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When using a cardioid microphone in nature recordings Rode NT1a has been my favorite for a years. With its ultra low noise and sound clarity exactly on the bird song frequency ranges. But it also has a several bad futures. It is mainly made for studio recordings, so it is bulgy, heavy and sensitive for humidity. It has also a rather „flat sound“ and worst of all it is very sensitive for handling noise, so it is sensitive for wind noise and other vibrations, mainly through the microphone stand. All of these flaws has given me a good reason to use more often omni mics and AB setup rather other arrangement with cardioid mics
Searching for the perfect cardioid microphone for nature recordings can be difficult. They usually have higher self noise than omni or/and many large capsule microphones. But some of them have low handling noise and some work better in humid environment than other.
Here is a comparison of three cardioid condenser microphones which give an insight on how they detect the finest details in silence which is often very important issue in nature recordings, especially natural silence.
Sennheiser MKH40 has been well known for a many years as one of the best microphone available for field recording. But since Sennheiser offers the smaller brother MKH8040 at affordable prices, then that microphone has been its successor, especially because of its high frequency ranges up to 50Khz.
It is nearly two years since the Russian company Nevaton introduce their new compact microphone MC59 with two capsules omni (O) and cardioid (C).  It is made with similar modular system as Sennheiser MKH8000 series with an independent amplifier and capsule. One type with integrated 3-pin XLR connector and a smaller version “S” with a break-out cable.
As my previous comparisons this was made in the countryside in a 50 m² garage, in as much silence as possible. Gain on all channels was at 50dB and HPF off.  To focus on a sound source in this silence, I used a pocket radio and two ticking alarm clocks.  (See picture)

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First three audio samples are straight from the recorder so it sounds in very low level. *
MKH40   RX6 spectrogram   RX6 WAV

MKH8040  RX6 spectrogram  RX6 WAV

MC59C  RX6 spectrogram    RX6 WAV

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Same audio samples again but with +20dB added gain to the original recording, combined 70dB of gain. *
MKH40  RX6 Specrogram    Spek spectrogram

MKH8040  RX6 Specrogram    Spek spectrogram

MC59C  RX6 Specrogram    Spek spectrogram

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Audio samples goes through 100Hz HPF and normalized up to 0dB which increased the gain between 18 to 20dB, or combined 90db *

MKH40  RX6 Specrogram

MKH8040  RX6 Specrogram

MC59C  RX6 Specrogram

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Audio samples in more silence with +30dB added gain to the original recording, combined 80dB of gain, no radio or traffic noise. *
MKH40   RX6 Specrogram at +12db added gain

