02 May 2007

World's Most Tasteless Microphone ?

This will be the first instance in this blog where I feel the need to post a disclaimer: all of the opinions in the following article are the author's alone, and do not necessarily represent those held by the staff of sync.sound.cinema (i.e. me).

So there. {raspberry}

Anyhoo, today's goodie comes from voice-talent Corey Burton, whose career spans nearly 30 years and runs the gamut from major networks to feature films (including the original Transformers movie). Mr. Burton posted an article entitled "The World's Most Tasteless Microphone", in which he opines that the Sennheiser 416 short-shotgun, considered by many to be an industry standard in an industry ruled by subjective opinion, has ruined VO work by being pressed into service as a studio mic, rather than the run'n'gun solution it was originally designed to be.


Originally designed for news gathering and outdoor 'location sound' recording, it has a bright, hard, somewhat 'metallic' sound, that blasts right through even the thickest of sound mixes. So what could be wrong with that? Plenty - if you intend to use this sonic equivalent of a crude telephoto lens in a typical small recording studio, directly in front of someone's face.

Now, I've used the 416 myself, and I like it. Light, short (less chance of dipping in to the ever-evolving frame of a hand-held camera shot), and as he notes, an ability to highlight human voice in busy environments. But that's field work, which is a far cry from the controlled conditions of a VO booth.

I would venture to say that the 416 became popular for at least two reasons: first, the cost. A new 416 runs about $1100 new, while new, large diaphragm condensers (the classic go-to mics for VO and vocals) can run several times that.

Second, the fact that it pre-emphasizes the voice can cut down on time spent applying EQ and compression, the traditional techniques to raise a voice above the din of a busy mix. In this current production climate, with ever-shrinking budgets and, thus, schedules, minutes can matter to the bean counters. While it may not be subtle, it is nevertheless effective.

As new media delivery channels emerge, the demand for content will continue to skyrocket. One consequence is that "good enough" tends to rule the day, which can be very frustrating for folks brought up to honor the highest levels of technical and aesthetic quality.

As with all things, it comes down to "adapt or die".

But that doesn't mean we have to completely give up fighting for that extra nth of yummy audio goodness. Someone, somewhere, has their speakers set up correctly (these are the same people whose VCRs never, ever flashed "12:00"), in a quiet room. They listen attentively, whether to music, movies, or television. They care.

I do it for them. :)

Link to the article, via coreyburton.com.

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