The Myth of the Accurate Microphone


Can we really make a distinction between “colored” and “accurate” microphones? Who decides what mic falls into what category, and on what basis?

Proponents invariably define an “accurate” mic as one that does not add to or take away from, or in any other way alter the musical event: what goes in comes back out, exactly and precisely.

I think the premise that such a microphone currently exists is false. "Accurate" means that no audible or measurable difference could ever be claimed between brands and models, because, by definition, any “accurate” mic you chose would sound exactly like the next, given the same polar pattern.

The reality looks different. Some like the sound of one mic they believe is 'accurate'. Others like the sound of a different mic, with the same claim of accuracy. But if there is a 'sound' (i.e. color), which one then is accurate?

It’s frustrating to read discussions of the term 'accurate' in forum posts, because quasi-scientific arguments are used to prove something that, in my opinion, is not currently provable, given the available (and rather primitive) parameters available to quantify data related to sound.

End (or start) of discussion...

Update: this comment by Brad Williams I find brilliant, so I have copied it here:

"Good sound" is not (for me) an objective that gets completed, but rather a lifelong pursuit of a feeling. I hope that each record I make is better (read: more emotionally-resonant) than the last, for the rest of my career. I doubt I will ever feel like that mission has been wholly and indisputably accomplished. In that sense, there is no "ballpark."

And much like there's no objective metric to determine the "best guitar player," I feel there's no objective metric (or set of metrics) that can meaningfully determine the "best (read: 'most accurate') microphone."

Because things which can be measured are almost always relatively unimportant in the context of work designed foremost to move someone emotionally.

For example: There are many people who can jump higher, run faster, have higher IQs, and have more symmetrical facial features than I. My wife may even know some of those people, but she loves me. Why? Emotion is profoundly illogical. Those objective metrics have a laughably-poor correlation to why my wife might've fallen in love with me. Broadly speaking, to contrive to explain an emotional response in terms of available objective metrics is folly. For one thing, it opens us up to the cognitive biases of anchoring/focalism, the availability heuristic, ambiguity effect and the base-rate fallacy, among others. Simply put: most of what moves us emotionally cannot be measured, and that puts us at risk of over-emphasizing things which can, when making judgments.

And so it is with microphones. If I listen to a recording of a great vocalist on a great U47 and instantly feel an emotional connection to the performance--more than the same performance into a microphone that measures quieter, flatter, more extended-- then which do I choose?

Do I choose the person with the higher IQ who runs faster? Or do I choose the partner with whom I've fallen in love?

Not everything that matters can be justified through empirical means. This is especially so in matters of emotion--and my goal with creating or capturing music is always to elicit within the listener an emotional response.