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Sennheiser MKH 8030 part 4: comparing it to the MKH 30

May 7, 2024
Two mid-side pairs for size comparison: MKH 30 and MKH 50 (left) with MKH 8030 and MKH 8050 (right).

This is turning into something of a marathon, with the latest installment of the Sennheiser MKH 8030 fig 8 mic tests comprising a comparison with its older MKH counterpart: the MKH 30. The latter was introduced back in 1987 and is still in production: quite what Sennheiser’s plans are for the mic, now that the MKH 8030 is starting to appear in retailers, I simply do not know, but some of the other earlier MKH range have dropped out of production (MKH 20 omni and MKH 40 cardioid). Whether the MKH 30 continues to be made for years or not, recordists will wonder: just how does the new fig 8 compare? As with all the MKH 8000 series mics there are the obvious physical differences of size; the new series being modular; and the earlier range having built-in switchable high-pass filters and pre-attenuation (vs this only being available via the additional MZF 8000 module – now just updated to the MZF 8000 II). And then there is the extended high-frequency response of the MKH 8000 mics. But just how different do the two fig 8 mics sound? I was certainly interested in this question, and have been receiving queries from others similarly wondering, so armed with an MKH 30 and, to allow some MS comparisons, an MKH 50 (still in production, by the way) sent by the folks at Sennheiser, I set to for some comparisons.

The sound of silence

First off to compare is the sound of the two mics recording nothing: their self-noise. Both are specified as 13dBa, but self-noise rarely sounds the same between different makes or even ranges of mics and with the known very different frequency response above 20kHz, there was every reason to suspect there might be subtle differences as, indeed, there are between the other MKH 8000 polar patterns and their older MKH counterparts. So into the airing cupboard, under duvets and towels, went the mics and off went the electricity for my usual home-brewed and very much not laboratory conditions for comparing self-noise. As for the self-noise tests in part 1 of the MKH 8030 tests, I used a 100Hz high-pass filter since it was impossible to keep out the very low frequencies.

Here are the spectrum analyzer visualizations of the noise, with gain cranked up:

MKH 8030 with 100Hz high-pass filter: scale 100Hz to 48kHz.
MKH 30 with 100Hz high-pass filter: scale 100Hz to 48kHz.

As expected, the self-noise looks wildy different, but, of course, most of this is the increased self-noise in the MKH 8030 over 20kHz (i.e. above human hearing). In the audible part of the spectrum, the two are pretty comparable, although the gentle dip between 1kHz and 6kHz is a little deeper (by a couple of dB) with the MKH 30, which translates to the self-noise of the MKH 8030 being fractionally more noticeable. But we are splitting hairs here: both mics have remarkably low-self noise for SDC fig 8s and there is nothing of concern with the new design vs the older one on this front.

Bat recording at dusk in Guestwick Church.

Bats in the belfry…or not

One of the distinctive features of the MKH 8000 series is, indeed, the extended frequency range. You can see this in spectrograms of many a recording where frequencies above 20kHz are present: the specs cite a 50kHz upper limit vs 20kHz for the MKH 30. Taking this to extremes, I went with Norfolk-based ecologist, Danny Cotgrove, to Guestwick Church at dusk, comparing the MKH 8050/8030 and MKH 50/30 mics: obviously an unfair comparison, but it was an interesting evening nonetheless. I was particularly impressed by seeing Danny’s Batlogger M2 in action (evidently the right tool for the job), but that’s another story. There weren’t a lot (a ‘cauldron’?) of bats in action, but just the odd one: common pipistrelles and some Myotis bats (probably Natterer’s bats), apparently. Here are a few short clips, slowed down to 25%.

The bats are much clearer in the MKH 8050/8030 MS pair than in the MKH 50/30 pair, as expected, but the self-noise of the MKH 8000 mics at such high frequencies is distracting. Obviously, to get usable audio from such quiet ultrasonic sounds requires some hiss removal, so here is a very quick and dirty example using RX De-noise:

And here are the spectrograms for the two fig 8 mics:

Spectrograms of a clip of the bat recordings (as originally recorded), with MKH 8030 (left) and MKH 30 (right): the vertical axis extends to 96kHz, and the clearly visible (red) spikes of the bat sounds in the upper halves of the spectrograms range from around 46kHz to 76kHz.
Up in the belfry of Norwich Cathedral risking my eardrums…again.

At face value, the bat recording example might seem as if it leads to a dismal conclusion: i.e. the MKH 8030 has much higher frequency capability than the MKH 30, but the price of raised self-noise is too high to pay. But bear with me. With a touch of irony, I headed off to the cathedral belfry, not for more bats but for a (very) healthy signal of an audible sound with extended high frequency overtones: the bells, the bells! The spectrograms show that the sound extends above 48kHz, but of more use are the sound files.

Here we have the original unmodified (mono) recordings with the individual fig 8 mics:

And here we have the same two clips slowed down to 25% (just as I did for the bat recordings), as if playing around for sound design: reassuringly there is no distracting self-noise – a consequence of a healthy sound signal – and there is no need for noise removal.

So, yes, the MKH 8030, like its siblings in the same series, has extended high-frequency that can be useful and is something that the MKH 30 and its siblings don’t offer to this degree, but, with quiet signals, it will need much care and some de-noising. Whether or not this capability matters to the sound recordist is a different thing altogether: for many, if not most, a frequency response over 20kHz is simply not needed.

It’s all about that bass

Down at the other end of the frequency spectrum the specs for the two fig 8 suggest that the MKH 8030 goes a bit lower: the frequency response graph of the MKH 30 cuts off at 40Hz, though, so it is hard to tell from this how it compares with the MKH 8030 below this. Turning to my quick and dirty low-frequency source, I stuck the mics by the exhaust pipe of an idling car engine, and this showed that the MKH 8030 does indeed have more low end that its older counterpart.

Here are the sound files:

And here are the spectrum analyzer visualizations of the exhaust recordings:

MKH 8030 recording.
MKH 30 recording.

The most distinct feature is the level of the fundamental (26.4Hz), which is c.4.5dB louder with the MKH 8030 vs the MKH 30. This is not to say that the MKH 8030 oddly emphasizes bass: as we saw in part 1 of the MKH 8030 tests, similar tests with another car exhaust saw the MKH 8040 measure 9dB more than the MKH 8030 at the 22.5Hz fundamental. Now, just as with the high-frequency extended range, some may not find the increased low end of the MKH 8030 vs the MKH 30 especially useful, but I suspect many more will, for music recording and bass-heavy ambiences and sound effects amongst other things. I’m certainly one of the ones who is glad to have a bit better low-frequency performance. And if you don’t want it, its easy to roll off with a high-pass filter in your mixer/recorder or via the MZF 8000 ii filter module.

I suspect this view is getting rather familiar to some readers of this blog…

In the field

The robust and, above all, humidity-resistant nature of the RF-based MKH mics has made them favourites for recording in the field, be that production sound or field recording, so I moved on to record some ambiences. As usual, nothing very adventurous: you don’t need a long-haul flight and a rare species to test a mic in the field (though doubtless a rain forest would provide some nice humidity), so, as I have done so many times before, I ventured a few yards further down my drive from the car exhaust test to record the sounds of early May in my quiet Norfolk village street. Sorry if you are getting bored of listening to my village street, but cheer yourself up with the thought of how environmentally friendly this is! And it always gives a good mixture of sounds: birdsong, passing cars, the odd sound of a distant shotgun (or is it a bird-scarer?), and whatever the neighbours are up to: a bit of landscape gardening this time.

There are two sets of recordings: first off, we have the two fig 8s together, rigged with back-to-back clips in a single Rycote Cyclone, and facing the road;

Then, second, we have two separate windshields each containing a mid-side pair with each fig 8 paired with its super-cardioid sibling. Obviously the different qualities of the two mid-mics comes into play, but as an MS side mic is how most field recordists use the MKH 30 and how most will use the new MKH 8030.

Luke Chapman in his workshop, playing a bit of guitar into an MKH 30 and MKH 8030.

Down in the workshop

Moving inside again for some musical tests, I tootled down the back lanes to the workshop of woodcarver and musician Luke Chapman. Luke was happy to put down his chainsaw (well, actually he was re-spraying his Land Rover chassis when I arrived) to oblige again with some guitar playing, and the sets of recordings comprise mono recordings with the two fig 8s (which I rigged end-to-end, pointing at the twelfth fret from about 600mm/2ft away) and then mid-side recordings with the MKH 8050/8030 and MKH 50/30 pairs, a little further back (to get a bit more ambience into the recording: you can really hear the rooks outside trying to join in). There has been no processing (compression, equalization, addition of reverb etc.) of the recorded sound. The mono recordings with just the two fig 8 mics aimed towards the sound source are perhaps the most informative, although, again, the MS pairs show how the two mics sound with one of their respective siblings as the mid mic. I’m sure some will hear (or at least imagine they hear!) significant differences, but, to me at least, the two fig 8s sound remarkably similar.

