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We all know the standards. The Sennheiser MKH series, The Schoeps Collette system, anything Neumann, etc.

The question here is, what is your most underrated mic (for any purpose) and why?

For me its the audio technica 4050. Its our workhorse, I never see it mentioned anywhere, its ludicrously inexpensive and its stood up to some pretty serious A/B tests.

Its character is similar to a U87. We once did a shootout with the 4050 vs the U87 and were surprised with how close that mic really comes to it. A little different in the extreme low end, but that's about it.

It's also deadly quiet. That 4050 through a John Hardy M1 pre is about as quiet as you can get, and is consistently well below the 35ish db noise floor in our recording spaces - even when pretty wide open.

I like using this mic with a little distance between it and the source. Proximity effect isn't so bad with it, but the character of the recordings is just a little more pure with some space IMO.

OK, find me some other gems.

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@Rene, nice review - I don't have any experience with the 4050 but you've piqued my interest. –  Jay Jennings Mar 17 '11 at 16:13
    
Unfortunately, I don't have a good answer. But I do have a good anecdote... There are no bad mics, just bad applications. (The same can be said for sounds.) –  Dave Matney Mar 18 '11 at 0:39
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7 Answers 7

Here are a few mics some executives cringe at when I pull them out of my mic locker to use:

AKG 414 on voice-over. One of the mixers I apprenticed under hates this mic for some reason. I use it as a secret weapon against loud Castilian and Latam voice-overs. The "ah" factor is seriously reduced compared to a U87. I think it has something to do with the off-axis response - it's pretty dead in the back.

AKG C5 with it's grill unscrewed. I use this mic with the top foam grill of it taken off. I get it pretty close to the source and it's wonderful. It, too, has an extreme attenuation in the off-axis response and in a review I read about it, the only way the person was able to make it feed back in a live situation was to hold the capsule directly towards the bell of the speaker.

A 10-inch speaker modified to be a kick drum mic. I use this in combination with 2 other kick drum mics. The speaker adds this extreme low-end slump (25-50 Hz). It makes it full. I learned this from the music mixer I work with now.

Shure SM7. I held in my hands the same mic as was used to record the vocals on Thriller and asked Bruce what his favorite VO mic was and his reply was the SM7 that I was holding. This is also what he used on Vincent Price for the song. I am unsure what the difference is between a SM7 and an SM7B, but Bruce's sounded absolutely fantastic on a voice. You must make sure you have a quiet pre-amp to use it with, though, because you have to boost it quite a bit to get any sort of level out of it. Rumor has it that this is the mic used on the lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica.

Mojave mics. Specifically the pencil-condenser ones (I'm unsure what model though - was a while back and we only had demo ones). I thought these sounded lovely on a grand piano. On a voice they held their own against an MK41 and MKH50.

Sanken COS-11 as a voice-over mic. Just mounting it on a mic stand and placing it about 6 inches from the actor's mouth sounded pretty darn good considering it's a lapel. Try it - you might be surprised.

Telefunken M-80. This mic was touted as being the "SM57 Killer". That hasn't happened yet, but the mixer I am working with got a prototype as a gift and we use it on snare, guitar cabinets, etc. getting a wonderful sound.

I'm not surprised you like the sound of the 4050. I record the voice of E! in Italian and he told me that the engineer over at E! replaced out every single studio that had a U87 for recording dubbing voice-overs for that station for 4050s a long time ago. It's a great mic.

Studio Projects C-1.

If I think of more I'll update my answer.

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Nice response! The 414 I've never been a fan of. Midrange always felt harsh on voices to me. +1 on the COS-11. Great vehicle recording mic as well. Sounds great and mounts anywhere. +1 on the C-1. A little bright, but great if that's the sound you're going for. Interested in hearing more re: the Mojave and SM7 mics. –  Rene Mar 17 '11 at 19:38
    
@Rene Try the SM7 out on loud voices - I think you'll like it. Also, it may very well be that certain 414s sound different - e.g. there are many different versions of them. I have vintage ones. –  Utopia Mar 17 '11 at 20:13
    
I am pretty sure you are correct about the SM7 and Metallica. I remember seeing it being used in Some Kind of Monster doco. –  Bruce Mar 18 '11 at 10:17
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The Audix SCX1-HC is a great hypercardioid mic. It seems to be practically unknown, but I love mine and would buy one again. I'm using it primarily as a boom mic for independent film shoots.

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I'm still running tests and trying them out in different situations, but I recently bought a pair of AKG Blue Line - C391B's (AKG SE300B body with CK91 cardiod capsules). I bought one on the cheap, and was impressed enough after initial tests that I bought the second (also on the cheap). It's a modular system with all the major pickup patterns available (including shotgun - supercardiod/lobar).

The CK91 cardiod capsules have a nice, relatively even, frequency response and have less proximity effect than the AT4050's. They have a higher noise floor than the 4050's, but that's not hard to do. So, I'd still rate them respectable in that department. I found a pretty good deal on the CK93 (hypercardiod) capsules through SpectrumAudio.com. So, I grabbed a pair of those, but haven't had time to test them out yet. From other people I've spoken with who have these sets though, the CK93 is the standout capsule in the line. I'm looking forward to testing them out. I can't speak about the omni, figure 8 or shotgun capsules

They're moderately priced, and a good value for the money. If you can find one in decent condition used (like I did), even more so.

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Ooo... Do let me know of your results for the CK93. Was contemplating getting one some time ago, but ended up with a Rode NTG-3. –  takuya Mar 18 '11 at 5:51
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The AT3032 is the most excellent low noise omni condenser, that sold for a song when it was still available. Audio-Technica discovered how good it really was, discontinued it, and replaced it with an identical model at a higher price.

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The Behringer B-1 condenser is a mic that costs around 100$ and has a sound quality of a 400$ or more mic... Its not recommended for very pro work but its an awesome backup mic that you dont have to care for it so much, cause its so so cheap! I can highly recommend it for testing and dangerous works.

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I've actually got a couple of B-5s that I ran a shootout against my NTG5s and was pretty shocked. –  Rene Mar 20 '11 at 17:13
    
i use B-1 mostly for the experiments with liquids or harmfull situations. its so low cost that i don't really mind breaking it. moreover, its actually a good mic with very low noise! –  Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Mar 26 '11 at 14:26
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I have an AT 822 stereo mic that has been really nice for ambiences. Its very inexpensive as well. Back when i did more film work i would take my sony DAT-man and the 822 all over the place. THere is a big brother (825), but I am not too familiar with it.

David

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What speakers and converters are you folks listening through? An AT 4050 sounds like crap next to a U87. A U47 blows away a U87. All of the Behringer mics are complete garbage as well!
Once you get all pieces in your signal chain at a high level, quality wise, you start to see how cheap microphones are more like paper weights.

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Erm.. it's a thread about underrated microphones. –  georgi Mar 26 '11 at 1:05
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