Where does tone in a microphone come from?

a new jim lil video:


As per usual, fantastic stuff from Jim.


That was a great video all adding up to simply: just buy a Shure SM57/58 :rofl:


Dang. That was a good video.

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LoL! I’m with you. I have an SM58 on my wish list.

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Seriously though that is one valid conclusion. He used it as the reference and none of the others were noticeably better - just different.

Love my SM58. It will outlive the rest of civilization, too.


Thanks for sharing @mgoldst

That was fantastic!

I think I have 5 mics ( cone of which is a clip on wireless for sax, nothing too fancy or expensive, and of course one SM57.

I was looking for the “best” sax mic for the money.
What I learned is what @howard states - nothing better, just different.

For my purposes, I have way more than I need and in a mix, the differences don’t matter - for what I’m up to at least.

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I have seen just this video from him, and I am a huge fan already.

I don’t buy Jim’s stuff.

There is a Babymetal song. Suzuka uses a mic with a round head. In the particular song, she tilts the mic and holds it at an angle against her nose, and sings through the bottom of the mic, and it has a completely different sound, like there’s an effect. But she creates it by tilting her neck and constricting her larynx, directing the sound through her nasal passages, and how she positions the mic. Not an effect

At 5:50ish

The other two use head mics because for them the mic does not matter.

How do you know? A sound engineer could have easily slapped an effect on there. Even momentarily.

But again, yes the mics can sound different. But what is pretty clear from the video is… once normalized, none of them are really better, just different.

There are things that impact mic quality - mainly noise and effective harmonic distortion levels. But especially live those don’t really matter.

If it is an effect she is greatly assisting it by her technique.

Of course none are better just different, like no bass strings are better just different, but some are better for specific purposes than others.

Once normalized for level, there were basically two differences between them - EQ and noise.

I have definitely owned mics I didn’t like. The SM58 sounds much much better than the Behringer 8500 or the PGA58. There is definitely a quality floor.

But once you are at the SM58, improvements are hitting diminishing returns pretty fast. Yes, you can get lower noise floors and better responsiveness, but you are paying a lot more.

And the rest is simply EQ.

Yet how a singer uses a mic, how they hold it and angle it does affect the tone. Think of beatboxing. It will sound very different on different mics

Yes. And that tonal difference is basically EQ and expressiveness (reflecting responsiveness in the mic, cardiod shape, etc, like I just said). No one is arguing that mics are all the same.

But quality wise - it’s a really steep diminishing return once you are at the SM57/58 level.

He’s not wrong exactly and it’s also a gross oversimplification. It’s certainly possible to own one club and hit everything with it and everything will get hit good enough. For some objects it may work a little better to have a different size or shape club. The more you hit things, the more little details about how they get hit start to matter. Squeezing the last minor details out of something rather than grossly covering it is where it gets difficult and expensive.

He and Warren Huart and many others point out that the 57/58 is the sound of rock. So, it’s not possible to go wrong getting that sound. It does color the sound and that color may or may not be helpful depending on the situation.

Although he dismisses it out of the gate, this is what the SM does:


It’s especially helpful with vocals in rock because humans communicate using words that have consonants and the frequency range of consonants is 2k-8k. Words can be pronounced with almost any vowel sound and just the dialect will change, but take out the consonants and words don’t exist. The human ear has a resonance in the ear canal right around 5kHz and so our speech evolution goes hand in hand with the characteristic. Looking at the graph above, this is exactly where the SM has a frequency peak. This is why it’s great at “cutting though the mix” because for vocals the definition of cutting is the frequency range of consonants. It also has a big notch up there between 5k and 8k, so if you really aren’t wanting to boost the 2k-9k range and then EQ to flatten it back out, that notch is only going to get worse. Also, the frequency graph is smoothed a bit, so it’s not really that nice. It’s not really possible to EQ out the mic sound that it imprints other than coarsely. For some instruments and musical styles, that may not really be helping and may make the nuances of the sound of the instrument or voice unrecoverable.

It’s possible to use this knowledge on the PA eq. If the vocals aren’t cutting through, some boost on that 2k-8k range is likely to help out. For that matter a little cut for an octave around 250 Hz will take out excessive voice boominess.

It’s not possible to tell what something sounds like in 2 seconds of bandlimited mud sound. The mic will impart a character to the sound. Play a really pretty acapella voice long enough to hear its range or play a solo acoustic guitar with subtle textures across its range and the difference in what a mic is able to capture or not will become apparent. People choose which mic they use because they like that character or not for a given instrument/voice for a particular style they are going for. There are no right characters, but there are ones that for a given situation won’t work as well.

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Yeah, and actually I think his fundamental flaw there is that he did choose to normalize to a SM57. That’s just not super useful even if it sounds like a practical idea.

The baseline for sonic comparisons should be a flat signal and then examine the differences between the 57 and the others based on an apples to apples comparison. What looks like a small bump in the high mids in his comparison is actually an exaggerated boost given what the Shure already does, for example.

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And his point is valid in that we know we don’t want flat. But we need to compare to flat to know what we are getting.

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Yep exactly.

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