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Logic behind tube vs regular mic sound difference?
Old 31st March 2021
  #1
Logic behind tube vs regular mic sound difference?

Do tubes in mics actually color the sound at all?

Take a look at the attached pictures which show the signal curve of a tube and a transistor. They look awfully lot the same. Unless you start driving the tube/transistor (or opamp) into distortion levels, there should probably be zero difference in the sound. None of the microphones I know of drive signal to such high volumes. That's what guitar distortion pedals are for.

In other words:

I take a tube mic.
I screw it in one place so it won't move at all.
I play a digitally reproducible test signal into it and record it.
Then I take out the tube and replace it with transistor/opamp/whatever electronics which does the same thing as the tube electronics did.
I record the exact same test signal again.
I compare the results: what do I hear? Will there be any kind of perceivable difference in there at all?

Judging by the graphs there shouldn't be, unless I drive the signal through a tube distortion box?
Attached Thumbnails
Logic behind tube vs regular mic sound difference?-nv_1117_silver_figure03.jpg   Logic behind tube vs regular mic sound difference?-bipolar_transistor_characteristiccurve.png  
Old 31st March 2021
  #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Do tubes in mics actually color the sound at all?

Take a look at the attached pictures which show the signal curve of a tube and a transistor. They look awfully lot the same. Unless you start driving the tube/transistor (or opamp) into distortion levels, there should probably be zero difference in the sound. None of the microphones I know of drive signal to such high volumes. That's what guitar distortion pedals are for.

In other words:

I take a tube mic.
I screw it in one place so it won't move at all.
I play a digitally reproducible test signal into it and record it.
Then I take out the tube and replace it with transistor/opamp/whatever electronics which does the same thing as the tube electronics did.
I record the exact same test signal again.
I compare the results: what do I hear? Will there be any kind of perceivable difference in there at all?

Judging by the graphs there shouldn't be, unless I drive the signal through a tube distortion box?
You should try it. Seriously.

You might find a bit more noise on the tube mic too. And you should probably look at frequency response. Usually some differences there. But then, frequency response is where most mic differences are, tube, solid-state, or no electronics at all.

Tube distortion box? You mean one of those things with the tube starving for plate voltage slammed into clipping? Yeah, they'll sound a little different.
Old 31st March 2021
  #3
Here's a datasheet for a tube. It doesn't show any kind of graph for frequency based changes in the signal. In other words, they probably don't exist?

http://tdsl.duncanamps.com/pdf/a2900.pdf
Old 31st March 2021
  #4
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Oh my God. You mean after 70+ years of folks recording with tube mics and 50+ years of SS mics co-existing alongside of them... YOU, the chosen one, have finally figured out that they don’t do anything differently than solid state mics?
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by thismercifulfate ➡️
Oh my God. You mean after 70+ years of folks recording with tube mics and 50+ years of SS mics co-existing alongside of them... YOU, the chosen one, have finally figured out that they don’t do anything differently than solid state mics?
I'm not a chosen one. I just believed the "warmth of tube mics" myth until I started questioning/thinking logically if the tubes actually have a sound to them or not. This lead me to check their measurable signal curves and this only raised more questions. Hence I'm here now trying to verify my observations based on the data I found.

In other words: These forums are filled with misinformation about the gear we use.
Old 31st March 2021
  #6
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Have you ever recorded music in a recording studio with a tube mic, or do you just look at charts?
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #7
Quote:
Originally Posted by thismercifulfate ➡️
Have you ever recorded music in a recording studio with a tube mic, or do you just look at charts?
Nope, haven't done proper recordings with a tube mic. And that's beside the point here:

If you don't measure the signal and instead only use your ears, you don't know how much the tube affects the signal. The next best thing is to look at the scientific charts and see what's going on there.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Nope, haven't done proper recordings with a tube mic. And that's beside the point here
I rest my case...
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #9
Quote:
Originally Posted by thismercifulfate ➡️
I rest my case...
Unless the mesurements and tests are done scientifically (for example the way I described with zero changing variables except the electronics), we're talking about opinions instead of facts. And opinions don't have a place in this discussion. No gear religion in this thread please. Only measurable facts.

For the answers to be acceptable in this discussion, we need to remove all mechanical, acoustic, psychological and measurement differences between the tests. Otherwise we are talking about opinions instead of facts.

When people switch between two mics (tubes vs solidstate) there are lots of variables that change (different mechanical design, different recorded take, slightly different mic position, can't compare side by side the results, etc.). This skews the results and OPINIONS of people.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Nope, haven't done proper recordings with a tube mic. And that's beside the point here:

If you don't measure the signal and instead only use your ears, you don't know how much the tube affects the signal. The next best thing is to look at the scientific charts and see what's going on there.
maybe you better rent some tube mics then: chances are that you'll like the idiosyncrasies quite a bit, at least on some sources...

[this comes from someone who's not neccessarily a fan of tube mics (in fact, i sold two classic designs last year)]

what you also might wanna try is to compare existing models (which share some critical components) such as the u67ri and the tlm67, the latter fed through a tube preamp (something which i just mentioned in another thread): ime they sound very close, the latter being more versatile in terms of sound options/how hard you wanna drive the tube...
Old 31st March 2021
  #11
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Interesting question!

I don't have the answer, but you should check out the Lewitt LCT 940, an LDC that can switch from FET to tube and everything in between. I did and the differences are very audible.
Old 31st March 2021
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thismercifulfate ➡️
Have you ever recorded music in a recording studio with a tube mic, or do you just look at charts?
That's what I was thinking as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Nope, haven't done proper recordings with a tube mic. And that's beside the point here:
And this was the answer I expected. It is NOT beside the point. You are basically 13 year old boy having an argument with his buddy as he walks home from school about whether a Ferrari or a Lamborghini is a better car.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
If you don't measure the signal and instead only use your ears, you don't know how much the tube affects the signal. The next best thing is to look at the scientific charts and see what's going on there.
The purpose of a microphone is to capture sound. A spec sheet doesn't tell you how that microphone SOUNDS when placed in front of an actual source.

I truly don't give a rat's ass what a spec sheet looks like. I want to hear the results and determine if that sound works in my production.
Old 31st March 2021
  #13
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@ kraku – First, I applaud your aim to think critically about systems that don't necessarily make sense. Gear mythology can indeed be real, and it affects markets in bizarre ways. But you might want to take into account the fact that non-religious, observable attributes of recorded sound are not all-consumingly represented in frequency graphs. In fact, those make for a very small, limited view of the big picture. A full 3D spectrograph might offer a better picture, and I'd be curious to see differences between otherwise identical tube vs solid state mics when accounting for the nuances of timbre.

It's timbre, though, that frequency response grasps are unable to display, and timbre is exactly the reason some engineers prefer tube mics for many applications. (Spectrographs can do a better job visualizing timbre.) I won't argue with you that gear mythology is a thing, and it's a bit silly. But I also think your initial thinking might be somewhat limited in its scope. There are many more nuances to recorded audio than frequency response. Human experience, too, is a measurable data set, and a very valid one: we won't have the ability to conduct a properly methodical scientific sociocultural/experiential survey here on GS, I'd wager, and we mostly get piles of anecdotal evidence of limited use. But there's much more than placebo when hearing the differences between a u87 and a u67, for example. (Incidentally, I prefer the u87 most of the time!)

Many of us on the forum are coming from an artistic place, too, so individual aesthetic perception and experience matter tremendously more than they would in a purely scientific context. Technologically speaking, the "best" microphones – i.e., the most accurate – are relatively inexpensive small-diaphragm omni condensers without tubes or transformers. Those can be great mics, of course! But their timbre will be very, very different from a u67, and it's not subtle. The u67 isn't accurate, it just sounds good in music. Its technological flaws have become its selling point, and that's simply because of art.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Here's a datasheet for a tube. It doesn't show any kind of graph for frequency based changes in the signal. In other words, they probably don't exist?

