Test microphones before you buy – Audio Test Kitchen
New tool to find microphones for the recording you want
Here are a couple of things that happen when you spend a lot of time in music production. Firstly, you become surer of the sound you like and consciously aim for. Secondly, you hone in on the equipment – hardware and software – that you love and regularly return to to make that sound.
These days a lot of my equipment is hand chosen and cherry-picked according to what I like and can trust in sound.
But I promise, none of this will ever stop the gear shopping!
Microphones create character in different ways
With microphones, in particular, it’s really important to have an array of models, as they make a massive difference to a sound recording. It’s my job, as a music producer, to know which microphone is going to give the right sheen to a particular vocalist or which is best to use on a bass guitar or a kick drum, and this will change according to the song, the player, the room etc.
The problem is that you never really know what that microphone will do until you use it. And it takes years to build your portfolio of preferred mics.
Until now I have relied on word of mouth referrals, reputation, clever brand marketing or maybe just what my budget affords when I’m looking at purchasing a new mic. I have benefited from a few “try before you buy” opportunities in the past, but that is certainly not available to anyone or from every manufacturer.
Audio Test Kitchen’s first gear comparison tool
However, there is a new free tool out there that aims to give you the chance to compare the sound of over 300 microphones from 65 manufacturers using an audio testing app online.
Audio Test Kitchen has made a kind of library of recordings that demonstrates how each microphone performs, and the unique sound of each mic, from the top boutique and vintage, to the modern and on-a-budget selection.
Filter and select the mics you want to test
The app is fairly straightforward to use. Search and select the mics you’re interested in, you can filter by brand and/or budget, and then listen to a selection of songs, or individual recordings of the musicians playing in those songs, switching from mic to mic.
The methodology has been to strip away the variables and create near identical recordings through the different mics.
It’s a practical resource and also fantastic to hear microphones side by side. A rare opportunity!
It enables me, as a producer, to better understand the differences between each microphone model, manufacturer or type, and helps to select the right mic for the job, or decide what to invest in next.
A shopping comparison site that could revolutionise gear shopping
The weakness of Audio Test Kitchen is that it requires a level of trust in their software and in your own ears!
You would certainly be more confident in your tests by listening through studio monitors rather than computer speakers. Nonetheless, it will still give a very helpful impression when selecting the right mic for your needs.
It’s like a fitting room for gear shoppers
Audio Test Kitchen are promising that their comparison site will extend into other types of production gear in the future. This could really revolutionise shopping for all studio recording equipment.
One final point is that if you’re an artist or less experienced musician or producer, this is as close as “try before you buy” as you can get, but you could narrow down your choice and see if you can hire your final three to listen in real life, especially if it’s going to be a big investment for you.
Certainly I would recommend having a listen, rather than making a decision based on what you’re reading, like magazine advertising and online reviews, which could land you with a microphone that just doesn’t suit. Nothing beats hands-on experience.