Sony PCM-D100 vs. Rode NT-USB vs. Brauner Phantom V sound test.
This time I chose to make a comparison between my new Sony PCM-D100, Rode NT-USB and a Brauner Phantom V. As the one before, this one is mostly about how good (or bad) these mics perform on a voice over or simply my voice compared to one another.
Most importantly here are the samples of my recording for you to download and compare them for yourself.
You’ll find the spoiler for the guessing game at the end of this article!!!
Why I chose those microphones?
Since I got myself a new workhorse handheld recorder Sony PCM-D100 instead of my old one Zoom H2n (which was great as it had MS, but sucked big time as its self noise was too loud), I wanted to provide myself and also people who might find this useful with some audio files.
Now I wrote this sentence and realized how different these apparatuses are: price-wise, purpose-wise, connection-wise and you-tell-me-wise… However, that should only make this comparison even more interesting, right?
I chose Rode NT-USB because in last few months I recorded lots of talking people (voice over talents) using just this one mic and most of the time I liked it, as well as I got familiar with its sound.
Brauner Phantom V was chosen as the third contestant just because it was the only “third” mic I had. Fancy? Not so much. I got it from a friend as a substitute for my lovely Sennheiser MKH-416 because he wanted to check out the shotgun.
Why most microphone comparisons suck
I do lots of research before buying devices and try to listen and compare to as much samples as I can find on the nets. Unfortunately most reviews have following issues:
- doesn’t involve audio samples
- if there are samples, there’s nothing to compare them to
- if comparisons are made and samples are provided more often than not these samples are from different takes which usually involves better performances into devices that are more loved by the reviewer.
Last one is an interesting phenomenon and you can bump into it on lots of YouTube videos reviewing gear or microphones specifically. Reviewers tend to lower and deepen their voices once spoken into a mic they prefer more.
Recipe for a useful & fair microphone comparison
To execute a fair comparison between two or several mics you need meet these requirements:
- Position the microphones next to each other so they’re at the same distance from speaker’s mouth and have centers of their capsules aligned on all axes.
- Angles of the mics need to be adjusted so that they’re pointing directly at speaker’s mouth or source of sound being captured.
- Gain needs to be set equally for all mics so you get the same readings in your meters. Lots of people comparing different microphones think gain pots are reference while in reality input level is.
- You must record using all mics at the same time so you have the same source recorded with different mics as opposed to speaking into every mic one by one.
- After you’re done recording you need to normalize all the tracks to say -3 dBFS so all of them have their peaks at the same level thus they’re all have roughly equal volume.
My first impressions on the mics
Brauner Phantom V
Let me go with Brauner Phantom V first as honestly I have not much to say about it.
- Strangely enough it makes people sound a bit lisp.
- You need to use lots of force to take it out or put it back into it’s dedicated shock-mount.
- Sound-wise it’s on the darker side of things and has a bit exaggerated low mids than his two opponents.
- Me and my friend came to a conclusion that the 3k of $ it did cost, will most likely pay off on something else than voice overs. Maybe really bright female singers with uncontrolled sibilants, violins, and other musical instruments with tendencies to pierce the ears and lack a body.
I love it. And once I think about my ex – the Zoom H2n – I love Sony PCM-D100 even more. I did not have a chance to record a lonely crow in a quiet field calling yet (I did it with my Zoom H2n and sold it thereafter), so I can’t say how much quieter Sony PCM-D100 is compared to Zoom H2n. However this is what I can say so far:
- Recordings I’ve made sound great (train, rain, general suburban ambience, my 1,4 y.o. son talking, random farm animals, my voice, some household sound effects for my work) – that is I do not have to de-noise these at all.
- Included wind-shield is hard to put-on and takes some practice. I nearly missed several trains I was recording because of that (I usually don’t sit waiting for them and go with the flow).
- The included carrying bag (which is a really nice touch) doesn’t have a wind-shield “department” so I need to put it elsewhere. And if the wind-shield is on, the device does not fit into the carrying bag. EDIT: one guy suggested to slide the mic with wind-shield on upside down, this way it fits. Snugly. And it’s true. So problem solved!
- Points 2 and 3 are important because I try to take Sony PCM-D100 with me everywhere I go ’cause SFX gathering is part of my job. I like to keep it safe (bagged that is), but at the same time be able to use it right away.