Here are the two recordings of the fig 8s on their own:

And here are the recordings of the two MS pairs:

And here’s a video of the guitar test recordings – both the mono comparisons of the two fig 8s, and then the two mid-side rigs – cutting from one mic/pair to the other.

Conclusions

These few tests just skim the surface of comparisons between the MKH 30 and MKH 8030. With the other polar patterns of the two MKH ranges of mics, there have been recordists who prefer one to the other: or one vs its equivalent for a particular purpose. Evidently there are some subtle nuances and preferences, with these varying in relation to a wide gamut of sound sources, that are beyond the scope of the necessarily simple tests here: such discerning recordists will want to get both mics in their hands to compare them in their typical uses. But with that caveat, my experience of using the two mics is that the MKH 8030 occupies a similar position to the other MKH 8000 mics compared to their equivalents in the older MKH series: as such it lives up to the well-deserved reputation of the MKH 30. Just as with the other MKH 8000 series mics, it doesn’t render the older MKH fig 8 redundant: far from it. If you need a very low noise SDC fig 8 with demonstrable ability in high humidity and that sounds top class, then both of the Sennheiser fig 8s are likely to be at the top of your list: if you also want a very small SDC and one where there is a full range of mics in the same series currently in production, then, obviously, your choice out of the two will be the MKH 8030.

Audio Gear

Vivid Audio Kaya S12 as nearfield studio monitors – with an interview with designer Laurence Dickie

May 4, 2024

A few months ago I started to think about upgrading my nearfield studio monitors. I’d been using Tannoy Gold 5 speakers for a couple of years and though the coaxial drivers gave a nice stereo image, bass was inevitably lacking and there was something not quite right about the higher frequencies either. Improving my microphones was also exposing the limits of the Tannoys too. All too often I was shifting to open-back headphones for editing and mixing, which says a lot. You get what you pay for, obviously. Buying new monitors is a bit of a gamble unless you happen to have the luxury of working day in day out with a variety of pairs, in treated control rooms/studios that you know well: even if you can find a retailer that stocks several models, the listening conditions are invariably poor and/or are a poor match to your studio. I gave some thought to some of the usual suspects in the £1000-£1500 price range, but teardown photos gave me little confidence of cabinet construction in relation to internal resonances and reflections, and a circuit board on the back of the cabinet just feels wrong to me, even putting aside the long-term issue of having all your eggs in one basket (amplifier and speaker). I’ve spent too long being aware of decent speaker design – which goes back to my upbringing in Steyning, where B&W had their research headquarters – to want to spend significant money on something that was a step up from the modern Tannoys, but still, ultimately, unsatisfactory, and to be followed by another step up in a couple of years. And I am a great fan of exponential absorbers, as per my DIY hifi speakers, built a few years ago – see the post here.

The logical answer to all this for me was to bite the bullet, open the cheque book, and go for a pair of Vivid Audio S12s. I’d seen construction of the cabinets a couple of years ago when they were built nearby at Wymondham (and had a tour of the factory there), had heard larger Vivid Audio speakers over the years (and, indeed, the famous B&W Nautilus designed by Laurence Dickie (aka Dic), who is the engineering brain behind Vivid), and had always hankered after a pair of the S12s since they were announced in 2020. The reviews and tests bore out my suspicion that the Vivid Audio website’s slightly throwaway remark that ‘the small footprint makes it the perfect studio monitor’ was likely to be spot on.

Here are my S12s (though tempted by the more interesting colours, I played safe and went for black) in my treated office/mixing studio. The large ex-MOD desk that I like (and need) for work is shown with a couple of slabs of 70mm Basotech, which take out desk reflections for those critical bits of audio work: and they have the benefit of forcing me to periodically remove the normal clutter of cameras, papers and other junk that accumulates on my desk. The dinky DAC and power amp are nestled under the computer monitor.

In preparation, I swapped out my Sound Devices MixPre-3 (an excellent small field recorder, but certainly not the world’s greatest DAC), for a much better Topping DX1 DAC, and made bases with in-built shock absorbers for my existing wall brackets. I’ve been running the S12s for several weeks now, off a small Class D amp, and I continue to be astounded. I haven’t touched my headphones for weeks. But there is little point in writing a blog post eulogizing these speakers: any reader would, quite rightly, take it with a pinch of salt. I don’t have the means of doing comparative tests and, unlike microphones, I can’t post meaningful WAV files etc. for others to consider. Besides, there are detailed tests and reviews by those with a wider knowledge of speakers out there to be read (such as this on AV Nirvana), albeit from a hifi perspective, along with some videos with Dic explaining the engineering behind the S12, such as this one with Doug Schneider and this one with Jeff Fritz. And, of course, for specs etc. there is the Vivid Audio website.

So what I thought might be more useful is to give the rest of this blog post over to an interview with Dic giving more background to the S12 and, along the way, his thoughts about the lack of differentiation between good studio monitors and good domestic speakers. I found it an interesting conversation, not least learning about John Dunkerley (he of Decca fame) being so involved with B&W, where Dic worked for many years (and where, in addition to the Nautilus, he invented the matrix enclosure system). We covered quite a bit more in our long and enjoyable chat, including how I could remodel my desk with a punched steel surface for acoustic transparency (Dic’s enthusiasm for, interest in, and knowledge of acoustic matters knows few bounds!), but what follows are the key sections relevant to using the S12s (and, indeed, other comparable speakers) as studio monitors.

Dic keeping very much hands-on at Vivid’s design studio and workshop in Sussex.

RH: Dic, could you sum up your approach to loudspeaker design and how, if at all, it differs for studio monitors?

LD: I sincerely believe in creating loudspeakers that have a reasonably flat response. My mantra has always been to create loudspeakers that are free of resonances and reflections because I have always believed that these are the things that our ears are particularly sensitive to as a result of living in a natural world and evolving in it: resonances and reflections give you a lot of cues and clues about the environment in which you’re standing, about what is coming up behind you and other such things that might cost you your life if you are not aware of them. I think we are very sensitive to these, so for all Vivid speakers, and indeed Nautilus before it, the whole point was to engineer those discontinuities out of the equation. And I think it applies whether it be a studio monitor or a far field domestic loudspeaker: those values are the same.

RH: Many will be familiar with your work at B&W, most obviously with the matrix and Nautilus, but it would be good to hear more about your experience with studio monitors and, especially, its influence on the development of your Vivid Audio drivers.

LD: When I left B&W my goal was to produce studio monitors, but I wanted to produce a studio monitor that had the fidelity, transparency and other lovely features of the Nautilus yet was capable of supplying the power that typically people need to monitor electronic music, pop music and whatever. I’d made some monitors out of B&W parts for Bowl Court Studios in London, for which I’d used nine 12” drivers, six mid-rangers and a couple of tweeters and we drove it all actively. Everyone was impressed by the sound level that people were able to monitor at and when I produced the Nautilus it was clear that it was utterly incapable of producing that sort of sound level. So my mission when I left B&W was to create a set of drivers which would be capable of handling the power and having the efficiency required to do the job.

So for two years that was more or less what I was doing between other little jobs. I came up with an array of drivers, but didn’t want to start a studio monitor company on my own. By chance these guys from South Africa contacted me saying they wanted to start a hifi speaker company and I said I just happen to have designed some drivers which although ostensibly for studio monitors will actually work perfectly well in a hifi loudspeaker. So the drivers that we use in Vivid Audio give a nod to the studio market. But the point here is that the only real difference between top-end domestic hifi and studio monitors that I could detect at that time was the ability to handle a great deal of power and to put out really high sound levels. But the fidelity part of it, the accuracy, the frequency response and other such things I believed to be exactly the same and I still largely do believe that. The perhaps biggest difference really was the ubiquity of soffit-mount studio monitors, and I’m a real believer in soffit mounts. A funny thing was around the time I had just finished the Nautilus I was at a show and I was speaking to someone from Genelec and I was looking at this Genelec and saying yeah that’s the right approach – to have the speaker in the boundary and I think if I were to design a soffit-mount speaker it would look something like that. And he said, that’s interesting because the designer of Genelecs said if he were to design a folded transmission line speaker he would have made it like the Nautilus. So we came from the same place: basically it’s about having smooth contours, and avoiding resonances and reflections again.

