Out of the collection that SE sent me, two mics were appropriate to try on the vocals of the ladies in the band Willow Willow (they have a psychedelic, folkish, pop sound — think a Beatlesy McGarrigle Sisters with beautiful harmonies where the vocal is the whole enchilada): the SE 2200A large-diaphragm condenser, and the SE Titan. The Titan is a transformerless class-A FET that’s kind of oddly bulbous and stubby. I put the SE 2200A up first. It comes with a sturdy shockmount that reminded me of the Neumann mounts. I’ve been using a Millennia HV 3D set of pres that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. This preamp is so clean and powerful. When you turn the gain knob, each of the 1.5dB steps gives you a warm whoomp of gain that is very satisfying indeed.
Anyway, after the Millennia pre comes the Summit DCL 200 tube compressor. This box goes with me everywhere. I love how this compressor sounds in cahoots with the clean power of the Millennia. After all the beauty in the signal path, we end up in Pro Tools. Whatever.
I had one of the ladies do some takes with the SE 2200A and we stopped and listened. It sounded a lot like the TLM 103 — a bit of a push around 6.5-7kHz — so I had to put a de-esser on the track to make it work. It didn’t exhibit the same lows as the 103. It was a tiny bit thinner. I took down the 2200A and put up the SE Titan. The Titan looks kind of cool with its large ball of a windscreen and space station-like shockmount. The mic is kind of heavy, but the sturdy screw-on mount does a good job. It’s not too bulky either. I had the Titan going through the same path. We did some more takes and immediately noticed the difference. They couldn’t explain why, they just knew the mic sounded right. When a singer is comfortable and likes what they hear in the phones, you know you have a good chance at getting some good work done. It was smooth and present from the high mids on up to the delicate highs. The roundness of their voices was also captured well. I was able to take the de-esser out of the chain. We finished tracking with the Titan that day and have used it on each vocal session since. The Titan is a bit pricey (around $1,250 street) compared to the SE 2200A (around $340) but worth comparing to other mics in the range. The SE 2200A is definitely worth hearing. For the price it nearly sounds the same as the Neumann TLM 103, which costs more than twice as much.
THE SMALL-DIAPHRAGM CONDENSERS
I needed to replace some nylon-string acoustic finger-picked guitar on one of the Willow Willow songs. A perfect time to audition the two stereo pairs of mics that SE had sent me: the SE 1ASTs and the SE 3STs. Both of these are matched stereo pairs. The SE1As come with a nice wooden case that has a couple of clips and a stereo-bar stand mount. The SE 3s come in a flight case with clamp-style shockmounts and a stereo-bar stand mount.
I mounted the SE1A pair in a stereo fashion with one pointing at the neck/body connection and the other at the back of the sound hole. It was pretty easy to get the mics into position. We recorded a take while their singer was warming up. I had the mics going through the Millennia HV 3D pres and decided to soften the attack a bit with Avalon SP747’s super transparent compressor. A very clean path indeed! I usually use my set of old AKG 452s in a situation like this. I’m very tuned into what they sound like. They are my benchmark. The SE1As sounded bright — a bit too bright for the nylon strings. The highs made me think that there was a lot of detail I’ve been missing with my 452s, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I took the SE 1As off the stand and set up the SE3s. They are quite a bit larger than the SE 1As. Actually, they seemed a bit large to be so-called “pencil mics”. They have a handy switchable low end roll-off (–10dB/octave starting at 120Hz) and a –10dB pad. Very useful. The shockmounts are OK but I have a pet peeve with cheap shockmounts. Let me just say that they are passable. The clothespin clamp fell apart the first time I used it. It was easy to fix and with a little sensitivity I’ve been able to keep it together since. They should also include stand clips for tighter positioning purposes.
After a few more warm-up takes using the SE3s through the same signal path I was sold. The SE3s had a heft and a warm low-end presence that was not there with the SE1As. The highs were pleasing and detailed without being annoying or brittle like the SE1As. I was impressed. My AKG 452s sounded dark and distant when compared. We finished the session with the SE3s on the stand.
The next day I recorded some percussion overdubs for a friend’s demo. I brought the AKG 452s, which are my standard for light stereo percussion (tambourines, shakers, and bongos), the SE3s, and a pair of SE2A Multi Capsule small-diaphragm condensers. These guys have switchable capsules that come in the case: a standard set of cardioid, hypercardioid, and omni. They also come with the same shockmount that the SE3s come with. I was curious to see if they sounded any different than the SE1As.
I went with a pair of Brent Averil 1272 pres through a Summit DCL200 of course. The SE2As in cardioid sounded just as bright as the SE1As. Not such a bad thing with tambourine. The omni capsule sounded good but brought too much of the not-so-pleasing reflections into play. I didn’t like how they sounded on the bongos: a bit thin and boxy.
The SE3s went up on the stand next. With the same path, but a little less gain, the SE3s sounded great. I had the percussionist stand about 2-3 feet away with the tambo and the shakers and the sound was perfect for the track. The depth of the stereo field, the tight low mid presence on the bongos, the tasty highs without being brittle on the tambourine, and the “shhhh” of the shakers all worked very well. I didn’t even bother putting the AKGs to the test.
If I had more time I would have loved to try all these mics out on a full drum kit recording. I can imagine that the brightness of the SE1As and SE2As would be great on hats and as room mics and the SE3s would be grand stereo overheads. I bet the SE2200A would make a strong mono overhead too.
All these mics will be able to find a place in your collection. They are quality, affordable mics. Apparently on the SE Electronics website you can sign up to test their mics on a loaner basis and try them out before you buy. Be warned — you just might not want to give them back. SE Titan Transformerless, multi-pattern, class A FET ($1,250); SE 2200A large-diaphragm cardioid condenser ($339); SE 1AST pair small-diaphragm cardioid condensers ($380/pair); SE 2A multi-capsule small diaphragm condenser ($339); SE 3ST pair cardioid small diaphragm condenser ($600/pair)