Appalachian Dulcimer Mic Shoot Out

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In this episode we test a wide range of microphones on the appalachian dulcimer and see how different mics can affect the sound of an instrument.

Download the 16/44.1 Audio files. To watch on your iphone or ipad, download the m4v version

Dulcimer: Folkcraft Ash FSH dulcimer

Pick: V-Picks Bing Futch model

Mic Pre: A Designs Pacifica

Converter: Apogee 16X
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Microphones:

Shure SM57-LC Microphone Cascade¤Microphones Fat Head Ribbon Microphone (Black / Gold)

Pearlman TM-1 Tube condenser Mic

Shure SM7B – Cardioid Dynamic Announcer Mic

Cascade¤Microphones Elroy Multi-Pattern Tube Microphone

Audio-Technica AT4060 Microphone

Electrovoice 408B (out of production, and replaced by the Electro-Voice N/D468 ) lazer jesus-RCM

Shure KSM32

Audio-Technica AT4051b Cardioid Condenser Microphone

AKG D1000E

Electrovoice RE-18

  1. ronan says:

    My two favorites from the shootout were oddly enough the most expensive and one of the cheapest. In the end we went with the Pearlman TM-1 because it had the best combination or detail and body. We paired it with an LA-2A compressor and it was just the sound I was looking for. The other surprise was the Electro-Voice 408B, which is most known as a tom mic for drums, but I liked it because it had a really nice punchy sound. I will not say which, but a couple of the mics I thought would be winners did not perform as well as I had hoped.

  2. andy says:

    I thought most of the mics made the low/mids sound pretty boxy. The Pearlman was one of the few that the lows sounded great while the highs were still balanced. The AT4051 and Elroy had a pretty nice balanced tone as well. I think my favorite low end tone came from the SM7b. Is the Fathead a stock version or does it have upgraded XF? I thought it sounded great up top but the low end was a tad boxy but would help the dulcimer sit back in a mix.

    FYI, you have a typo on your Ronan’s Recording Show page

  3. PAL SHELDON says:

    Gotta say I likes the Electovoice RE 18 at the end. I though this would work well in a mix.. sweet midrange… Enjoyed the shoot out very subtle changes.. It would be nice to re arrange them in opposites to hear dramatic changes and then arrange from hard to soft… for the geeks.. :)

  4. ronan says:

    Thanks for chiming in Pal

    It would be nice to re arrange them in opposites to hear dramatic changes and then arrange from hard to soft… for the geeks.. :)

    I included a link to download the audio files in hopes that people would do just that sort of thing.

  5. Thanks Ronan, for the time and effort.

    For me what sound to use would be determined by the ‘hole’ or piece in the puzzle that I would be trying to fill or fit, but as a solo instrument I have to say I didn’t really care for the ribbons or condensers. They all sounded ‘recorded’ which as I mentioned can be an unexpected asset. The exception was the AT4051…I thought that really shined. Other than that my choice would probably be one of the EV dynamics…or perhaps the Pearlman with some processing. Thanks again. Richard

  6. Emanuele says:

    sm57 sm7b at 4060 electro voice 408b

  7. Kenny says:

    To my ear, and in that particular setting, I thought the Pearlman had the best overall tonal balance. If the setting were different (other instruments, how many, what type of song, etc.), some of the other mics might work as well or possibly better.

    Still, it was excellent test with some very interesting results. Thanks Ronan!

    Be well …. Kenny

  8. Rob says:

    Great evaluation, Ronan!

    Funny, the TM-1 was my first favorite, for solo, so interesting that it was selected!

    Felt the dynamics did a good job of bring out some body. Surprised I didn’t enjoy the ribbon as much as I expected.

    Condensers did their trick of bring out some of the brightness may or may not be something desirable depending upon the objective/vision.

    Most enjoyable…thanks!

  9. Peter Dohnt says:

    Thanks for this comparison – helps for a newby to the trade.

    I found it interesting that I only noticed your foot tapping on the EV N/D408B, AKG D1000E and the EV RE18 – is this to do with eq applied or could it be a property of dynamic verses condensor.

    May be a limitation of my system/ears but the differences were very subtle overall and the 408B was up there as a choice for me.

    Peter

  10. Lucas in San Diego says:

    Loved the background intro of the instrument!

    At first, listening through my laptop speakers (which typically makes anything sound a bit harsh), the Cascade Fathead really stood out, but when I switched over to my monitors and also my studio headphones, I preferred the others a lot more.

    For the overall tone and detail,I liked the Pearlman. I also liked the AT4060, SM7b, EV408B for the same reasons. These sounded good through the speakers, monitors, and especially the headphones.

    The shootout was great – always been interested in what all these different mics sounded like. Helps out potential future mic purchasing decisions!

  11. Tucker says:

    Couple of comments: I know this was to show subtle differences in the mics however picking a mic for a given recording is different than listening solo, becuase you have to see what mic works best on the instrument within the context of the song / mix. You may think a mic sounds great by itself, yet it ends up sucking when you hear it in the mix. I personally would have tried to use an omni if possible as they usually sound much more natural without the proximity effect or boxy sound that cardioids produce sometimes. (at least I do not recall an omni in the mic tests). If I had to use a cardioid? Maybe try a Shure SM81—flat yet nice and usually a winner on most stringed instruments and you can eq in a little high end if needed. Take care and keep it up!

  12. Jon says:

    The cascade fathead ribbon – warmest and smoothest though that might not be what you want if you are featuring the instrument.

  13. Jon Rowell says:

    I liked the Pearl mic and the Shure SM-7. They seemed to make the dulcimer really sing.

