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EarSight microphones

June 5, 2022

Budget omni mics using the same very affordable 10mm capsules have been made for some years by small manufacturers, most notably  FEL Communications Ltd (Micboosters) in the UK and LOM in Slovakia. As I discussed in a previous post these use the Primo EM172 and, more latterly, the EM272 capsules: FEL/Micboostsers make this clear (and sell the bare capsules too), while LOM are rather more coy about what is inside their mics.

Intriguingly, a very similar looking – and similarly low-priced – mic has been introduced by another of these small-scale makers, again using a pre-made electret capsule: like LOM, Immersive Soundscapes in France (a one-man band – or autoentrepreneur) is equally reticent about what capsule is inside the mic, although the website is at pains to say it is equivalent to an EM272, but is not one! The specs match those of the AOM-5024L-HD-R capsule used especially in the US, but let’s hope that Immersive Soundscapes clarify the matter in due course. Certainly the specs, while close to the Primo capsule (including the respectable self-noise of 14 dBA), are different in one significant regard: the sensitivity is -24dB vs the EM272’s -28dB (with the maximum sound pressure level, or SPL, reduced from 122dB to 110dB). The full specs are given on the Immersive Soundscapes website.

Interested in hearing the different capsule, I asked Philippe at Immersive Soundscapes to send me a pair to test and review, which he was kind enough to do: in this case it was a pair of the P48/XLR mics (which retail for 85,00 €), but he also sells a PIP version with a 3.5mm stereo plug (75,00 €). The mics are well put together, within what looks to be the barrel of a 1/4″ (6.35mm) phono plug: an unbranded equivalent to the Neutrik NPX3. The slightly tapered barrel (around 13mm diameter) is rather small for off-the-peg shock mounts and windshields, so Philippe provides a push-on plastic collar that beefs up the diameter to 18.25mm. The mics are wired with about 1.5m of Sommer’s diminutive starquad (SC-Cicada 4) cable, and a Neutrik XLR plug. Physically then the mics are rather like the LOM Uši Pro mics, and are in contrast with the smaller housing of the Micbooster Clippy mics (which are smaller and lighter, effectively over-sized lav mics). The EarSight mics lack the mini-XLR connectors of the LOM Uši Pro mics, although I’m not certain how much use these are with such small mics.

So much for the look and feel of the mics: on to tests!

Interference

One of the annoying features of the Primo EM272 capsule is its susceptibility to interference. Indeed, Nick Roast at Micboosters even publishes a caveat to that effect: I have seen no such info on the LOM website and am not certain how their mics perform in this regard. Certainly, the problem is not one of the Clippy mics, but, rather, the capsule itself: making up mics from the bare EM272 capsules, I have found the problem with wifi interference, most obviously with the Rode Wireless GO ii. Given that this is the sort of thing recordists will plug a small mic into, this is a real problem. The EM172 (no longer in production) doesn’t have the issue and I’m very pleased to note that the EarSight mic is also immune to the Rode Wireless GO ii (and, indeed, mobile phone-based RFI). Good news indeed!

Even close up to the EarSight mic (left), there is no interference from the handy Rode Wireless GO ii: not so with the EM272 mic on the right.

Sound tests

And, finally, plugging in the EarSight mics to Sound Devices MixPre-3, for some field tests. Needless to say, all the test recordings are without any effects, processing etc. First off, it was good to hear how the stereo pair handled some typical ambience – very much the target use of the mics.

EarSight mics as stereo spaced pair: 30cm spacing, in Rode WS8 windshields and on Rycote Invision 7 shockmounts.

So here’s an initial test of a supposedly quiet village street ambience. The 80Hz low-cut filter was enabled on the MixPre-3 to remove the excessive bass (for which, read on).

Comparing the mics, clustered together inside a Rode blimp (outer parts removed for the photo, obviously!)

Exploring the low frequency response of the mics rather more, here are some comparative (mono) tests, with three mics (the EarSight, an EM272 mic in the form of a Micbooster Clippy, and a Rode NT55 with the omni NT45-O capsule). I recorded various tracks, but this one, with a background engine (I think a tractor or JCB several hundred meters/yards away) and then an aeroplane is quite instructive.