MKH8040   RX6 Spectrogram at +12db added gain

MC59C   RX6 Spectrogram at +12db added gain

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The comparison

MKH40 was in this comparison connected to the additional Sonosax SX-AD8+ mixer which was connected to the SX-R4+ recorder. When I put the recording through spectrogram I saw a strange buzz noise around 11Khz and above. I have seen this several times before on spectrograms, usually only when I have used the Sound devices 552 mixer. But not always and different from this one. I was not happy to see this happens on the SX-AD8+ mixer, so I checked if I could see this noise if I connected other microphones to the mixer. They all passed that test with success, even MKH20. But both MKH40 and MKH30 fail with this high frequency buzz. I am still not sure what is exactly going on. But I think it is some kind of ground problem in the microphone, not the mixer, even though it does not appear when using preamps in SX-R4 or MixPre recorders. I can change the shape and the frequency of this buzz by just putting a contact lube under an assembling screw on MKH40 and tie them again firmly.
This must be fixed. So I will continue testing and look into this issue with different microphones, recorders, mixers, cables and power supplies.
Except this high frequency buzz MKH40 sounds surprisingly nice. It sounds even more transparent than MKH8040 which surprises me because I have always thought it was the opposite. Saying that it might be because my ears barely hear anything above 11Khz anymore, so I can for example not hear the loudest part of the MKH40’s self noise which is between 12 and 23Khz, with highest level at 18Khz. That means I can only hear the self noise below that frequency range which anyway is a very important frequency range, because most of the nature sounds I record are below 8 Khz (at least in Iceland). So ultra low self noise at the midrange is more important than self noise on higher frequency range. This is what I noticed between MKH40 and 8040. The MKH40 seems to have slightly lower self noise at mid range and therefor the silence is more transparent with better fine details and better focused.
MKH8040 is a wonderful mic and one of my favorites, especially after Sennheiser fixed the noise problem which seems to have appeared in many MKH8000 mics some years ago. This pair comes nicely matched from the factory, it is suitable to record anything and as far as I know seems to withstand humidity as well as MKH40. For most recordings MKH8040 and MKH40 sound identical, These two mics have almost the same sensitivity and same characteristics. But the MKH8040 frequency range goes up to 50Khz which is useful for sound design and/or bat recordings. The 8040 self noise is not high but is the highest in this comparison. The self noise starts around 15Khz and is strongest around 50Khz. The sound quality seems to be a bit „gray“compare to the other two.
Nevaton offers MC59C sound samples of concert recordings to download. It was something in these recordings which told me that MC59 could be an interesting microphone  So I ordered four matched pieces of MC59C, from Bluetone mainly for music recording, but as well to keep it in mind to use them for surround nature recordings. This microphone is wonderful for music. It was confirmed after I did a concert recording last November. But that does not necessary mean it is as perfect for nature recordings. So here was a good reason to make a comparison to other well known microphones.
What surprises me in the comparison is the low noise and how clean this Russian wonder sounds above 10Khz. I just wished I was 40 years younger to hear this upper frequency clarity because I can mostly or only see it on a spectrogram which shows this microphone is outstanding compare to other small condenser microphones I know, as MKH´s. The mid range noise level is similar below 10Khz as in MKH40, or slightly more. But it has no additional self noise above 10Khz as most or all other microphones. In fact the self noise seems to be at same level through the whole frequency ranges up to 65Khz when it starts to increase.
Nevaton says the frequency range is 20-20Khz, but on the spectogram the frequency range seems to go much higher. When I recorded a noise from switching power supply it detect sound up to 30Khz almost as clearly as MKH8040 and without mic’s self noise.

Conclusion

In the sound world where it is possible to make a noise reduction with only several mouse clicks in a software it seems like microphone self noise does not matter. But it is not true. No NR software is so good it will not affect or harm the sound quality. So low noise microphones are important, especially at mid range (>8khz) for quiet nature sound and upper frequency (<8Khz) for music recording.
All three microphones in this comparison seem to have similar „low“ handling noise
MKH40 seems to have the lowest self noise at mid ranges and MC59C overall lowest self noise.
MKH8040 is a very versatile mic which can pick up sound up to 50Khz and is always a nice sounding microphone.
The MKH40 behaved strangely by creating this frequency buzz in individual frequency ranges above 10Khz. It is something I need to figure out as soon as I can and add information about it here in this blog.
MKH40 is anyway a good work horse. It is possible to rely on this mic in high humidity, record everything and always get highest quality you can get from a cardioid microphone. In my opinion, the MKH40 sounds slightly better than MKH8040 probably because it has less mid range noise than 8040. I have owned mkh80 for some years now, but not used it much. It is worth keeping this mic in action again.
MC59C is on the other hand the big success in this comparison. It has outstanding sound quality for classical music recording. Saying that, it must be kept in mind I have only used it once in a concert. In this comparison, sound quality seems to be the best I’ve heard or seen before on a small condenser microphone. It can clearly record the weakest sound effects between 10 KHz and 20 KHz without drowning that sound in the microphone’s self noise. The comparison did not exactly show which of these mics was the best to stay in a windshield, record everything from a birdsong to falling snowflakes, but MC59c is definitely an outstanding microphone and ready to record everything.
There is some rumors about MC59 can’t withstand high humidity. I have not tested it, but I think that humidity is not be a problem in Iceland.
It is a surprise to me how equally they sound compared to the price ranges. Nevaton MC59 is only half price of the MKH8040 and the MKH40 is more expensive**. But price is not everything because they all have a tiny specific difference.

See the whole picture gallery
* All audio samples above are mp3 at 256kbps 44kHz.
Original recording at 24bit/48Khz
** Update: Just overnight 18th of January 2020 the price of Nevaton MC59 microphones increase about 50% which is very strange price policies.
For one mic, both XLR or S version price was last week at €620 excl. VAT
But now is XLR at €868 and S version at €898

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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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Three stereo microphones noise and sensitivity comparison.
Shure VP88 – Rode NT4 – Audio Technica BP4025

This recordings include a spoken word from pocket radio at very low volume and ticking alarm clock in 1,6m distance. The volume settings on the radio was so low, the sound was hardly audible with bare ears. Noise from radiator pipeline is audible in the background. Miscellaneous bird life is outside and should be also clearly audible.
Keep in mind. This test is only noise and sensitivity comparison. High sensitivity and low noise is VERY important for nature recordings. This comparison does not give any information how this microphones sounds for music recording or how they withstand high pressure sound level.
See spectrogram and pictures
Quality headphones recommended while listen.

Shure VP88, Rode NT4 and Audio Technica BP4025 direct from recorder. All at same gain level at 55dB.

All three recordings are now independently level normalized up to 0dB.

Links to the products:
Shure VP88
Rode NT4
Audio Technica BP4025

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Some months ago my plan was to buy Rode NTG3. I was looking for a low noise and better sounding microphone than ME66 I already own. But after some research at home I found this microphone even worse than ME66 for nature recording.
The audible noise and sensitivity between these two mics was almost equal, but NTG3 have noticeably higher low frequency response.
But what surprised me most was all the noise in NTG3. If something, it was even more than in ME66. But spectrogram shows a shocking pictures for NTG3, a white noise in the whole frequency spectrum up to 50Khz. See spectrogram.
This NTG3 was sent back to the shop, but I was never sure if I did some mistakes in this measurements. So last week I vent to the shop and picked up some recording samples on the same NTG3.
The recorder was Sound devises 744 at 24bit/48Khz. NTG3 was in channel 1 and for comparison ME66 was in channel 2. They were laying side by side and the gain was in full position. Input filter for both channels was at 80Hz, 12dB/oct.
It is no doubt. There is some strange white noise in NTG3.
The sound sample below is about two minutes long. First minute is NTG3 and the second is ME66.
This particular NTG3 can be defective, so I am waiting for next supply of Rode NTG3 in the shop.
I will update this post as soon after I have got a chance to test some other NTG3 mics.
See more pictures and spectrogram in this last test.

Conclusion – Summary

The spectrogram looks very bad for NTG3 but the mic is not as bad as it looks. The ME66 datasheets display referred noise as 10dB(A) and the NTG3 datasheets display referred noise as 13dB(A), so  ME66 has lower referred noise than NTG3. This difference is probably what we see on the spectrogram.  This microphones does not have exactly same bandwidth, as the ME66 has a reduced audio bandwidth which in turn reduces the referred noise. The ME66 top end roll off starts around 14Khz (0dB) and is -6dB at 20KHz, NTG3 is +2dB at 14KHz and -2dB at 20KHz.
NTG3 is RF biased microphones designed to withstand high humidity and harsher environments than the ME66 condenser microphone. So while the NTG3 and ME66 are both shotgun microphones they are designed for different operating conditions.
NTG3 would be my choice for most “normal sound pressure” level. But for quiet nature sounds where most audible sounds are in low level and mid-high frequency, I would choose some other mic.
In my opinion Rode NT1a is one of the best.  Sadly NT1a is not a shotgun or small diaphragm condenser that can be fit nicely in a Blimp. But NT1a have only 5dB(A) noise and that makes the whole different for those who don’t like to use noise reduction software.    See solutions how to fit NT1a in Blimp in NOS and XY setup.
For those who are searching for sound quality in NTG3 I recommend this search: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=NTG3+vs+ME66&meta=
Also this one:
http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=NTG3+vs+MKH416&meta=

Download mp3 file (192kbps / 3Mb)

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