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Archive for desember, 2019

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Recording the silence of nature is a difficult challenge. Nevertheless. it’s worth it because it can be so rich of interesting microscopic sounds. Finding this silence is not easy and finding an acceptable microphone is yet another challenge.
Sennheiser MKH20 has been for many years a very popular omni mic for nature recordings. It has a very low self noise and is a natural sounding mic. It is a mic which can always make a perfect recording, for every task on the field.
Later Sennheiser made MKH8020, a smaller version with similar character but with frequency range up to 50Khz which is perfect for FX.
I have searched for other omni mics, but never found any that were comparable.
But now Nevaton seems to have made something interesting with its new MC59. In this case MC59O, which is a omni microphone. I have still not had a long experience with this mic so I should not give my opinion about it. But anyway this mic seems to be outstanding in many ways. It has the lowest noise floor I have ever seen in spectrogram and it is going to be at last one of my favorite mic for music recording.
So lets talk about how I compare these three mics.
I went to the country side to aware traffic and got as much silence as possible. I have access of around 50 m² garage, which is an ideal size and a perfect place for microphone comparison, if I get a calm weather and low traffic in the county. To have the „sound source “ of silence to focus on. I used two small ticking alarm clocks in around two meter distance, each side from the mic rig. Also a pocket radio within three meters in front of the rig at as low volume as possible (see picture). All of those items give an incredibly low sound, it was necessary to stop breathing to hear something. The sound sources gave a perfect insight how clearly the microphone could detect the weakest soundwaves in the silence. If you can hear this low sound reflecting between the walls inside this 50m² garage, the microphone is even better for nature sounds recording.
Sadly there is a lot of background noise in the audio pieces because of extreme traffic in the county this November day when I made this comparison. Most cars on their studded winter tires, which made an endless noise pollution in dozens of kilometers all over the county.
I placed the microphones in the middle of the garage (see picture) and used a Sonosax SX R4+ recorder & SX-AD8+ additional mixer.
All mic pairs were on their own Tbar (see picture).  MKH8020 on Ch.1&2, MC59O on Ch.3&4 and MKH20 through the mixer on Ch.5&6. All gain was at 50dB and LPF filters, 24bit / 48Khz.
I think the AD8+ mixer had the same preamps as the recorder. But because it is not in the „same case“ as the recorder, I think you should keep that in mind as it can probably affect the results of MKH20 in its comparison.

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First three audio samples are straight from the recorder so it sounds in very low level. *

MKH20   Spek spectrogram & Frequency

MKH8020   Spek spectrogram & Frequency

MC59O   Spek spectrogram & Frequency

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Same audio samples again but with +19dB added gain to the original recording, combined 69dB of gain. *

MKH20   RX6 spectrogram & RX6 WAV  & Frequency

MKH8020   RX6 spectrogram & RX6 WAV  &  Frequency

MC59O   RX6 spectrogramRX6 WAV  &  Frequency

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Audio samples goes through 100Hz HPF and normalized up to -5dB which increased the gain between 27- 30dB, or combined 97 – 100db *

MKH20   RX6 spectrogram

MKH8020   RX6 spectrogram

MC59O    RX6 spectrogram

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The comparison
Looking on the spectrograms, it shows that Nevaton has a notably lower noise floor. All of them have a similar noise below 10Khz but on MKH20 & 8020 it starts to increase between 12Khz -15Khz.
The MKH8020 has slightly higher overall noise compared to the MKH20 and MC59O seem to have the same low level of noise through the whole frequency range. Something I have not seen before .
MC59O shows a nice clarity above 10Khz. The weak clicking sounds from the alarm clock in the MC59O spectrogram is clearly visible up to 18KHz, but it almost disappeared behind the self noise above 10KHz in both MKH20 & 8020.
But listening to the audio samples of MKH8020 and MKH20 they seem to have higher a mid-range between 2KHz to 8KHz. It means that Sennheiser can be a better choice for most common nature recordings because most of the natural soundscape is actually below 8Khz (at least in Iceland). That leads to the thought that  MC59O can be a very good mic for live music recordings, because of a less „aggressive“ midrange can mean a warmer sound. I have already used the MC59O once over an orchestra with a very nice result.
MC59O seems to be very sensitive for air pressure. Those moments when a light gust of wind hit the garage, the dBfs meter jumps much higher on the MC59O channels than on the MKH channels. Most of the strongest subsonic waves seem to be below 5Hz (see picture). If this is really an air pressure, not a mic failure, I can see lot of challenging and interesting recording projects for this mic in the future.
But this MC59O pair seem to have a downside. They are badly matched, even though I ordered a matched pair. It is clearly audible, when I record constant wide frequency background sound the balance is not the same as on the MKH20 & 8020. So as it is, I am not sure I can use this pair for nature recordings. In this test one of the capsules seem to have sharp 30dB drop at 85Hz and another 25dB drop at 145Hz (see picture). It is a lot in such a sensitive and important frequency. But the problem can be as well something else so I need to make more tests and comparisons as soon as I can. I will post the result here when it is done.
Nevertheless I have used the pair over an orchestra in combination with MC59C (cardioid) which gives a wonderful result.

Conclution
All of the three mics are pretty equal in quality so it is almost impossible to choose which one is the best.
I will always love the old MKH20 workhorse. It has never failed on the field, does not matter what kind of foul weather it has to go through. It has proof it can withstand high humidity anywhere on this planet. I have even lost the pair in glacier lagoon, highly polluted with sulfur without any measurable damage.
Those two MKH20’s in the test were not a matched pair, as Sennheiser does not offer these mics as a matched pair. Anyway they sounded like they were matched.
After a very bad experience with my first MKH8020’s when they made a high noise under the cold environment at -5°C, I am now going to trust them more and more each year. It seem like Sennheiser have fixed the problem. This MKH8020’s are nicely matched as they are intended to.
The surprise in this comparison is the Nevaton MC59O. I finally found a omni mic which has lower noise floor than MKH20, without loosing the finest details, plus with extra sound clarity above 10Khz.

See the whole picture gallery
* All audio samples above are mp3 at 256kbps 44kHz.
Original recording at 24bit/48Khz

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