic of the mics on such a source.

Here are the spaced pairs (62cm width) of MKH 8020 and OM-08 mics rigged up with back-to-back clips for testing, albeit before being raised up to organ pipe level.
And here are the two omni pairs up high. Well not that high: my Manfrotto 1004BAC stand only goes up to 3.66m, which was a little low perhaps. It’s a fairly close location too, what with the organ being in the chancel and with choir stalls. And no, that’s not a real owl on top of the 15th-century choir screen: or if it is, it seem unmoved by our organ tests.

Amongst the various bits of playing of the Heydon organ, I think this simple test (running down to C1 at 32Hz) is more instructive than, say, a snippet of Bach:

Again, the Rycotes held up well in the comparative test (crucially in their low colouration, which seemed as low as that of the MKH 8020 mics), and it was revealing that after this and other tests over a couple of days, Jake is now keen to add a pair to his collection for organ recording.

Field recording

Omni mics, of course, lend themselves to field recording of ambiences as much as to music recording, so, with that in mind, I stuck a pair in blimps alongside the Sennheiser MKH 8020 mics again: the spacing was 62cm. Here, from the front garden in my ostensibly quiet Norfolk village is a bit of Sunday afternoon late November ambience: cars passing, people walking and jogging by (OK, that was me), someone playing an electric guitar in the distance, plus the odd bird that forgot to migrate to somewhere more appealing.

Again, no obvious lack on the Rycote omni mic recording – at least to my ears. I recorded the street ambience at a higher sample rate than I usually choose (96kHz instead of 48kHz: note Soundcloud seems to limit recordings to 48kHz) to allow comparison of the higher frequency response: the Sennheiser MKH 8000 series mics are known for their extended high end (amongst other attributes) and it is interesting to see how the OM-08 mics handle those frequencies above human hearing.

Spectrogam of the first 23 seconds of the ambience recording showing frequencies up to 48kHz: Rycote OM-08 on the left, and Sennheiser MKH 8020 on the right.

The spectrograms are revealing: they show the extended high-frequency response of the MKH 8020 with, for example, the gate-shutting sound (that tall spike near the right-hand side of the spectrograms) reaching about 45kHz, compared to about 40kHz on the OM-08 (sorry, it is clearer in Reaper on my PC than in this rather smaller derived image), which is still very respectable. More significantly, perhaps, the spectrograms show the much higher self-noise of the Sennheiser mic at high frequencies: the Rycote mic is consistently low in terms of self-noise up to the top of the graph (around -120dB at 48kHz, vs around -105dB for the Sennheiser MKH 8020). Of course, both mics deliver low self-noise in the human audible range, so this might seem entirely academic outside those recording at high sample rates and pitching down in post (e.g. for bat recordings, or for sound effects): but there are those that argue frequency response over 20kHz is important for high-resolution recording (such as David Blackmer of Earthworks mics in this article). If so minded, there is no doubt that the Rycote omni is a respectable performer over 20kHz, with much lower self-noise a useful benefit of the not quite as far extended high-frequency range. NB, if you are wondering, I checked the cardioid (CA-08) and supercardioid (SC-08) mics alongside the OM-08 (at a sample rate of 192kHz, and using a can of compressed air as a broadband source) finding they have almost identical high-frequency capability: not at all surprising given the common design of the mics.

Rycote spaced pair omni and Rycote NOS cardioid mics.

Anyway, returning from such rarefied matters to another more earthy test: this time yet another street ambience (sorry if the sound of my village street is getting too familiar to you) comparing a Rycote OM-08 omni spaced pair (at 46cm) with the Rycote CA-08 cardioid mics as a NOS pair (i.e. at 90 degrees and 30.5cm spacing). As you would expect, there is a significant difference in the bass response with the omni mics, and, of course, the impact of polar pattern and mic array on a 360 degrees ambience is much more marked than the change of a polar pattern of a mono mic recording a point source (such as in the guitar example earlier in this post): in short, these differences mean it is harder to hear the sonic consistency that is evident across the various Rycote mics.

Final thoughts

Mic choices are often made on the basis of cost, habit, familiarity, reputation, and even snobbery as much as by critical (blind) listening of all the options out there, so it is hard for a new manufacturer to establish itself. In this case, Rycote is helped by having such a long-established reputation as a maker of mic windshields and suspensions. The folks at Stroud would hardly risk that reputation on some mediocre mics, but, nonetheless, I have been slightly surprised by how good the mics all sound. As have those others – from professional sound-recording perspectives – who have kindly helped with parts of my testing. Perhaps the surprise is to some degree a consequence of the pricing – significantly below many of the established professional SDC mics made by the likes of Schoeps and Sennheiser. The two parts of these tests, covering the supercardioid, cardioid and, in this second post, the omni mics from Rycote have hopefully provided the reader with an idea of the three new mics. As I said in the conclusions to part one, these mics are a great follow-up to the HC-15 and HC-22 shotgun mics (for which see my initial review and subsequent field recording tests). All five mics merit consideration by anyone planning to buy mics in the mid range to professional categories, especially if low self-noise, a consistent sound across different polar patterns, and, indeed, availability of a range of different polar patterns are desirable. The last point is interesting: I have no inside knowledge of what is planned in terms of any future mics at Rycote, but the closing comment from Steve Phillips (Innovation Manager at Rycote) in a video about the SC-08, CA-08 and OM-08 is a tantalizing ‘I’m sure there is more to come’. Some might hope that means a wide cardioid, but, above all, I’d love to see a fig 8 mic added to the series with decent self-noise and at this price point: that would really round out the family and make the Rycotes even more serious contenders! In the meantime, I’d recommend that you try and give the mics a listen and see what you make of them too.

Audio Gear

Rycote’s new mics, part 1: cardioid and supercardioid

October 29, 2022

A year on from the launch of their shotgun mics (the HC-15 and HC-22) the folks at Rycote have produced three more mic models: an omni, a cardioid and a supercardioid. As with their previous mics, these are designed in-house and made at the Rycote factory in Stroud: an addition to the astonishingly small number of mics made in the UK. It was good to hear the announcement that the same capsule and preamp design was being used again, since the two shotgun mics sound excellent and have very low self-noise. Importantly, a similar design increases the chances of a close match in the sound between different polar patterns, and Rycote certainly claim that this commonality gives ‘a tonal and sonic signature that makes them cut together seamlessly’. The last is relevant to many uses, but, given Rycote’s focus on windshields for sound for film and TV and their initial production of shotgun mics, my first thoughts have been to wonder how their shotgun mics inter-cut with the new supercardioid when switching between them for dialogue. So with this, and a specific music recording project, in mind, I was pleased when the folks at Stroud sent me a pair of the cardioid CA-08 mics and a supercardioid SC-08 mic for testing. As with the HC-15 and HC-22 no conditions/obligations applied, and the following thoughts and tests are entirely my own.

The approach

As I said with my review and tests of the two Rycote shotgun mics last year, I’m not overly excited by mic reviews – usually vlogs – that involve unboxing and reiteration of the published specs, in this case again readily available online on the Rycote website, along with some tests of the mics in an unlikely location (e.g. with shotgun mics locked off above a vlogger’s head in their indoor studio). Comparative tests are tricky too, especially with the cardioid mic: this is the most popular polar pattern so there are even more cardioid small diaphragm condenser (SDC) mics out there than shotgun mics, and to cover all such mics and uses is outside the scope of what I can do. If you want to hear how these mics stack up against a particular mic you own or think is an obvious alternative, then for the nuances of one against the other there is no substitute for testing and working with both mics yourself and no review or on-line test is going to replace that. Rather, the focus of this review is a series of real-world tests, some out and about on location, with the aim to see how well the sound from the different polar patterns match, how the mics hold up off-axis, and how well the new mics – with their polar patterns opening up uses quite different than the normal application of the previous shotgun mic models – fare when recording music and ambiences. Sometimes I use another mic for the purpose of comparison, or to illustrate a point. As readers of this blog will have noted, I am a user of most of the range of AKG Blueline mics, and these aren’t a bad range of mics to use for such occasional comparisons as they are priced similarly (although the fact that the Blueline mics are being phased out of production means that availability is another issue). I also compare the mics to the cheaper, but popular, Rode NT55 mics, and to three well-respected mics used by discerning professionals: the Neumann KM184 (cardioid), which is similarly priced to the Rycotes, and the much more expensive Schoeps CMC64 (cardioid) and CMC641 (supercardioid).

