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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.

Audio Gear

A fig 8 mic from Rycote

April 17, 2023
A new addition to the Rycote family of SDC mics: the fig 8 BD-10 (right), together with some of its siblings.

Introduction

For anyone who has been following the foray of long-established and respected maker of mic windshields and suspensions, Rycote, into manufacture of mics themselves, the announcement of the BD-10 fig 8 at NAB 2023 is an exciting development. With two shotgun mics produced in 2021 and then, in 2022, omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics, a fig 8 mic was undoubtedly the most hoped-for mic to give a reasonably complete range. You might wish for a wide cardioid too (or variations on the existing polar patterns – a free-field omni mic, for example), but there is no doubt that a fig 8 mic is vital to Rycote’s range of mics for several reasons: first, Rycote’s established customer base is founded on field recording and, especially, those recording sound for film/television, where mid-side recording – and a fig 8 mic – is a key tool; and, second, the company needs a full range if it is to tempt users away from more established manufacturers. That there are few such complete ranges, with a fig 8 mic in the sub-£1000*mic category adds to the significance of the BD-10: with the recent demise of AKG’s competent Blueline mics (launched 30 years ago), I can’t think of another manufacturer producing mid-priced SDC mics with a fig 8 in the line-up other than boutique Taiwanese mic-maker B9Audio (with almost no reviews and mics only available direct from a private address in Taipei, B9Audio is not viable for most) and, possibly, respected German manufacturer MBHO (I say possibly, since the MBHO website has long since failed to list the KA 800 fig 8 capsule, pricing is uncertain, and, again, distribution is not similar to most mainstream mic manufacturers: for example, I can’t find any MBHO mics in stock in the UK). And one-off SDC fig 8 mics (i.e. not forming part of a range of polar patterns) in this category are rare too. Perhaps more surprisingly, not all mic manufacturers producing SDCs in higher price brackets have succeeded in producing a fig 8: most obviously, Sennheiser has never managed to bring a much-anticipated MKH8000 series fig 8 to market (although the excellent, albeit large for an SDC mic, MKH30 has remained in production since launched in 1987), and DPA similarly has no SDC fig 8 offering.

*NB: though Rycote has yet to announce pricing, it will almost certainly be in this category, but perhaps a little pricier than its £670 SDC siblings. UPDATE 1 Feb 2024: the BD-10 is now being listed in several respected stores here in the UK, most with a price of £638 (inc. VAT), and nothing higher than this. I’ve even noticed some MS kit deals – BD-10, super-cardioid SC-08 and Cyclone windshield for £1500 (inc. VAT). So, it looks very much to be good news on the pricing.

A mid-side pair of the BD-10 and the cardioid Rycote CA-08.

The Rycote BD-10, on paper, then looks like it will be a welcome addition to the market, when it becomes available (probably not until the autumn). Its self-noise is comparable to that of the Schoeps MK8. It is a little (22mm) longer and heavier (15g) than Rycote’s omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics, but not radically so. This reflects the capsule design, which, I understand, is a pairing of 11mm diameter diaphragms one above the other with a waveguide to blend them: the polar pattern graph shows a very symmetrical result from this arrangement, but, of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, what is the mic like in reality? On to some field tests and trials.

NB The mic tested was a prototype, and the final specs of the BD-10 in production may differ slightly.

A tantalizing glimpse into the BD-10: hard to work out the capsule design without disassembly!

RFI

As with all mics, I was interested in the impact of radio frequency interference (RFI) on the BD-10. 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 mic showed no sign of RFI even at close distances (100mm): the other Rycote mics are similarly resistant to RFI.

Self-noise and sensitivity

With an 18dBA self-noise figure the BD-10 has significantly more self-noise than its stablemates, which are the HC-15 and HC-22 shotguns at 8.5dBA; the omni OM-08 at 11dBA; the supercardioid SC-08 at 12dBA; and the cardioid CA-08 at 13dBA. The previously released Rycote mics, however, have unusually low self-noise, and higher self-noise for SDC fig 8 mics is normal. For example, at 17dBA the Schoeps MK8 has a very similar self-noise figure to the Rycote fig 8, and, again, 7dBA more than its MK 2 omni capsule counterpart (10dBA). In short, the BD-10 is in good company and 18dBA self-noise for a fig 8 is respectable.

A check on the reality of the 18dBA figure – by recording the sound of nothing (the mic 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.

