The Case For Microphone Modification

Why should I have my mic modded?

by John Bonnell
Copyright © 2013 John Bonnell


Why purchase a new mic, when the one you already own can be made better than the new one?

This is the basic reasoning behind microphone modification. For most inexpensive microphones, purchasing a newer mic will not be an improvement over what you already have, as they all suffer from similar problems. In fact, quite a lot of microphones are identical, with only different paint jobs and bodies, whether they are $60 or $500. This is very true of Chinese made microphones, which are all made in one of a few factories, but sold under literally hundreds of different brand names.

Even microphones costing $1,200 often use the same components as a $60 mic.

Low quality components cause problems across the entire frequency range, as well as noise issues, dropouts, and many other issues. Poor assembly adds to the problems. The wrong types of components in critical areas causes still more audio quality degradation.

Modification isn't a trend, it's a necessity. The prolific use of low quality components and other cost cutting, have provided the recording world with far-less-than-professional gear. Some equipment is virtually unusable stock, but still marketed as "professional studio" this-or-that. However, when compared to something made as recently as the 1980's, before China was an open market full of their counterfeit/low quality components, virtually any piece of reasonably priced modern gear will be seen as grossly inferior. It doesn't even take a direct comparison, though, as all one needs to do is examine how much time and effort is being expended trying to EQ out problems, or otherwise fighting with getting the sound you're after. With properly functioning equipment, markedly less effort is required to achieve a desired result—sometimes no effort at all.

Due to marketing hype, review sites, and testimonials from people who have only ever used low quality gear and so have no reference, the uninitiated are fooled into believing they are buying something that is capable of delivering the performance of the equipment used on the classic recordings they love. It's like buying a cheap car, and thinking you're going to race it at Le Mans—and win. But if you've never driven a true sports car, you might well not have a proper frame of reference to gauge what good versus bad really is. Of course, a stock consumer grade vehicle can often be made to function very nearly to the level of higher performance models. It's an often expensive and time consuming procedure, but it is achievable.

Thankfully, microphones, and other types of recording equipment, aren't nearly so complicated as a typical automobile. And many of the budget microphone designs are only slight variations of incredibly expensive, long revered studio microphones. Consequently, it doesn't cost very much at all to turn a seemingly bottom of the barrel mic into a properly functioning professional recording tool. Will it match side-by-side with its pricey brethren? Perhaps, but it would be better to view it on its own merits, and not as a replacement for a vaunted classic. The more useful question to ask is, "Will it help me achieve a professional result?" and the answer for that is simply, yes.

Addendum

Several years ago, before I started the mic mod business, I was in search of a matched pair of condenser microphones to use for various tasks. I tried a number of Chinese made offerings, which proved to be noisy and just horrible sounding. Then I gave the relatively more expensive Rode NT1000 a try.

It was markedly better than the Chinese made microphones. So, I bought a second NT1000, and shortly thereafter, a Rode K2, in the hopes of having an awesome tube vocal mic. The more I attempted to use them, however, the more disillusioned I became. Mixing became a chore—tedious and unsatisfying. So many broadband problems that were impossible to correct with EQ. Eventually, it occurred to me that my old Shure SM57 was easier to work with, and produced better results.

During this time, I was having a lot of equipment failures, and the more I repaired things, the more I realized just how bad modern gear had become. And being the sort who is driven to solve problems, solving problems is what I did. I spent a good couple of years fixing things, and working to improve everything, both for sound and longevity.

When I acquired a vintage Sennheiser MD421, I put it up against the stock NT1000—the old Sennheiser dynamic beat the Rode condenser on every level. Smoothness, controllability, depth—the differences were clear and obvious. And so, after having repaired and improved everything from speakers to interfaces, it was time to improve my microphones.

The Rode NT1000 pair, and the K2 went from being disappointing to being a pleasure to use. It was a long journey to reach that point, but it was well worth the effort.


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