The View Up Here

Random scribblings about kites, photography, machining, and anything else

Posts Tagged ‘Primo’

(Yet More) Microphone Tests

Posted by Tom Benedict on 19/12/2016

Since writing my last post Homero Leal pointed out that I could mitigate some of the harshness of the Alice microphone (for field recording, mind you) by adding a capacitor across the 2.2k drain resistor. I didn’t have the size I needed (6.8nF), but I had everything to make a similar modification by adding an 8.2nF capacitor in series with a 750 ohm resistor, both across the 2.2k drain resistor. All of this is spelled out in Ricardo Lee’s ChinaMod+U87.doc file on the micbuilder forum.

Alice with ChinaMod U87

I walked out into the park behind my work, recorded for about five minutes, and headed back inside to modify the microphone. After adding the HF EQ mod I walked back out into the park and recorded again.

Prior to the mod my recording had a background hiss that sounded like microphone self-noise. I knew from testing the mic inside my car that it’s not, and is actually a sound from the environment. While testing the mic with a 22″ parabolic dish a couple of weeks ago I panned around to try to identify the source. I’m almost certain the hiss comes from the sounds of tree leaves rattling against each other in the wind. It only takes a breath of wind to make the leaves rattle, so the sound is almost always there. After the mod, that background hiss was reduced quite a bit. Enough so that I wanted to try it more rigorously out in the field.

Last night conditions were almost perfect. We had a storm system rolling in, the air was still, and the sky was overcast. Perfect conditions for people to stay home, get off the road, and let people like me lurk in the shadows with headphones on. I packed both my Alice microphones along with my SASS and Olson Wing, and headed out to an old cane haul road to record coqui frogs and insects. I was rained out in the end, but even that worked to my favor.

The tests!

Alice with HF EQ vs. Stock Alice

This is an A-B test between the Alice with Ricardo Lee’s HF EQ mod (thanks for the pointer, Homero!) and an unmodified Alice. The mics alternate every ten seconds, with a two-second cross-fade. That’s probably excessive on the cross-fade, but c’est la vie. Keep in mind there was very little wind during the test, so the difference is subtle. But it’s there.

SASS vs Olson Wing

While I was there I also tested the SASS against the Olson Wing. In this case both were populated with Primo EM-172 capsules. After I got home I realized I had wind protection on the SASS, but none on the Olson Wing. So this isn’t a fair test of frequency response, but it should be a fair test of the depth of stereo imaging, and to some degree, sound localization. (The frogs really don’t move around that much.)

I was content to let this setup run for a while, but it started to rain. Without any rain protection on either array, I knew the rain would eventually soak the mics. So I packed it all in and pulled out my rain gear.

Rain Gear

I’m still trying to get a good, clean recording of rain. A while back I took a tip from Gordon Hempton and built a microphone rain shelter. It’s a hard aluminum plate covered with two inches of non-woven air filter material. The aluminum plate keeps the mics dry, and the filter material diffuses the rain drops to a soft “fuff” sound. I also added a layer of carpet foam underneath to cut down on the residual “fuff” sound. It’s set up to take my DIY shock isolator, a small ball head, and my ORTF bar. (Sorry, no pictures of the whole setup just yet.) With the whole mess set up on a tripod or c-stand, it protects the mics from rain while minimizing the sound of the drops hitting the rig.

Finally finally I had a chance to use it in the field. And it worked! It worked great!

Only problem is that I managed to damage one of my EM-184 cardioids while testing the Alice mics. It barely responded at all, and produced a deep wumping noise in the recording instead. So the stereo recording is rubbish, unfortunately. I thought the wump sound was the mic picking up rain drops hitting the tripod legs, so I switched to a c-stand, re-arranged, tied up cables, did all sorts of things. None of it helped. After about half an hour I finally admitted to myself that the mic wasn’t working, and packed it all in.

But the rain gear worked! It worked great!

And once I dried the EM-184 mics out they worked great again, too. (Lesson learned:Don’t let it rain on your mics. DOH!)

All in all it was a good night of testing. I have one other test I’d like to do with the two Alice mics (ocean waves!), and I’d like to do one more side-by-side of the SASS and the Olson Wing to see if I can shorten the length of the Olson Wing and still get a good boundary effect out of it. But I’m pleased as punch with the rain gear.

Tom

P.S. I also learned that I need to finish this project before watching another season of Stranger Things. There’s something about driving way the hell out on some abandoned road to some spot in the woods in the middle of nowhere with fog and rain and nothing but the buzz of the insects and the calls of the frogs to… WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!