Testing this in the real world, I rigged the BD-10 as an MS pair with a cardioid CA-08, and a second SDC fig 8 in the form of the AKG CK94: the latter, although just discontinued, is a rare example of another sub-£1000 SDC fig 8 mic with a full frequency range.

First off, recording the ambient sound of my nominally quiet Norfolk village street (yet again!) even in the quieter parts there is no evident difference between the two Rycote mics, but hiss from the AKG CK94 is clearly discernible, which reflects its 22dBA self-noise spec.

Turning to a quieter environment, it was useful to test the BD-10 indoors, in this case with some sound effects/indoor ambience: the mic was set up as a mid-side pair with the cardioid CA-08 in the middle of the kitchen, with various household noises – and some silence – recorded. The AKG CK94 was also paired with the CA-08 for comparison. Here are the two MS tracks and then the three iso tracks for the cardioid mic and the two fig 8 mics:

During the sounds such as cutlery being placed in a drawer the two fig 8 mics are both very usable, but in the quiet passages, such as near the end, the hiss of the AKG CK94 is, again, fairly evident.

The specs state the BD-10’s sensitivity as 14.2mV/Pa (-36.95 dBV). This means that the BD-10 is the least sensitive of the Rycote mics (the next being the cardioid at 24.3 mV/Pa or -32.3 dBV)​, but its output is still healthy. For example, it is more sensitive than the Schoeps MK8 (12 mV/Pa or -38.5 dBV) and the AKG CK94 (10mV/Pa or -40 dBV). A consequence of this is that the BD-10 has a couple more dB max SPL than its stablemates, but the more practical reason for being aware of its sensitivity is for level matching against different mics when using the BD-10 in an MS pair (matching sensitivity in the recorder in such use giving an easier starting point for monitoring and in post).

Frequency response and ‘sonic signature’

Fig 8 mics generally have a poorer bass response, although some, such as the Sennheiser MKH30 are exceptions: in this case pretty much flat down to 40Hz. The main competitor pricewise to the BD-10, the Ambient Emesser ATE 308, has a marked bass roll-off from 100Hz (if not higher), which is fine if matching for MS to a shotgun mic that has a similar roll-off, but is not ideal for other use. More surprisingly the much-loved Schoeps MK8 has a steady fall off starting from above 200Hz, and, according to its frequency response graph, is down 8dB by 50Hz: at the high end there is a sudden fall-off from 16kHz, so that the response is down by 20dB at 20kHz. The more modestly priced AKG CK94 has a less curtailed frequency response than most of these examples (bar the MKH30) being down about 3.5dB at 50Hz and a similar amount at 15kHz (with no published data beyond). On paper, the Rycote BD-10 looks hopeful: the frequency response graph shows a very gradual roll-off from 200Hz so that it is only -1dB at 100Hz, -2.5dB at 50Hz, and -4dB at 20Hz. If the graphs are correct, then this suggests, a little surprisingly, that the BD-10 has a better bass response than the cardioid CA-08 and supercardioid CS-08. At the upper end, after a little rise around 12kHz, the BD-10 is down about 5dB at 20kHz.

So much for the theory: now to reality! First, a different take on the ambient recording, in this case with the two fig 8 mics (i.e. Rycote BD-10 and AKG CK94) oriented so that in each case one of their lobes faced the rear of a parked car and, in a separate blimp, the SC-08 cardioid likewise facing the car, which was then started. The resulting mono tracks show all three mics capable of rendering the lowest fundamental (at the lowest engine idling speed around 24Hz), with the BD-10 showing more low frequency response than the AKG CK94, but slightly less than the cardioid CA-08: this isn’t a surprise in terms of an expectation of a fig 8 mic versus a cardioid, although it is not what would be anticipated from the frequency response graphs. Graphs aside, though, it is clear that the BD-10 has a good bass response for a fig 8 mic, which suggests good capability for, say, music recording or effects and field recording with a bass component.

