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Rycote’s new mics, part 2: omni

December 1, 2022

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

A bit of music

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

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

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

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

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

Field recording

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

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

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

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

Rycote spaced pair omni and Rycote NOS cardioid mics.

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

Final thoughts

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

Audio Gear

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

October 29, 2022

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

The approach

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

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

The physical side of things

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

RFI

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

Handling noise

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

Wind noise

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

Self noise

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

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

Dialogue

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

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

Recording guitar and vocals test

Music recording

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

Audio Gear

Windshield tests

October 6, 2022

Decent wind protection is essential outdoors (and sometimes indoors), but quite what to use for different conditions isn’t always clear. Is a massive full blimp overkill for more benign conditions and, as well as size and weight, is it having an effect on the mic’s frequency response? Are simpler windshields, such as foams and softies, better in lower wind? Is one full blimp better than another in high wind? Is a cheap Rode blimp terrible compared to an expensive Rycote Cyclone? When choosing windshields I often grab what I think will be best for the conditions and use, but this involves a combination of experience together with some untested assumptions. Having acquired quite a few windshields along the way, it is high time I tested those assumptions. My collection of windshields doesn’t cover all brands, but it covers several types and, therefore, these (admittedly unscientific!) tests may have value beyond personal musing: I hope so.

LOW/MEDIUM WIND

For the first set of tests, I took a pair of Rycote HC-22 shotgun mics into the garden on a day with light wind, up to around 8 mph (13 kmh), with the some stronger gusting: by no means what I would describe as a calm day, but not what anyone would say was a blusterous day. I used shotgun mics throughout all the tests as these are geared to the outside for film and TV sound, and even have some use in other types of field recording. Obviously other polar patterns – most noticeably omni mics – have a much lower sensitivity to wind noise. Since I’ve used shotgun mics that means I haven’t included some of the windshields I own that don’t fit these mics, such as the Rycote Baby Ball Gags or the Rode WS8.

For the low wind tests I recorded tests in pairs, working my way up from a bare mic to the most sophisticated windshield that I have (a Rycote Cyclone). The sounds recorded are the garden ambience, plus a bit of key jangling to get those high frequencies: I’m not certain I always got the keys equidistant from the mics, so don’t be misled by any volume differences arising. In all the tests there was no low-cut/high-pass filtering and the HC-22 mic has a better bass response than many a (dialogue-focused) shotgun mic, so all these tests emphasize the effect of wind: the WAV files will allow you to play around with EQ to try to remove the low-frequency wind in a DAW should you wish. Anyway, here are the first batch of tests:

Test 1: bare mic vs foam

The results are entirely as expected: massive (unusable) wind rumble with the bare mic and, while the foam improves things in the second test, it hardly represents a solution in such light winds. I wouldn’t use any mic outside with just a foam windshield.

Test 2: foam vs Classic Softie

Again, as expected, there is a significant difference between the foam and the Rycote Classic-Softie Kit (18cm), with such softie windshields evidently designed for outdoor use. There is significant wind noise with the softie, however, despite the light wind: a high-pass filter in post at 100Hz removes most of it. I guess softies are a viable solution if a) you are in light winds; b) are recording sources where heavy EQ of the bass doesn’t matter; and c) where size is critical (e.g. ENG work). Cost might come into play too (this softie, without the grip, costs around £80, and cheaper alternatives can be had), though it is highly questionable as to whether anyone recording outside with any degree of seriousness wouldn’t have a full blimp: and, of course, softie-styled windshields will only cover similar mics in your collection (e.g. in this case, medium-sized shotgun mics).

Test 3: Classic Softie vs Rode Blimp without fur

With the first full blimp in the tests – the Rode Blimp mk1 here used without its fur/dead wombat – there is a distinct reduction in wind noise and certainly no loss of high frequencies compared to the Rycote Classic Softie.

Test 4: Classic Softie vs Rode Blimp with fur

And now with its fur on, the Rode Blimp is, effectively, the first recording without wind noise. Looking at it in Reaper there is some essentially inaudible low-frequency rumble (e.g. starting at 17 seconds into the clip), that is easily removed with a high-pass filter; the rumble is very audible on the softie windshield and not fully removed by the same high-pass filtering (100 Hz, 2 octave). Which is reassuring: for the level of wind, degree of exposure, and mic pattern, a Rode Blimp with fur on is the minimum wind protection I would have used for such a recording. Perhaps experience has some value!

Test 5: Rode Blimp with fur vs Rycote Nano Shield with fur

With two blimps with fur unsurprisingly in this wind level there is no discernible rumble: this tests serves to show that the smaller Rycote Nano Shield NS4-DB is effective, and that there is no discernible difference (at least to my ears!) in the high frequency performance/acoustic transparency. The elliptical shape of the Nano Shield may have some benefits in some situations, but it’s not evident in this field test.

Test 6: Rycote Nano Shield without fur vs Rycote Cyclone without fur

Rycote makes quite a bit of the 3D-Tex material covering their Cyclone windshields, saying it ‘provides enormous benefits in terms of surface turbulence and acoustic impedance, resulting in wind-noise reduction comparable to the combined modular-style windshield/fur cover performance’, so I thought it worth testing the medium Cyclone without its fur, and, by comparison, the Rycote Nano Shield NS4-DB without its fur too (and just the basic grey sock). Both struggled with the relatively modest wind (OK a little breezier than in the previous test a few minutes earlier) and while the Cyclone fared rather better, wind rumble is pretty evident. That windier section from 25 seconds onward isn’t easily removed by modest high-pass filtering (100 Hz, 2 octave) even on the Cyclone: in these far from extreme conditions I would’t use either without its fur.