The extended bass of the two 10mm capsules (i.e. the EarSight and the EM272 in the Clippy mic) is rather overwhelming compared to the NT55 omni capsule. Just to be sure that the latter wasn’t bass-shy for some reason, I swapped it for an AKG CK92 omni (with a very flat response) and it was very similar to the Rode mic in this regard. In short, the low-frequency response of the two 10mm capsules appears extended or exaggerated. Either way, it isn’t something normally wanted for ambience recording, so I subsequently used the MixPre-3’s low-cut filter, setting it at 80Hz. With the lowest frequencies reduced, the recordings were more comparable and useful:

Certainly, the EarSight and the EM172 Clippy mic sounded fairly similar: the AKG CK92 rather different, as would be expected. Matching levels between the mics involved using a 1kHz tone and pinknoise sources, which saw gain on the MixPre-3 set as follows: EarSight 20dB; Clippy 33dB; and AKG CK92 41dB. There was some fine tweaking in Reaper afterwards to match these more exactly in terms of LUFs, but that is a rough guide to the different outputs of the mics: the sensitivity of the EarSight mic was unexpectedly high.

Of course, high sensitivity means low maximum sound-pressure level (SPL), and the EarSight mic’s spec certainly shows that with its 110 dB max SPL. For much in the way of nature or ambient recording that shouldn’t be a problem (save thunderstorms, whales or an elephant’s trumpet close up!). But it does limit things for some recording activities: loud sound effects or some musical instruments (e.g. percussion or brass close up). You can certainly hear the distortion kicking in on this spot miking of some (poor, I know!) playing of a cajon (initially with the mics to the rear, then at the front): and that’s mic distortion, not overloading of the preamp input. Again, the EarSight mics is compared to the Clippy (EM172) and AKG CK92 mics: no high pass/low cut filters.

But there’s no such issue when recording an acoustic guitar close up (25cm from 12th fret). Again, apologies for lack of musicianship, but hopefully it is sufficient to make the point!

And, for light relief as much as anything, here’s a stereo recording of a melodeon played by Rob Moore, using the EarSight mics. Well, I say stereo, but it’s that classic melodeon/accordion technique of one mic either side.

Rob Moore getting to grips with a new melodeon with an additional key (more buttons!)…

Conclusions

It’s not that easy from some fairly quick and dirty samples to draw too much in the way of conclusions. For example, the AKG CK92 doesn’t sound too great on the guitar, but, from much wider experience, I’d rather tackle music recording with the CK92 than either the EarSight or the Clippy mics: it was a poor (small) room, mediocre instrument, and less than ideal placement. But what can be drawn from these tests is that the EarSight mic is sonically very close to the Primo EM172/272-based mics; in this case Micboosters Clippy, but, equally, the LOM Uši Pro and other mics with the same capsule. It doesn’t have the issue with wifi RFI that can affect the EM272 capsule, and is much more sensitive. For those recording all but the loudest nature/ambient sounds then this is a real positive, especially – as is so often the case – if recording with less than stellar preamps: with the excellent MixPre-3 this was not significant, but with a handheld recorder this would really tip things in favour of the EarSight mics (or any made with the same capsules). So it is a useful addition to the ranks of small, cottage-industry assembled mics from pre-existing capsules. Given that the Clippy P48 mics are currently £125.94 a pair and the (seemingly always sold out) LOM Uši Pro mics are €130.00 a pair, it looks as if the EarSight mics are something of a bargain.

Audio Gear

Rycote HC-22 vs Rode NTG5

December 19, 2021
Rode NTG5 (bottom) and Rycote HC-22 (top), mounted with capsules aligned.

As I said in my original review and tests of Rycote’s new shotgun mics pricewise they sit in rather unpopulated territory, above the equivalent mics made by, say Rode, and below the professional shotgun mics made by Sennheiser, Schoeps, DPA etc. Since comparisons with other mics are few and far between, this weekend I spent some time comparing the Rycote HC15 and HC-22 mics with the newest and arguably most comparable of Rode’s shotgun mics – the NTG5. With prices of £672 and £690 for the HC-15 and HC-22 vs £495 for the NTG5, there is quite a gap: more so, when discounts of Rode’s more established 2019 mic are taken into account (though, I have noticed some discounts already on the Rycote mics). So this is more a case of seeing what more do you get for the extra £200 than really expecting the Rode to match the Rycotes: though good to keep an open mind as, of course, Rode have a lot more experience at making mics.