At the upper end, it was interesting to see if the BD-10 had any of the extended high-frequency response found in testing of the other Rycote SDC mics. As with the comparison of the Rycote OM-08 and Sennheiser MKH8020 omni mics for extended high frequency response, I recorded a street ambience at 96kHz instead of 48kHz, in this case including the OM-08 and the AKG CK94 alongside the BD-10 for comparison, with levels adjusted to reflect the different sensitivities. As with the omni mics comparison, again the spectrograms are revealing: they show the extended high-frequency response of the omni OM-08, as now expected, with, for example, the gate latch-shutting sound (that tall spike near the right-hand side of the spectrograms) reaching about 48kHz, and the wider spike of the passing tractor (towards the left-hand side of the spectrograms) reaching around 35kHz, and, as would be expected, with much more low-frequency content. The BD-10 shows both clearly, showing that the different capsule design for the fig 8 mic still has a very respectable extended high-frequency response to near 48kHz: moreover, the BD-10 is like the OM-08 in that it is consistently low in terms of self-noise up to the top of the graph (around -136dB at 48kHz) in stark contrast to the previous comparison of the OM-08 and Sennheiser MKH 8020 (where the Sennheiser had considerable self-noise in the extended high frequency range, although not, of course, in the human audible range). The AKG CK94 has a rather lower extended high frequency response, although rather better than anticipated from previous tests on the other Blueline capsules, and has a little more self-noise at such frequencies (as, of course, it does in the audible range). As discussed previously, 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). If so minded, there is no doubt that the Rycote fig 8 is a respectable performer over 20kHz, comparable to the other Rycote SDC mics, and with much lower self-noise a useful benefit of the not quite as far extended high-frequency range as found in the Sennheiser MKH 8000 series mics.

Spectrogram of the ambience street recording showing frequencies up to 48kHz: Rycote OM-08 left; Rycote BD-10 centre; and AKG CK94 right.

Putting this good low and high-frequency response to practical use, I tested the BD-10 on a guitar to cover a wider frequency range. At the same time, given that the previously produced Rycote mics are described by the manufacturer as having ‘a tonal and sonic signature that makes them cut together seamlessly’ and that this relates to frequency response, I also included the omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics in this test, placing mics at the relevant increasing distances to allow for their different polar patterns to reduce the impact of different reflections: the omni mic was placed at 400mm, the cardioid and fig 8 at 680mm (distance factor of 1.7) and the supercardioid at 760mm (distance factor of 1.9). To make comparison most straightforward the wav file has a single strum from each mic in turn (omni, cardioid, fig 8 and supercardioid in turn), followed by a short space and repeated another three times. This was carried out in a normally furnished living room, with a low ceiling.

Setting up the mics at relevant distance factors for comparison with guitar

It is hard to draw definitive conclusions from this simple test. Matching levels was extraordinarily difficult given the different frequency content and different reflections resulting from the different polar patterns, distances and frequency responses: in the end I settled for calculating the impact of the differences of distance and sensitivity. There is, as would be expected, a slight change in the sound as the polar patterns and distances change, and, despite being at the same distance, there is a difference between the fig 8 and the cardioid mic: to a significant degree this is the impact of the greater bass response of the cardioid. Interestingly, the fig 8 and the supercardioid have a very similar sound, doubtless reflecting the reduced bass response of the latter (and, of course, its greater distance: less proximity effect). In short, though, the ‘sonic signature’ for the mics is close enough that I wouldn’t hesitate in using the BD-10 with any of the other mics in a mid-side or double mid-side array.

Handling noise

The BD-10 will have a wide range of applications, but this is likely to include use on a boompole in a MS or DMS rig, so handling noise performance is relevant: all other things being equal, fig 8 mics are the most susceptible to handling noise. Testing for handling noise transmitted via a boompole involved some deliberately clumsy booming, aiming for transmission of vibration to the mics. Three mics were included in the test (i.e. rigged together on a Rycote Invision suspension with back-to-back clips) to allow comparison: the Rycote BD-10, the Rycote SC-08 (supercardioid) and the AKG CK94 (fig 8). Gain levels were adjusted for relative sensitivities.

