Wednesday, December 30, 2015

sE Electronics Z5600a II and Voodoo VR1 microphone on review.

By Tim Dolbear

sE Electronics is the maker of many outstanding microphones, including my all time favorite small diaphragm condensers, The sE5. I fell in love with The sE5 while trying them out for my MIX review and you can read about them here:

MIX magazine review - sE5

Chris Dauray who works with sE and helped me out on the MIX review, setup me up with a few more 'of my choice' mics to try out. This time it was the Z5600a II multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser and a pair of Voodoo ribbon mics.

First up is the Z5600a II.  $1249 list

This is a 9 pattern tube condenser mic with built in -10 db pad and HP filter. It comes in a great flight case with remote power supply that also has the pattern selection on it, a large and of quality shock mount, and cabling.

The sound is upfront, mid-range focused and filled with harmonics, as you'd expect from a tube mic that has a good transformer in the output stage. The polar patterns range from Omni through Cardio to figure 8. I liked the sound of the mic in Omni pattern more than cardio.  Example, when tracking acoustic guitar, Set to cardio, the sound of the strings and left hand came through, but in Omni, the entire instrument came through. Also the added depth of the room came to life in Omni.

It was a very nice feature being able to dial in the polar patterns, if I wanted a Cardio pattern that was slightly more open than normal, simple select the setting that works. Very cool!

This mic would find itself at home tracking vocals for Rock and hardrock. This mic is on my list of wants for future purchases. :-)

Next up is the sE Voodoo Ribbon mic VR1. $499List

These are small passive ribbon mics that have an extended high range and are not a budget ribbon mic. I have try others in the $200-600 range and hated them, terrible. The Royer ribbon mics start at $1000 and I just have not gotten a chance to use them as I figured I would want to buy it if I loved it... So if the VR1 sounds of the quality of the $1000+ ribbons, I am in business. The VR1 comes in at half the price and with so many engineers bragging about their beautiful high end response and rich mids and lows, I could not wait to try them out.

The VR1 do not have a HP filter and of course due to the low output inherent to a ribbon microphone's design, no pad. Also, the VR1 has a transform on it's output so if you hit the mic with 48v phantom power, the mic will not have issue. This is unlike most ribbon mics on the market which will fry an ugly death if you accidentally hit them with phantom power.

I received a pair of mics so I could test them as overheads for drums, but first up was what these are known for and I had waited a long time to get them in here to try out; Electric Guitars.

The VR1 sounded creamy yet tight, smooth frequency response and no "dull high-end" like I have run into in the past with ribbons. It made my SM57 (Transformer-less) sound very upfront and tight but not in a good way. In fact, I could not believe how bad my normal guitar amping mics (SM57 transformer-less and Audix D1) sounded in comparison to the VR1.

The VR1 just Killed it!

Compared with my Shure KSM27, a condenser mic I often use for electric guitar, it simply had a more creamy smooth sound, the KSM sounded bright and even a tad harsh. Since the VR1 is a figure 8 pattern as most all ribbon mics are, it kept up with the condenser as they both had depth and "room" in their sound. The two complimented each other very well.

The VR1 is now my go to electric guitar mic. Its fantastic!

Many of my friends like ribbon mics as overheads, but for me I am not really a fan. First you need to be in a room with at least a 15ft ceiling as the figure 8 pattern catches reflections off the ceiling and kills the sound. Also the sound of a ribbon on a kit is very dull and not modern sounding to me at all. Even in a throwback vintage sounding recording, its not the sound I would look for. Just not to my personal taste.

Also if you are using a set of ribbons for over heads, I would only use a single as having 2 mics both in figure 8 pattern over a kit can cause all sorts of phase issues not to mention all the reflections being picked up. Just my 2cents.

I do look forward to using them on Horns (Brass) as I know the will be perfect. These have found a new home. I really really like these Ribbons and they deserve the hype they get.

Bravo sE, Bravo!

'till next time!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Monitoring...what are you double checking your work on?

By Tim Dolbear

Lets first start by stating and hopefully agreeing on this: Your studio control room's design and acoustic layout is the most important factor, If it's off, it does not matter what speaker or monitor setup you have, everything will be off.

Even my professionally designed control room at Eclectica Studios had issues that I dealt with for years and ended up throwing a lot of money at it to correct it.

I talk with many other mixing engineers about how they monitor while mixing. Some use one set of speakers, other have 3 or 4 pair, some studios have studio monitors all staked up on top one other... Some swear by the age old practice of burning the mix to CD or cassette before that and listening to their work in their car. Dave Pensado talks about the small Aurotones he keeps to the side of him, right next to each other simply to hear the song.

We live in a full range world now. 

For me, I have really settled into a setup that consist of a single high end monitor setup but with a few extras.

My Studio monitors are Nuemann KH Series: the KH120 and Sub, fed by the  Mytek Stereo192 DSD D/A. They sound amazing; clean, clear and correct.

Interestingly, for a minute I added a second set of 6.5" studio monitors, and had them sitting right next to the KH120s, But they killed the sound, the stereo field of the KH120s just closed up. Now when I see studio with speakers next to other speakers I wonder if they know what they are loosing by setting a big box next to a speaker they are listening too, or if they even noticed the stereo field disappearing and the sound closing up.

But really, what's the point of having lots of good sounding speakers that really sound basically the same when the consumer will be listening to your music on earbuds which have a completely different presentation or a Bose stereo system that is not setup to spec...

If I mix on speakers, as I do, and then switch to another pair of speakers, it confuses the situation as to my reference point of the tonalities of the mix..."Is there too much 600hz in the mix or is it just these speakers have more low mids than the first set?"

But popping in Earbuds or on a set of headphones will resets your brain and point of view for listening.

Aurotones are an interesting small 4.5" single speaker in a small box, and have for decades been "industry standard" for low-fi mix checking as they represented small boom boxes and TV speakers well. But it's almost 2016 (in a few weeks), people do not listen to music on boomboxes, or to their TVs using the built in speakers anymore. Boomboxes are now earbuds and headphones, TVs plug into Stereo and 5.1 Home systems. Car stereos are basically full range and decent nowadays,  no more single speaker AM radios for automobile entertainment.

While interviewing engineers and artist for the "How We Listen" feature I wrote for Professional sound I spoke with Tony Harnell and him mentioning how he only listens to music on his earbuds nowadays, I realized, outside my studio walls, things really are changing...

So instead of a 2nd and 3rd pair of speakers or my car... I now check my mixes using a set of medium range earbuds and a set of decent headphones that sit between the Bose headphones and crappy Beats headphones that are so popular with fashion conscience. Since checking mixes and masters with earbuds and headphones earlier this year, my work is translating better than ever to all mediums.

So a few things to take away...

You have to work in an acoustically correct room. You need one set of REALLY good monitoring and know how they sound like you know your own soul. You need to know how speakers and the room sound together and there is no better way than to listen to music you know and love on them everyday.

Then, you need to be checking your mixes on what the consumers will be listening to your work on. For the most part, if its not a full range stereo, its earbuds and headphones.