"Classic" Live Mic List Survey Results!

Yana Chupenko at Cathyland's Love Bites 2014

Yana Chupenko at Cathyland's Love Bites 2014

There are as many opinions about microphones as there are sound engineers. Experimentation with mics is a great thing to do, but what if you’re just starting out, or you need to mic something you haven’t worked with before?  

For my students (and anyone else interested), I thought it would be fun to develop a list of “classic” live mics for live sound.  Rather than just make a list based on my own opinions, I figured I’d crowd source it by creating a survey and sending it out to as many people as possible (and writing this, with the analysis complete, I just realized I forgot to vote in my own survey!).  I ran a beta test of it with a few people on the always excellent Theatre Sound Mailing List, and then tweaked up the survey and posted it both there and on the ProSoundWeb Live Audio Board forum.  36 people completed the survey, which ended up being a bit tedious (it turns out we mic a LOT of different things!). 

I asked respondents for two variations on “Classic”.  The first would be “Money Is No Object”, and the second is “Most Commonly Used”.  Here’s the list of the most popular in each categories (I've also got a better formatted PDF available here).  Ties are indicated by multiple mics separated by “/”, such as SM58/AKG 414. 

Money Is No Object Most Commonly Used
Vocals
General Speech Handheld Shure SM58 Shure SM58
Rock Vocal Handheld Audix OM7 Shure SM58
Pop Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Rap Vocal Handheld Shure SM58 Shure SM58
Jazz Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Classical Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Headworn Boom Cardioid DPA 4088 Countryman E6
Headworn Boom Omni DPA 4066 Countryman E6
Lavalier Cardioid DPA 4080 Shure WL185
Lavalier Omni DPA 4061 Countryman B3
Choir or Chorus AKG C414 Sennheiser e 935
Guitar-Bass
Acoustic Guitar Mic Neumann KM 84 Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Guitar Amp Mic Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Acoustic Bass Mic DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Bass Amp Mic Beyerdynamic M-88 Shure SM57/ Sennheiser MD 421
Piano-Keyboard
Grand Piano: Lid Closed Earthworks PM40 PianoMic AKG C414
Grand Piano: Lid Opened AKG C414 AKG C414
Upright Piano: Lid Closed AKG C414 AKG C414
Upright Piano: Lid Opened AKG C414 AKG C414
Electronic Keyboard Amp Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Electric Organ Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Leslie Cabinet Sennheiser MD 421/Sennheiser MD 441 Shure SM57
Drums
Kick Drum Inside Shure BETA 91 Shure BETA 91
Kick Drum Outside Electro Voice RE20 Shure BETA 52A
Snare Top Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Snare Bottom Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Floor Tom Sennheiser e 904/Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser e 604
Tom Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser e 604
Cymbals AKG C414/Neumann KM 84/Neumann KM 184 Shure SM81
Overhead AKG C414 Shure SM81
Hi Hat AKG C451B Shure SM81
Misc Percussion Neumann KM 184 Shure SM57/Shure SM 81
DI
Guitar Amp Radial JDI Countryman 85
Pedal Steel Radial JDI Countryman 85/BSS AR-133
Bass Amp Radial JDI Countryman 85
Keyboard Radial JDI Countryman 85
Computer Whirlwind pcDI Whirlwind pcDI
DJ Mixer Radial JDI BSS AR-133
MP3 Player Radial JDI/Radio ProDI/Whirlwind pcDI Radial ProDI/Whirlwind IMP 2/Whirlwind pcDI
General Input Radial JDI Countryman 85
String
Banjo Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Ukulele Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Dobro Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Violin Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM81
Viola Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM81
Cello Individual DPA 4099 AKG C414/Shure KSM137/Shure SM81
Bass Individual DPA 4099 Neumann KM 184
Harp Individual DPA 4061/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Shure SM81
Mandolin Individual DPA 4099/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM57
Violin Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Viola Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Cello Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Bass Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84 Neumann KM 184/Shure SM81
Harp Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM81
Woodwind
Harmonica Sennheiser MD 441 Shure SM58
Piccolo Individual Neumann KM 84 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184
Flute Individual Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 AKG C451B
Oboe Individual Neumann KM 184/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 AKG C451B
Clarinet Individual DPA 4099/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4/Neumann KM 184 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184/Shure KSM32
Bassoon Individual Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Saxophone Individual Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser MD 421/Shure SM57
Piccolo Section Neumann KM 84 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184
Flute Section Neumann KM 84 Neumann KM 184
Oboe Section Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4/Schoeps CMC6/MK 21/Sennheiser MKH 40 Neumann KM 184
Clarinet Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Bassoon Section Neumann KM 84 AKG C414
Saxophone Section Sennheiser MKH 40/Neumann KM 84/u87 AKG C414
Brass
Trumpet Individual Sennheiser MD 421/Electro Voice RE20 Shure SM57
French Horn Individual Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser MD 421
Trombone Individual Electro Voice RE20 Sennheiser MD 421
Tuba Individual Electro Voice RE20 Sennheiser MD 421
Trumpet Section Neumann u87/Neumann TLM 170 AKG C414
French Horn Section Neumann u87 AKG C414
Trombone Section Neumann u87 AKG C414
Tuba Section Neumann u87/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Not enough responses
Percussion
Xylophone Individual AKG C414/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM81
Timpani Individual AKG C414 Shure SM57
Bass Drum Individual Earthworks SR25 AKG D112/Shure BETA 52A
Cymbals Individual AKG C414 Shure SM81
Conga Individual Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Timbales Individual Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Triangle Individual DPA 4021 Shure SM81
Tambourine Individual Shure SM57 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184/Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Misc Percussion Individual AKG C451B Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Xylophone Section AKG C414 Shure SM81/AKG C414
Timpani Section AKG C414 Shure SM81/AKG C414
Bass Drum Section AKG C414 Not enough responses