When holding the boompole still only the BD-10 showed any significant handling noise, which peaked at -38dB, with LUFs at -68.7dB. Evidently this was trembling/vibration from the boom operator’s muscles holding a steady stance, and was all low-frequency energy below c.35Hz: a high-pass filter – a pretty essential adjunct to booming – removes such energy. In the second recording of boompole handling an 80Hz high-pass filter was applied and the low-frequency content in the BD-10 recording is absent: in this case, however, some medium clumsy handling transmits more to the mic than to either the SC-08 or the CK94, which perform very similarly (about 10dB lower noise in terms of LUFs compared to the BD-10). In the third boompole handling test, with extreme rough handling – rather implausibly so! – the difference between the BD-10 and the other two mics remains similar at around 10dB. While previous tests against the AKG CK93 and Oktava MK012 hypercardioids revealed the SC-08’s ability to cope with handling noise rather better, it is clear that the BD-10 doesn’t perform as well as its stablemate or, indeed, the AKG CK94 fig 8, but, other than that sub-c.35Hz transmission – which can be easily cut off by use of a high-pass filter at 40Hz or above – it should offer no problem to the user given a suitable suspension and experienced boom operation (not forgetting that capture of stereo ambiences on a boompole is usually for incidental B-roll, camera perspective stereo etc., not whilst executing complex and rapid boompole 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 BD-10’s performance. To get a base line, a triple rig of BD-10, SC-08 and AKG CK94 was used again, this time, however, 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, 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 SC-08 and BD-10 performed very similarly, while the AKG CK94 performed rather better (about 13dB better in terms of peak and LUFs). 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. Again, the two Rycote mics produced similar levels of wind noise, with the AKG CK94 maintaining an advantage of around 13-15dB. Applying an 80Hz high-pass filter on the recorder in the third test evened things up rather, with wind noise much reduced and with the AKG CK94 having around a (reduced) 5dB advantage over the two Rycote mics. As was noted in the previous SC-08 wind tests against the AKG CK93 and Oktava MK012, it performed between these two mics in terms of noise and, in extensive use since, has not proved problematic. That the BD-10 performs similarly, despite its fig 8 pattern, is reassuring: of course, better wind (and handling) performance at the level of the CK94 would be welcome, but there is no reason to think that the BD-10 isn’t suited to use in wind given, as with any mic, suitable wind protection for the use and conditions.

A dead cat and two live dogs: testing in a very brisk wind on the Norfolk coast

Following up on this and placing the mic in high wind for an ambient recording confirmed this. I took a mid-side rig with the SC-08 and BD-10 mics in a medium Cyclone windshield up to the north-facing Norfolk coast on a windy day (about 20 mph or more), recording in one location on the inland side of the shingle spit, facing westwards into the wind (including some walking nearby on the shingle), and in a second location on the beach (the wind coming from slightly rear of the left-hand side of the Cyclone). Finally, back in the garden with the same rig and with the wind still blowing (but inevitably not as hard as at the coast), I then did a further recording. For the recordings, I include the individual SC-08 and BD-10 isos, along with the decoded MS and then the latter with an 80Hz high-pass/low-cut filter applied.

It is always hard to translate and communicate conditions let alone those in high wind. In none of these cases would I have attempted a nature/ambience recording as set-up for these tests: I would have sought some shelter from the direct blast of the wind (e.g. in the lee of the pillbox on the beach, or in the lee of the garden wall), not least to reduce vibration of the mic stand. But what the tests do confirm is that the BD-10 is in the same ballpark in terms of wind noise as, say, its supercardioid counterpart. In short, I’d have no hesitation using the Rycote fig 8 for outdoor field recording.

A bit of music

I recently wrote a blog post about a simple video of a singer-songwriter (Lucy Grubb), for a competition entry, and, though I mentioned use of a variation of double mid-side recording, I skipped over just what fig 8 mic I was using. As it is no longer under wraps, it is good to be able to clarify that I used the new BD-10 alongside its supercardioid (SC-08) and cardioid (CA-08) stablemates. Using the three mics, the fig 8 was set conventionally pointed at Lucy, just above the top of her guitar, so that its lobes faced left and right; immediately below this the supercardioid pointed upwards to capture the vocals, and immediately above the fig 8 the cardioid pointed downwards to the guitar – aimed around the 12th fret. 

Conclusions

When Rycote followed up on its initial two shotgun mics of 2021 with its omni, cardioid and supercardioid mics the following year, this gave real hope that a fig 8 might follow. Evidently, the capsule design is very different to that used in the other mics, so all the more credit should go to Rycote for persisting. As I said at the outset, a fig 8 is critical to the use of so many recordists that use Rycote’s windshields and shockmounts; and it is important if Rycote wants to be seen as a real contender as a mic manufacturer. That Rycote has come up with a fig 8, and fairly quickly, is good news: that it performs so competently means that it is a great counterpart to the rest of the range. Over a couple of months (intermittently) testing the mic, I have been impressed: I will, however, continue to work with it, not least putting it through its paces on more musical sources, and more field recording. Hopefully, it won’t be long before Rycote clarify availability and pricing. [SEE UPDATE OF 1 FEB 2024 ON THIS AT THE TOP OF THIS POST]