  14. jeff says:

    Great show [as usual]

    Here’s my 2 cents:

    The Pearlman had probably the best “body” but I have to say I liked the AKG 1000e a whole lot. Oddly enough, so did my wife in a total blind test as she was sitting at her desk doing paperwork and didn’t see a thing. Sold last month on EBay for $29.

    Also liked the Cascade Elroy.

    What I really want to hear, though, is the 408 with some scratchy old 78 noise and a few chickens. That’ll let the hog fiddle out of the pen.

    Didn’t care much for the 4051, 4060 or the KSM 32 [which really surprised me].

    But frankly, if you showed up with tracks recorded with any of these mics I wouldn’t blink. It would really depend on what music was around it.

  15. Harold LaRue says:

    The Pearlman TM-1 was the clear winner for me too…and I was listening on Apple earbuds! I also liked the AKG D-1000, which still wins here on the odd snare drum.

  16. Yoav says:

    Hi,

    First of all, can you recommend a cheap or free software for blind testing of many files, or a good procedure to use in a DAW (in my case studio one, but would be nice for everyone if you gave advice for any DAW imo).

    Impressions: on the first time around I really liked the AT 4051, maybe it was just the sudden brightness but I felt that it balanced the low strings and melody string just right, and also just seemed balanced in general. On the next rounds it became harder because I started appreciating the less bright sounds more, and I realized in some cases the mid range resonances might be easy to filter out compared to adding appropriate body to the 4051. Also it’s possible that the 4051 was simply an easy pick because it was unique compared to the others (in it’s brightness and modest body).

  17. Benoit St.Louis says:

    The Pearlman is “le meilleur de tous” for shure. Talking about “Shure”, the KSM32 would be my second best.

  18. Fraz Ali says:

    Love this test….appreciate the patience and retained enthusiasm till the last Mic :)
    I would prefer shure Sm57 for sure.

  19. Phil W says:

    I liked the Pearlman too, but I thought the AT 4060 brought out a nice woody tone that could fit well into an acoustic ensemble. Really cool to hear the differences, thanks.

  20. Michael Deacon says:

    I liked the Shure (especially SM7) and AKG 1000 (unique character) dynamic mics for a live, slightly rough and ready feel which possibly suited the outdoorsy nature of the music.
    The tube mic sounded good for a balanced studio recording.
    Some of the mic’s made the instrument sound more brittle than others and I liked the ones that captured the jingle jangle as well as the ‘body’ of the sound.
    Nice playing!

  21. Nicholas says:

    Hi Ronan,
    Just wanted to say thanks for doing this one – ’twas a pleasant surprise to see a dulcimer special on your show. I’ve always found it to be a deceptively difficult instrument to record and I’ve experimented with a bunch of different mics. I usually end up with a an AT4041 (depending on the song and arrangement) but it is always good to hear other options.
    Thanks again!

  22. Julian says:

    Hi Ronan,
    love the Cascade Fat Head Recording. This would really be my first choice when recording solo-tracks with the instrument.
    However maybe in context of a complex mix the AT4051 might cut more through. (the 4060 is way to harsh imho)
    Thanks for the effort !! Really appreciate it :)
    PS: Try to give us a review on the new AEA N22 – seems pretty interesting little combination ;)

  23. ronan says:

    Julian, I have actually used the AEA N22 on that dulcimer and it was my favorite application of that mic, unfortunately I do not have one of those mics at the moment

  24. Mark McMaster says:

    With just a casual listen through, I really liked the detail and balance of the TM-1. My second choice would be the AT4051. I have that mic and have liked it on acoustic guitar, so no surprise.

    I didn’t like any of the Shures much. They all sounded a bit aggressive and “immediate”(?) Maybe they would have benefited from being a little further from the source?

  25. Thomas M. Merkli says:

    Great show again. Thanks Ronan. I liked both the LDC tube microphones, I disliked the SM7 as well as both Audio Technicas. The D1000 sounded somewhat metallic to me, I would have tried a D224 instead.

  26. Bars says:

    The Pearlman TM-1 was the clear winner for me although i liked some of the mics that had more of a scooped sound too. Loved the EV tom mic, but it seemed to pick up your foot stomping.

  27. Hey Ronan: I listened to the recordings several times. All of the microphones with the exception of the KSM-32 cheat the lower frequencies. None of them captured the full bottom that gets picked up by the KSM-32, particularly during the strumming parts of your demo. I play a 6-string baritone dulcimer made by Ron Ewing. It’s created out of spruce and zebrawood and has a truly gorgeous sound. I use an Audio-Technica Pro-70 mic for recording everything on that instrument. The mic is attached with a custom-made wood bracket (made by Mr. Ewing) that allows for micro-positioning of the mic. I place it just north of the middle sound-hole, angled a bit south toward the bridge and 9th fret. The result is a full, almost symphonic capture of this instrument’s full pallet of sound — a fullness that I did not hear on any of the recordings in your demo. Folks might not realize it just looking at the instrument but the dulcimer has a very wide frequency signature, in some cases wider and fuller than even a dreadnought guitar but without the huge bunching of energy in the midrange area. When racked up with Martin SP bronze-phosphor wound for the lower register and played with the wide side of a nylon cat’s tongue pick, the instrument demonstrates incredible drive from the bass end of the orchestra (as I call it) and excellent clarity on the harpsichord-like notes of the upper register. As songwriting tool the dulcimer is an incredible asset. Aside from feeling the instrument’s vibrations through your lower body which helps lay down something of a skeletal guide path for vocals and being smaller and easier to carry around than a guitar, the instrument encourages a modal approach to songwriting, freeing you from the pigeonholing affects of operating in a universe overpopulated by major and minor keys. I hope I make some converts. Thanks for the demo. — Stephen.

  28. Thanks so much for doing this! I both play dulcimer and engineer and really appreciate the chance to compare microphones.

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