Well, I have had a blast as usual in the studio today, and you all will reap the benefits of my fun!
I decided to really put my new Aston Spirit mic through the ringer and test it against other mics in my arsenal that I use on an ongoing basis.
The results are pretty much what I expected based on the research I’ve already done, but with the samples and data I provide here, I’ll let you make up your own mind on the subject!
The Set up
So, for any type of mic shootout it’s important to keep the individual elements as uniform as possible when it comes to levels, enhancements, dynamics, effects and so on. I was extremely careful here to verify that all were exactly the same for each mic before I committed the performance to disc.
To make this shootout as transparent as possible, I only added one thing to the raw signal, and that was a small 2:1 compression from my good ol’ dependable Tascam 16×08 I/O (see it’s review here). The reason for this is I wanted to make sure I could perform a very wide dynamic range for these mics to pick up.
Mics can act very differently at different dB levels, so what I’ve delivered here really shows us the goods concerning mic dynamic sensitivities. Because my dynamics were so wide though I had to use a little compression so my quiet section wouldn’t be completely lost.
I also took great pains to point the mics in the exact same direction, so they’d pick up the same point of reference. I usually would not do this. Acoustic guitar, for example, usually has four mics on it in my studio, but all in different places, to pick up diverse nuances of the instrument. I have always adhered to the recording rule that it’s always best to have a lot of inputs even if you don’t use those inputs in your final mix. The extra tracks have come in handy maaaaany times!
As for the Spirit, I did not use the high-pass filter on it. I also kept the normal cardioid polar pattern, tho’ I really can’t wait to use the other two it provides, the omni and the figure-eight, on something soon. I just love it when a mic is versatile but remains top shelf in sound!
I have constructed a section of my house to be very sound-proof, but not totally so. I find my recordings to be quiet enough by far, so I decided long ago not to go to the trouble and expense of constructing a “room-in-a-room” for vocals and such. As you can hear in these recordings my dead zone is exactly that, and sucks up noise like elephants to water.
Most condensor mics sold these days have a shock mount of some kind to go with it, either as an option or sold with the mic.
The Spirit does not.
“But why not??!”, you may ask. Well, the Aston company constructed this mic to internally mitigate hits or rumbles. What does that mean??
It means you don’t need one. When you plug it into the bottom it is connected to an internal mic cage that is designed to keep those pesky thump gremlins from jumping up and down on the capsule and ruining your take.
I thought I’d test their mic the way they say we should trust it, so thus it is connected straight onto the mic stand, with no shock mount at all.
Bring on the gremlins. 😉
Lastly, I also did not use a pop filter for the vocal track. Usually I would, but I wanted, again, for us to be able to hear the naked mics (sounds like a Leslie Nielsen movie!) in all their glory.
So with all that in mind, let’s get on to the shootout…
Pickin’ and Grinnin!
Acoustic guitar is such a great instrument. It’s the first thing I ever played besides singing all my life, so it holds a special place in my heart.
I used my bangin’ M.J. Franks guitar on this tune, as is usual whenever I’m tracking acoustic here in the studio. It’s my go-to recording acoustic simply because… well, it’s AWESOME! But also because I paid Mike to make for me the perfect RECORDING guitar, with a very balanced EQ and warm, legacy sound.
You can learn all about it, and Mike the luthier who made it for me, in my review of it HERE.
The mics you shall hear appear in this order:
- the Oktava MK319
- the Audix i5
- the Audio-Technica 4050
- the Aston Spirit
- Guitar D.I.
Rather than bore you with the whole song, I chose a short recorded snippet for both guitar and vocals that showcases extreme dynamic ranges. You will hear them, in order, one after the other with only a second in between.
Obviously, listening to this recording with either headphones or through some studio monitors will provide you with the best audio fidelity. They are being played in the .wav file format to circumvent compression loss and noise.
And, with that… let’s listen!
Whatja think?? Have a favorite? Was it what you expected from each mic? Were you surprised by any mics performance? Which one sounds like you want a guitar to sound like without having to EQ it or change it at all? These are the types of questions to ask yourself if you’re considering buying any of these. If you’re just starting out, the best thing is to get a mic that can handle a lot of sound sources and get the result you want.
I have these answered for myself certainly, but I’m gonna hold my cards close to my chest for the moment, so as to not influence your decision. Base it purely on how it sounds, ‘cuz if it sounds good… it IS good.
I Hear Voices…
Now let’s add a vocal. This was a fun song to write and even more fun to record. I firmly believe the vocal is the most important part of a sung song, so mic effectiveness is a big deal to me. Let’s look at how I threw the gauntlet down for these four mics:
- the Oktava MK2500 Tube Mic
- the Shure SM58
- the Audio-Technica 4050
- the Aston Spirit
As before, you’ll be hearing a short recorded snippet of the full vocal. This part really has extreme dynamic ranges; it goes from a whisper to a rock roar! You will hear the mics, in order, one after the other with only a second in between, just like before. Here we go….
And again… whatja think?? All the same questions apply here as we asked for guitar, but there are some more I ask for vocals, like was this mic good for this song? Was this mic good for the timbre of this singer? Does the transparency of the mic (or lack thereof) help to sell the song lyric? Which of these mics makes me believe what the singer is telling me most?
If I fully produced this tune there’s effects I’d put on, a flat note I’d fix, further dynamics I’d apply… but this was a shootout so I’m keeping it raw and real, cowboy! Or cowgirls. ‘Cuz… there are girls who are into pro audio, ya know. Not a lot, mind you, but… enough to keep us interested!
I Got My Mind Set. On. You.
The decision to keep the Spirit mic to me is a no-brainer. I still like how a couple of the other mics brought my guitar and vocal to life and I will still be using them frequently, but, as you can hear, the Spirit just brought a special something that the others did not have. It’s own unique color. It’s own spin on things. And it’s a spin I can really use to make my recordings better. I’m sure you heard it too.
For the vocal I’m personally torn. I could use the Spirit. But I also like how the 4050 put the brightness in that I like (as usual). This always helps it cut through a bigger mix. So if I end up putting drums and bass on this tune, I probably would stay with the 4050 track.
If I keep it stripped-down though, I really like the ‘width’ that the Spirit mic adds to my voice. It thickened it up a bit somehow, and, hey, what guy doesn’t want his voice more manly? Well, at least this guy likes the extra beef. 😉
My Oktava tube mic, as usual, sounds good and warm, but a little too warm for this particular song. I always judge by the song, and just try to facilitate its message, or the emotion it’s trying to convey?
Everybody… Sing Along!!
Finally, my gift to you: here’s the two put together on this, my latest tune. I call it… well, DUH, whaddya think I call it. “Serious G.A.S.!!” of course! lol
Agree? Disagree? Unsure?? Mic shootouts can be very subtle comparisons so if you’re fine with all of ’em that’s okay too. There really wasn’t a bad mic in the bunch. I use them all, all the time.
Share with me your thoughts below. Gear isn’t just made to use – it’s there to talk about. Especially if we’ve been G.A.S.-ing for it for weeks or months, like I did for the Aston Spirit.
Special thanks to David Borovoy from Guitar Center, Southfield for turning me on to this mic and being my “go-to” rep when serious G.A.S. drives me to his pro audio corner!
Now, go… make… sounds!!