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Powering the EM172 Capsule

Posted by Tom Benedict on 16/01/2016

Chris Hass wrote a very nice article on building microphones around the EM172 capsules on her site, Wild Mountain Echoes. In it she mentions the issue of power. The datasheet for the EM172 specifies a supply voltage of 5-10v, but most handheld recorders supply something considerably lower than that. Chris and I compared notes, and her Sony PCM-M10 and both of my Tascams supply something closer to 2.3-2.7v. My question to her was how this affects performance, and what my options are for doing something about it.

Chris suggested bypassing the recorder’s own built-in power and using an external battery box to supply a higher voltage to the mic. She pointed me toward the boxes made by Church Audio. I followed her advice and bought a Bat 2B from them. It should be here in a couple of weeks.

Since my 70D has XLR inputs I decided to pursue another possibility as well. Most recorders can supply 24V or 48V phantom power on their XLR inputs. The only trick left is to drop that down to the 5-10V the microphones want. I ran across a thread on the Yahoo! micbuilder forum that referenced a circuit by David McGriffy called Simple P48 WM61 (referring to a simple circuit to power the Panasonic WM61 microphone from 48v phantom power). Richard Lee uploaded a document to the forum describing McGriffy’s circuit, along with modifications for using it with (you guessed it) the EM172 capsule. I still have a bunch of Mogami cable left over from building my earlier mics, so I ordered the remaining parts for McGriffy’s circuit from Mouser Electronics. he parts should be here in a couple of weeks as well.

In the meantime I figured it would be a good mental exercise to try to predict what each of these approaches would buy me in terms of performance. All of this ties back to a set of graphs on the micbuilder forum. It’s in Files/EM172/Primo EM172 Sens Noise vs RL VL.pdf. The graphs show the performance of the EM172 capsule as a function of supply voltage and input impedance. Using a battery box or McGriffy’s XLR circuit will let me change the supply voltage, but the input impedance is a function of the recorder. Here are some cases:

 

Tascam DR-05 and DR-70D 1/8″ Inputs:

Both the Tascams supply just under 3v for plug-in-power. The input impedance on the DR-05 is 25k ohms, and the DR-70D is 10k ohms. The graphs only go up to 10k ohms, so I’m using that number for both cases. Bumping the supply voltage from 3v to 9v should have the following effect:

Sensitivity: -38.6dB -> -36.7dB (smaller negative numbers are better)
Noise Floor: -112.7dB -> -116.1dB (bigger negative numbers are better)
S/N: 74.1 -> 79.4dB (bigger numbers are better)

In reality the DR-05 should get a bigger bump since its baseline performance will be lower than at 10k ohms, judging by the trend in the graphs. But the preamps on the DR-05 are noisier than those on the DR-70D, so I may not be able to hear the improvement.

 

Tascam DR-70D XLR Input:

The DR-70D’s XLR inputs have an input impedance of 2k ohms. Since I’m starting at 5V it should have the following performance:

Sensitivity: -38.3dB
Noise Floor: -116.8dB
S/N: 78.5dB

The noise floor is better than on the 1/8″ input, but the sensitivity won’t be quite as high. If I re-sized the resistor in the McGriffy circuit to provide something closer to 10v I’d get the following results:

Sensitivity: -37.7dB
Noise Floor: -116.8dB
S/N: 79.1dB

No change in the noise floor, but the sensitivity would improve by another 0.6dB. I’m not sure I can hear that, so it’s probably not worth dinking with.

 

Sony PCM-M10:

I also ran the numbers for Chris’s recorder. The Sony has an impedance of 3.9k ohms. Bumping from 3V to 9V should have the following effect:

Sensitivity: -37.8dB -> -37.2dB
Noise Floor: -115.1dB -> -116.5dB
S/N: 77.3dB -> 79.3dB

Almost 1.5dB improvement in noise floor, and 2dB overall improvement in signal to noise.

 

Sony PCM-D100:

The input impedance of the higher-end companion to the M10, the PCM-D100, is 22k ohms. It should see a similar performance bump to the Tascam DR-05, but since the preamps on the D100 are so much better than the DR-05, this will likely make for an audible improvement in the performance of the mic.

 

From the standpoint of mic performance, both approaches provide a clear gain. Whether my ear is sensitive enough to tell the difference remains to be seen (or heard!) From the standpoint of convenience, additional gear complexity, etc. each one has its pluses and minuses.

On the up side, the Church Audio battery box supplies 9V and will work with any recorder with a 1/8″ input, so I can use it on both of my recorders. Another up side for me, personally, is that so far I’ve built all my EM172 mics with 1/8″ plugs, so it requires the least re-work in order to test. On the down side it means I have to add a 9v battery, battery box, and cable to my setup. Velcro will go a long way toward making this a non-issue (mostly), but I wish this kind of thing could be designed in from the get-go. (Recorder manufacturers take heed! Being able to dial in a particular plug-in-power voltage would be nifty!)