Another thing I learnt in my time at B&W when looking at studios was that classical studios like EMI [i.e. Abbey Road] and Decca were using B&Ws and they were very happy using a 4π [i.e. free-field, and not soffit mounted] speaker in a studio environment: B&W never felt any pressure to do soffit-mount speakers. Another thing I learnt in other studios, was the ubiquity of the [Yamaha] NS-10 and the little Aurotone, the little cube. I said why do you use these and they said well you’ve got to see what It sounds like on Joe Average’s transistor radio or mediocre hifi and the NS10 was taken to be a benchmark mediocre loudspeaker: if it sounds good on an NS-10 it will sound good on anything. And I thought well surely you need something in between that is not as big as the Westlake or whatever it was they might have had – two x 15” with a horn – and this NS-10. You need something that has a nice wide response that you can sit on top of the desk a bit like the NS-10. I very much wanted to contribute something to that part of the spectrum and the S12 is almost that. It has taken a long time to get there, but it is almost there.

RBH: It’s relevant to this point: there’s still a sharp distinction in the market between hifi speakers and studio monitors. Is that because people have tried hifi speakers and many of them are just not suited; is it prejudice; is it marketing; is it simplicity (most studio monitors are active); or is it something else altogether?

LD: I’m absolutely certain that marketing plays a great part in it. There will also be some biases and bigotry – ‘I’m not using that: it’s a hifi speaker’ sort of thing – and probably vice versa, and that’s all based on whimsy, there’s no foundation for any of that. Marketing is certainly going to have an important part to play as it does with everything. So clearly somebody like Genelec market themselves very strongly as being a pro audio brand, and I’m actually surprised that they don’t make an effort to promote their products as a domestic speaker.

You have to be careful not to blur lines. You are branded. You produce a thing and then you are branded and people will therefore dismiss you, ‘on that’s hifi’. I completely understand that. Perhaps that’s why we underplayed the studio bit because we want to be careful to not to blur the line or prejudice our hifi market. Yes, it is tricky. The psychology of marketing is a whole other world that’s not necessarily based on reality: it’s a simple truth.

RH: You touched on the larger studios and some larger studios, such as Abbey Road with its use of B&W loudspeakers beginning in 1988 with the Matrix 801 speaker and now with the 800 Series Diamond D3 speakers and there’s Skywalker Sound studio with its B&W speakers being used, and, of course, you mentioned Decca. Do you think these very large studios are just less concerned about speakers that are designed or market ed exclusively as studio monitors and that as you go down to the smaller studios (including home studios) that they have a less open view?

LD: Yes, absolutely. Specifically B&W were designed with the help of John Dunkerley who was one of the golden ears of the Decca studio. He still runs a masterclass in studio technique, the Tonmeister course [at the University of Surrey]. John had an excellent relationship with John Bowers [founder of B&W Loudspeakers]. John Dunkerley used to come and do listening tests with John Bowers and was an integral part of the development of B&W speakers and, of course, he took them back with him to Decca and monitored on them. And that spread as other engineers joined him: the choice was between that or, of course, there were BBC monitors, or otherwise Ureis, Westlakes and classic 15”s and horns. For the high-end classical engineers the best speakers were things like the B&Ws and there is snobbery again there: in their opinion the Ureis, Westlakes and things were alright for pop music, but if you were going to do serious music you needed something like the B&Ws. So even within the pro field I’m sure there are all sorts of divisions and bigotries, not all based on realities. As far as John Dunkerley was concerned there was absolutely no differentiation between the studio monitor and the domestic monitor: it was all part of the same spectrum. And as far as he was concerned the goal was the same – for reproduction for a flat response free from aberrations and imperfections. It was all the same. So I guess I’ve learnt from him that it is all part of the same spectrum.

RH: So it tended to be the larger studios having a significant amount of classical music recording that used such speakers. Do you get a sense that has continued and spread?

LD: Well unfortunately, Roland, I am not very close to that world at the moment. But I have always believed that our speakers should be perfectly useable in the studio. In fact, if there wasn’t such exclusivity going on between B&W and Decca and EMI, I would have thought our speakers could easily be contenders for that application. Now in fairness our funny-shaped speakers might be a bit off-putting: I don’t blame them for that. I have thought we should make a concession to a rather less ostentatious look for the professional field. I have actually produced a version of the G2, which you might have seen here, which is a square-box version with all the drivers on the front panel.

RBH: Thinking of form, the Kaya range are less curvaceous so are more adaptable and when you get right down to the S12, while more curvaceous than most nearfield speakers, you can put it on a wall bracket or stand as normal: in short, there are no particular issues arising from its shape are there?

LD: No, you’re right. The thing about the Kaya range was the watchword was ‘accessible’. It was to be a less challenging design and a more acceptable cost. The cost drove the driver line, which went from four-way to three-way (and two-way with the S12), but I am very happy with the result. The Kaya series tends to have a slightly narrower beam pattern as a result. The reason for the waveguide we have around the tweeter is because you are crossing over from a 100mm cone to a tweeter and the acoustic centre of the 100mm cone is a little bit set back from the rim, so to be truly time-aligned the tweeter must also be set back a little. Now if you set the tweeter back you are going to have a little bit of a slope between it and the lip of the bass driver: that surface might as well be swept around the tweeter and then you’ve got a bit of a waveguide.

Now the advantages of having a wave guide are, first, it slightly controls the dispersion of the tweeter, which means it matches the dispersion of the mid-range so that at crossover you don’t get this jump in polar response, and, second, you get an improvement in efficiency – you’ve effectively got a bit of a horn, which benefits the signal significantly – about 4dB at 3kHz  – which means less power is going into the tweeter so it has an easier life, the voice coil will be cooler, the power compression will be less, so all rounds it’s a winning combination. The other thing we notice with the Kaya range is that because it has this slightly controlled pattern dispersion, it’s a little bit less fussy about the room acoustic. If you are trying to keep the room out of the equation it’s a good result, so we find for home theatre and possibly for mixing it’s a better solution.

RH: Coming back to crossovers, which you mentioned, so many studio monitors are active and using DSP, and you are beating a different path – for studio monitor use of the S12 – by being passive: what are the pros and cons of the two approaches?

LD: Right. When I first started working for Bowers it was because I had been messing around with active speakers in my free time. I had built myself some active speakers and I went for that job interview and as I started to describe what I had been doing the chap interviewing me his ears pricked up and his eyes lit up and he said you’re the man for the job because they were, indeed, just about to start developing an active loudspeaker. So that was perfect. And at the time when I looked at my colleagues designing passive filters, I thought that is old school, welcome to the late 20th century – active is the way to go! And Nautilus was only available in active. When I started working with my new partners in South Africa I fully intended to launch only with a fully active loudspeaker, but Philip [Gutentag], who’s feet are firmly planted on the ground (he had been owner of a distribution company, so he knows the field: knows people; knows the market) said ‘Dic, we’re a new small manufacturer in a country with no reputation for technology, making a funny-shaped product and you want to make it active? Honestly, we might as well burn the money and go fishing! It’s really stupid. At the very least people will want to be able to connect these speakers to their existing amplifiers.’

There were three partners at the time and the other chap, Bruce [Gessner], who was an excellent engineer, invested in a copy of LEAP, the loudspeaker enclosure analysis program that also had a crossover design program, and grudgingly I got into designing passive crossovers. And actually very quickly I started to appreciate – with this new tool at my disposal – designing passive crossovers was quite good fun. For the next 16 years we quite happily produced a whole range of speakers.

Nevertheless, at the back of mind I thought it would be instructive to do an active version of a G2. It was catalyzed in 2012 because we met some Swedish guys who were producing a new two-in eight-out digital processor, which was actually quite sophisticated, so we got this thing. To cut to the chase, at the first listening test we did it really didn’t sound a good as a passive G2. And I thought that’s ridiculous, it must sound at least as good as a passive: bear in mind I still thought instinctively that ultimately active has to be better. So I then went through each driver with a microphone right close to the drivers doing nearfield frequency response tests, and then I went into the DSP and tweaked it until the response of the individual drivers absolutely overplotted the passive plots. So we had the system up and running again and we did an ABX test and we couldn’t tell the difference, we really couldn’t tell the difference: we listened to a lot of music, switching backwards and forwards, with the person doing the switching not knowing what the two things were, somebody else deciding what A and B were. It really was very thoroughly blind and we really couldn’t tell the difference. And at that point I said, ‘do you know what, Philip, this is a waste of time. We don’t make amplifiers and the only people who benefit from active loudspeakers are amplifier makers. Sod it. There’s no point.’ And that was it. So that was 12 years ago.

