You are here

Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby garrettendi » Sat Jul 15, 2017 5:51 pm

Something got me thinking. I see a lot of ads and videos on my Facebook for microphones that cost £500 or more. Sometimes even running into thousands of pounds. And here I am with my humble Sennheiser e835.

Are these microphones REALLY so much better to justify the incredibly expensive price? On my salary, I can't justify more than a hundred quid on a microphone, and I've always been a believer in the power of budget stuff. I mainly play a Squier that runs rings around most Fenders in my opinion.

So what's the rationale? Is there really any benefit in one of these super expensive microphone​s over a trusty Sennheiser e835 or a Shure SM58?
User avatar
garrettendi
Regular
Posts: 126
Joined: Sat Dec 10, 2005 12:00 am
"The blues isn't about feeling better. It's about making other people feel WORSE, and making a few bucks while you're at it." - Bleeding Gums Murphy

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Jul 15, 2017 7:19 pm

Yes there are benefits, but whether those benefits are of real value to you is a subjective thing.

However, it is certainly the case that budget mics today are extraordinarily good quality and value, and often at a level that a lot of pukka pro stuff struggled to achieve 50 years ago.

As with all high-end gear, we are talking about diminishing returns, and the further up the scale you go the smaller the incremental improvements and the larger the costs of achieving them.

In general, though, high end mics are better made, with higher quality parts, and their manufacturers support them better and for longer.

Tolerances are generally tighter, too, so matching and consistency are better between models bought at different times.

And then you get to the more subtle and esoteric aspects of sound character -- both on and off axis.

H
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 18693
Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Jul 15, 2017 8:14 pm

High end mics from respected manufacturers are certainly worth it as they're going to last for many years and you'll almost certainly get your money back if you ever decide to sell. Mind you, if I was to take as much care of my SM58's as I do of my Neumanns, they would probably last for years and be worth a few quid too.

In fact, there is a place for both cheap and expensive mics in a mic collection - a good instrument mic like an SM57 is still useful, even when you've got access to the finest mics around. The key is to stick to well established microphone types rather than something containing Chinese components.
James Perrett
Moderator
Posts: 6300
Joined: Sun Sep 09, 2001 11:00 pm
Location: The wilds of Hampshire
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration.
http://www.jrpmusic.co.uk

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:27 pm

A couple of points to add to the above are, it depends on 'what you're recording' and its also subject to 'other things being equal'.

I wouldn't want to record an orchestra with a couple of SM57s, but if you're recording an electric guitar amp, the SM57 may well be your first choice from even an extensive and expensive mic cabinet.

And the benefits of using a fancy expensive microphone in a situation where the room acoustics, quality of instrument, etc are compromised, may not be heard.

When recording vocals in the studio, it may well be that a Neumann U87 is the best choice on a particular voice, but so may be the much cheaper Shure SM7.

Having said that, then if you're doing a lot of recording it's great to have a wide selection of microphones.

Bob
User avatar
Bob Bickerton
Frequent Poster
Posts: 3177
Joined: Fri Dec 20, 2002 12:00 am
Location: Nelson, New Zealand
http://www.bickerton.co.nz

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Dynamic Mike » Sun Jul 16, 2017 12:42 am

I can understand in a pro recording session how an engineer might think 'this isn't getting the results, I'll try another mic'. What I'd love to know is how they choose an alternative from a vast armoury of mics. I'm guessing experience and intuition are factors, but what makes them think this mic sounds a bit too 'X', I'll use one that's a shade more 'Y' instead? I only have 2 mics, so it's not a real world problem for me, I'm just curious!
Dynamic Mike
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2487
Joined: Sun Dec 31, 2006 12:00 am

Currently struggling to find something to want


Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sun Jul 16, 2017 2:17 am

That's a good question and for me it's not a black-and-white thing.

Experience, mainly, or at least knowing what to expect from each microphone, intuition, yes, experimentation, yes. (All these attributes apply to whatever mic collection you have).

I think it's important to keep it all in perspective. If I only had two mics I'd still make recordings. I might have to work harder, experiment more with positioning and use more EQ, but it's perfectly possible. I do try to get the sound right at source, rather than process in the box.

I have favourite mics for different applications. Sometimes 'favourites' get superseded.

It's easy to get wound up in gear fanboyism (or gear envy if you don't have them), but at the end of the day they are tools to do a job. Using the right tools for the job means you can achieve the desired outcome with ease and in good time.

Bob
User avatar
Bob Bickerton
Frequent Poster
Posts: 3177
Joined: Fri Dec 20, 2002 12:00 am
Location: Nelson, New Zealand
http://www.bickerton.co.nz

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Jack Ruston » Sun Jul 16, 2017 7:07 am

There are two separate issues here, I think.

1. Are more expensive microphones better?

Yes. No. Sometimes. It depends on the individual source. Some singers love an SM7. Some amps or snares love a 57. It may be that there is no better choice. Or it may be that the right 67, 47 or 49 delivers a more pleasing result on the vocal, or a 121 or E22 on the amp might provide a bit more of what you're after. It's never the same every time.

2. Is that expense worth it?

That's a purely personal issue. What's your budget? Are you able to earn more from buying the more expensive gear? Will you sell an extra record if it sounds better? It's your call, specific to your situation and circumstances. But I would offer this observation - most people starting out tend to believe that the equipment makes slightly more difference overall than it really does these days. This is because modern music production is quite heavily processed and often doesn't reveal the differences so readily, and because the quality of cheaper equipment has improved so significantly. One more observation / I dont think you could consider 500 gbp to be expensive for a microphone. It's not necessarily cheap, but it's at the lower end of the scale and I think most professional purchasers would be very pleased if they thought they'd never need to spend more than that amount. But that's MY opinion.
Jack Ruston
Frequent Poster
Posts: 3598
Joined: Wed Dec 21, 2005 12:00 am

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby The Elf » Sun Jul 16, 2017 8:29 am

As the others have said, it depends on your judgement of 'worth it'. If I have a 'name' in the studio, the clock is ticking, and I need to know that the mic isn't the weakest link in the chain, then sod the expense!

Is the most expensive always the best mic for the job? No. Do I always choose the most expensive mic for any given task? No.

Those here that know me and my mic collection know that I have mic's at every level between 50p from a car boot sale to a couple of thousand pounds. I've used mic's that cost more than my first house! I'm as equally un-sniffy about 'cheap' mic's as I am about 'expensive' mic's. You can't wish away the benefits of high quality mic's any more than you can dismiss the bang for buck of budget mic's. They all have their place, and it behooves anyone serious about their recording to have the beholder's ear that appreciates the benefits and place for them all.
User avatar
The Elf
Jedi Poster
Posts: 10378
Joined: Mon Aug 13, 2001 11:00 pm
Location: Sheffield, UK
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby John Willett » Mon Jul 17, 2017 12:58 pm

garrettendi wrote:Something got me thinking. I see a lot of ads and videos on my Facebook for microphones that cost £500 or more. Sometimes even running into thousands of pounds. And here I am with my humble Sennheiser e835.

Are these microphones REALLY so much better to justify the incredibly expensive price? On my salary, I can't justify more than a hundred quid on a microphone, and I've always been a believer in the power of budget stuff. I mainly play a Squier that runs rings around most Fenders in my opinion.

So what's the rationale? Is there really any benefit in one of these super expensive microphone​s over a trusty Sennheiser e835 or a Shure SM58?

Simply put - yes - you get what you pay for.

The e835 and SM58 are both excellent mics in thir price bracket and both are dynamic mics designed for stage vocals. The SM58 has more "cut through" than the e835 (it's the e840 and e935 that have the "cut through").

For recording vocals a large diaphragm condenser is the normal mic. of choice and there is a vast price difference here. Starting with sub £100 Chinese mics and going up to some costing several thousand.

High quality in the sub £1k price range is possible - Neumann TLM 102, Gefell m930, etc....

But try various mics out first, before you buy to get the one that suits you best. Good manufactures/distrubutors/delers will let you try before you buy. :thumbup:
User avatar
John Willett
Jedi Poster
Posts: 4485
Joined: Tue Mar 07, 2000 12:00 am
Location: Oxfordshire UK
John
Sound-Link ProAudio
Circle Sound Services
President - Federation Internationale des Chasseurs de Sons

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby garrettendi » Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:06 pm

Lots of interesting replies to this! I guess the expensive mics really do have their benefits, although I doubt I'll be able to afford any of them any time soon!
User avatar
garrettendi
Regular
Posts: 126
Joined: Sat Dec 10, 2005 12:00 am
"The blues isn't about feeling better. It's about making other people feel WORSE, and making a few bucks while you're at it." - Bleeding Gums Murphy

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Dave B » Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:13 pm

garrettendi wrote:So what's the rationale? Is there really any benefit in one of these super expensive microphone​s over a trusty Sennheiser e835 or a Shure SM58?

So a while back, myself and another member (Wonks) tried a handful of 'cheap' microphones - large condensers as there is a world of difference between even a cheap LDC and a stage dynamic like a 58. Above a certain price point, you start to get diminishing returns (as stated above) but we reckoned that a mid-price LDC was probably all that most people would need to get decent recordings. Above that, yes, it's worth it, but the returns are much less and are about getting the sound 'right' rather than 'good enough'. And the recording space will have a much bigger impact than the mic being used in any event.

So whilst you might not want to blow 4k on a Brauner, you might want to consider something in the 250-400quid area as you hear a marked improvement over your SM58. Something like an Aston or an AT4033/4040 will serve you well for a long time.
User avatar
Dave B
Frequent Poster
Posts: 3713
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Maidenhead

Veni, Vidi, Aesculi

(I came, I saw, I conkered)


Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby garrettendi » Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:20 pm

I have to admit, buying an Aston is incredibly tempting! I've got to take building my studio on a step by step basis though.
User avatar
garrettendi
Regular
Posts: 126
Joined: Sat Dec 10, 2005 12:00 am
"The blues isn't about feeling better. It's about making other people feel WORSE, and making a few bucks while you're at it." - Bleeding Gums Murphy

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Aural Reject » Mon Jul 17, 2017 2:51 pm

Perhaps another thing to think about is the additive effect of all this kind of thing...depending, of course, on what it is you're recording (and how).

Imagine a multimiked recording of an orchestra....It's potentially more simple and perhaps more natural to use multiple mics that you don't have to bend much with EQ or - as you'll often see quoted - mics that 'take EQ well'...rather than have a dozen or more mics all of which you have to do things with to make them usable. It can be done, of course....but it's a faff!

Historically those have tended towards being in the upper end of the market for both cases, although that may well be changing now.

The issue then becomes not needing just one 'expensive' mic, but a box ful!
User avatar
Aural Reject
Frequent Poster
Posts: 794
Joined: Thu May 01, 2003 11:00 pm
Location: Lancashire
 

Re: Are ultra-expensive microphones really worth it?

Postby Music Wolf » Mon Jul 17, 2017 5:27 pm

It's a general are-ultra expensive <insert name here> really worth it? question.

As others have already said, it's a question that only you can answer because it depends upon your value of worth. And of course there's the law of diminishing returns. I'm looking across at my guitar rack and there are three instruments by the same manufacturer sitting at the front. Each one cost roughly twice as much as the one next to it and, if I had the money, I could double it a few more times. But with each doubling of price the improvement isn't double, it isn't even an equal step improvement. The step between 2nd and 3rd is less than between 1st and 2nd, which is probably typical of most things.

With a mic you also need to consider the whole signal chain. Is it worth spending a fortune on a mic only to plug it into a cheap desk with noisy preamps?
User avatar
Music Wolf
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1190
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2006 12:00 am
Location: Exiled to St Helens
 


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests