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Rycote HC-15

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Rycote HC-22 vs Rode NTG5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio Gear

A windy weekend with the Rycotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio Gear

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

October 25, 2021
Out capturing ambiences with the Rycote mics

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

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

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

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

Looking inland at Cley beach, over the salt marshes.

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

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

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

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