Since then I’ve had a bit of a thought about all this, and you could do some little solid state pair of class Ds for remarkably little money and probably less resources are used to make one of those than just the one inductor in our S12s, which use about a kilo of copper: there’s an environmental thing here too. But if you build electronics into the speaker, when those electronics goes wrong – and inevitably with 1000 tiny parts something is going to go at some point – you have more of an issue, and the cycle to landfill will be shorter. Whereas with a passive loudspeaker and a separate little blob of amplification – you can pick up some remarkably good Class D power amps – then what’s the difference in the end? You’ve got two speaker wires instead of two power leads. Really, what is the difference: why are people so obsessed? There is in fairness the fact that a dedicated built-in amp does allow you to do EQ tricks and compression and limiting and all that sort of thing, not that compression and limiting are words that pass easily through my lips!

I’ll leave you with this photo of Dic as a good reminder that top-end audio shouldn’t be po-faced, fractious and tediously serious, but fun: Dic certainly embodies that!

NB Thanks to Jake Purches for the photos…and for encouraging me to buy the S12s.

Audio Gear

Sennheiser MKH 8030 part 3: mid-side field recordings

April 6, 2024
Squeezing four mics into a blimp suspension for mid-side testing. Top to bottom: MKH 8040 (cardioid), MKH 8030 (fig 8), MKH 8020 (omni: right), and MKH 8050 (supercardioid: left). The acoustic shadowing (which is inevitable to some extent in coincident pairs) of this cluster of mics near each other has very little effect in reality, and is largely a concern of the theoreticians out there: much more important is the ability to be able to compare different flavours of mid-side recording at the same time. Despite some snazzier options, my old Rode Mk 1 blimp again proved the best bet for accommodating such a number of mics.

Introduction

Part 2 of the Sennheiser MKH 8030 (fig 8) tests involved recording a bluegrass band with a mid-side set-up, focused on the Sennheiser MKH 8040 (cardioid) and MKH 8030 pair, but including the Rycote BD-10 (fig 8) and CA-08 (cardioid) mics. For the next series of tests I was keen to hear how the MKH 8030 sounded with other mics from the MKH 8000 series in a mid-side pair. There are, of course, five other mics in the series, ranging from omni to long shotgun, but, to make things manageable, I wanted to focus on three mid-mic options: the MKH 8020 (omni), the MKH 8040 (cardioid) and the MKH 8050 (supercardioid). The MKH 8090 (wide cardioid) has much to commend it for a mid mic, but I suspected that the difference between it and the omni and cardioid mics might be a bit nuanced for my tests. Mid-side with shotgun mics is possible, of course, but it’s not something I’m hugely keen on. Besides, I needed a practical rig to be able to test different combinations at the same time, so four mics of similar size was my limit for a blimp. Similar practical matters also ruled out including mid-side with a second MKH 8030 (which would require a different orientation): that, and the fact that I don’t yet have a second MKH 8030! So tests of a fig 8 as the mid mic, and of a Blumlein pair of MKH 8030s, will have to wait until another time.

It has been very clear from the outset that the MKH 8030 is a superb fig 8 mic, condensing much of what is loved about the MKH 30 into a smaller form, so testing its performance in mid-side rigs might seem superfluous: it could be assumed that the mic will deliver excellent mid-side recordings when used with the other MKH 8000 series mics. Well, there are two angles to this: first, it’s good to check that theory and expectations are matched by reality, not least as the MKH 8000 mics are not cheap, and provide samples of this; and, second, I was intrigued by the on-line comment of another tester of the pre-production MKH 8030 mic as part of a mid-side pair, who said ‘the 8050 is too narrow and creates holes in the stereo image and other weirdness when decoding‘. This was for recording nature so narrowness may well have been an issue for desired wide ambiences, but holes and other ‘weirdness’ seemed surprising since the MKH50/MKH30 pair has long been used to good effect. And, of course, a supercardioid or hypercardioid mid-mic choice is an obvious one for production sound recordists (i.e. heavy users of mics with these polar patterns) who want the scope for a bit of mid-side stereo when the occasion arises.

So to these latest tests. Given the comment about the MKH 8050 as a mid-mic, and the previous musical test for the MKH 8030, I have this time focused on field recording – both natural and man-made sounds, and including sounds that cross the stereo field: hopefully, these will allow consideration of any holes in the centre of the stereo image, or other ‘weirdness’. In each of the samples below, the recordings are as straight off the recorder, albeit with levels adjusted in post so that the mid and side mics are mixed at a ratio of 50:50 (I recorded all four channels with the same gain) to reflect the slightly different sensitivities of the mics: i.e. MKH 8020 at -30dBV, MKH 8030 at -30.8dBV, MKH 8040 at -34dBV and MKH 8050 at -34dBV.

Mid-side test rig in blimp, recording the not-quite-as-quiet-as-you-might-think village street sounds.

‘The Deserted Village’

First up, is my old and unadventurous stalwart: mics at the front of our garden, at ninety degrees to the street in this quiet Norfolk village, with birdsong and the odd passing car or tractor.

On the shingle beach at Salthouse.

‘Sea-Fever’

Next I took the four-mic MS rig up to the coast. There was a gentle offshore wind, but the shingle beach shelves steeply, so there was some wave action nonetheless. Waves break onto the beach at different times, naturally, so the sound often moves across the stereo image. For this first series of recordings the mic stand was rather near to the sea than in the photo: it was right at the water’s edge – so much so that a couple of times I had to grab the stand and stagger backwards to avoid a clutch of Sennheiser mics taking a dip in the North Sea.

And then, while on the beach, but, say, 30ft (10m) from the water’s edge, I recorded myself walking past the mics, angled downwards a bit, again with the intention of exploring the ‘hole in the middle’.

At Holt station, on the North Norfolk Railway, set up opposite a little saddle-tank locomotive built for, and named after, the British Sugar Corporation’s factory at Wissington (near Downham Market): this is still sugar beet country.

‘At The Railway Station’

A few miles away, the season was was well and truly underway at the North Norfolk Railway, with trains bustling between Holt and Sheringham over the Easter weekend. Setting up lineside opposite a small saddle-tank locomotive, with the station platform beyond, I recorded its departure and the rattle of its carriages as it headed off backwards.

Diesel locomotive at Holt station. Nice to be at the level of the track for the clatter of the wheels, or is that bogies?

After this small train pulled out, I became very visible to anyone on the platform so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that a chap pointed me out to his toddler grandson, who in response gave a nonplussed shrug way beyond his years. With headphones, a furry blimp and a camera, I must have looked like an über-trainspotter: a fair cop perhaps, but, seeking a less conspicuous position, I moved along the fence by the lineside to a point just beyond the station. There were practical advantages of a less visible location too: chatter from those at the station was reduced, I was further from the car park, and I was next to the signal, with its occasional clunking movements. I settled down to wait for the next train, which then took me unawares as there was no whistle or chuffing to announce its arrival: it was a diesel. Well, it may have lacked the nostalgic charm of steam, but it was a different sound, so I pressed record.

‘Hercules’, a 2-8-0T from the Great Western Railway, visiting Norfolk for the season. It’s doing the whizz around the run-round loop that the locomotives do at Holt (a terminus) to get to the front of the train again for the return trip, so it hasn’t got its carriages attached at this point. The manoeuvre makes for more recording options.

Working on the principle that the locomotive types must be alternating, I waited for the next one to arrive, hoping for another steam engine and perhaps something a bit larger than the little saddle tank. Sure enough, after another 15 minutes or so, along puffed a much larger tank engine, pulling a longer train of carriages. OK, not one of the biggest locomotives on this railway, but noticeably different in sound: a lot bassier, and, as expect, this comes across especially well in the omni mid-side recording. In this case I had the mics angled at forty-five degrees towards the departing train, which, of course, sees the greater emphasis from the omni mid mic on the disappearing sound around 130 off axis..

Sennheiser MKH 8000 mics meeting half-a-dozen Easy Care sheep (yes, that has got to be the most unlikely and unattractive name for a breed of sheep, even if it describes them well!).

‘The Manor Farm’

Perhaps it was thinking about farming round here when waiting for the little sugar beet ‘Wissington’ loco to set off or perhaps it was thinking about lunch on Easter Day, but for my final set of recordings I popped over to a friend’s house to record his sheep. No lambs yet, but despite the small size of the flock they put in a good performance for the mics: it’s amazing what the appearance of a feed bucket can do. Listening back, I’m surprised at the amount of natural reverb: far from anechoic. In this case the omni mid-mic brings in some less desirable low-frequency background noise and more traffic from the road (a B road, about 120 yards/metres away), but otherwise does a good job: that said, with the principal sound sources in front of the mics, I prefer the MKH 8040 and MKH 8050 mid-mic recordings.

This becomes more obvious still in the following series of recordings: some fairly quiet chickens in their pen scrabbling around and clucking quietly, while a distant road (more line 200 yards/200 metres away) and some distant agricultural machinery (a drier of some sort I think) add some less wanted background noise that is least evident – naturally – the MKH 8050 mid-side pair. Not the most exciting field recording ever made, I know, but it illustrates the point!

