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Rycote HC-15

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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

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.