First off, I compared the self-noise in the real world. Both the HC-15/22 and the NTG5 have low self-noise specs, at 8.5dBA and 10dBA respectively. As I pointed out in my original review, the low-self noise of the Rycote mics seems borne out in real-life (being pretty much indistinguishable from that of the LDC Rode NT2-A, with its 7dBA self-noise): measuring self-noise of the HC-15/22 and the NTG5 showed a difference of 2.5dB, which is rather more than the expected 1.5dBA from the specs. Given the previous test against the NT2-A, it seems that the Rycotes are in fact a little quieter than the specs suggest. In this vein, it is interesting to note that on Rycote’s Facebook page for 26 Sept they note the following: ‘Updated spec sheet available on our website. Please note an update we made to the self noise. Our pre-production batches were all clocking in right at 6 dB. Now that we have moved to full production the mics are clocking in at 8.5 dB. This is not unusual given that we now have larger batches of components that don’t always line up to perform the exact same. So rather than keep the self noise at 6 dB (+/- 3 dB) and claim to be “within tolerances” … we adjusted it to 8.5 dB so you know that’s what you can expect when get one of these mics.’ It seems then, that 8.5dBA is conservative and that some mics at least, such as my pair, are noticeably better. Of course, not all self-noise sounds the same, so here are the unedifying sounds of both for comparison, with the mics buried deep under duvets etc. in a quiet house with the faintest sound of a loud clock ticking:

So there is a little bit of a difference in the tone, or spectrum, of the self-noise as well as the level, but nothing hugely significant: both the Rycotes and the Rode shotgun mics are extremely good in this regard.

Next test was outside booming of dialogue – obviously the main use of such mics. With the mics mounted closely together (see top pic) in a Rode blimp, and with the boom pole held static by use of a lightstand and Boombuddy, I recorded on-axis and off-axis sound. In the samples here, you hear the on-axis sound followed by a brief silence then the sound at 90 degrees:

Some significance difference here then: the HC-22 (and I am using this one in the blog post to compare to the NTG5 as nearer to it than the HC-15) sounds much clearer to my ears both on and off-axis. As per my original review of the Rycotes, the off-axis performance of the mics seems pretty good in terms of low colouration (which, though hard to achieve with an interference tube, is what we all want).

On now to a test of the mics indoors, in tough conditions for a shotgun mic: a small living room with a very low ceiling. What isn’t apparent from the tests below is that the mics were never still, but were on a swinging boom continuously moving with the subject, about 300mm from the talent’s mouth. This was to avoid the problem with many static indoor mic shotgun tests where the mic can happen to be placed well, with no problems from comb filtering. Neither recording sounds very good, but neither sounds as bad as you might fear in such a space. Most would use a hypercardioid in such a situation.

Rycote HC-22 and Rode NTG with AKG CK94 (fig 8) in Rode blimp suspension for mid-side recordings

Then, finally, for stereo ambience recording it was back outside to hear how the HC-22 and NTG5 compare being the mid mic in a mid-side stereo pair, with the fig 8 side mic being provided by an AKG CK94. The ambience is another recording of the street in this small Norfolk village, with cars passing and, given the murky weather this weekend, dripping of water from fine rain and mist condensing on trees. Horrible! But both mics did a good job.

So, what to conclude? Well, while both mics seem fine, personally I much prefer the Rycote mics. The most telling tests were those I did of outside dialogue and the example I posted above reveals the difference more than the other tests: the Rycote mic has a much clearer, more open sound than the Rode. Given that outdoor dialogue is the primary use for such mics, that is pretty telling. Whether it is worth £200 for the improvement is, of course, up to others, but I would suggest that the Rycotes happily play in more exhalted – and expensive – company. Worth a good listen and test, or even adding to your Christmas list (if you have anything so mercenary)!

Audio Gear

A windy weekend with the Rycotes

November 8, 2021
Rycote HC-15 and HC-22 shotgun mics in Rycote Nano Shields: furry windjammers needed too in 34 mph wind.

Last weekend was blowy and autumnal here in Norfolk, so I had a bit of fun out in the wind with the Rycote shotgun mics that I have been testing, in this case with the new Rycote Nano Shield kits: the NS2-CA for the HC-15 short shotgun and the NS4-DB for the HC-22 medium shotgun. The Nano Shields are impressively light and small, even if the deliberately bendy (but resilient) structure seems a bit unfamiliar to start with.

First up, I simply stuck the mics in the garden of this quiet village, facing the road, so you can hear the sounds of wind in the trees, passing cars, and the odd actual shotgun going off. With no low-cut switches on either mic, the 80 Hz switchable low-cut filter on the XLR connector seemed useful so here is the HC-15 with no low-cut (or high-pass) filter:

And here is a recording made at the same time, but with the HC-22 and its low-cut filter switched on:

OK, there could be a difference between the two mics or the effect of the different sizes of their Nano Shields, so here’s the test reversed. First, the HC-15 with its low-cut filter switched on:

And then the HC-22 with no low-cut filter:

So the verdict: in high winds the Nano Shield 80Hz low-cut filter is effective, especially with mics such as Rycote’s own ones with no in-built filters. Evidently the new windshields and mics were considered together. There’s no sense that the wind is overloading the mic to the degree that the low-cut filter is too far down the chain to be effective. Of course, this means that you can apply a low-cut filter at the preamp stage: how good this is will depend on your preamp/recorder, but I found no discernible difference when using my Sound Devices MixPre-3 80Hz low-cut filter. This doesn’t mean that there is no value in having a low-cut filter at the Nano Shield stage since in severe wind conditions you can double up: e.g. set the MixPre-3 low-cut filter (perhaps to say 40Hz) and apply the Rycote 80Hz low-cut filter too.

While doing various tests in the garden, out of idle curiosity I also set the two shotgun mics up as a NOS pair (capsules at 30cm spacing, angled out to 90 degrees between the mics). Despite being manifestly different mics, the identical capsule and preamps mean that it works surprisingly well. If nothing else, it’s a demonstration of how well the two mics match if cutting from one to the other. Sorry about the rather theatrical footsteps stamping past at one point!

Out in the woods on a windy day with Rattlebox for some mic tests…

Off then to the woods to test the mics in wind on something different. Perhaps it’s just me, but the woods around north Norfolk in early November seem pretty dead in terms of sound apart from wind (maybe I simply lack the patience to lurk about for hours like a real wildlife sound recordist?), so for a bit of acoustic interest I persuaded Norfolk’s raucous folk band, Rattlebox, to do some unaccompanied singing (Dick Shannon’s ‘The Auld Triangle’): this was also for my tests on double mid-side recording with two forward-facing mics, for which see my separate post. Anyway, in terms of the Rycote mics, here’s a rather unfair test of the HC-15, pointing into a semicircle of singers – fine for the lead vocalist, but, as intended with a shotgun mic, rejecting much of the other singers in the choruses that were more side-on to the mic:

Combining with an AKG CK94 for a mid-side pair changes things rather, as you’d expect. The HC-15 works rather well in this manner:

Finally, returning to the stereo experiment in the garden (above), I set up the HC-15 and HC-22 as a NOS pair (as shown in the photo above – which also shows a double mid-side rig in a Rode blimp), with the following result:

Again, I’m not recommending mixing a short and a medium shotgun as a stereo pair, but it’s not bad.

So the final word on the wind tests? Well, needless to say these were much more extensive than shown in this short post, but it is clear that the Rycote mics handle themselves fine in windy conditions. The Nano Shields – which I haven’t reviewed as such – are a good match and their performance belies their small size and light weight. Finally, and rather incidentally, those slightly tongue-in-cheek NOS stereo pair tests with the two different mics confirm both that the off-axis sound is rather good, and that the two different mics match very well.

Audio Gear

Variation on double mid-side recording

November 7, 2021
AKG Blueline mics used for these tests, top to bottom: CK93 (hypercardioid), CK94 (fig 8) and CK92 (omni): initial rig.
Second setup, bringing the three mics closer together (5mm apart): physically more stable, mics further from edge of the blimp, and fewer phasing issues.

Mid-side recording is a familiar technique to most sound recordists: a coincident stereo pair that is flexible and handy (not least as it can fit in a blimp or windjammer more easily than most pairs). I’ve written previous posts about my mid-side rigs, both for LDC mics and SDC mics. Double mid-side, where the fig 8 side mic is used by two mid mics – one facing forward and one facing backwards – is less used, but still well known, mainly by those recording surround sound. But, of course, the fig 8 side mic can also be shared with two (roughly) forward-facing mid mics: say one pointing up to the mouth of a singer-songwriter and one down to their guitar. Matrix the two mid-side pairs and you have stereo for both vocal and guitar, with reasonably little spill, and – with all three mics coincident – no phasing issues. Hugh Robjohns wrote an article for Sound On Sound about this use a few years back.

But there is another use for double mid-side with the two mid mics facing forward, and one that is rarely used or described: that’s where the two mid mics are pointing the same way but have different polar patterns. Using, say, omni and hypercardioid mid mics, you can matrix either with the side mic and get omni or hypercardioid mid side or matrix both and mix and you can get all the polar patterns in between for your mid mic: say, wide cardioid or cardioid as well as the omni and hypercardioid. This flexibility in polar pattern is quite separate from the familiar aspect of mid-side recordings, where you can vary the width of the stereo image by changing the proportion of mid to side mic: with this arrangement you get both stereo width and polar pattern flexibility in post, and – if using SDC mics – all with a very compact three-channel rig. As you can see, with a few Rycote back-to-back clips you can even fit it in a fairly standard 100mm diameter blimp.

Here’s a vocal test with a group (Norfolk’s raucous folk band, Rattlebox) arranged in a semi-circle around the mics outside on a very windy day (about 20 mph wind), singing Dick Shannon’s ‘The Auld Triangle’: the test was in part to see if the mics would be OK stacked in a standard (in this case Rode) blimp in reasonable wind (the top and bottom mics were nearer to the edge of the blimp than is ideal: at this stage I hadn’t come up with the more compact triangular array). The configuration needs the fig 8 centrally, which is good as fig 8 mics are the most sensitive to wind. The three mics had their 75Hz low-cut filters engaged to counter the wind noise. I matrixed, or decoded, each mid-side pair, so in the video you hear these on their own and then mixed 50:50. In the video, I call this mix of the two pairs a ‘virtual cardioid mid mic’) as it isn’t far off mid side with a cardioid mid mic: of course, a seamless range of possibilities from omni to hypercardioid is possible.

And here’s another test, this time with a guitarist (Luke Chapman) in his workshop (by day Luke is a woodcarver), with the same matrixing/decoding options. With no wind to contend with, the three mics have no low-cut filters engaged. Of course, the smaller sound source of a guitar means the changes in mid-mic polar pattern are fairly subtle.

How best then to process the three channels of audio in post? Well there might appear to be three options: 1) mix the two mid mics first, then decode to LR stereo as per normal mid-side; 2) decode each mid-side pair then mix the resultant LR stereo files; and 3) decode one mid-side pair then mix in the additional mid mic.

A bit of maths shows the first two are identical:

Mixing the mid mics first:
M = μM1 + λM2
L= μM1 + λM2+S
R= μM1 + λM2-S

Decoding each mid-side pair then mixing:
L1=M1+S L2=M2+S
R1=M1-S R2=M2-S
L=μL1+λL2
= μ(M1+S)+ λ(M2+S)
= μM1 + λM2+S

Decoding one mid-side pair then adding the M2 mic (centrally) to the stereo pair, however, gives a different result (as, indeed, you might conclude intuitively when thinking about it):
L = μ(M1+S)+ λM2
= μM1 + λM2+μS

So avoid this third option.

