For the last 14 months of my adventure as a field recordist, my main equipment was based on the microphones made by a Russian company called Oktava. It’s been a great time, full of sessions filled with stereo recordings, captured with MK 012 model in different configurations. From the XY, through ORTF and up to MS. I was very satisfied with the results for most of the time. The noise wasn’t a big problem, my sound effects were detailed enough and the possibilities with modular nature of those microphones allowed me to record pretty much everything. As the days were passing and new libraries came to light, I’ve noticed more and more files recorded with well known microphones from Sennheiser the MKH 8040. I really liked the quality of those mics, but at the same time the price successfully forced me to abandon my idea of buying ones. I completely forgot about them, and came back to recording sound effects with my Oktavas. After quite some time I’ve read an interview on the Creative Field Recording website with Andreas Usenbenz. The Andreas kind words about MKH setup, along with all the files I had a chance to listen inspired me to save some cash and try those microphones on my own. I had to say, it was very good decision and I’m saying this after almost two months of using them. Naturally, before I made an order I was looking for some comparisons online, but with every keyword typed into the search box, I’ve started to realise, that there’s nothing there to listen to. This comparison is a result of my small disappointment back than.
During the recording process, my main focus, and concern, was to keep the files as neutral as it’s possible. The position of the microphones, both in stereo and mono configurations had to be the same. The distance from the microphones had to be as close as possible, and the post production minimal.
For all the stereo ORTF configurations I’ve picked constant and similar sound sources. That’s because I only have 2 inputs in my 702 and I’m not able to record the sound effects in the same time with both setups. After recording each sample with MKH 8040, I quickly changed the blimps to record the same source with MK 012. To keep all the settings untouched, I’ve linked the first and second input on my 702 and set the gain knob in one place to avoid any minimal differences when setting each input individually.
Mono files on the other hand were recorded at the same time, also with linked inputs to keep the gain level consistent. Two microphones were mounted in one blimp, MKH 8040 on the top of the MK012. The distance between the capsules were minimal.
Post production was limited only to volume matching. In the following examples you might get the impression of some volume variations, but that’s because the frequency content wasn’t the same all the time, and sometimes it was hard for me to match the volume of recorded files. Also I felt like it’s unfair to lower the volume of Oktavas because of the higher noise floor, which in some cases was obviously more apparent than silent files recorded with MKH 8040.
My first idea was to just upload the files, and let you test them on your own, but let’s be honest, a lot of people would like to hear the results without downloading everything, putting into DAW etc. My original idea was to upload everything to the soundcloud, but than it would be hard for me to let you know when the specific sample is being played. That’s why I’ve recorded the video from my screen, along with audio to show you when samples are changing. At the end of every video, there’s a shot from iZotope RX5 with all the recorded frequencies, so you can see how much of the ultrasonic signals were captured with each mic. The playback sequence is the same for every video, MK 012 -> MKH 8040. Everything was recorded with highest sample rate which in 702 is 192kHz.
I’m aware that my way of comparing those files might not be ideal, and that’s why you can download all the files here, and test them on your own. Keep in mind, that the volumes were slightly changed, but that’s all I did with those files. Also you can use the downloaded files in commercial projects.
The following ambients were recorded in the middle of the forest, about 30 km from Olsztyn. The day was windy, and the birds were quite silent, but I think I’ve managed to capture the ‘vibe’ of the place. Listen to the difference in high frequency content, and the amount of low end.
Diesel Engine / Passes
In addition to quiet sounds I wanted to record something that’s a little bit louder and more noisy. My goal was to hear which microphone is able to capture more detailed sound, even when the frequencies are bouncing all around. Following examples were recorded in mono and stereo configurations.
Now off to something loud with very sharp transient. I’ve recorded two ‘explosions’ with lower and higher gain setup. Both recordings were hit hard with built in limiter, first one a lot less. In addition to the comparison I’ve uploaded the slow motion video. The audio comes from internal microphones in my camera. It’s completely irrelevant for this comparison, but hey, it looks cool!
Footsteps / Handling Noise
Following examples were recorded in mono, with two microphones set into one blimp. I’ve made a short walk across the wet leafs, sand and asphalt road. I was holding the blimp down, while walking, so you can hear every low frequency ‘bump’ while I go.
This is something I was asked to record. Shaking keys and simple pitch shifting of recorded files. Scroll down if you want to listen the transposed files.
Quiet Mechanical Sounds
For this comparison I picked my old Nikon SLR to record some mechanical clicks and shutter sound. It was recorded in acoustically untreated room, so you can listen to some room tone too. Scroll down for transposed files.
The sound of torturing the iron bowl with metal bar. Recorded inside a car.
Impacts / Resonating Iron
The sound of hitting the iron bowl with metal bar and short metal piece with another one. Some of the impacts were pitch shifted so for the transposed sounds just scroll down.
Few seconds of room tone, medium size, relatively empty.
A lot of people asked about the samples of vocal. I’m recording the podcast every week with a friend of mine, so I’ve decided to upload a sample of his voice here. Everything was recorded outside, quite close to the microphones.
Water Dam / River Flow
This comparison includes the stereo recordings of water dam and regular river flow. Both recorded on the river called Łyna. You can hear more sound effects from this location in my Water Flow sound library.
Some people asked about the instruments examples. I don’t have many acoustic instruments, but I do have ukulele, so I picked it to record few strums (excuse me my complete luck of playing skills).
All the files were transposed by two octaves in Ableton Live 9 with beat/complex pro mode. I left the length of the files untouched, the only thing that was changed is pitch. Notice how rich in frequencies are files recorded with MKH 8040 compared to Oktava files, which are full of lows and mids, but not highs. The down side of ultrasonic MKH is more apparent noise, obviously.
I’m not going to write the obvious things about the difference in quality in each video, because that’s something you have to judge on your own. The purpose of this test was to deliver you the samples, and maybe write few words about the recording process. For me, the advantage of MKH comes in 3 different flavours. First one is lower noise floor, which is obvious in ambient recordings or room tone. Second one is amount of details. 8040 sounds more natural. Few of my friends said, that they prefer the world through those microphones than they own ears, and I can’t blame them for saying that. I often find myself listening through them without recording. The last advantage is capability to capture ultrasonic sounds, which allows designers to squeeze more from the recordings after pitch shifting. I didn’t knew it’s so important until I’ve started to tweak my own recordings for sound design purposes. It’s great to have that option of additional range captured in the field, but of course it’s not necessary to record great sounds. Like 4k in the movies, great to have it for post production purpose, not essential to record good movie.
All in all, I hope that you found this comparison useful. It took me some time to prepare, so if you enjoyed it and would like to see more in the future, please feel free to join my newsletter (or share this post). Thanks!
Last but not least, what are your thoughts on recorded samples? Let me know, I’m really curious about your opinion.