Build reports are nice enough. (I wrote up a little errata post yesterday, by the by.) But the real question, of course, is how does the RK-47/990B kit mic sound?
Early impressions are surprisingly good. Even with only the single microphone, there’s a sense of presence and space – even with a purely mono signal path – that I normally have to dual-mic to attain. Also, it has tremendous precision – this is a mic capable of great subtlety. And the amount of gain built into the microphone itself is crazy – this is one spicy meatball of a microphone. That’s something you won’t hear in recordings, but it results in a lower noise floor, which is always good.
Let’s start with some unsubtle differences, ones that’ll show up on laptop speakers. Because while I’ve never liked the MXL-990, they sell a zillion of ’em, and we should make a couple of direct comparisons.
Here’s a snippet of chords from “Lukey,” alternating between the MXL-990 (unaltered factory) and the RK-47/990B. It starts with the MXL-990, then transitions in-song to the RK-47, then back and forth. It ends with the RK-47. It’s a pure mono signal path until prepped for uploading to Soundcloud.
And here’s a short melody, on zouk – again, starting on MXL-990 (factory stock), then RK-47, then back to MXL-990. The last phrase is repeated to allow us to end on the RK-47; also, I wanted that ending bit to be presented on both microphones. The glissando really highlights some of the differences.
But that’s shooting fish in a barrel, as it were. The MXL-990, while popular, is not a good microphone. We should do comparisons to microphones I actually like – let’s say, the M-Audio Nova. At about twice the price of the MXL-990, it’s still a cheap microphone, just one I consider entry-level competent. But it has issues – not the least of which being it’s kind of a noisy beast as these categories of microphones go.
So let’s take the easy swing – here’s a sharply boosted noise level comparison of the RK-47 to the M-Audio Nova, at equivalent gain levels. This is not the noise you’d actually hear; I recorded a silent room at gain appropriate on each microphone for instrument recording, then cranked that recording up 32db for easy noise levels comparison.
Unfortunately, this really requires headphones, because it’s RK-47 on left, Nova on right:
NOT SUBTLE. But also, an easy shot. The Nova is noisy and everybody knows it. There are some mods out there to improve that, but they change the sound a bit in ways I don’t like, so I work with it.
So let’s dig down a bit. Pictured here is a snippet of waveform from a bit of music played, in mono, over my studio monitors, into identically positioned microphones relative to those speakers. These two recordings were made simultaneously.
You’ll note in this highly-zoomed-in render how the RK47 waveform remains clear and unmuddled in these extremely rapid changes, while the Nova’s blurs into a bit of a mush. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about, and also, the sort of thing you can hear in these very short snippets of horns from a jazz track. This comparison requires headphones, possibly good ones:
They’re short because they must be uncompressed for best comparison – sorry about that – but listen to them a few times and compare. Note how the edges of detail – bits which add flavour – are blurred in the Nova, but retained in the RK-47. Neat, eh?
That out of the way, let’s step up a level in comparator microphones. Oktava 012s are considered very good affordable microphones, particularly strong in their price ranges, and street for a new 012 and one pickup is comparable to the cost of this kit. With a second head (to add a second pickup pattern, as this mic has), it’s a bit more. They’re small-can capacitor instrument mics, rather than large-can, but we’re doing instrument recording, so that’s fair. The components inside – particularly older ones picked up used – can be a bit dodgy, but the design is great and the pickups are great, and you can upgrade the iffy capacitors and the suspect transistor if necessary. I have, of course, done this with mine.
Here’s the intro to “King of Elfland’s Daughter,” on the Oktava 012 (upgraded components) and the RK-47/990B kit. This recording repeats phrases, with the Oktava 012 first, then the RK-47/990B. Pure mono signal path, identical recording setup made within a few minutes of each other, but not simultaneously, as you can’t put two microphones in exactly the same place and I wanted the most equal comparison I could, modulo performance limitations. This probably also requires headphones, as the 012 is a pretty darned precise microphone itself:
44.1khz/16-bit uncompressed WAV file version here.
Once again, I’m finding that the RK-47 has a real staging advantage. There’s a sense of in-the-room presence with the RK-47 that I can make happen by dual-miking with my other microphones and mixing down, but not directly in mono.
Now, I don’t want to leave the impression that it is BEST AT ALL THINGS, because it’s not. These aren’t the only recordings I made – they’re just ones that show differences best. The first example I found was mandolin – the Nova likes my mandolin better than the RK-47 does. The specific response behaviour and foibles of the Nova work in its favour; a single RK-47 may have more presence and precision than a single Nova, but the Nova recording sounded more musical just the same. I’m sure there will be other examples as well.
In the end, I think this will probably become a heavy-use microphone in my kit. It may even become my go-to mic on the zouk – I need to do some stereo and multi-distance comparisons before I will know that for sure, but it’s looking very good. I also like what it does with piccolo and flute. I haven’t done any playing around with fiddle or drums, and one thing I want to play with is a two-mic setup with the ribbon kit mic I built, to see how those behave together – it’s a mic placement technique I’ve wanted to try for a while, but have never got round to testing. Now is probably the time.
I kind of wish I’d ordered the matched-pair version of this microphone kit. But it would’ve cost twice as much and I couldn’t know in advance I’d like it this much, so.
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