[NB I’ve just done the L channels in the second and third examples, to reduce the off-putting maths…]

In my case, I’ve gone for the second option as it is difficult to determine what mix of mid mics you might want – i.e. what mid-mic virtual polar pattern – without hearing the stereo sound. I must now set up my DAW (Reaper) so that raising one stereo channel reduces the other by the same amount to make assessing the balance/mix easier.

In terms of monitoring when recording you can either just listen to the channels in mono or, with any reasonable recorder, send two of the channels (the fig 8 and, say, the hypercardioid) to be decoded in the headphone monitoring or in the LR mix (either are possible on my Sound Devices MixPre-3): in this way you get confirmation that at least one of the stereo pairs sounds as you want it. With time on your hands, you can, of course, check the other pair in LR stereo too.

UPDATE (9.11.2021). By request I’ve recorded some ambiences (just my quiet Norfolk village street from my garden) with this rig and have uploaded the iso tracks (AKG CK92 omni; AKG CK93 hypercardioid; and AKG CK94 fig 8), the two separate MS recordings (as LR stereo) and the combined MMS recording (giving something akin to cardioid MS). These recordings were made with my modified array (i.e. the mics set in a more compact triangular arrangement, each only 5mm apart from the others).

Audio Gear

Field recording with the Rycote HC-15 and HC-22 mics

October 25, 2021
Out capturing ambiences with the Rycote mics

Following on from my initial tests and review of the Rycote’s first mics – the HC-15 and HC-22 shotgun mics – this shorter post adds some tests of ambience and nature recordings with both mics individually and combined with an AKG CK94 fig 8 mic to give mid-side stereo recordings.

Kicking off at home, I recorded the sounds of what I thought was my quiet Norfolk village street at dusk: birds calling, a tractor passing etc. So I could get the different mid-side recordings at the same time, this meant putting the two Rycote mics and fig 8 together in a blimp as shown in the image below. Experience says that there will be only an imperceptible shadowing effect by the clustered configuration of the mics. The AKG CK94 has a much lower sensitivity, so I added 8dB of gain: it should perhaps have a little more (another 4dB?), but I have posted the individual wav files anyway below.

Rigging three mics for the simultaneous HC-15 and HC-22 mid-side recordings.

Here are the various village street ambiences, both the two mid-side recordings and the individual tracks. I’ve included the AKG CK94 track too, since it shows the origins of any hiss: the two Rycote mics, of course, have unusually low self-noise for shotgun (indeed any SDC) mics at 8.5 dBA (+/- 2 dB).

Looking inland at Cley beach, over the salt marshes.

Heading to the beach with just the Rycote HC-22 and the AKG CK94 in a blimp, here are some more recordings, one slightly away from the waves (with bird calls) and one close to the sea. This time I’ve included the mid-side recordings and the HC-22 tracks on their own. And this time the CK94 fig 8 mic has its gain up 12dB from the Rycote mic, to fully compensate for its lower sensitivity. Watch out for listening levels, especially for the waves – much louder than the village street ambiences above.

Recording the static bells in the massive early 12th-century belfry at Norwich Cathedral.

For something very different, I headed off to Norwich and up the tight spiral stairs into the belfry at the cathedral. The bells have been hung for static chiming since the 19th century, but the five bells (four from the late 15th century, one from 1635) still mark the hours and the quarters. And, needless to say, they are very loud within the belfry. In the recordings – again mid-side (this time with the HC-15 and the AKG CK94, and, for comparison, the hypercardioid AKG CK93 with the AKG CK94) – you can hear the wind whistling through the louvres, the clock setting the chimes in motion, and the automatic clappers chiming the bells.

Obviously using a shotgun mic as part of a mid-side pair for stereo ambiences is a slightly odd choice, and not one I would make normally, but there is a relevance to such tests as location sound recordists do use this combination when they want stereo coverage in addition to the focus of their interest with the mono shotgun. A more typical use of the shotgun mic for nature and sound effects recording, of course, is for focusing tightly on point sources for mono recordings, and with the low noise and good off-axis sound, there is little doubt that the HC-15 and, for a tighter focus, the HC-22 are excellent choices.