Respondents were encouraged to skip mics they didn't use, so a few of the entries are blank (I guess not many people mic tuba sections).  A few also had pretty small sample sizes and ended up being less relevant--you can download my summary sheet of the top three results in Excel format here.  I also have all the raw data available here (scrubbed of any personal information).

In general, the “Money Is No Object” section drew a lot of diverse responses, while the “most commonly used” tended to hone in on a few favorites, some overwhelmingly (again, see the percentages on my summary sheet linked above).  Despite my efforts, I still missed some mics in my list, most notably the Shure BETA 91 for inside a kick drum (the eventual winner), and the write in box worked to correct that. The only other write in that I saw with more than a few entries was a couple Heil mics, but the respondents weren't always clear about where they should go, and the quantities would have only added up to compete for third place or so, so they didn't affect the categories where they were written in (some people also wrote in mics that were on the list).

This is of course not a scientifically accurate survey, since I have no idea how many sound engineers there are in the world, and therefore also have no idea how well this small sample represents the market.  But I do think the list has some value, since it’s as if I had asked 36 of my closest sound engineer friends their opinion.  And it’s an experienced group, with 82.4% of respondents indicating that they had worked in the live sound business more than 10 years.  90% said they worked at least partly in concert sound, and 50% do this kind of work primarily (I forgot worship sound in my poll so several people wrote that in).  24 (67%) of the respondents were from the US, but I also got seven from the UK, three from Canada, one from Germany, and one from the Netherlands.   You can see the rest of the demographic result details in the excel sheet linked above. Thanks to all the participants! And, congratulations to Tim Perry of Utica, NY, who won the copy of my book.  

 It turns out that Survey Monkey offers a very limited set of options for data analysis for the “Matrix of Questions” type that I used, so I ended up having to do an unbelievable amount of spreadsheet magic to get the results.  For that reason, I’m sure there’s mistakes in the list; if you find any please let me know and I’ll correct it.  

"Classic" Live Mic List Survey--Need Your Help!

I believe that microphones are something everyone should experiment with to get the best sound for the application, but my students and others new to the business lack experience and are often looking for good starting points for professional technique.

So, for fun, I'm looking to develop two crowd-sourced "classic" mic lists, using two definitions of classic:
1. of the first or highest quality, class, or rank: "a classic piece of work."
2. serving as a standard, model, or guide: "the classic method of teaching arithmetic."