Conclusions

The main purpose of this post – as with so many of the other tests – is to provide the reader with a few samples to draw their own conclusions. But, beyond that, what is crystal clear to me is that there is no oddity with the MKH 8050 and MKH 8030 mid-side combination: the pair perform exactly as one would expect – and hope – of a mid-side pair with a supercardioid mid mic.

As well as demonstrating the MKH 8030 as the side mic with a range of other MKH 8000 series polar patterns (arguably those that will be used most frequently in mid-side recording), I hope this post also provides some useful examples of the impact of the different mid-mics on the stereo field, which, of course, give rise to different virtual mic patterns: the omni mid-side pair is nominally equivalent to an XY pair of cardioid microphones oriented back-to-back (180 degrees); the cardioid mid-side pair is nominally equivalent to a pair of supercardioid (often incorrectly cited as hypercardioid) microphones at an included angle of about 130 degrees; the supercardioid mid-side pair is nominally equivalent to a pair of hypercardioid microphones at an included angle of about 120 degrees. I say nominally since the equivalent microphone patterns don’t exactly match definitions for existing microphones and sound directly in front of the pair is on axis to the mid mic and, therefore, suffers less colouration than with its XY equivalent. Normally one would make mid-mic choice before recording, giving a simple two-mic mid-side pair rather than something like the clunky and impractical four-mic rig that I used for these tests.

And these tests are, perhaps, a reminder to those not so familiar with the idea, that the mid mic need not be a cardioid. In particular, the sound samples show that an omni mid mic can be an effective choice, certainly if you want, or need, the bass response of an omni mic. For field recording in particular, it offers this bass response in a much more compact form than most spaced pairs (typically involving two windshields and a stereo bar).

Indeed, you can use a mid-side pair of the MKH 8000 series mics in a small blimp: below, for example, is an MKH 8040/MKH 8030 pair in the small Rycote Nanoshield NS1-BA, which is only 220mm long. Obviously it would be much better with purpose-built MS lyres, which I hope we will see before too long, to bring the mic pair into the centre more and, thus, make wind protection much more effective. And while not a full blimp, Cinela are promising a compact COSI windshield for an MKH 8030 mid-side pair, having demonstrated a prototype at IBC 2023. In short, small and light windshield options will be available to take advantage of the small size of the mid-side pairs, for those occasions when larger windshields – with their better wind protection – are not needed or wanted.

How small and light can you go? MKH 8040 and MKH 8030 mid-side pair in a full blimp 220mm overall length: the Rycote Nanoshield NS1-BA.

Audio Gear Audio Projects

Sennheiser MKH 8030 part 2: mid-side recording

February 10, 2024
The Time and Mercy Band, comprising (left to right) Richard Ward, Jason French, Rob John and Kevin Burton.

Thursday evening was an inauspicious time to be heading out for a recording of a bluegrass band: it was a soggy wet evening here in rural Norfolk, with the narrow roads full of potholes lurking below rivers. It didn’t feel much like the Appalachian Mountains. Was it left, right, left, right, left and right again on the maze of roads around Mannington and Wolterton, or the other way round? And if I didn’t remember my left from my right, how on earth would I remember how to connect up the mics for some more mid-side recordings, building on my earlier comparative tests of the new Sennheiser MKH 8030?

I was heading back to The Forge, the studio of Kev Burton, where, a few months ago, I recorded Lucy Grubb and her band using a Blumlein pair of Rycote BD-10 fig 8 mics. This time it was a similar venture: a different band (albeit with the common factor of Kev on bass) – the Time and Mercy Band – and with a mid-side pair instead of a Blumlein pair. This was partly driven by only having a single pre-production Sennheiser MKH 8030 fig 8, but, also, because I wanted to test further the MKH 8030 in combination with the MKH 8040 cardioid as the mid mic, and throw the new Rycote BD-10 fig 8 and its cardioid (CA-08) sibling into the mix. Back at base, I’d decided that to compare the four mics in a mid-side array and allow any combination (but always using an immediately adjacent pair as mid and side mics), I needed a vertical array of five mics: that was BD-10 top and bottom, MKH 8030 in the middle, and the two cardioids between the three fig 8s. Getting them close together (I managed 4mm apart, which is better than many a back-to-back clip) was tricky and meant I couldn’t use individual shock mounts: but still wanting some isolation from a wooden floor and anticipated tapping feet, I then bolted the whole array to a pair of hefty (Duo Lyre 68 shore) Rycote Invision shock mounts, and, for belt and braces, put the stand on foam pads.

Heath Robinson would have been proud of this…

It was a little easier setting up than with the Blumlein recording, this time having all the musicians on one side of the mics and having no drum kit to manage in a fairly compact studio, but the principle remained very much as before – needing care to balance the different instruments and voices – for which having the studio’s control room, with its wonderful Midas desk (originally made for Frank Zappa) feeding into Logic, and Kev’s experience with it, was invaluable for reviewing each take. The primary feed from the mics was, again, to my field recorder.

We recorded three songs, but, for the purposes of this post I am going to focus on one, which the band call ‘Sugar Honey Babe’. It’s a traditional bluegrass song and has been recorded with many similar titles (and, of course, variations in the lyrics), and perhaps is most well-known nowadays as ‘Red Rocking Chair’.

OK, that’s more than enough preamble: to the results! First off, here’s a very quick and dirty video: one camera stuck on a tripod pointing towards the band and with the mics largely blocking the view of Rob on banjo. My excuse is that the focus was on the audio. The video switches between the various mic combinations and, as the previous tests showed that the two Rycotes are lighter in the bass department than their MKH 8000 series counterparts, a few options where the BD-10 and the CA-08 have some EQ: imperfectly applied, no doubt, but it reduces some of the more obvious differences between the mics. Other than the EQ on these few clearly labelled snippets, all the sound is as it was recorded: no reverb, no compression etc.

For those wanting to listen to the sound files without whatever YouTube does to them, here they are. I’ve not included the EQ’d versions as I am sure others can do better, or would at least want to try. These LR stereo files can, of course, be decoded back to the original mid and side channels, should you so wish (I’ve enabled downloading permissions on SoundCloud for them).

I’m not sure all the versions of the tracks with the Rycote mics given some EQ (as used where flagged up in the video above) merit inclusion, but here is just the one – the recording with the MKH 8040 and the EQ’d BD-10: although the EQ is fairly rough and ready, it does show the potential, should you wish it, to bring the mic nearer the MKH 8030.

And, finally, for a bit of fun, here’s a version of the video with the MKH 8040 and MKH 8030 pair throughout, rather than chopping and changing mic pairs. I’ve added a little reverb to this version.

So the verdict this time? As with the Blumlein pair recording, that’s one for others perhaps. The balance of the recording is far from perfect: we didn’t have endless time to fiddle around with placement, and, even if we had spent hours on it, it would have been hard to balance, say, Rob’s backing vocal and his (much louder) banjo. On a different note, rain can be heard on the studio window too: so not ideal. But putting the MKH 8030 into more real-world action with a largely acoustic band (there was a little bit of amplification for the bass) was useful, not least seeing how it performed with the MKH 8040 and just how much difference was noticeable when swapping out to different (and less expensive) mics, and what a bit of EQ might do to that. As before, my take is that the MKH 8030 is a first-rate mic, pairs well with the excellent MKH 8040 (as entirely expected), but that the considerably cheaper BD-10 is decent too and that, with some EQ, comes much closer to the MKH 8030 – especially when used as the side mic in a mid-side recording. As I’ve said before, it’s good to have these two new choices in the limited field of SDC fig 8 mics: happy days!

Audio Gear

Sennheiser’s new fig 8 – the MKH 8030: part 1

February 5, 2024

Introduction

It’s like the old saying: you wait for ages for a bus, then two come along at once. In the last year we have seen Rycote (well-established in terms of shock mounts and windshields, but fairly new to making mics themselves) announce a small figure-of-eight mic in the form of the BD-10 (which I have tested previously), to form one of a family of seven mics; and Sennheiser soon followed with its announcement of the MKH 8030. The Rycote mic is starting to ship about the time I write this, and the Sennheiser mic is due to become available to buy in the second quarter of 2024. Of course, new mics are being announced all the time, but what is interesting about both these mics is the polar pattern and size: there are relatively few figure-of-eight SDC mics, with many well-known mic manufacturers having no such offering (for example DPA, Rode and, since the demise of the Blueline range, AKG). While the BD-10’s selling point lies in it being an excellent sounding fig 8 in the largely unpopulated mid-price range (albeit arguably boxing above its weight), the interest in the Sennheiser MKH 8030 is rather different: it is a member of the successful Sennheiser MKH 8000 family of mics, which have already established themselves as first-rate and robust workhorses of sound recordists across a range of disciplines including production sound, effects recording, nature recording and music recording. The company launched the first three of the series back in 2007 and the promised fig 8 model has been highly anticipated since, albeit with hope fading somewhat to resignation that it would never appear: there had been no additions to MKH 8000 series since 2012 until this new mic . Indeed, the first photos of the MKH 8030 in the wild last autumn led some to cry out ‘fake’! Fortunately, such cynicism (or, more charitably, self-protection against false hope) was ill-founded and the mic is a reality.