The mics as they come: matched pairs in the one box, and single mics in smaller boxes. In the cardboard packing boxes there are also slip-on foam windshields and mic clips/stand mounts with 3/8″ threads.

The physical side of things

I’ve no wish to rehash the specs of the two Rycote mics that can be read in the specs sheets for the CA-08 and SC-08, but, on the physical side, it is perhaps worth emphasizing their small size: at 78mm long the 19mm diameter mics are just over half the length of my AKG and Rode SDC mics, and proportionally lighter. The length of the brass-barreled mics matches the preamplifier and capsule part of the HC-15 and HC-22 shotgun mics (i.e. without their aluminium interference tubes). The smallness is handy, both with the supercardioid (where boom-pole use is more likely) and with the cardioid (where, if used with some low-profile XLR connectors, it opens up opportunities for the more creative for field recording – it should be possible to fit an ORTF pair in a 100mm-diameter blimp without the capsules being too near the edge of the windshield). A lack of switches for a high-pass filter and a pad might concern some, but this isn’t a huge issue for me: and, of course, many a rival mic (such as the similarly-priced Neumann KM184 and KM185, or the relatively new Rode TF-5) have no such on-mic switches. As with the HC-15 and HC-22, access to the innards is by release of the brass circlip in the XLR socket, which seems preferable to a screw (the circlip also grounds the mic body to pin 1): I didn’t open up the mics though. The wooden cases are nice, well made and close in a satisfying way (simple pleasures!): not sure many would use them in the field though, not least as there is no room for the included foam windshields and mounts (the latter are of limited use, being rigid mounts: like many, I will be using Rycote’s own lyre-based suspensions).


Before even starting to record anything, I was interested in the impact of radio frequency interference (RFI) on the mics. Living in rural Norfolk, much of my life is outside or on the edge of mobile phone reception, where some models of phones transmitting at full power can cause notable interference on mics at up to, say 1m/3ft: not a problem with mics on a stand, but I’ve had this become a real issue with handheld shotgun mics and a phone in my jacket pocket (on those rare occasions when I forget to turn my phone off). And this could be a problem with ENG work too (i.e. from the phone of an interviewee). So I was glad to find that both mics handle my spraying of phone, and other, RFI sources (wifi etc.) well.

Handling noise

Handling noise isn’t such a consideration for some of the new polar patterns as for the shotgun mics, although some field recording may involve moving the mics while recording and, of course, the supercardioid is a likely candidate for boom-pole use, so it is on this mic that I focused. Testing for handling noise transmitted via a boompole involved some deliberately terrible booming, aiming for maximum transmission of vibration to the mics (on an Invision 7 suspension): banging cables, moving hands all over the boom pole crazily – the sort of stuff that would have you escorted off a film set within 10 seconds and banished for life! The Rycote SC-08 handled the boom-pole abuse better than the two comparison mics (the well-behaved AKG CK93 (hypercardioid) and the Oktava MK012 with the hypercardioid capsule), showing less of a tendency to pick up transmitted low frequencies through the boom pole. Here are the test files:

Wind noise

Wind noise with cardioid and supercardioid mics can be an issue: there are often good reasons to take such mics outdoors and, also, supercardioids on a fast-swung boom pole indoors can be vulnerable to wind. Susceptibility to wind on a mic varies with polar pattern, of course, and, while wind protection up to a full blimp can address the issue, it is good to examine the baseline noise. For this – not least given relevance to actual use of the supercardioid– I have just gone for some simple fast boom-pole swings, with the SC-08 mounted together with the AKG CK93 and the Oktava MK012 (hypercardioid capsule) for comparison. Interestingly, the bare SC-08 was fairly susceptible to wind noise, only 1dB better than the Oktava MK012 and over 6dB worse than the AKG CK93. Putting matching (Rycote) foam windshields on the three mics, however, changed matters dramatically: the Oktava MK012 was by a considerable (4dB) margin the worst performer (it is well-known as susceptible to wind noise when booming), followed by the AKG CK93, with the SC-08 offering -7dB and -3dB less wind noise than these mics respectively. Booming with a bare mic or, indeed, using a bare mic when any wind is in the offing is not realistic, so the tests with basic foam windshields are perhaps the most relevant to real-world usage. The test files here have a short clip of fast boom-pole swings with the bare mics, followed by a second or so of silence and then a clip of the fast boom-pole swings with the slip-on foam windshields on the mics:

Self noise

Rycote’s two shotgun mics have 8.5 dBA self-noise, which is about as low as it gets for a shotgun mic (think Sennheiser MKH 60 at 8dBA) and is much better than most of the professionals’ favourites, helped by the 17mm-diameter diaphragm size squeezed into a 19mm-diameter mic body. This low self-noise figure was born out by comparative tests with the shotgun mics, so I was optimistic that the low self-noise figures for the new mics were similarly accurate: 11 dBA for the OM-08 omni mic (not tested for this post); 12 dBA for the SC-08 supercardioid; and 13 dBA for the CA-08 cardioid. A check on the reality of these figures – by recording the sound of nothing (mics buried deep in duvets in the airing cupboard, with all doors and windows closed and the mains electricity turned off, recording into a Sound Devices MixPre-3 [EIN -130dBV/-128dBu]) and with reference to other mics – confirmed that the self-noise is indeed around that stated. There’s not a lot of value to uploading WAV files showing the slight hiss with gain cranked up, simply to confirm the published spec. The low self-noise of the new mics is very welcome, as it puts them in good company: for example, the cardioid CA-08 matches the Sennheiser MKH 8040, and the supercardioid SC-08 has 1dB less self-noise than the Sennheiser MKH 8050. More practically, the low self-noise means that the Rycote mics are good choices for recording quiet sounds, such as some sound effects, more delicate musical instruments and nature.

Testing the SC-08 and CA-08 together with the HC-22 shotgun mic – all three in a Rode blimp – for dialogue.


Right, time for some dialogue tests and, especially, to see how well the supercardioid and cardioid match the Rycote shotgun mics. For this the HC-22 medium shotgun mic was mounted alongside the SC-08 and CA-08 in a Rode blimp, and tested on axis and off axis outdoors.

There is a little difference between the three mics in terms of sound, as you would expect (not least from the frequency response graphs), but nothing that would make matching and inter-cutting hard. I’ll be interested to see how I (and, indeed, others) get on with this with more regular usage of the different mics for dialogue, but my initial feelings are that the mics are good in this respect and that use of the same capsule and preamp has had the desired effect.