List 1 will be what your mic choice would be for a particular application if money were no object; list 2 will be what you use (or see used) most commonly.

I will publish the results here in conjunction with the upcoming 2014 USITT convention. All data from the survey (except for optionally given email addresses and names) will be available to anyone interested for download.  And, I will randomly select one survey responder and give them a copy of my book, Show Networks and Control Systems

If you use microphones for live shows, please take a few minutes to fill out my survey here.  

The survey will close at noon NYC time on Saturday, March 22, 2014.

Thanks!

Controlling an ETC Ion Console Over an IP Network and from Dataton Watchout

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I've written before about controlling a GrandMA2 console, Figure 53's QLab V3Weigl's ProCommander, and Stage Research's SFX all using ASCII commands over IP.  I had a little time today (we're on winter break and don't have classes) so we set up our ETC Ion lighting console to see how to control it over the network.  I'm a noob on the Ion, but I worked with my colleague Sue Brandt who can find her way around the board, and this blog assumes you know the basics of the console as well.

In most of the stuff I'm doing these days, I'm trying to move away from legacy protocols like MIDI, serial, and DMX and into IP everything.  (Although, implementing my "simpler is always better" design principle, for an upcoming show we will be firing old school, hardware-based MIDI Show Control out of the Ion to control Dataton Watchout).

ETC has implemented into the Ion (and the Eos family) a simple ASCII-based "String Interface" control protocol that can be sent via a serial port or via IP.  The commands are detailed on page 23 of the EOS Family Show Control User Guide.  

Here's a couple typical cue messages:

• Go 1 – fire playback 1
• Cue 1 2 – run cue 2 from list 1, on the appropriate fader
• Cue 1 – fire pending cue from list 2

The manual is very clear that, "All text will be queued up until either a carriage return (hex 0D), a “\r”, or a “#”, is encountered to show the end of the command".  

There's just a couple things you need to need to establish communications.  Of course, the computer/device you are using for control must have an IP address in the subnet of the console.  Our console had a Class A, non-routeable IP address.  You can get to this screen by going to the "Shell" and selecting "Settings" to bring up the EOS Configuration Utility ("ECU" in ETC Parlance).

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(Keep in mind that if any of this IP-mumbo-jumbo is confusing, I have a book and a whole series of free video lectures here on the page.)

While you're in this configuration screen, you also have to turn on the "UDP Strings" feature to get it to accept the string commands (I learned this the hard way by not turning it on at first and finding a port rejected command in Wireshark; you can learn from my mistake):

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(Sorry about the crappy camera phone pictures--if you want to see my better (unrelated) photography go to my Facebook page).

Go back into the main console software, and there under the Show Settings page you need to enable "String RX" (RX means Receive), and then pick some port for the board to receive on.  I picked 56789 for this test (just make sure to pick something not on the assigned list).

IMG_20140107_152419_350.jpg

That's the extent of the configuration on the Ion side.  

For a basic test, I used the Essential Net Tools utility running on a PC.  Essential Net Tools has a "Raw Socket" mode that is great for this kind of testing (socket just means IP address and port number combination).  

Here's the ETC syntax to fire a Cue on List 1, Cue 5.5 out from Essential Net Tools:

IMG_20140107_152608_076.jpg

That was it, that's all it took!  Once configured, it worked just fine and was very responsive.  

I then decided to fire the ETC Console from the Dataton Watchout multidisplay software system.   To send ASCII commands out over the network from Watchout, you first setup a String Output (screen capture from the manual since I forgot to capture my screen).

Capture.PNG

With that in place, writing a cue was a simple matter of filling in a box and dragging it onto the Watchout timeline (as indicated, the $0D indicates a Carriage Return ASCII symbol:)

IMG_20140107_153905_507.jpg

And that was it, it worked great!  I've been doing this a while, but for me I find controlling anything over a network like this to be the most straightforward and powerful method.  

AVB, Audinate Dante, and AES-67: Peering into My Crystal Ball

Several events before and during the AES convention last month here in NYC indicated for me a future for the world of audio networking for the live sound industry.  Before I reveal what I saw in my crystal ball, let’s review some recent developments.

