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Mic Madness You Say?

I see tons of questions from film students on pro sound forums about cheap mics that might get the basic job done. The stock answer from many pros is “forget about it. It's not a Schoeps. Save up and buy the industry standard or rent”

I don’t see how that helps.

A few months ago I started researching, trying to see if in fact there were ANY cheap entry level interior dialogue mics that could serve the film school student. I had heard some good things in music recording circles about the second edition of an instrument mic called the C-2 which was designed by Behringer in Germany and built in China at the 797 mic company. An earlier manufacturing run had an occasional noise problem with phantom powering, the current one does not.

OK guys I’ll give you a moment or two to swear your distain for all things Behringer… done?

So... out of curiosity I ordered a set of these online and determined to test the C-2 against my Schoeps CMC. Madness you say? Actually it's a subjective evaluation based on experience and professional preference. There was no serious contest but definite surprises.

Test One
First I connected both to a pristine John Hardy solid state mic pre amp and recorded some close up voice into Pro Tools through an Apogee converter in order to get an idea of the C-2 as a vocal reproducer, something it wasn't designed for.

I'd been using the Schoeps with the MK41 capsule that way lately to record a talking book and chose it over any of my large diaphragm condensers because of its natural warmth and rendition of midrange minus the hype and bite. An audio book is nothing but voice, and a listener needs to be able to listen comfortably for hours. The narrator should sound rich but still the effect must be transparent; letting the listener focus on the author's art, rather than the narrator's instrument.

Aftrer recording I did some critical listening. To my ears the Schoeps has 4 distinct qualities in the midrange, the Behringer has two and something else. What the C-2 did capture of the mids, while less detailed, sounded quite acceptable and unlike most Chinese built mics the high end was smooth! - not really accurate but definitely not a problem, actually pleasing: seeming to add a little something to the definition of upper mids. Its proximity effect rounded out the bottom but not much. The pickup pattern rejected far more ambient sound than the Schoeps and the self-noise is so low that the voice to room ratio was considerably better than the CMC. This is understandable considering that the C-2 doesn't have near the sensitivity. but its almost non existent self-noise really helps what it does capture seem to jump forward.

Test Two
But that’s not the important test. What matters is how they compare on a boom under conditions closer to a student film production. I set them up in a small boinky sounding room at the same distance overhead with similar input levels and recorded speech onto an H4n using it’s built in mic preamps. One thing I noticed right away is the Behringer and Schoeps have the same low handling noise characteristics. When I brought the tracks into Pro Tools there was another surprise.

Of course both come across noisier and less sensitive due to the H4n's les than clean mic pres. The Schoeps was still rich, detailed and well balanced giving me a sense of the room and the person in it without the boink. With the C-2 the voice was less detailed though well enough defined while lacking a natural bottom. Still it captured enough good information to work with in post. Its recording was more affected by the recorder’s noise because of its weaker reach but had a good enough voice to room relationship and the hypercard pickup cut the reflections. It managed to capture some sense of place and here's the surprise - the frequency response did not sound uneven or that radically different from the CMC – it sounded, how shall I say… similar but less than, whereas an AKG Blueline has a good deal more detail but soundsquite different. (and it's expensive)

After adding a small amount of EQ and noise reduction the C-2 dialogue squeaked into the acceptable category. I’ve heard worse tracks coming from top notch equipment.

Conclusion: It's not a Schoeps ... what did you expect? But it does many of the same things just not as well. If you're a film student and you want your actors to sound like they're in a room rather than an oil can the C-2 is dead cheap (almost free) is far smoother than many Chinese made SDC mics priced in the hundreds, and it does the fundamental things an interior dialogue mic is supposed to do.

  • low handling noise
  • very low self noise
  • super lightweight
  • low cut and attentuation filters
  • true hypercardioid pattern strongly reduces room reflections
  • usable results

Schoeps CMC6 & MK41 capsule $2000.00
Behringer C-2 hypercardioid $32.00




What's a Good Mix When a Film Purposely Breaks All the Rules?

Every re-recording mixer knows what a good mix is when it comes to industry standards for dialog in film, and each audio professional in the production chain works hard to make sure it's just that: full-range, clean and well articulated.

Internet sound on the other hand is its own thing. Some of it is pretty good by consumer standards - like a decent mp3. Some is low-fi and glitchy but that's the nature of the medium. Browsing the web is like walking through an audio street market filled with colors and smells. That variability gives the online experience a richness and democracy. The same applies to streaming video. It can be Hollywood HD smooth or Skype inconsistent.

The surfer's brain makes it all the same and all good. Not so when it comes to viewer (or Network) expectations for the same material included in a production intended to be experienced through broadcast or cinema. The exact same thing would cause a channel change after a few minutes.

So what do you do when a film is about the very nature and meaning of the web and is made only from sound and picture originating there? - That's the question I faced in working out an approach to mixing INTERNET RISING.

All the interviews in the film where screen captured from Skype, recorded through different computer mics with wildly different types of noise from web bandwidth conditions. In the cleanup and noise reduction phase of dialog editing it became clear that there was no natural good middle ground to aim at for consistency in the sound.  - and by the way, no lockable lip sync for the same reason.

After experimenting for a couple of days thinking there was no way around this. Over and over watching the tumbling, ever-changing imagery of director Andrew Martin, eventually I stopped hearing the voices as interviews and began feeling them as singers of ideas. Thought melodies floating over related moving face images... because a video chat is private, one-to-one. This is where INTERNET RISING breaks the mold.

These aren't a bunch of experts talking to vast audiences. This is a very informed friend talking just to you, The viewer becomes the other person in the one-to-one chat and in that familiar chat experience the technical quality is secondary to the communication as long as it doesn't prevent it. So really there was likely more sensory tolerance in viewers for extremes as long as I didn't reach a point where the noise would turn them off.  

If the standard technical rules were impossible then I needed to make new ones and stick to those.

I opted for a radical but consistent sound resulting from the noise reduction process itself. After all, it can produce digital artifacts same as web audio. The new rule was to make it pleasing, musical and listenable over as much of the duration of the film as possible.

Aiming at something sounding like a much better version of Skype's own extreme noise cancelling sound got me into the ballpark. Adding an undetectable short delay to the dialog bus made the voices smooth out, pop away from their noisy setting and feel as though they emerge from the same "space". Now the dialog began to sound a tiny bit like the treatment of a voice in a rap tune. This really matched the musical quality of the pictures.

What started as a technical problem had become an effective artistic device. Now the viewer could spend most of the film in an acceptable dialog zone and leave the less fixable extremes speak for themselves and really mean something in the overall dynamic and depiction of internet sound.