And why does the arrival of the MKH 8030 matter? Well, first off, it makes the MKH 8000 series mics a pretty complete family at last, with polar patterns comprising omni (MKH 8020), wide-cardioid (MKH 8090), cardioid (MKH 8040), super-cardioid (MKH 8050), short shotgun (MKH 8060), long shotgun (MKH 8070) and, now, fig 8. Given a straight choice many would rather use one range of mics for consistent sound, and this is especially significant when dealing with fig 8 mics, so often used for mid-side and double mid-side in combination with other polar patterns. Second, it means Sennheiser provides users wanting a fig 8 all the advantages of the rest of the MKH 8000 range – small, modular mics with extended high and low frequency response and with the legendary humidity resistance of all Sennheiser’s MKH mics: the latter being common to their radio-frequency (RF) design. It isn’t going to take over from the larger MKH 30 mic (launched back in 1987) for many users, any more than users of the MKH 40 cardioid mic automatically swapped to the MKH 8040, but for those wanting a smaller mic without giving up low self-noise (the new mic matches the 13dBA of the MKH 30), then this will be so welcome. Small size, of course, is as relevant to using mics on the end of a boom pole as it is for discreet micing in the concert hall, church or theatre, and as it is for creating complex (double mid-side and beyond) arrays in windshields for field recording. And, finally, with the MKH 8030 offering the advantages of the MKH 30 – not least RF design and low self-noise – it has a significant edge over the few alternative small SDC fig 8 mics currently available.

A word about these tests

Oh, a quick word about the tests below, less you expect too much and then feel disappointed, or, worse, chastise me! There is no substitute for putting a mic through its paces yourself, and nothing I can do will do that for you. Those from classical recording engineers with more refined ears and years of experience of working in the best concert halls, to production sound recordists working with the pressures of a major movie set, to wildlife recordists out there in extreme conditions that most us couldn’t handle even without a microphone in hand will need to see if the mic works for them and, critically, how it compares to whatever they have been using hitherto: that might be a Schoeps MK8 + CMC or the smaller CCM8, Sennheiser’s own MKH 30, or another fig 8 mic. I can’t replicate these different uses, and I don’t have every fig 8 mic on the market. So what follows will be, as ever, a series of recording tests relevant to my uses, a consideration of the mic on its own merits and, where useful, comparing the MKH 8030 to other mics I have here: this includes two other fig 8s that readers of this blog will know that I have used extensively – the old AKG CK94 (now discontinued) and the, much better sounding, new Rycote BD-10. Hopefully, something in what follows might be of interest and use to at least some others. The embedded audio clips are as recorded straight – no equalisation (unless I specify that a high-pass filter has been used: usually on the recorder), no added reverb, compression etc. – although levels have been matched in relation to mic sensitivity.

A look at the mic and its specifications

Well, first to the mic itself. The copy I have been sent by Sennheiser for field-testing is a pre-production model, although I understand that any changes before launch are likely to be limited to cosmetic matters. Peering through the fairly open weave of the basket (as on the other MKH mics) it is possible to see quite a bit of the capsule: as with the other MKH 8000 series mics it has a 16mm-diameter diaphragm (which Sennheiser has clarified in the press-release is the usual MKH symmetrical push-pull type, and evidently is a single diaphragm model), although its side-address orientation in this case means that the housing widens out from 19mm to 21mm to accommodate it. At 92mm long (with the XLR module) and weighing 71g (as measured here: Sennheiser give it as 83g in the press-release), the mic is only 33% of the size (by volume) of its MKH 30 counterpart and 65% of its weight. In short, it is small, but with some reassuring heft!

Performance-related specs published in the press-release of 15.9.2023 were limited to max SPL (139dB), frequency response (30-50,000 Hz), and self-noise (13dBA), but the individual calibration sheet supplied in the box with the sample mic usefully adds sensitivity (29 mV/Pa, -30.8dBV) and a plot of the frequency response curve (see below). These specs seem very much as anticipated. The 13dBA self-noise figure matches that for the larger MKH 30, which was expected, but is a relief all the same: most manufacturers produce fig 8 mics with self-noise significantly above their other polar patterns, but both Sennheiser’s fig 8s match their cardioid, super-cardioid and wide-cardioid counterparts in this regard. What does differ, though, is the sensitivity of the MKH 8030: this is 3dBV less than the cardioid, super-cardioid and wide-cardioid mics, close to the omni mic (1dBV more), and very different to the MKH 8060 and 8070 shotguns. This contrasts with the larger MKH 30, which, at 32dBV, matches the mics most likely to be used with it for critical MS recordings: namely, the MKH 20 omni, MKH 40 cardioid and MKH 50 super-cardioid mics. A small matter, perhaps, and certainly not relevant to all users, but it does make exact matching of gain on a mid-side linked pair a fiddle on many, if not most, recorders. Evidently more details – such as a polar plot – will follow in due course.

A close-up of the side-address capsule of the MKH 8030, showing the stainless-steel filter over the diaphragm common to the MKH 8000 series mics.
View of the capsule through the end grille of the MKH 8030: rest-assured, the diaphragm sits centrally within its machined housing,

RFI

Looking at radio frequency interference (RFI) on the MKH 8030 is nothing to do with its RF design (which, in the words of the MKH designer Manfred Hibbing in his The MKH Story white paper), means the mic essentially has ‘a transmitter and receiver that are directly wired together’), but is about its resistance to external RFI. As I’ve said in posts on other tests, I am interested in the impact of RFI on mics since, as 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 (not least from the phone of an interviewee). So I was glad to find that in testing, as before, with several different phones on the absolute fringe of reception (i.e. working at highest power) the MKH 8030 showed no sign of RFI even at close distances (100mm): for control I recorded the mic alongside a known problem mic (to check that the intermittent issue was occurring: it was) and the Sennheiser MKH 8040 (no RFI issue either). A good start!

Self-noise

The 13dB-A self-noise figure for the MKH30 and, now, the MKH 8030 mic is excellent for an SDC fig 8. The Schoeps MK8, for example, has self-noise of 17dB-A and the Schoeps CCM 8 is fractionally noisier at 18dB-A. Given that listening to the hiss of a mic on its own isn’t hugely instructive, I compared the MKH 8030 with two other 13dB-A mics that I have – the cardioid Rycote CA-08 and, more relevant to prospective users of the new mic, the cardioid Sennheiser MKH 8040 – and the 18dB-A Rycote BD-10. First off, I checked that the manufacturer’s sensitivity figures were broadly correct, recording a 1kHz tone and measuring that with a tight band-pass filter applied at 1kHz: all was evidently in order. So, l in the absence of an anechoic chamber, I then did my usual by recording the sound of nothing with the 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]). There was a bit of low-frequency sound still permeating, so I applied a 100Hz high-pass filter at the recorder. Normally, I wouldn’t bother including the sound of madly cranked-up mic hiss (the MKH8030 has been given a whopping 70dB of gain, and the other mics even more – reflecting their different sensitivities) in a test/review, but in this case it is quite interesting, so here goes with the audio files for the two Sennheiser mics and the BD-10. Just remember, and don’t panic: all three mics are very quiet in normal use!

And here are the spectrum analyzer visualizations of the noise:

MKH 8030 with 70dB total gain and 100Hz high-pass filter.

MKH 8040 with 73.2dB total gain (to match MKH 8030 sensitivity) and 100Hz high-pass filter.

BD-10 with 79.4dB total gain (to match MKH 8030 sensitivity) and 100Hz high-pass filter

The sound files and the spectrum analyzer visualizations show that the two Sennheiser mics are broadly similar, although the MKH 8040 cardioid mic has more low-frequency noise: I suspect strongly that this is external noise resulting from my imperfect isolation, and a consequence of the different polar patterns. The spectrum analyzer also shows the increase in self-noise levels of the Sennheiser mics at very high frequencies – largely above human hearing, although relevant if pitching down (e.g. some effects, or bat recordings etc.). The BD-10 lacks such a significant rise in self-noise levels in frequencies above human hearing, but, in the realm of normal hearing has a higher-frequency hiss, which is also a little louder and more perceptible, especially if the level is reduced from these extreme gains: the greater self-noise is in accordance with the different specs [note: these tests use the revised BD-10 sensitivity of 9.8 mV/Pa/-40.2dBV, which differs by -3.25dBV from the specification published by Rycote in 2023]. Self-noise is unlikely to be the determining factor in deciding between using or buying these mics, and perhaps this also applies to the choice between the MKH 8030 and the similarly expensive 17dB-A Schoeps MK8 + CMC or the 18dB-A CCM8.