AVB

I first really became aware of the IEEE 802.1 standards effort for Audio-Video Bridging (AVB) back at a demo on the floor of the Infocomm show in Vegas in 2009 (my writeup and photos here). AVB’s goal was to create an open, free to use network for low-latency, high quality audio and video distribution natively over Ethernet. Seeing working devices on the Infocomm floor in 2009, I thought this cool new technology might come on the market soon afterwards.  I was wrong.  Instead, AVB languished through the glacial IEEE standards-making process; every time I asked, everyone I knew who was involved said “oh we’re just waiting on this one last thing" (that one last, final thing just came out a couple months ago). At Infocomm in June of this year, there were a few encouraging signs (my writeup herethat we might finally, officially get AVB out into the world in real product. But then in July, a month after Infocomm, on my way back from a photo workshop in Maine, I stopped in to check out the AVB testing program sponsored by the AVNU Alliance (the trade association created to promote AVB) at the Interoperability Lab (IOL) of the University of New Hampshire.  It’s an impressive lab (my writeup and some photos here), but I’m afraid AVB might be too late to the live sound party (and I voiced this concern to the lab director during my visit).  In July, they were—more than four years after I first saw working prototype AVB equipment at Infocomm 2009 in Vegas—just testing new, AVB-capable Ethernet switches to join the few already on the market. The problem this causes is that AVB requires those special AVB-capable switches to function properly, so without a wide array of these on the market the standard is effectively stalled out from the user's perspective. And worse, the rumor I heard from several people at AES was that Cisco--the 800 pound gorilla of the networking world--was not going to implement AVB in their switches any time soon, despite being a founding member of the AVNU alliance.

In the Meantime: Dante

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During these four years, of course, the market did not stand still; Audinate’s proprietary Dante audio network solution basically took over the live sound market. The turning point for me was when Yamaha announced at Infocomm in 2012 that their CL series live sound consoles would be based completely around Dante.  And around the time of my IOL visit, an article came out from Audinate talking about the situation (linked from my writeup here), which basically said that while they supported AVB, they—and the pro sound market—were not able to wait forever for affordable AVB-capable switches.  They also speculated that AVB switches didn't offer compelling value to our market, at least in the near term with high costs and limited availability. The only viable possible path forward they saw was that AVB “…may gradually diffuse throughout the industry and become available in a wide variety of network equipment.”   As I wrote then, “After watching this market for 25 years, I've found it rare for technologies like this to gradually 'diffuse' through the industry.”

I tweeted my July blog entry at Audinate, and US-based director of Audinate, Lee Ellison, contacted me, saying he would be in NYC for AES and would like to get together. I of course said yes and took advantage of this opportunity to ask that he talk to my sound engineering students, and he gave us a great presentation.  He is a very smart guy who understands way more about the technology than I would expect of the director of a company, and he clearly gets the market and the role of standards in industry.

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Mr. Ellison was clear in the talk and at lunch afterwards: Audinate plans to continue support for AVB.  But, because Dante is both a proprietary transport technology and also a sort of “glue” that can tie together disparate transport standards, it seems to me that Audinate will not use AVB as their primary backbone (there’s so few AVB capable Ethernet switches available today it’s hard to do in any case), but instead offer AVB as an option to those who want it.  But Mr. Ellison also talked a lot about a new and potentially game changing standard: the then just ratified AES67-2013: AES standard for audio applications of networks - High-performance streaming audio-over-IP interoperability.

AES67

Back at an Infocomm AVNU alliance cocktail party in 2011, I ran into my old friend Kevin Gross, the primary inventor and developer of Cobranet, which until Dante came on the scene was the most widely used networking standard for transporting audio in the pro Audio market. I asked him if he was working on AVB, and he said he was instead working on a new Layer 3 audio transport protocol.  I didn't actually grasp the full significance of this standards effort until I heard the details at this year's AES convention, since AES67 was ratified and released this past September. Kevin guided the process to completion in about two years, which is an incredibly speedy time frame for the standards world (but what the market needs).