http://tdsl.duncanamps.com/pdf/a2900.pdf
Understand that tube data shows, very specifically, how a tube itself amplifies, along with some data about its internal properties. That data does not directly reflect the performance of the tube in a specific circuit. To do that you'd have to perform some circuit analysis with the tube data long with various parameters of the circuit around it. That's why tube data doesn't include frequency response. FR would vary depending entirely on the surrounding circuit and application. Tube parameters like inter-electrode capacitance, gain and linearity are useful in determining if a particular tube type is a good choice for a particular application. For example, a tube with rather poor linearity but very low inter-electrode capacitance might be a good choice for a Class C amplifier where linearity isn't a factor, where something with higher gain and better linearity might be a better choice for amplifying low level audio signals.

Tube data is just the beginning of the story.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drumsound ➡️
I truly don't give a rat's ass what a spec sheet looks like. I want to hear the results and determine if that sound works in my production.
Neither do I, since I was 15, in fact, listening to various loudspeakers that sounded radically different with the same specs.

Also, just because it can be measured doesn't mean it can be heard, although many here often claim to outside of a properly set up scientific double-blind test. Sure, some things are obvious enough not to warrant such a test, but once the differences are subtle enough, it's worth questioning one's own human biases, unless of course they're too proud of their golden ears and empty wallet.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Progger ➡️
@ kraku – First, I applaud your aim to think critically about systems that don't necessarily make sense. Gear mythology can indeed be real, and it affects markets in bizarre ways. But you might want to take into account the fact that non-religious, observable attributes of recorded sound are not all-consumingly represented in frequency graphs. In fact, those make for a very small, limited view of the big picture. A full 3D spectrograph might offer a better picture, and I'd be curious to see differences between otherwise identical tube vs solid state mics when accounting for the nuances of timbre.

It's timbre, though, that frequency response grasps are unable to display, and timbre is exactly the reason some engineers prefer tube mics for many applications. (Spectrographs can do a better job visualizing timbre.) I won't argue with you that gear mythology is a thing, and it's a bit silly. But I also think your initial thinking might be somewhat limited in its scope. There are many more nuances to recorded audio than frequency response. Human experience, too, is a measurable data set, and a very valid one: we won't have the ability to conduct a properly methodical scientific sociocultural/experiential survey here on GS, I'd wager, and we mostly get piles of anecdotal evidence of limited use. But there's much more than placebo when hearing the differences between a u87 and a u67, for example. (Incidentally, I prefer the u87 most of the time!)

Many of us on the forum are coming from an artistic place, too, so individual aesthetic perception and experience matter tremendously more than they would in a purely scientific context. Technologically speaking, the "best" microphones – i.e., the most accurate – are relatively inexpensive small-diaphragm omni condensers without tubes or transformers. Those can be great mics, of course! But their timbre will be very, very different from a u67, and it's not subtle. The u67 isn't accurate, it just sounds good in music. Its technological flaws have become its selling point, and that's simply because of art.
Excellent points above.

But fundamentally, the OP is asking if device data is very similar, why should there be a difference in tube vs SS mics. It's a valid question, also easily answered (see my last post).

People get defensive so quickly. There is no question different mics sound differently. There is a bigger question, though, which relates to why, and if the active gain element itself is the cause, which is kind of what the OP is getting at. It's a very good question, not easily answered.

Timbre is hard to quantify, but not impossible. Fundamentally, on-axis frequency response has the most influence. And yes, that response must be seen over time, as resonances that carry on past stimulus are huge factors. But a mic operates in a 3d space, and for every axis past 0 degrees, there's a similar response vs time factor to consider. Any mic, tube or any technology, in an acoustic space is a complex 3d problem to characterize, but hardly impossible. The real problem is in presenting the data to a user or buyer. Manufacturers of audio equipment already under-specify gear because they don't feel there's a good understanding of the data, and don't want to be held to a non-understanding measuring stick. FR, for example, typically includes a frequency range without specifying a deviation from flat. Useless.

There are circuit design factors that affect performance but are dictated by the active device, though to a far lesser extent than the acoustic factors. Things like plate resistance directly affect output impedance, and often don't match well with audio applications without transformers. There are many possibilities for changing sound character there, but as we found out several decades ago, the resulting sound in tube devices can be easily simulated with other technology.

Mics are always huge signal modifiers regardless of what technology is used.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Progger ➡️
[MENTION=48391]
It's timbre, though, that frequency response grasps are unable to display, and timbre is exactly the reason some engineers prefer tube mics for many applications. (Spectrographs can do a better job visualizing timbre.)

...

But there's much more than placebo when hearing the differences between a u87 and a u67, for example. (Incidentally, I prefer the u87 most of the time!)
Good answer!

I don't doubt that u87 and u67 sound objectively different. I'm interested in how much of that sound difference is due to other design choices than just adding tube into the microphone? Are there also mechanical/material differences? Was the tube circuit designed on purpose to be less bright/etc. to sound more like what people expect from a tube mic? Etc. etc...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Progger ➡️
[MENTION=48391]
Many of us on the forum are coming from an artistic place, too, so individual aesthetic perception and experience matter tremendously more than they would in a purely scientific context. Technologically speaking, the "best" microphones – i.e., the most accurate – are relatively inexpensive small-diaphragm omni condensers without tubes or transformers. Those can be great mics, of course! But their timbre will be very, very different from a u67, and it's not subtle. The u67 isn't accurate, it just sounds good in music. Its technological flaws have become its selling point, and that's simply because of art.
Absolutely, no doubt.

To underline my question a bit, I rephrase it to look at the topic from a slightly different angle:

Is it possible to convert a tube mic into a solid state one (or vice versa) so that there is no audible difference between the two versions of the same mic? Only electronics can be touched and nothing else (no diaphragm modifications, no mechanical changes to the chassis/grid/etc.).
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by jaddie
Understand that tube data shows, very specifically, how a tube itself amplifies, along with some data about its internal properties. That data does not directly reflect the performance of the tube in a specific circuit. To do that you'd have to perform some circuit analysis with the tube data long with various parameters of the circuit around it. That's why tube data doesn't include frequency response. FR would vary depending entirely on the surrounding circuit and application. Tube parameters like inter-electrode capacitance, gain and linearity are useful in determining if a particular tube type is a good choice for a particular application. For example, a tube with rather poor linearity but very low inter-electrode capacitance might be a good choice for a Class C amplifier where linearity isn't a factor, where something with higher gain and better linearity might be a better choice for amplifying low level audio signals.

Tube data is just the beginning of the story.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jaddie ➡️
Excellent points above.

But fundamentally, the OP is asking if device data is very similar, why should there be a difference in tube vs SS mics. It's a valid question, also easily answered (see my last post).

People get defensive so quickly. There is no question different mics sound differently. There is a bigger question, though, which relates to why, and if the active gain element itself is the cause, which is kind of what the OP is getting at. It's a very good question, not easily answered.

Timbre is hard to quantify, but not impossible. Fundamentally, on-axis frequency response has the most influence. And yes, that response must be seen over time, as resonances that carry on past stimulus are huge factors. But a mic operates in a 3d space, and for every axis past 0 degrees, there's a similar response vs time factor to consider. Any mic, tube or any technology, in an acoustic space is a complex 3d problem to characterize, but hardly impossible. The real problem is in presenting the data to a user or buyer. Manufacturers of audio equipment already under-specify gear because they don't feel there's a good understanding of the data, and don't want to be held to a non-understanding measuring stick. FR, for example, typically includes a frequency range without specifying a deviation from flat. Useless.

There are circuit design factors that affect performance but are dictated by the active device, though to a far lesser extent than the acoustic factors. Things like plate resistance directly affect output impedance, and often don't match well with audio applications without transformers. There are many possibilities for changing sound character there, but as we found out several decades ago, the resulting sound in tube devices can be easily simulated with other technology.

Mics are always huge signal modifiers regardless of what technology is used.
Excellent answers. You're the only one on this thread (so far) who understood my question perfectly.

So basically tube's "sound" comes mostly from the surrounding circuitry, just like with opamps and transistors. (unless you're driving the circuit into clipping region)

You mentioned that tube's sound can be easily simulated with other technology. How close is it possible to get? Can the difference be inaudible to a human?

I think that to get satisfying answers to my question, I would need to send digitally generated signal through a "clean sounding" tube circuit, and see how it affects the frequency/phase of the signal as well as what kind of non-linearities are introduced to the signal. I.e. are there new harmonics appearing here and there and what's their amplitude compared to the input signal at usual levels used by tube mics. Then the same test would be done with a clean sounding SS circuit to see where and how big the differences are.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Excellent answers. You're the only one on this thread (so far) who understood my question perfectly.

So basically tube's "sound" comes mostly from the surrounding circuitry, just like with opamps and transistors. (unless you're driving the circuit into clipping region)
The electronics are a factor, but the biggest contributor to any mics sound is acoustic and transducer factors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️

You mentioned that tube's sound can be easily simulated with other technology. How close is it possible to get? Can the difference be inaudible to a human?
Look up convolution and impulse response. Many devices have been modeled quite well. Mics are especially tricky because you can’t determine what part of the signal is affected by the arrival vector, but many classic mics have been successfully modeled on their primary axis.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
E

I think that to get satisfying answers to my question, I would need to send digitally generated signal through a "clean sounding" tube circuit, and see how it affects the frequency/phase of the signal as well as what kind of non-linearities are introduced to the signal. I.e. are there new harmonics appearing here and there and what's their amplitude compared to the input signal at usual levels used by tube mics. Then the same test would be done with a clean sounding SS circuit to see where and how big the differences are.
I think you absolutely should attempt that.
Old 31st March 2021 | Show parent
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Nope, haven't done proper recordings with a tube mic. And that's beside the point here:

If you don't measure the signal and instead only use your ears, you don't know how much the tube affects the signal. The next best thing is to look at the scientific charts and see what's going on there.
I've altered the performance of tube mics significantly with a change of tube. I have a cheapie MXL V69 that came with a crap tube. I swapped in a tube that cost more than the mic, and what was basically an unusable mic became a much more usable mic. I can't quantify what the impact was, but it was very real.

So, the specific tube in a mic, IMHO, makes a difference. How does that compare with FET? I think that every situation would be different. Every mic sounds a touch different from the mic next to it, even two of the same mic. Any tube mic is going to sound, to the ear, a bit different from an FET, especially if the tube is pushed.

It's a complex question, and I'm not sure I would know what to do with the answer, if an answer is even possible. Around here, mics get selected and placed according to 40 years of experience and gut feeling, not by reading data and studying graphs.
Old 31st March 2021
  #21
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IME it's more to do with the whole design rather than specific components, e.g. tubes vs transistors.

I remember a session I was involved with back in the 90s where we were using an AKG 414 upgraded by Jim Williams on lead vocal, and we were thinking we may do better with my custom Manley Gold mic (tube-based). So we put both mics next to each other, expecting something way different, but suprisingly, the two sounded very similar. Much more so than what I could have ever imagined. The difference we heard was that the Manley was just slightly more "colored." Very subtle, though. I didn't attribute that color to the tube, though.
Old 1st April 2021 | Show parent
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aural Endeavors ➡️
...a session I was involved with back in the 90s where we were using an AKG 414 upgraded by Jim Williams on lead vocal, and we were thinking we may do better with my custom Manley Gold mic (tube-based). So we put both mics next to each other, expecting something way different, but suprisingly, the two sounded very similar. Much more so than what I could have ever imagined...
I had that exact experience with an 80's U87 and an SM57 with a girl's lead vocal track. I thought I was imagining things, but we all listened and listened, and they sounded almost the freaking same! The U87 offered a very, very slight edge, that we might actually have been imagining.
Old 1st April 2021 | Show parent
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kennybro ➡️
I had that exact experience with an 80's U87 and an SM57 with a girl's lead vocal track. I thought I was imagining things, but we all listened and listened, and they sounded almost the freaking same! The U87 offered a very, very slight edge, that we might actually have been imagining.
That would have REALLY blown my mind haha!
Old 1st April 2021
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
...show the signal curve of a tube and a transistor. They look awfully lot the same. Unless you start driving the tube/transistor (or opamp) into distortion levels, there should probably be zero difference in the sound.
Mmm, no. Enormous oversimplification. There is no such thing in the real world as "a tube" or "a transistor." There are huge varieties of each.