The up side with the XLR approach is that from the standpoint of gear it amounts to changing the plug at the end of the cable. All of the circuitry fits inside the XLR plug. As an added bonus I’ll be able to plug EM172 mics into all four XLR inputs on my 70D, which is pretty darned cool. (The 70D only has one 1/8″ plug, which is tied to channels 1 and 2 only. Up until now I’ve only been able to do two channel recording on my four channel recorder.) The down side is that the 48v phantom supply on the 70D is a battery hog. So even if it works it means I’ll have to pack extra batteries or an external battery pack.

Good news is neither approach was all that expensive, and even with the Bat 2B or the external battery to compensate for the extra load from the 48v phantom power, neither adds too much bulk to my bag. For the moment I’m looking at it as having more options rather than having to choose between one approach or the other. In the extreme case it would give me the ability to plug two mics into my DR-05 with the Bat 2B, and another four into my DR-70D using XLR plugs. Six channels at once!

Now all I need is a subject that actually needs six channel audio. But that’s for another day.

Tom

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Pseudo-SASS Array

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/09/2015

Following the successful testing of the new mics, I turned my attention toward building a pseudo SASS array. My prototype design was a copy of a copy of a copy of… well… a copy. This becomes important later, because it’s lessons learned from one of those copies that drove part of my final design. First, a bit of history, mostly gleaned from Vicki Powys’s web site:

The SASS, or Stereo Ambient Sampling System, was designed by Michael Billingsley in 1987 for Crown International. It was (and still is) aimed at recording music performances, audiences, and other subjects that lend themselves to stereo recording. It offers relatively strong stereo separation in a small package. Crown sold the SASS with microphones built into the system, which worked well for its intended purpose. But the original microphones exhibited a high noise floor, and weren’t well suited for quiet subjects. Lang Elliott and Michael Billingsley modified a Crown SASS to work with higher-end microphones, and Walter Knapp took that concept and offered re-tooled Crown SASS units that would take, among other mics, the Sennheiser MKH20. This made it a viable choice for recording quiet ambient sounds and field recording.

More variations tailored to field recording continue to be made. Rob Danielson’s PBB2N, built out of wood and PVC pipe along similar lines to the Crown SASS, takes the same range of microphones as the units made by Walter Knapp, and offers better bass response. Vicki Powys, concerned about the weight of a wood array, took that concept and made her own version out of dense closed-cell foam (pool floaties) using Primo BT-EM172 capusles. After building her foam SASS, she did side-by-side tests with it against a Crown SASS with MKH20 microphones. The performance of the two were remarkably close.

The idea behind the Crown SASS, Rob Danielson’s PBB2N, and Vicki Powys’s SASS-LN2, is to baffle the microphones so that the array acts as a pseudo-binaural stereo pair similar to the human head. The wings act as boundary surfaces, and the foam baffle in the center partially absorbs sound from unwanted angles. The end result is a higher gain than a bare microphone, and considerably better separation than two microphones arranged as an X-Y pair. This photo of a Crown Audio SASS-P MkII was a later model that used PZM mics, but the overall shape didn’t really change much from the original SASS:

I built my prototype based off of measurements I took from a photo of an original Crown SASS, scaled to the overall size of Vicki Powys’s SASS-LN2. I wanted to test the idea before leaping in and building an airborne unit, so I built the prototype out of 1/2″ foam core board. The unit provided quite good stereo separation, and had considerably higher gain than the built-in mics on the Tascam DR-05, but it lacked bass punch. I wanted to figure out why before going from prototype to final design.

One clue came from another of Rob Danielson’s designs: PBMB2. His design calls for significantly larger wings than the original Crown SASS. The larger wings provide a larger boundary surface for the microphones to work with, and therefore provide gain at lower frequencies than the original from Crown. Since I’m planning to use this in the air, cross-section is an important design consideration I need to take into account: larger objects are more easily affected by the wind than smaller ones. Rather than using the larger wings from Rob Danielson’s PBB2N array, I stuck with the dimensions of the Crown SASS.

Another clue came from a set of posts on the micbuilders Yahoo group: Electrets mics need to be mounted flush with the end of their enclosures. Mine aren’t. They’re recessed several millimeters into their tubes and hide behind a layer of stainless mesh. Recessing the mics this way colors the sound they pick up.

Mono Mic Assembled

Unfortunately I learned this late in the game, after I’d already built all five of my mic enclosures as well as my airborne pseudo-SASS. Before going out and designing all new enclosures I decided to test this for myself. I disassembled one of my mics and tried sliding the mic deeper into the tube. I found that the more recessed it was, the more mid-range gain I got, and the less bass. Finally I pulled it out entirely, bare to the world, and tried it that way. I could easily tell the difference. There was a lot more bass, and the mic sounded a lot less tinny. (Hey, if I can tell the difference, it’s HUGE!) Time to design all new mic enclosures!