To understand the significance of AES67, you have to understand a little of the ISO layer stack (and if you have questions, I know a good book you can buy that explains it all). To summarize, though, AVB--as part of Ethernet--operates at Layer 2 only.  That means that special AVB-capable Ethernet switches can understand and transport it, but you can’t easily send AVB between networks (either local or over the internet), because today that’s done primarily using Layer 3, and the Internet Protocol (IP, as in IP addresses).  Dante and several other network systems operate at Layer 3. 

All this means that with AES67 we now have an open-standard, Layer 3, modern way of getting high quailty audio between networks (more technical details here).  So if someone creates a connection between an AVB product or system and AES67, then AES67 can also be used to get audio over to Dante or another network. And this is great news for us today, since peering into my crystal ball, this is how I see the live sound networking world in the near future:

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All manufacturers listed in the graphic have, to the best of my knowledge, working, actual product on the market using those networking technologies as of this writing.  As you can see, the scales are tilted pretty far over towards the Dante side, with Meyer and a few other key live sound players on the AVB side.  But AES67 can provide the bridge between those worlds for the users.

It’s All About the Users

One thing that is often lost in thinking about these kind of situations and technology development is that end users—who actually buy and use the stuff, after all—drive the market.  And they are voting with their dollars. Sure, Audinate could switch over their entire Dante infrastructure to AVB, but why would they?  If they did so now, everyone who has a current installation would have to buy new AVB switches, and these are not cheap--a few months ago, I priced out some Extreme Networks switches and the AVB option cost hundreds of dollars extra per switch, and what does that get me?  Dante is doing everything I need right now on standard switch hardware, at layer 3.  It gives me an affordable multi-channel, high quality, self-clocking, easy-to-use transport system with incredible patch flexibility (including any PC or Mac using the Virtual Sound Card). Here's a setup I did the other day here at City Tech (where I teach) to test our new JoeCo Dante-enabled recorders.  It took me literally about two minutes to get this configured and running once I had it plugged up.

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Is Dante a panacea?  Of course not.  It's still new and I still have issues with it. We had all kinds of mysterious problems on our last show (turned out to be mostly Windows firewall issues) and getting the firmware upgraded required several calls to Yamaha tech support (who were great).  We've also had occasional word clock-style clicking/distortion problems, etc, and when those things happen it's typically not clear what the next troubleshooting step should be, so I hope Audinate will put more diagnostic capabilities into their control software. And for the future, I can easily foresee problems when you're connecting stuff from multiple manufacturers leading to finger pointing; but that would be the same case with AVB too (and possibly worse since there wouldn't be any common hardware).

Conclusion

I wrote back in June, “Will 2014 be the year of AVB, Dante, or AVB/Dante? ”  After AES, I think the answer is pretty clear—Audinate's Dante has won the race, while AVB is still being tweaked by the mechanics over in the pit lane. Those who have committed to AVB (like Meyer—and I’m a big Meyer fan and user) should provide AES67 inter-operability for their systems so we can use it to connect to my Yamaha mixer, Shure wireless mics, JoeCo live recorder, Aviom monitor mixers, SMAART analyzer (via virtual sound card), etc etc etc—all of which are running Dante today.

Blue Ribbon Editor's Choice Award at Maker Faire!

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For the second year in a row, our City Tech’s Entertainment Technology department projects display won a Blue Ribbon Editor's Choice award at the Maker Faire® New York 2013. This award is given “to the Makers that have demonstrated great creativity, ingenuity and innovation for their Maker Faire project. These ribbons are handed out at each event and signify the highlights of Maker Faire.”  Here's a photo of my colleague Sue Brandt and I receiving the award for the department:

 

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My part of the exhibit was designing the show control system for the pop up "Trash Can Man".  This system normally drives a stand-alone lobby effect in our Gravesend Inn haunted hotel, and is based on an Automation Direct PLC and an Alcorn McBride Digital Audio machine.  Students on my show control crew actually constructed the box:

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A diffuse-reflective sensor drives the exhibit; I wrote those up previously here and you can see the prop in action in the video below. 

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