Recording guitar and vocals test

Music recording

With the Rycote shotgun mic tests I included some music examples, and, with these new cardioid and supercardioid models, there is a much more compelling reason to do so. Among various tests, I took the mics over to the mixing/mastering home studio of a professional location sound engineer, the wonderfully helpful Mark Fawcett of Fish Need Snorkels, and put the mics through their paces on some fairly ad hoc guitar and vocals, alongside a few other mics: the supercardioid SC-08 was compared to my AKG CK93 hypercardioid and Mark’s Schoeps CMC641; and the cardioid CA-08 was compared to Mark’s Schoeps CMC64 and Neumann KM184. The mics were routed through a Merging Hapi into Pyramix at 192kHz, and we spent a bit of time listening to the results through PSI A21M studio monitors (incidentally, excellent sounding). Mark obliged on the guitar and vocals, but, understandably, wants to emphasize that both the mic positioning and his playing were a little rough and ready, so don’t judge him harshly! We just went for a mono set-up for the initial test with all six mics on a stereo bar (cardioids and super/hypercardioids clustered in two groups of three) pointing towards somewhere between the 12th fret and the sound hole on the guitar, with the mics at a good distance (c.2m/6ft). We then kept the set-up the same and pointed the mics down at c.45 degrees towards the floor, to see what the off-axis sound was like. The following clips have sections of both the on-axis and then the off-axis recordings, separated by a few seconds of silence. Even in the on-axis guitar recordings, the vocals were – obviously – rather off axis, so sound less than ideal.

Mics up close, with some gentler finger-picking playing.

Next we moved on to a test of the three cardioids (CA-08, Schoeps CMC640 and Neumann KM184) much closer (at c.300mm) to the guitar for some more finger-picking style.

CA-08 and SC-08 with Schoeps, Neumann and AKG mics for comparison.

I was interested to hear the difference between the various mics via decent monitors, and, equally, to hear Mark’s experienced take on them. We agreed that the Rycotes held up really well on axis and off axis; that the Schoeps mics perhaps had an edge, especially on the close-miking test, but that was pretty much gone with a little reduction of the Rycote’s air (it’s subtle high-frequency emphasis, for which see the CA-08’s frequency response graph) using FabFilter Pro-Q 3 (and, obviously, this wouldn’t be necessary with more distant miking); and that the Neumann KM184 in all the tests was very much in third place. You may or may not agree, but these unprocessed WAV files, albeit at 48kHz rather than 192kHz, provide a source you can play around with in a DAW and draw your own conclusions insofar as the set-up allows.

For something different, here’s another musical test, in this case with the harmonica – thanks to some blues harp playing by my neighbour Andy Chinn. This was recorded in a less than ideal acoustic space: a fairly low-ceilinged living room. Mics used comprised the Rode NT55 (with cardioid capsule) and the Rycote CA-08 , recorded into a Sound Devices MixPre-3:

This pair of recordings sees the SC-08 handling the harmonica well, and shows up the difference between it and the Rode NT55 cardioid capsule: the latter has what I would describe as harsher higher frequencies. To be fair, however, the Rycote mic does cost over twice the Rode, so this, and the well-known character of the NT55/NT5 cardioid capsule, means it is not an entirely unexpected result.

And in a similar vein, here is a recording of Rob Moore playing the melodeon and singing, made using a pair of the CA-08 cardioid mics on the melodeon (left and right of the instrument, pointing at each other: then planned in to 60% left and right) and an SC-08 on vocals (for a bit of isolation from the instrument), again into a Sound Devices MixPre-3.

Final thoughts

These tests are not meant to be exhaustive or, even, very technical, but, rather, an initial listen to Rycote’s new cardioid and supercardioid mics, with a few comparisons thrown into the mix. I have heard enough over the last few weeks, and have tried to give readers something of a flavour of that via the various WAV files, to convince me that these mics are a great follow-up to the HC-15 and HC-22. On the basis of their sound alone, I suggest that they deserve to be considered as alternatives to familiar mics at and above their price point. That they have such low self-noise and a healthy output too is a real bonus, which makes them all the more attractive a proposition, as does their being part of what is now a family of similar sounding mics.

It is with that last point in mind that I was glad to receive, whilst writing this post, a pair of Rycote’s omni OM-08 mics, and I will be putting them through their paces – especially with a view to field recording (and I’ll include the cardioids in this too) – in a second post on the new Rycote mics to follow soon.