Microphone Shoot Out – AKG C414B-XLS vs SE Electronics 4400a
This week I had a stroke of luck. One of my Live Sound students at Canterbury Christchurch University brought a matched pair of SE Electronics 4400a microphones to the University (the 4400a’s are SE Electronics answer to the ubiquitous AKG C414 B-XLS) as he didn’t have anything to record over the forthcoming days and asked if I would test them out for him. He also knew how much of a fan I am of the 414’s, so thought this would be just my bag. The mic’s were unused and still in the sealed original packaging… Win!
With 4 mics to test I messaged of a couple of friends to arrange a last-minute testing session. As time was short I jumped into a cab with my mobile recording rig and travelled to their house to see how the mic’s would perform in a domestic setting.
The test recordings we made were of both steel and nylon strung guitars played in an averaged sized dining room, with plaster walls, wooden floor and a dining table. While I’m not usually a fan of plaster-boarded rooms, it proved a good recording environment for the test, providing subtle ambience without being too overpowering. Whilst a more controlled studio environment can yield great results, it is interesting to hear how mic’s perform in domestic setting – as I’m sure many of you will understand.
On first impressions, the SE Electronic 4400a microphones were of good build quality and supplied with a flight case, shock mounts and stereo T-bar for mounting. They feature switches with functions very similar to a “particular well-known classic European condenser” (as described on SE’s website) including two switches to select polar patterns of cardioid, hyper cardioid, super cardioid, figure of 8 and omni. The mic also features a low cut filter (fixed at an undisclosed frequency) and a pad that is switchable between -10 and -20dB, respectively.
My only real gripe was with the quality of the supplied stereo bar. It was difficult to tighten properly and made placement difficult. The shock mounts came fitted with 3/8″ to 5/8″ adapters, which had to be removed in order to attach them to the stereo bar. I don’t think reaching for a screwdriver to set mic’s up should be necessary when using the manufacturers own hardware and feel some improvements could be made here.
During the test recording’s both pairs of microphones were set up in an ORTF formation, around one metre from the guitar, with the centre position close to the 12th fret. The mic’s were fed into a D.A.V. Electronics Broadhurst Gardens 2 pre amp, enabling identical gain setting for each mic. The output was then fed into the line inputs of a MOTU 1248 interface, recording into Logic X 24 bit at 88.2kHz. These were bounced out as dithered 16bit, 44.1kHz stereo files. They have not been normalised so you may wish to turn the volume up a little.
As you can hear from the test recording’s both mic’s exhibit a low noise floor and have a similar sensitivity. Whilst there are clear sonic differences between the files, particularly at the very high and low frequency ranges, they exhibit similar characteristics. In the interest of providing an unbiased test, I’m not stating which mic is which on the recordings but if you would to hear the uncompressed lossless .aif files then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Vincent West for the use of his microphones, Stewart Henderson for his guitar playing and Josh White for use of the recording facilities and great coffee!
Copyright © Matthew Smyth 2015 www.homestudiodoctor.co.uk