- Mics on Sony PCM-D100 are extremely sensitive. You better not breathe near it if you recording something. Imagine how destructive can a soft breeze can be… Even wind-shield doesn’t help to have low frequency rumble coming from the wind.
- Mics on Sony PCM-D100 are so sensitive that if I hold it in my hand while recording I need to be totally frozen. Every micro move of fingers or palms or any other body part that has direct contact with recorder’s body, will be audible as a wide range thump in the recording. Rycote’s solution might be of help here, but that would totally kill my “pull out and shoot” surprise factor and it’s insanely expensive. So I’ll try to work on my “freezing” skills.
- It has an optical out. And I’m constantly using it to send data to RME Babyface’s ADAT input once I need to set up the recorder as a talk-back mic.
- Last thing is DSD. In my opinion it is useless. Software for DSD editing and mixing is practically obsolete. A stripped Sound Forge version comes with the recorder, but it doen’t support DSD editing). In a land of pink ponies I’d better improve the mics and quietness of internals even further, maybe reduce the size a bit, add an MS option and remove the DSD and all related thingies inside instead. Because this recorder is crazy expensive. And I believe a big part of $ is being paid for DSD.
- If you’re thinking of buying Sony PCM-D100 – do it. It’s as simple as that.
I’ve already spoken a bit about this mic in my previous article, but since I’ve been using it for several months, I’d like to share few additional observations:
- Included pop-shield is useless as it doesn’t stop all the plosives. And I’m not talking the most powerful ones. It won’t stop just random Ps, Bs, Ds etc.
- Rode NT-USB is on the brighter side of things. I started adding an EQ with a hi shelve preset as a starting point so I can understand what to do next with voice over recordings made with this mic. It’s hard to understand if there’s too much high end or too little low end at first.
- The headphone amplifier is very powerful. In my everyday life I connect two sets of headphones and there’s still headroom on the volume knob if someone will decide to get rid of eardrums or the head entirely.
- Once upon a time I had an incident where sound file recorded using Rode NT-USB has gone all choppy and distorted. Everything was fine while monitoring trough built-in headphone output, however after playing it back from Reaper’s timeline I was just happy that the voice-talent was still in the studio building. Since then it became a habit to check the files several seconds into recording just to be sure everything’s fine. I don’t like that I have this fear now as well as the fact that Rode NT-USB can perform such a trick on me, but I’ll keep using it for some time. I like the mic and the simplicity of USB connectivity. Oh and the reason for this distorted and choppy wave might have something to do with sample-rate or bit-rate, or maybe input/output source switching in Reaper. Not sure as I never succeeded to repeat the accident once again.
- One guy asked me if Rode NT-USB has more headroom that Apogee MiC96k so I performed a little test for him and screamed into the mic. Mics gain was set to a minimum trough software controls and there was still a lot of headroom for the waveform, however my screaming did overload Rode NT-USB at its input. Although the recording was peaking only at -18dBFS to -15dBFS or something, one could clearly hear that the sound was distorted. This means that this mic might not be suitable for hi SPL sources like drums, rock vocals, shit-core vocals and all “core” vocals in general.
Your opinion on what sounds best is all that matters
As I said in the beginning of this article – all the devices used in this shootout are very different and prices prove that very well: 3000$ for Brauner Phantom V, 750$ for Sony PCM-D100 and 170$ for Rode NT-USB. However I hope that you will find my article and especially recordings useful and it will help you to decide either to buy something or not.
I try to not dive very deeply into the nuances of the sound as this is very subjective thing. I’ll better provide you with the materials so you can decide what you like more and less for yourself while listening.
YouTube video’s blind test spoiler!
#1 was Sony PCM-D100
#2 was Rode NT-USB
#3 was Brauner Phantom V
Have you guessed it right?
Do you have one of these mics? Maybe all of them? What are your impression? Feel free to drop a comment below!
Thank you very much for reading this! I hope this was helpful!
P.S. Since you’re still here I would like to invite you to experience my latest project on impulse-responses of eleven Orthodox churches of Vilnius. All of them were recorded using Sony PCM-D100 by the way!
And in case you don’t know what video am I talking about: