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Q. Which mic should I choose to record acoustic instruments?

By Sam Inglis

I'm looking to get a mid-range (in terms of price) mic with a good off-axis response, for recording acoustic instruments. My list so far is: Neumann TLM 193, Sennheiser MKH 8040 and Milab DC‑96C. I'm also looking at a Mesanovic Model 2 but am unsure of its off-axis response. Do you have any thoughts on these? Are there any others in this general price range that I should consider? I'd prefer to get something new rather than second-hand.

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SOS Features Editor Sam Inglis replies: All the mics on your shortlist are very capable, but I'm not sure they are all directly comparable. The TLM193 is a conventional large-diaphragm capacitor mic. The MKH-series mics are small-diaphragm models that use the RF principle. The Milab is technically a large-diaphragm mic but with a rectangular capsule that behaves somewhat differently from standard circular ones. And the Mesanovic is a ribbon mic with a figure-8 rather than a cardioid pattern.

All other things being equal, small-diaphragm mics will tend to have better–behaved off-axis pickup than large-diaphragm mics, at the expense of being noisier. Ribbon mics and other true figure-8 designs offer amazing rejection of off-axis sources — I use them a lot for this reason — but you do have to think about them slightly differently because you always have the rear pickup lobe to consider.

All other things being equal, small-diaphragm mics will tend to have better–behaved off-axis pickup than large-diaphragm mics, at the expense of being noisier.

The dual-capsule, multi–pattern Sony C100 is one of many great mic options for recording acoustic instruments.The dual-capsule, multi–pattern Sony C100 is one of many great mic options for recording acoustic instruments.I do like the Milab rectangular capsule and, in my experience, it offers quite a benign off-axis response, with the added advantage that (like a ribbon) it offers more rejection in the vertical plane than in the horizontal. If it's like the other Milab (or Pearl) mics that I've heard then I would expect it to be a relatively soft-sounding mic. My experience with the MKH series is limited but I'd expect that to be brighter and more clinical in comparison.

Luckily, or unluckily, there's probably never been a better choice of amazing mics available than today, so there are plenty more alternatives to choose from! On the large-diaphragm front you could consider the Sony C100, for example, and I've currently got review mics from Samar Audio and Austrian Audio which both seem to me very good indeed. There are tons of great-sounding ribbons out there too — for acoustic instruments my favourites would include the Rode NT-R and the Samar mics.

Either way, off-axis response is important but probably not the only factor to consider — the on-axis sound of the mics you've suggested is likely to be significantly different, so the best choice may well depend on source and context. For example, on an acoustic piano I'd generally favour quite a bright mic, whereas something like a banjo might suit a ribbon mic better.

Published July 2019