Audio Test Kitchen is an incredible free resource for recording enthusiasts. One of the biggest challenges engineers face is becoming knowledgable about mics. And there’s really no way to do that without trying them on practically every instrument over the course of many years. In the age of the home studio, how do you do that without unlimited time, money, and clientele?
What Is Audio Test Kitchen?
Audio Test Kitchen (which we’ll occasionally reference as ATK) is a website that lets you shoot out different mics. There are over 300 microphones in their virtual locker, which you can compare in realtime, for free, from the comfort of your home.
The good people at ATK put painstaking efforts into making this a reality. They also went out of their way to control all of the variables that alter our perception of microphones. So when you click on a new mic, the only thing you’re hearing is the characteristic of that microphone. It’s way more scientific and precise than your run-of-the-mill YouTube shootout.
One of the goals behind ATK was to give people the resources to think independently. You can listen to just about any microphone you can imagine and decide for yourself, right here and now, whether you like its sound. There’s no pressure or influence to like a particular mic because of its prestige or legacy; just your ears, which will make that decision for you!
How does it work?
It’s actually really easy. First, you’ll want to make a free account for full access to the entire microphone fleet.
From there, you pick which microphones you want to hear. You can arrange a lineup of six mics of your choice, though the default gives you five plus a mystery microphone. Next, pick a song you want to demo, and finally, select which instrument you want to hear. ATK lets you listen to the full track or solo individual elements to get the best representation of what each mic is lending to the sound.
At any time you can drag and drop new microphones into the lineup and listen to what each is doing to the same recorded performance.
Bias unfortunately finds its way into even the most inconsequential human activities, like demoing microphones! Audio Test Kitchen built in a way to eliminate that, and it’s called Blind Mode.
Blind Mode very simply hides the identities of the mic lineup. Use your ears, not your eyes, to let you decide what sounds the best. Bias tells us that a Neumann U87 is supposed to sound better than a $200 condenser. Will you still feel that way when you just rely on your ears? Find out with Blind Mode.
Looping is another simple but essential part of Audio Test Kitchen. To really hear what a mic is doing, you need to be able to hone in on the microscopic details, and one way we do that is by looping a short section of audio.
Just click and drag on the waveform to make a loop selection. Then you can demo your mic lineup on the same section to really hear what’s happening.
The Cabinet makes it easy to recall your favorite mics, or ones you just want to try at a different time. It’s basically just a save function—you can “store” microphones in a “cabinet” for later. All you have to do is put your cursor over the ellipses below the mic, and click on Cabinet. Now it’s saved and you can easily find it again.
Signal Chain Documentation
Of course the signal chain is going to have an impact on the overall tonality of the recording. Once you get past the mic, there’s a whole lot more happening that can change the sound. In ATK, all you have to do is click the little “Information” button next to the song title for a comprehensive breakdown of the entire chain from recording to mixing.
Every mic in Audio Test Kitchen also comes with its own frequency chart that plots its EQ curve. What’s so cool about ATK’s spectrums, though, is that the crew took them themselves. These are not the spectrums that come from the manufacturer; these are independently taken in the name of science and transparency!
- SEE ALSO: How ATK Changed Comparing Mics Forever