Thursday, March 22, 2012

Microphone and flute listening tests

A few years ago, I was into amateur astronomy in a mild way. To be honest, I think I enjoyed reading about optics and telescopes as much as, or perhaps more than, actually looking through them. (It didn't help that it was usually extremely cold here when it was dark enough to look at interesting things.) This isn't an uncommon problem: you see it in the photography world, computers, guitars, etc., "Gear Acquisition Syndrome" it sometimes gets called. At some point, I think I ran across Ed Ting's site, which is primarily of reviews of telescopes. I ran into again recently, reading up on pianos, because he also has an extensive set of piano reviews. Buried in there, are some lovely, carefully engineered listening tests on recording gear:  a Rode NT1 microphone vs an ancient cheapo Radio Shack mic, an inexpensive digital recorder vs a full professional recording setup, a portable recorder shootout, and a test of two flutes, same piece, both played by the same professional on the same occasion.

I actually really enjoyed the cheap vs. expensive tests, because it's first of all, much easier to hear differences than when comparing two more or less equivalent pieces of new equipment, and second of all, you learn pretty quickly what exactly it is that the fancier equipment is getting for you. Most of the tests were of electronic equipment, with the expensive one being maybe 10x more than the cheap one. The musical instrument test had a larger financial gap: a $200 30-year-old student flute vs a >$10k Brannen Brothers high-end professional instrument, so almost a 100x difference in price. And, interestingly, that was the only test that I got wrong: I could hear they were different, but apparently my judgement of flute tone is not well refined. That, or a great player sounds great no matter what they play on. It's the player, not the horn.

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