The last clue came from the folks at DIY Boundary Mics. They ran some tests on the array built by Vicki Powys and the modified Crown SASS with Sennheiser MKH20 microphones. Rob D. (Rob Danielson?) from DIY Boundary Mics noted that Vicki’s foam array lacked some of the lower frequency response the Crown SASS / MKH20 combination had. He attributed it to the soft nature of the boundary surface (foam). Paul Jacobson at DIY Boundary Mics ran a comparison between Vicki Powys’s array and a similar one made of untreated wood, similar to Rob Danielson’s array. The untreated wood array recovered some of the bass lost in the foam array. This agrees with Rob D’s conclusions about the hardness of the boundary surface.

Which leads me back to the prototype I built out of foam core. The outer surface of the foam core is relatively hard, but the foam itself is acoustically thin, and the foam core board has a high natural frequency. I’m guessing that some of the lack of bass punch in my prototype can be traced to the material I used to build the array and the lack of damping material in the array’s inner cavity. I needed something better.

Years ago I made a kite aerial 4×5 film camera out of birch plywood. I never was completely happy with the photos it produced, but it turned out super pretty. Since Rob Danielson was making boundary array mics out of wood, and since the wood SASS had better bass performance than Vicki’s foam one, I figured I could build mine out of wood as well.

I already had some 0.200″ baltic birch plywood left over from the 4×5 camera, so that’s what I used for the array body. The woodwork came together relatively quickly, but I couldn’t finish sealing up the box until I had the damping material glued in place. Here’s one problem with living on an island: no one sells acoustic materials. Rob Danielson used carpet padding in his PBB2N, so I went that route. Here’s another problem with living on an island: stores that sell carpet padding don’t like breaking up rolls! I finally wound up at Home Depot. I waited patiently in the flooring department until someone could help me. I’d already been to several stores, and had received more than my fair share of blank stares when I asked for one foot of carpet padding. I wasn’t expecting much.

The folks at Home Depot surprised me! When I asked for such a small amount, the guy in flooring said, “You building a speaker box or something?” “A microphone array, actually, but it’s the same idea.” “Cool!” He was super helpful, and sent me home with my one foot roll.

Eventually my DIY-SASS came together. It’s shown here with my original mic enclosures, but in the next few weeks I’m planning to swap them out with flush mounts:

DIY-SASS

It uses the same Primo BT-EM172 capsules as Vicki Powys’s array, though she used four and I only used two. The covering for the baffle gave me fits until I finally bent to common wisdom and used sheet metal. (I’d wanted to make it out of the same plywood I’d used for the rest of the SASS for cosmetic reasons, but I ran into structural issues.) The hardware store sold 6″x12″ aluminum for almost the same cost as 6″x12″ polished stainless, so I went with the stainless. But I had to bead blast the outside of it to keep myself from going blind when I took it out in the sun.

DIY-SASS Front

There are a lot of screw holes on this, both to hold the baffle cover in place and to attach the array to a tripod (or a KAS rig!) I’ve seen too many wood screws strip out over time, so I epoxied T-nuts into each screw hole to provide machine threads. Since  I do a lot of my KAP along the coast and plan to record sound in that environment as well, I went with as much stainless hardware as I could. Even so, I’m going to have to open the unit periodically to check the wiring for salt contamination. (One more reason to be glad I used T-nuts!)

DIY-SASS Bottom

Since I’m planning to use this on the ground as well as in the air I didn’t want to wire in a dedicated cable. I’ll only need 2-3′ for aerial work, but on the ground there’s good reason to put some distance between a microphone and the recordist. Having a way to swap cables seemed like a good idea, so I wired it with a 1/8″ TRS jack so I can use the cable of choice, depending on what I’m doing.

I’ve now used my pseudo-SASS in the field several times. I was pleased to find that the heavier construction worked, and that I got back a lot of the bass punch I’d lost with the foam core prototype array. I’m looking forward to trying it with the flush mounted microphone enclosures to see how much more bass I can recover.

Meanwhile I’m facing yet another design problem. Like any microphone, my pseudo-SASS array suffers from wind noise. I learned this the hard way while trying to record the sound of waves crashing on rocks.

In Dire Need of a Windjammer

The wind buffeting was more than the mics could handle, so I wrapped the whole thing with my folded up t-shirt. Even that wasn’t enough to cut the wind, so none of the files were usable. Bummer!

Unfortunately the wind there was nothing compared to the wind I’ll get when I hang this thing from a kite line. And since Rycote and Rode don’t make windjammers for DIY mic projects I’ll have to build my own. My last act of the weekend was to order a yard of 2″ pile 100% polyester artificial fur with the loosest backing I could find. As I finished checking out I couldn’t help thinking yet again, “You’re getting in deep, man.” I fear I’ll learn how to sew fake fur before I learn how to make my own kites.

– Tom

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