The Acoustic Guitar Single Mic Mono Test

Testing guitars and mics all day long

I got a few mics in my mic locker now so I thought I’d pitch them against eachother in a quick test. This test features the following mics on acoustic guitar:

  • Milab DC-96B
  • Røde NT1-A
  • Røde NT5
  • sE Electronics GM10
  • Sennheiser e935
  • Sennheiser MK8
  • Shure KSM 141

I’ve tested one mic at a time.

Method

I put up each mic in front of the soundhole with a vocal screen behind it to reduce bad room noise. The distance from mic to guitar was about ~35 centimeters. I recorded each mic with both steel string and nylon string acoustics, playing something with both picking and strumming.

I’m a sloppy player and I wasn’t really going for a polished performance, so sorry about that beforehand. Anyways, it’s good enough for a sound comparison.

Download the whole shebang

If you want, you can download the recordings and listen on your favorite mp3 player. I’ve cleverly given the files non-descriptive filenames so you won’t know which recording is which mic until you check the included text file.

This way, you can make an unbiased opinion.

Category : Nylon string guitar

My guitar is a Merida Extrema. Here are the recordings. The guitar is not as loud as the steel string and I didn’t bother adjusting level when switching guitars, so I had to up volume more on these files compared to the steel string in order to get similar volume.

Milab DC-96B (LDC, cardioid)

Røde NT1-A (LDC, cardioid)

Røde NT5 (SDC, cardioid)

sE Electronics GM10 (SDC, cardioid)

Sennheiser e935 (Dynamic, cardioid)

Sennheiser MK8 (LDC, in cardioid pattern)

Shure KMS 141 (SDC, cardioid pattern)

Shure KMS 141 (SDC, omni pattern)

So which one do you prefer? I definitely have my favorite, but I think I’ll wait a bit before I tell. Perhaps you wanna make up your mind before you read on. Oh, the suspense!

Category : Steel string guitar

My guitar here is a Seagull S6 Cedar. Great projection, slightly boomy and there’s some harsh tinnyness that might be better tamed. How do the mics respond to the challenge?

Milab DC-96B (LDC, cardioid)

Røde NT1-A (LDC, cardioid)

Røde NT5 (SDC, cardioid)

sE Electronics GM10 (SDC, cardioid)

Sennheiser e935 (Dynamic, cardioid)

Sennheiser MK8 (LDC, in cardioid pattern)

Shure KMS 141 (SDC, cardioid pattern)

Shure KMS 141 (SDC, omni pattern)

Let me know if you have a favorite.

Results

When something is different, it’s often hard to decide if that means it’s better. However, after a quick listen-through, I do have some thoughts on the mics.

Blind test update: I believe it’s easy to kid oneself with preconceived notions and so I tried listening again a day after writing to all takes while taking notes on the sound. I’ve added my blind test notes under each mic.

Milab DC-96B

Milab DC-96B, the perfect match to a nylon string guitar?
Milab DC-96B, the perfect match to a nylon string guitar?

For some reason, this mic just works with my nylon guitar. I don’t know about you, but to me, it is clearly ahead of the competition. It’s like it mellows out what could be harsh, but without muddying it. It seems to accentuate the sound of the strings while masking all the other nasty sounds / mistakes I make. Very nice!

It’s also nice on steel string. Is it the nicest? Not sure, but probably in the top two or three.

Blind test notes

  • Nylon – rounded, pleasant, suitably punchy strumming
  • Steel – soft, pleasant pickings, full and warm strumming sound

Røde NT1-A

The Røde NT1-A is nice on the wallet, but how does it compare here?
The Røde NT1-A is nicely priced, but how does it compare here?

I hope my opinion is not colored by the price of this mic (relatively cheap which is great for the budget-minded home studio owner), but I do feel it is outclassed. However, less so on the nylon string guitar where it does a decent job. On steel strings, there is some nice definition and clearness going on in the picking patterns. However, I feel like I’m hearing some unflattering harshness.

Blind test notes

  • Nylon – Defined/clear, boxy vibe, non-flattering, not good
  • Steel – Defined, a bit harsh, tinny strange top end

Røde NT5

Røde's reasonably priced NT5 is transparently honest about my performance
Røde’s reasonably priced NT5 is transparently honest about my performance

The Røde is a smaller, cheaper SDC and so ends up in the same class of mic as the GM10 and the KSM 141s. It has a reputation for being somewhat somewhat bright and so may be better at distance micing.

On nylon guitar, I think it sounds okay on the picking pattern, but on the strumming part, I think the difference in quality between this and f.ex the shure KSM 141 becomes evident.

On steel strings, there’s something I don’t quite like in the top strings of the picking pattern, kinda boxy sounding. It’s slightly harsh and accentuates my flaws, but sounds better when strumming. Possibly it outperforms the GM10 on nylon, but not on steel string. The KSM 141 in cardioid sounds better on both guitars to my ears.

Blind test notes

  • Nylon – defined, but less flattering (comparing to DC-96B)
  • Steel – snappy pickings, nice and clear strumming, but accentuates my bad playing. Good if I could get a perfect take?

Se Electronics GM10

The GM10 prefers steel to nylon
The GM10 prefers steel to nylon

I think this mic hates my nylon guitar. Eyuuch .. Or is it just me?

But I actually quite like it on steel strings. It’s a bit bright and perhaps ever so slightly tinny, but I like the clearness and definition. For me, it works. Whether it works in a mix, I am a little unsure.

Blind test notes

  • Nylon – careful, cautious, distant, but pleasant.
  • Steel – Thorough clarity and not in a bad way

It seems I was less damning about its performance on the nylon the second time during the blind test.

Sennheiser e935

The Sennheiser e935 has a good reputation on vocals
The Sennheiser e935 has a good reputation on vocals

It’s a dynamic! What’s it doing here? Sticks out with some meaty proximity effect (big lows) and a bit thin highs, but it’s a sound that can work. It sounds big, but I think I made the mistake of micing this closer than the other mics as I had forgotten about it and had to re-setup everything to get it after I’d done the other recordings.

The picking pattern on the nylon guitar sound particularly meaty here. I’m surprised at how much I like it. However, I don’t think it’s a good match with my steel string guitar.

Blind test notes

  • Nylon – defined pickings, meaty strummings, quite nice
  • Steel – defined, clear, slightly harsh

Sennheiser MK8

The versatile MK8 reminds me of the turrets from Portal
The versatile MK8 reminds me of the turrets from Portal

I think I generally like this, both on the nylon and the acoustic guitar. I got the levels a bit low and had to up master a bit to match the others, so bit of a mistake there. It sounds fairly transparent to my ears which may not be the best sound in any situation, but there’s also some pleasantness going on – a few magic sprinkles.

On steel strings, I think this may be the best strumming sound I got. However, there’s something a little off with the highest note of the picking pattern. Possibly a different polar pattern next time?

Blind test notes

  • Nylon – Nice pickings and well defined strumming, but not the most flattering of the bunch
  • Steel – Better than 1 [refers to Røde NT1-A], full sounding and pretty nice strumming

Shure KSM 141

You can switch between cardioid and omni on the Shure KSM 141
You can switch between cardioid and omni patterns on the Shure KSM 141

In cardioid, this mic tames the high end a bit in the arpeggios. Check out the difference between this and the sE Electronics GM10. It evens out the guitar a bit, perhaps. In omni, it sounds a little brighter and more open. According to my blind test, it seems I prefer the cardioid sound at this setup.

The KSM 141 is possibly my second favorite on nylon after the DC-96B.

Blind test notes on cardioid

  • Nylon – rounded, adequately deep and detailed. Nice.
  • Steel – snappy pickings, pleasant, fairly flattering strumming without enhancing my mistakes too much

Blind test notes on omni

  • Nylon – defined, enhances mistakes [compared to DC-96B]
  • Steel – Somewhat tamed top, roomy strumming

Final words

At this point, I am suffering so much from listening fatigue that I can no longer judge what sounds good and what doesn’t. My ears are spent. I’ll probably listen some more in the future and edit this post.

I am also aware that this test will favour certain mics. Some probably don’t like to be pointed at the sound hole and would rather point at the neck joint or somewhere else. However, I can say that I am generally pleased with the Milab DC-96B which I feel gives the most impressive performance allround, particularly on nylon string guitar where it simply reigns supreme to my ears. It’s also good on steel strings.

The Shure KSM 141 also works well on both guitars, perhaps slightly more so on the nylon to my tastes, and I’m looking forward to stereo micing these.

Mics for nylon guitar

The Milab DC-96B is great here. I also like the Shure KMS 141 a lot. Surprisingly, the dynamic Sennheiser e935 also works well.

Mics for steel string guitar

I like the Milab DC-96B, the Sennheiser MK8, the sE Electronics GM10, the Shure KSM 141 in cardioid and the Røde NT5. It’s not entirely clear to me which is the better except I like the strumming on the MK8 and the picking patterns on the DC-96B. The KSM 141 seems to do everything well here, if not best at either picking or strumming.

What did you think? Leave a comment, dudes and dudettes.

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