Different transistors sound different from other transistors. Even different transistors of the same make and model can sound and measure different.

Different tubes sound different from other tubes. Even different tubes of the same make and model can sound and measure different.

Tubes are not transistors and vice versa. That's like saying silicon and germanium transistors should sound identical. Or 12AX7's and VF14's should sound identical. It's an oversimplification.
Old 1st April 2021 | Show parent
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
I just believed the "warmth of tube mics" myth until I started questioning/thinking logically if the tubes actually have a sound to them or not.
"Warmth of tubes" or later you said tubes are "dark"... it is true that is a myth. Tube circuits can be dark or bright. Same with transistor circuits. It does seem to be a noob myth that tubes are dark. Most of the most famous tube mics like the C12, C800G, 251, U47... they are certainly not dark, in fact the opposite.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
In other words: These forums are filled with misinformation about the gear we use.
Cant argue with that, I've spread plenty myself.
Old 1st April 2021 | Show parent
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
Is it possible to convert a tube mic into a solid state one
Sometimes yes, for example there are transistors that are meant to plug in to tube sockets. The name is escaping me, Ive seen them for guitar amps or something. Theres also the Nuvistor but I dont think that qualifies as a true transistor, not sure.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
(or vice versa)
No not really, but yes with major modifications. For example see the Innertube Audio drop in mods for U87ai which replaces the guts with a tube circuit, and the IO Audio/"Max Mod" drop in mod that replaces the guts of a TLM67 or U87ai with a U67 tube mic circuit. There's also a U47 FET vs. U47. None of which sound the same. To make a solid state mic into a tube mic, you'd need to add the power supply for one thing, so dramatic changes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
so that there is no audible difference between the two versions of the same mic?
Wouldn't surprise me in theory if someone worked really hard it, just seems pointless.
Old 1st April 2021
  #27
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Where’s Kraku?

RELEASE THE KRAKU!
Old 1st April 2021
  #28
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I’ve heard solid state analog devices tweaked to be very close to tube amp designs particularly FETs. I’m sure it could be done to good effect cloning a popular tube mic design. One thing that you have going for you is the tube mic is the first amplifier in the signal chain. Not like trying to emulate multiple tube gain stages.
Old 1st April 2021
  #29
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This is a ridiculous thread.
Every electronic component and physical component contributes to the sound of a mic.
Therefore, every change to a mic or differences between mics can be described as “coloring” the sound in some way and to some degree.
Examples:
Warm slightly changed the headbasket on a newer version of their 87 wannabe. It sounds different.
Neumann made the 184 like the 84, but without a transformer and with different circuitry to accommodate that change. It sounds different.
I put a good foam windscreen on a handheld mic when it is windy. It sounds different.
It is generally agreed (among sane people) that the differences between mics are more easily noticed than some other differences: for example cable differences and interface preamp differences.
What the OP proposes in his first post is a rigorous, fair blind comparison test of various mics. That is done a lot.
So... what is this thread trying to understand?
Old 1st April 2021 | Show parent
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kraku ➡️
I'm not a chosen one. I just believed the "warmth of tube mics" myth until I started questioning/thinking logically if the tubes actually have a sound to them or not. This lead me to check their measurable signal curves and this only raised more questions. Hence I'm here now trying to verify my observations based on the data I found.

In other words: These forums are filled with misinformation about the gear we use.

...and these forums are filled with claims based on anecdotal evidence solely sourced from the opinions of one person.
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