Similar to Blue's higher-priced Bottle mic, the Bottle Rocket comes with a single capsule you can replace with any of eight other Bottle Caps (available separately). Pictured: the Stage One.
Blue Microphones has been cranking out innovative microphone designs for years, along with clever names for transducers derived from its top-of-the-line Bottle microphone. The new Bottle Rocket mics use the same detachable capsule set developed for the original Bottle. The Stage One microphone body is a Class-A solid-state and the Stage Two is a tube (ECC83) amplifier design.
Though they differ in their amplifier sets and related features, the Stage One and the Stage Two have physical and functional similarities. Their cylindrical bodies are the same size, measuring 7 inches long and 5.5 inches around — roughly the same size as Blue's Baby Bottle and very similar to the Neumann CMV 563.
The CMV 563 was one of the first microphones to use a switchable bayonet-mount capsule (see Fig. 1). Anyone owning one of these vintage pieces will be happy to find out that its capsules are fully interchangeable with those in the Blue nine-capsule set.
The Stage One and the Stage Two come with the all-purpose cardioid B8 capsule, housing a large diaphragm with a presence boost optimized for modern vocal sounds. Other capsules are available separately, but you can't substitute any of them for the B8 when you purchase a Bottle Rocket kit. The B8 (and all the Bottle Caps) fits over the mounting stem at the top of the mic. Once on the stem, a slight twist locks the capsule in place. Unlike on the original Bottle, the bayonet-mount stems on the Bottle Rockets are fixed and can't be swiveled toward or away from the source.
A shockmount with familiar European styling comes with each mic body. The mount has two fabric-lined bands that latch around the middle of the cylindrical microphone body, as well as sturdy elastic bands that suspend the inner cage assembly and a 180-degree swivel mount attached to the outer ring. An eight-page manual is included, and the Bottle Rockets feature a three-year warranty.
Stage One: Prepare for Takeoff
A lustrous blue powder-coat finish adorns the solid-state Stage One microphone, with distinctive art-deco caps at both ends. Blue's logo stands out in chrome, indicating the mic's address side when a capsule is attached. The body and B8 capsule are stored in separate wood boxes with snug-fitting foam inserts. Though not as elegant as Blue's earlier cases, they're a step up from the cardboard and plastic boxes supplied by most mic manufacturers. This set is delivered in a cardboard shipping box, with the microphone case, capsule case and shockmount nestled securely inside.
Stage Two: We Have Ignition
FIG.1: The Bottle Rocket (this shows the Stage Two, right) and the Neumann CMV 563 are not only physically similar, but their mic capsules are interchangeable.
The Stage Two tube microphone is physically similar to the Stage One body, but with a glossy deep-blue sparkle finish. This kit has a decidedly upscale presentation, with a lavish ATA flight case sporting heavy-duty metal hardware. When opened, the case practically glows with regal-looking blue velvet. Cutouts are provided for the mic body, three capsules and the tube electronics' power supply. A blue-velvet door lifts to reveal a five-conductor mic cable, shockmount and power cable.
The power supply is a simple-looking affair, built into the same retro-futuristic oval housing as Blue's Robbie mic pre. The front panel light glows red while the unit is warming up, and then glows green when it's ready for lift-off. All other features — the five-conductor mic in, balanced XLR out, power switch, IEC connector and 110/220-volt switching — are on the rear panel.
Blue Skies Ahead
Lisa Mezzacappa is a golden-eared musician who's very attentive to her acoustic bass tone. She likes the Neumann TLM 103 large-diaphragm condenser on her bass, but while she was in my studio I tried out the Bottle Rockets and their various capsule configurations.
I positioned the Bottle Rockets alongside the TLM 103 with their capsules almost touching. Blue Kiwi mic cables connected the mics to Grace Design 101 preamps, and I recorded the results to Pro Tools at 24-bit/96kHz resolution. I was impressed that the Stage One had self-noise and output level similar to the TLM 103. The Stage Two had similar high output and slightly higher self-noise, but only when listening at dangerously loud playback levels.
With the B8 capsule, the Blue Stage One mic picked up more room sound and highs than the TLM 103, with a bright response that emphasized string noise and upper midrange. The B3 capsule on the Stage One was not as bright as the 103, though its tonality was much closer to the Neumann's throughout the frequency spectrum. I still noticed a greater proportion of accurate room sound through the Blue transducer.
The Stage Two paired with the B3 yielded more depth and liveliness, and it improved high-end transparency without excess brightness. With the B8 capsule, though, the Stage Two emphasized some rattling and clacking on the bass track.
Ultimately, I preferred the sound of the Stage Two/B3 combination, although Mezzacappa's impression was that it made her sound as if she were playing harder than she actually was, with more edge on the attack of the notes. Although the TLM 103 did grant a more intimate and drier sound to the bass, the Stage Two contributed superior transient response, room tone, and overall openness and accuracy to the sound of this challenging instrument.
On a session for singer/songwriter couple Mia & Jonah, I had a chance to try out the Stage Two with a B6 capsule. On vocals, this configuration had the same familiar warmth and definition I expect from the Bottle/B6 combination that I've relied on for years. The Stage Two and B6 pairing was also great on harmonica, delivering thick and full tonality without any harshness. Although a direct comparison with the Bottle was not possible on this session, based on what I heard I would use the Stage Two alongside the Bottle without hesitation. (For more, see the Online Bonus Material, “Hearing Is Believing?”)
One complaint concerning the Blue shockmount is that the inner rings, though very well padded, don't grip the mic securely once the latches are closed. With its glossy finish, the Stage Two is particularly prone to slipping down in the mount until it comes to rest on the raised logo or one of the end caps. Although there's no danger of the mic body falling out or getting damaged, this is a design flaw that goes against Blue's reputation for aesthetics and precision.
Toward the end of the review process, I was a little shocked to find out how affordable these mics are. I assumed that both Bottle Rocket kits would be about double their prices. The Stage One set costs about as much as buying a B8 capsule and shockmount separately, making the microphone body basically free.
Neither the Stage One nor the Stage Two compromise on the sound quality and excellent specs for which Blue is known. For anyone who already owns a Blue Bottle, a Bottle Rocket is a great opportunity to diversify your mic closet and get more use from your capsules. A Bottle Rocket and assortment of capsules also offers versatility for the small-studio recordist who is concerned with quality and timbral range, but doesn't need a lot of mics.
Myles Boisen is head engineer at Guerrilla Recording in Oakland, Calif. Find out more at www.mylesboisen.com.