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This is a question that's been on my mind lately as I'm starting to collect a selection of especially field-capable microphones.

As there's so much to choose from in terms of microphone techniques, manufacturers and models and prices, how do you get to know how they work without buying blindly and hearing yourself (through a lot of different uses of course).

Renting and lending is an obvious option to get to know the gear, but when it comes to more expensive microphones (Schoeps etc.) it can be difficult to get to try them. So especially in the case of more expensive microphones, how do you know what you're purchasing?

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4 Answers 4

A couple of thoughts. Go to a trade show like AES or NAB. Many of the dealers have mics set up on the floor feeding a preamp with headphones. Also, a few dealers will lend out demo mics for you to check out.

That being said, field recording and sound design is such a niche field, that there is no way to check out all of the gear before you buy. I bought my first expensive recording rig based on a ton of online research, the word of people involved in the field that I respected, and on the reputation of the brands involved (Schoeps/Sound Devices was my choice). It's a lot of money to spend without trying stuff out, but I have no regrets.

Photography and field recording are very similar fields if you think about it. Microphones are like lenses. In photography there are a few trusted brands that everyone keeps going back to: Canon and Nikon (Hasselblad and Leica to a lesser extent). Most photographers have owned some piece of Cannon or Nikon gear in their lives.

I would regard Sennheiser and Schoeps as the Canon and Nikon of field recording, with DPA, Sanken, Neumann figuring in there somewhere as well. While there are tons of excellent mics from other companies, you really can't go wrong starting out with Sennheiser MKH or Schoeps MK capsules. Both companies have years of experience building mics and excellent reputations. Then experiment with other (usually cheaper) brands like Rode, Crown, Shure, AKG, Audio Technica, Line Audio, Heil etc..

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Your camera industry analogy is a very good one. I'd argue that Schoeps is more like Hasselblad. :-) –  NoiseJockey Mar 27 '12 at 17:58
    
Yeah, I guess the reputation thing is a big one, thanks for pointing out and doing a bit of comparison between the big names there as well. It sure feels better to look at gear that's used by much more experienced people than oneself, if it works for them it should definitely work for me. I don't have much idea about how the big brands rank, but what I'm personally looking for are the ones that are staples with proven track record, because I can't afford to buy a dozen of different ones to see what I like, I just need something that's proven to work very well. –  Internet Human Mar 27 '12 at 18:58
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As you said, the very best thing is to borrow gear. The next best thing you can do is rent first, and test against the sound sources you will most commonly shoot. If you can't rent, then find a local reseller and the pro shops will usually set up mic shootouts for you...the more you're willing to spend, the more they'll accommodate you. (Say you're in the market for a CMIT5u, for example, and shops will eagerly open their doors...a $400 Røde, not so much.) However, a lot of us in this Internet age, as Justin said, do buy based on specs, reputation, and word of mount recommendations on sites such as this one, JWSound, the Yahoo! sound design group, and even those of us active on Twitter. Remember to order from places with solid reputations and generous return policies.

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A tutorial at http://rocksuresoundz.com/2012/03/21/microphones-different-types/ covers a lot of information on different categories of microphones. THings like what they are useful for, polar patterns, powering condensor mics etc. It deals with condensors large and small, pzm, dynamics, ribbons, lavaliers and a bunch of other stuff. It doesn't go into recommendations of different brands and models, but covers the basics to help someone figure out what type of mic is likely to be best for different sources and purposes. HOpe this helps.

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Word of mouth is excellent as well, chat to everyone you know about what they use and why. I am a huge fan of DPAs, and this is due to their clarity, especially their omni directional mics. With all mics I find that they have their quirks, such as off axis coloration, clipping levels, or sensitivity to wind/movement.

My advice is always purchase the best that you can afford, and then learn how to make it sound as good as you can. Somebody who knows how to use their own equipment well can usually outperform a less skilled person with better equipment.

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