Frequency response

The frequency response curve and sensitivity measurement supplied with (and for) the MKH 8030 example tested here.

The press-release for the MKH 8030 gives the frequency range for the mic as 30Hz to 50kHz, and, in this regard, the fig 8 follows the rest of the MK 8000 series mics, with the upper frequency range extended compared to the earlier MKH mics and, indeed, most mics on the market. As discussed in previous posts, extended high-frequency response 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). Anyway, for a field test, I though the overtones of some church bells would be an interesting sample, so up I clambered to the belfry.

A bit of recording in the belfry at Norwich Cathedral: wind-protection was essential.

For the recording I set up three fig 8 mics (the MKH 8030, the BD-10 and AKG CK94) in a windshield (there was quite a breeze inside the belfry) facing the bell-frame. Here are the sound files.

And here is a spectrogram of part of the recording, showing the chimes. The high-frequency capability of the MKH 8030 is certainly in evidence, with much stronger signals up to 48kHz (the limit on this spectrogram), albeit with more self-noise at such frequencies. The BD-10 does reasonably well, but with lower self-noise over 20kHz, and, as expected from previous tests, the CK94 comes in third in this test.

Spectrogram of the bells tolling, with MKH 8030 (left), BD-10 (centre) and AKG CK94 (right): the vertical axis extends to 48kHz.
Testing bass response with a car engine idling: yes, I know the car needs a clean, but the roads in rural Norfolk are seriously muddy!

Turning to the other end of the spectrum, fig 8 mics generally have a poorer bass response than omni, wide cardioid, cardioid and super-cardioid polar patterns, although the Sennheiser MKH 30 has long demonstrated that it is unusually capable at lower frequencies. The MKH 8030 specs promise similar performance.  In this case I took three fig 8 mics (the MKH 8030, Rycote BD-10 and AKG CK94) and oriented them so that in each case one of their lobes faced the exhaust pipe at the rear of a parked car and, in a separate blimp immediately adjacent, set up the cardioid MKH 8040 likewise facing the car, which was then started and left idling.

And here are the spectrum analyzer visualizations:

Car exhaust test with the MKH 8030.

Car exhaust test with the BD-10.

Car exhaust test with the AKG CK94.

Car exhaust test with the MKH 8040.

The tracks show all four mics capable of rendering the lowest fundamental, with the MKH 8030 showing a better low-frequency response than the Rycote BD-10, and the latter showing a much better low-frequency response than the AKG CK94. At the lowest fundamental of around 22.5Hz the MKH 8030 was about 6dB louder than the BD-10, and the BD-10 about 9dB louder than the AKG CK94. The MKH 8040 has an unusually good bass response for a cardioid, and the peak at 22.5Hz was 9dB louder than that with the MKH 8030: in truth the low-frequency content of the cardioid mic is a little overwhelming in this test. Such a low frequency as 22.5Hz is beyond the quoted specs of the MKH 8030, and sticking mics by a car exhaust is hardly the most scientific test, but the general point is well illustrated by the audio files and the peaks in the spectrum analyzer visualizations: that is, the MKH 8030 has a good low-frequency response, but, as I have found previously when testing fig 8s, in the field at least this falls short of a decent cardioid or, obviously, an omni mic. This fuller low end of the MKH 8030 compared to the other SDC fig 8 mics I have to hand is evident through any of the recordings I made during these tests that have lower frequency content. It will be for others to see how this compares to the MKH 30, the Schoeps fig 8 etc., or even whether such very low-frequency response matters in a fig 8.

The nulls

A bit of blues harp playing from Andy Chinn: testing the on-axis and off-axis (i.e. null) sound of the MKH 8030, along with the BD-10 and AKG CK94.

At this stage there is no available polar plot for the MKH 8030, but – from the MKH 30 – expectation is high that the new mic offers similarly deep nulls, which are an essential characteristic of a fig 8 mic. It is hard to test this accurately in the field, as opposed to in an anechoic chamber, so what you have here is a bit of a rough and ready test: some blues harp playing courtesy of Andy Chinn at about 400mm from the MKH 8030, along with the BD-10 and CK94 fig 8s. This snippet is then followed by a brief silence, after which is another recording with the mics rotated 90 degrees: Andy’s playing and position remain unchanged.

Not hugely conclusive, I know, not least given that the sound was reflecting around the modest-sized living room – so not doing the nulls justice (although something of a real-world reality check) – but, nonetheless, there was a measurable difference in the effectiveness of the nulls: the MKH 8030 produced a 12.5dB drop in LUFs; the BD10 an 11.2dB drop in LUFs; and the CK94 a 10.7dB drop in LUFs. Of course, the on-axis and null recordings were not simultaneous (or identical) so these figures are only indicative, and I strongly suspect that the differences will be more substantial – certainly against the CK94, which doesn’t have the deepest of nulls (but is still effective in this regard) – in a larger space or, of course, outdoors. Anyway, nicer to listen to a bit of blues harp than a car exhaust!

EDIT (9.4.2024): Sennheiser have now produced a specs sheet (in advance of publication at NAB 2024), which includes the following polar pattern and confirms that the MKH 8030 measures similarly to the MKH 30 – excellent news:

Handling noise

The MKH 8030 is likely to become a regular fixture in windshields on boom poles or on a pistol grip, such as for those times when a bit of ambience is required during production sound recording, or perhaps to get closer to a difficult to access source during field recording. In short, while it may not be swinging around as fast as in some cases of mics used for booming for dialogue,the MKH 8030 is likely to be handheld at times and also to be used on a boom pole. So, with that in mind, I put the mic through some boom-pole handling tests.

All other things being equal, fig 8 mics are the most susceptible to handling noise. Three mics were included in the test (i.e. rigged in Rycote Invision suspensions on a short stereo bar on the end of the boom pole) to allow comparison: the MKH 8030, the MKH 8040 and the Rycote BD-10. Gain levels were adjusted for relative sensitivities.

When holding the boom pole statically (extended and horizontally) all three mics showed some handling noise, with the MKH 8040 being the most significant, peaking at -26.1dB, with LUFs at -55.8dB; the MKH 8030 was significantly better, peaking at -32.2dB, with LUFs at -61.3dB; and the Rycote BD-10 was better still, peaking at -35.5dB with LUFs at -67.0dB. Evidently this was trembling/vibration from the boom operator’s muscles holding a steady stance, and was all low-frequency energy below c.50Hz: a high-pass filter of 80Hz – a pretty essential adjunct to booming – removes such energy. In the second series of sound files, the mics were held as previously, but the boom pole was tapped with at the grip point to test transmission of louder handling noise. As expected, the results are similar to the static hold test, with the cardioid MKH 8040 performing least well (-51.2 LUFs), followed by the MKH 8030 (-56.4 LUFs) and then the BD-10 (-57.9 LUFs). Doubtless the extended low-frequency capability of the cardioid MKH 8040 is the reason why it is outperformed in this handling test by the two fig 8 mics. The MKH 8030 should offer no problem to the user given, in addition to use of a high-pass filter, a suitable suspension and experienced boom operation (not forgetting that capture of stereo ambiences on a boom pole is usually for incidental B-roll, camera perspective stereo etc., not whilst executing complex and rapid boom pole movements for dialogue recording!).

Wind noise

Fig 8 mics are especially susceptible to wind noise, so it is interesting to explore this aspect of the MKH 8030’s performance. To get a base line, a triple rig of MKH 8030, MKH 8040 and BD-10 was used, again with the mics in separate Invision suspensions, spaced along a stereo bar so that no mic was shielded from the wind by the others, and mounted on a boom pole. Fast boom swings were made to generate wind noise in a controlled fashion, not to represent typical usage of a fig 8. Gain was set as for the handling noise tests (see above). Swinging the bare mics produced overwhelming rumble, as would be expected: the MKH 8040 cardioid was easily the most sensitive in this regard, which again goes against what one might expect with a cardioid vs a fig 8. Of course, such use is unrealistic: even with a modest amount of boom movement indoors (or the gentlest air movement around a static mic indoors) at the very least a foam windshield would be used, so the test was repeated with the manufacturer’s original foams on all three mics (NB the foam for the MKH 8030 is specifically made for the mic, and is much wider than that for the MKH 8040, reflecting the different orientation of the capsule). The boom was swung in vertical and horizontal arcs, with the very little difference: the sound files below are for horizontal arcs, which, usefully, could be rather longer. In this case an 80Hz high-pass filter was set on the Sound Devices MixPre-3 recorder.

Again, and very much as expected given the boom handling experience, the cardioid MKH 8040 fared less well, with peak levels at -20.9dB and -38.2dB LUFs; while the two fig 8s performed very similarly – the MKH 8030 giving a peak of -27.2dB and LUFs of -44.5dB, and the BD-10 a peak of -27.1dB and LUFs of -45.4dB. I have been using the BD-10 in the field for some time now and it is reassuring that the MKH 8030 is very closely matched in terms of performance (at least once an 80Hz high-pass filter is applied: the ambient mid-side test, below, reveals a little bit more wind susceptibility when no filter is applied, as would be expected given the fuller lower end).

Now back to some more musical tests…

A bit of mic testing with Richard Poynton (guitar) and Jo Kerham (mandolin and vocals) taking advantage of the front and rear lobes of the fig 8 mics.

While it is useful to explore some aspects of the performance of the MKH 8030 in isolation, of course it is vital to get a sense of how the mic actually sounds: deep nulls, low self-noise etc. don’t necessarily mean you want to use the mic!

In this test, the two musicians first chat about how to play the song , so this provides a useful voice test on-axis to the mic: they are sitting one in front and one behind the mics, so on axis to the two lobes of the mic. Then the two start to play: Jo on mandolin and vocals, Richard on a bit of gentle guitar backing to what is an unfamiliar song to him. Maybe not the ideal way to mic two instruments and a vocal, and certainly not the ideal room, but it is a not a serious studio recording and gives a flavour of the mics.

This is pair of tests certainly shows up the difference between the two mics. How much that is the different frequency response, how much is increased detail resulting from a push-pull symmetrical capsule etc. – well, I’ll let you decide!

It’s always good to choose the right stereo bar for the job…but somewhere behind it, Richard plays guitar to three fig 8s.

Focusing now on a bit of steel-strung acoustic guitar by Richard, the mics were moved a little closer, so with a bit of proximity effect coming to play, here are the sound files for the recordings with the MKH 8030, Rycote BD-10 and AKG CK94:

How does the MKH 8030 sound compared to the other MKH 8000 series mics?

Rob Moore over to help test the sound of the MKH 8030 vs the MKH 8040, along with a melodeon, a melodica and his lungs.

Comparing the sound of mics with different polar patterns is not easy, and the fig 8 offers particular challenges in that regard, what with its front and back lobes. But I had a stab, setting up the fig 8 with an MKH 8040 cardioid mic, so both were aimed directly at the musician. To reduce the impact of the rear lobe of the fig 8, I placed a pair of tall gobos about 800mm behind the mics. As you can see from the photo, I also included a Rycote BD-10 in the recording, so here are three files for a bit of melodeon (from Drink Up The Cider):

The different low-frequency responses of the mics is evident: the MKH 8040 is a little fuller than the MKH 8030, but they are fairly consistent; the BD-10’s lighter low end means it sounds rather different.

Turning then to something with less low end, I then recorded Rob playing a bit of melodica (a bit of Raggletaggle Gypsy):

As would be expected, the differences between the three mics are more subtle and, at least, are not just limited to the fuller low end of the MKH 8030.

And, finally, a bit of unaccompanied singing (a snippet of North Sea Holes), as before, but with a pop filter placed in front of the mics:

Again, the frequency range of the singing (mainly above 150Hz) means that the difference between the mics is not as exaggerated as with a bass-heavy source, and the two Sennheiser mics sound pretty well matched, with the BD-10 a little less full.

And what about mid-side?

There is no denying that one of the key uses of the MKH 8030 will be as the side mic in a mid-side or even a double mid-side set-up. Obviously a mic of any pattern can be used as the mid mic: when used for production sound, to give a stereo option on set, the mid mic is likely to be a super-cardioid or, even, a shotgun mic; for some effects recording a super-cardioid may again be a good option; but by far the most regular mid mic in MS is the cardioid mic. With equal gain (or with the gain tweaked to compensate for different mid and side mic sensitivities) the mid and side mics in the latter case give, when decoded to LR stereo, a stereo recording angle that matches a pair of cardioid mics used as a 90-degree XY pair, although the mid-side recording often sounds rather different with the mid-mic typically being on axis to the main sound source.

Bringing a bit of London music hall to you courtesy of Matt Phelps.

I kicked off mid-side tests on vocals with a bit of unaccompanied music hall – What a Mouth (What a North and South) – recorded with the MKH 8030 as the side mic and a Rycote CA-08 as the mid mic : for comparison I recorded this in parallel with a Rycote BD-10 and Rycote CA-08 MS pair. Obviously, the same mid mic takes the main source – Matt’s voice direct to the mic – so that the difference in the side mics is subtle: some ears may hear the difference.

The MKH 8030 and BD-10 fig 8s flanking the MKH 8040 cardioid, before the windshield basket and fur were added, for a bit of ambience recording.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I took the an MS rig outside for some ambience recording, where the sounds came from all around. For this, I did one of my regular test recordings in this nominally quiet Norfolk village, with birds a-singing, a pheasant squawking, the odd shotgun going off (perhaps the pheasant had good reason to squawk), cars driving past etc. In this instance I set up a triple mic array as in the photo above, with a cardioid MKH 8040 centrally, with fig 8 mics above and below – that is, the MKH8030 and the Rycote BD10.

The differences are subtle, but discernible. Most noticeable is the increased bass response of the MKH 8030 vs the Rycote fig 8, which doesn’t always work in the mic’s favour: the effect of the fairly fresh wind is more noticeable on the MKH 8030 MS recording, despite the use of a full blimp and fur (admittedly, with the two fig 8s fairly near the edge of the basket – so hardly ideal). And the greater bass response of the fig 8 mic increases the side mic output, so makes for what might be perceived as a very slightly wider stereo image, but is, in reality, a more consistent stereo image into lower frequencies (say 150Hz-200Hz and lower).

Conclusions

Well I’m a fan of fig 8 mics, using them routinely for their deep nulls (e.g. when recording singer-guitarists, and wanting some separate control over vocals and instrument) and, especially, for mid-side recording. And recently I have begun to enjoy the delights of Blumlein pairs. I had high hopes for the MKH 8030 and it hasn’t disappointed: so impressed have I been that during the time I have spent with the mic, I splashed out and bought a new cardioid MKH 8040 so that I could use the MKH 8030 with one of its siblings (rather than mics from other manufacturers) for these tests and for future mid-side recording .

The MKH 8030’s match with the MKH 8040 is excellent, so it is hard to think that it will disappoint anybody used to the MKH 30, although, course, some will prefer to use the larger mic, just has been the case with the MKH 40 vs MKH 8040 etc. previously: at the top end, engineers pick mics on subtle distinctions that they – with their different preferences – feel best suit the source and the application, and this will include other makes of SDC fig 8, such as Schoeps’s options. Looking further down the scale, the MKH 8030 is a massive jump from the mid-priced (and now discontinued) AKG CK94, and has a discernible edge over the Rycote BD-10. This does such more budget-friendly mics no disservice at all: at over twice the price of the BD-10, for example, the MKH 8030 should be expected to outperform it. If you are in the market for a fig 8 SDC mic and have a budget in the region of £1500, then there is no doubt that you should give the MKH 8030 careful consideration (and a listen): in addition to its sonic and size attributes, in common with all the MKH RF mics the MKH 8030 promises very high resistance to humidity, which may be a key feature for some recordists. If such prices are out of reach, then the Rycote BD-10 presents an excellent proposition, and, for alternatives, it might well be worth exploring whether MBHO still produce the KA 800 fig 8 capsule (the MBHO website has long since failed to list the capsule), whether the Ambient Emesser ATE 308 meets your needs (e.g. if combining with a shotgun mic), and whether other options, such as B9 Audio’s CM180, might be of interest. Fig 8 SDC mics don’t grow on trees, but there are options out there from around £600 upwards. Below that, dual diaphragm LDC multi-pattern mics may well provide what you need: indeed, a high-end LDC multi-pattern mic might be what you prefer when wanting a fig 8 for a particular application. The MKH 8030 is at or very near the top end of SDC fig 8 mics, but the important thing is to have one or two, three or more fig 8s in your mic locker!

NB Stayed tuned if interested so far: on Thursday I’m due to be recording a bluegrass band – The Time and Mercy Band – in a studio, ranged round the MKH 8030 and MKH 8040 MS pair, and I’ll include the Rycote BD-10 and CA-08 cardioid too, to allow a range of MS combinations. There will be a write up, with sound files and video too: this post is already long enough, so I thought a follow-up would make more sense.