Test 7: Rycote Nano Shield with fur vs Rycote Cyclone with fur

Putting the fur on both the Rycote Nano Shield NS4-DB and the Rycote Cyclone medium removes the wind noise entirely, as expected. I can’t hear any difference in the high frequency performance/acoustic transparency between the two in this test, or, indeed, listening back to the previous test. I would expect that more scientific testing would reveal some attenuation of high frequencies with any fur added to a windshield, but it is a small price to pay vs wind rumble. Again, in anything but the very lightest of breezes, I would add the fur to a blimp, and these field tests have confirmed that as a reasonable modus operandi.

HIGH WIND

Moving on from the tests in more benign conditions, this part of the post focuses on tests in high wind. Accordingly I have ruled out the smaller and cheaper solutions: I know from experience that a Classic Softie won’t cut out the wind rumble and that even a full blimp with fur will need a low-cut filter somewhere along the chain to get an acceptable sound. So this test is simply between three full blimps I own and, given that the wind was gusting strongly, each was fitted with its fur.

The three windshields are:

Rode Blimp mk1: no longer in production this has the same basket and fur as the updated mk2 version that is in current production, although the latter is lighter and has lyre suspensions. This is an improvement for use with a single mic, especially if booming, but I prefer the mk1 version for its more adaptable suspension: I can fit two or even three SDC mics in it, still centralized and well away from the basket (it is 100mm diameter), for mid-side and double mid-side recording. The current version of the blimp sells for a street price of around £200.

Inside the Rode Blimp mk1, showing how it can be easily adapted for a mid-side mic pair. For the windshield test it was reverted to its normal mono mic suspension.

Rycote Nano Shield: this is the newest of Rycote’s long line of windshields, and is distinguished by its small size, light weight, tool-free adjustment, eliptical profile (internally the basket is about 105mm wide and 85mm high) and inbuilt (external) low-cut filter. It has other attributes, such as being flexible, that have less obvious benefits to me. I have two of the Nano Shields: a diminutive NS2-CA for short shotgun and hypercardioid mics, and the larger NS4-DB for medium shotgun mics. I have used the larger NS4-DB for these tests, given that I used the Rycote HC-22 shotgun mic. The NS4-DB has a street price of around £600.

Inside the Rycote Nano Shield NS4-DB: rear part of basket removed. The low-cut filter (not used in the tests, though these were the conditions where you might well use it normally), can be seen in the foreground.

Rycote Cyclone: this is the most expensive of Rycote’s windshields and, with its size and design, this very much suggests it is their most capable model. It comes in three basket sizes, and with a mono and a range of stereo and double mid-side internal mounts. My version is the mono medium Cyclone. The street price (including the separately sold fur) for this is around £720.

Inside the Rycote Cyclone Medium, showing the mono suspension fitted with the HC-22 shotgun mic used in the tests.

The high wind tests

The tests were pretty simple: the three windshields were mounted on a bar on a stand and faced straight into the wind, which was gusting to around 45mph (72kmh). Recordings of the Rycote shotgun mics (each at 26dB gain) were made simultaneously into a Sound Devices Mixpre-3, with no low-cut filter applied. I only have two Rycote HC-22 mics, so for these three-way high wind tests the third mic was a Rycote HC-15 (used in the Rode Blimp): I don’t think this invalidates the tests as it is such a close match to the HC-22, as demonstrated in my other tests/posts. The two Rycote windshields, however, did use matching HC-22 mics. The location was a garden in a quiet Norfolk village, so the wind can be heard hitting trees and hedges, as well as the mics themselves. I read a short piece of text to give some dialogue too (sorry: I am no voice actor!), and then afterwards in Reaper just spliced a few bits of the recordings together (to capture the reading and some wind gusting) and trimmed the length: no other processing (again, no low-cut/high-pass filter applied). Here are the three recordings:

Rode Blimp:

Rycote Nano Shield:

Rycote Cyclone:

All three WAV files here will allow readers to listen and play around with them themselves and draw their own conclusions. In terms of coping with high wind, there isn’t a vast difference: without a low-cut/high-pass filter and no attempt to seek a more sheltered spot all three are affected by the strong gusts as, indeed, I would have expected. The Rode does have a little more noise, again as I would have expected: this is evident by listening and by analysis, which shows its peak at-12.5dB vs -15.1dB for the Nano Shield and -16.6.dB for the Cyclone. Applying a high-pass filter in Reaper shows up the distinction a bit more, as it is much easier to cut out most of the low frequency wind energy with the Cyclone than with the other two windshields.

So where does this leave me? All three full windshields are effective, with the performance differences between them, while noticeable, much smaller than between them and the next tier down of windshields (i.e. softie types). The Cyclone is clearly the best in terms of pure wind noise reduction, so I’ll continue to use that where practical. If booming for dialogue (and that isn’t very likely in such high wind) or if travelling minimally, however, I’ll continue to use the lightweight and compact Nano Shield (and very possibly my still smaller NS2-CA for short shotgun and hypercardioid mics) instead. But if wanting mid-side or double mid-side flexibility, I won’t be worried about using my wonderfully adaptable old Rode Blimp. So no real change to what I do anyway!

Audio Gear

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)!