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Blue Baby Bottle Microphone

6/1/2002

In 1992 the sorcerers at Blue secretly designed a line of large-diaphragm condenser microphones so distinctive that they would shock and amaze the audio community. During the past decade, the Blue mad scientists slowly and meticulously crafted these mics from the ground up, giving each a distinct sonic personality as well as an unusual appellation such as Blueberry, Mouse, Kiwi, or Dragonfly.

One by one, the company unleashed the Blue microphones on a public unaccustomed to the unorthodox. Initially apprehensive, the audio world soon welcomed these friendly creatures into its midst. In fact, the members of the community warmed to the misfits to such an extent that they have since bestowed award after award upon Blue microphones.

Now that the public has accepted and come to love these sometimes bizarre-looking but always great-sounding Blue microphones, the company has released the final product in its esteemed line of transducers. The Baby Bottle completes the series of Blue large-condenser mics, and as the least expensive of the Blue line, it provides an apt bookend to the pricey patriarch of the family, the revered Bottle.

FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS

Like the Bottle, the Baby pays cosmetic (and sonic) homage to Georg Neumann. While Dad resembles the stout Neumann CMV 3, Junior looks like the svelte CMV 563. The Baby Bottle's lollipop capsule stands authoritatively atop its slender, cylindrical body. However don't try to remove the head — though the papa Bottle provides movable and interchangeable capsules, the Baby Bottle's lollipop capsule comes hardmounted.

Unlike the lollipops on some of Blue's other mics, the Baby Bottle's lollipop is spherical and about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. The industrial-strength grille houses the handmade, single-membrane, fixed-cardioid capsule. A textured, metallic black coating covers the microphone body, which is otherwise adorned with a brass Blue emblem on the front and the Baby Bottle nameplate on the back. The mic comes with a swivelmount threaded to the base. Optional accessories include the Baby Shock shockmount and Baby Pop pop filter (see Fig. 1), which are sold together for $149.

Like all Blue mics, the Baby Bottle ships well protected; it comes in a beautifully crafted coffin-type cherry-wood box with a tongue-and-groove sliding lid. I unraveled the bubble wrap and discovered a faux-velvet bag enshrouding the mic. I was initially concerned about the lack of padding in the box, but the folks at Blue explained that I had an early model of the box and thus did not receive the die-cut foam bed that cradles the mic.

INNER BEAUTY

Don't let the price fool you — the Baby Bottle is no corner-cutting budget microphone. According to Blue, the sound the company imagined for the Baby simply lends itself to a less expensive design. The goal was to create a mic with an unhyped, unaffected sound. So Blue did away with the extensive equalization found in most modern condensers, creating instead a capsule with a neutral character. One inch in diameter, the capsule comprises a 6 µm thick gold-and-aluminum-sputtered membrane mated to a simple Class A, transformerless output circuit. The result is a clean sound with the lowest self noise — 5.5 dB — ever (not) heard from a large-diaphragm condenser, let alone a budget model.

Like all Blue mics, the Baby has no pad or filter. That is in keeping with Blue's philosophy of simple, clean electronics. It also has the highest output level I've ever experienced from a microphone. That can be a plus in a home-recording environment, especially if you have noisy mic preamps; in professional recording studios, however, I had to use pads more often than I would have liked.

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

The sound of the Baby Bottle not only belies its price tag, it also breaks with the budget-microphone paradigm. People have been beaten to deaf by inexpensive Neumann U 87 clones, most of which are aggressively, often painfully, colored. I hate the trend of abrasive-sounding mics (not to mention the “pointy” sound of many contemporary CDs).

With the Baby Bottle, Blue avoided that sound altogether. Rather than emphasize top and bottom, the Baby Bottle permits the midrange to speak. This microphone simply sounds smooth and full in the mids without any drastic peaks or valleys. Because Blue didn't load the output electronics with EQ circuitry, you don't hear any of the inherent phasiness of hyped or highly colored microphones. Again, the idea behind the Baby was to let the source speak for itself rather than allow the mic to do the talking. I dig that approach. (It's also the reason I love ribbon mics so much.)

BROADCAST NEWS

Upon receiving a pair of Baby Bottles for review, I plugged them in at WBUR, the National Public Radio station in Boston for which I work as technical director. Normally, all on-air mics at the station are Neumann U 87s. The U 87s work great on some voices, but not as well on others. Compared with the 87s, the Baby Bottles sounded more natural and less peaky — and a boatload louder. The Baby Bottles were full, present, and smooth sounding; in comparison, the U 87s sounded somewhat artificial on some voices.

The Baby Bottle also exhibited a slightly wider pickup pattern, which afforded a little more leeway in placement and allowed the talent to move around more without dire consequences. Although the Baby exhibited excellent off-axis rejection at 90 to 135 degrees, at 180 degrees the mic picked up more information than most large-diaphragm cardioid condensers I have used. In addition, because the Baby has less bottom end than other large-diaphragm condensers, you can work the mic at shorter distances without excessive bass boosting from the proximity effect. Overall, the Baby Bottle makes an exceptionally articulate broadcast microphone.

VOICES IN THE MIX

I next set up shop with fellow engineer Ducky Carlisle at Room 9 from Outer Space studio in Boston. He and I have similar sonic sensibilities, and we put the Baby Bottle through the wringer. We primarily used a Vintech 1272 mic pre, and we recorded both to 2-inch analog tape and to Digidesign Pro Tools through a Troisi DC224ADC A/D converter.

Compared with voices on the radio, which often must stand on their own, vocal tracks to be mixed with music can make for more of a challenge. A lone speaker might sound great through a particular mic, but that same sound might not sit so well in a mix.

Rather than attempt to make a single “do-it-all” mic, Blue intentionally tailored each of its models to specific applications. For example, if you need a bright, airy, naked vocal sound, reach for a Blueberry; if you want a scooped-out sound — big top and bottom but not much midrange — grab a Dragonfly.

What the Baby does on vocals is allow a singer to cut through a bright mix. For example, if you have a great deal of high-end information — cymbals, wispy acoustic guitars, synthesizers, and other sizzle — the Baby will project a vocal right through the middle. Skip the EQ, push up the fader, and the vocal sits right where you need it.

The Baby solved several problems for me on a particularly troublesome vocalist. The singer had a husky baritone voice with some nasal action that fell right within the presence peak of many studio vocal mics. That made it easy to end up capturing too much information. To avoid that problem when recording this singer previously, I generally had used a Neumann tube U 47 — a mic that didn't overemphasize his less desirable qualities or nasal sound. The Baby worked especially well in this case: it brought out a smooth midrange without emphasizing the undesirable characteristics of the vocalist. The singer still sounded present and forward, but not abrasive or nasal. Moreover, the Baby worked as well going into a Pro Tools setup as it did in the studio through a Manley Laboratories Voxbox (though, admittedly, it sounded a tad better through the Voxbox).

THINGS WITH STRINGS

To test the Baby on acoustic guitar, we had to settle for a Gibson Dove. I typically use small-diaphragm condensers on acoustic guitars (my trusty Neumann KM 140s are the usual pick), though if I'm recording a mono track, I often use a Neumann U 47 or an AKG C 12.

I cut a track of the Dove with the Baby Bottle positioned about six inches from the neck-body joint and angled slightly toward the sound hole. (By the way, positioning this mic is a joy because of its light weight and the lollipop capsule.) The immediately striking thing about the sound was the lack of low-frequency muck — I didn't hear any of the annoying low-end whump that large-body acoustics typically generate. Although the sound wasn't as crisp and detailed as I usually like, it was full, lush, and even somewhat 47-ish.

Interestingly, when I switched to the second of the Baby Bottles, I noticed a bit less bottom end and low-midrange content. Also, the level seemed about 1 dB lower. That suggests that Blue's quality control for the Baby Bottle is not perfect; then again, given the mic's low cost, the quality control is still above average. A 1.5 dB boost of the Trident 80B's low-shelving filter just about matched the sound to that of the first Baby. In the final analysis, I preferred the sound of the second Baby on the acoustic.

On guitar amps, the Baby really sang — or let the source sing, as it were. We dialed up a beautiful flame-top 1960 Les Paul reissue through an original '59 tweed Fender Deluxe. I loved the sound coming out of the amp, and I stuck the Baby about five inches back from the grille cloth and approximately an inch off the center of the speaker. We ran the microphone through the Vintech 1272 and brought up the fader to hear what sounded an awful lot like the amp in the studio. All of the grit, bark, and nuance of the sound came through. I did hear a bit more ambient sound than I usually expect with a mic at that distance — more evidence of the Baby's wide cardioid pattern — but I had no objections.

For an electric bass track, we set up a '65 Fender P-Bass (strung with flat-wounds) through the mother of all bass amps: an Ampeg SVT. We plugged the amp in to a 15-inch Eden cabinet and placed the Baby about three inches from the grille cloth, aimed at the edge of the speaker's dust cover. For a mic pre, we used the Peavey VMP-2, which sounds great on bass. Once again I was pleased with the sound — it was round, full, and perfectly articulate. Granted, the rig sounded great to begin with, but the Baby translated the sound wonderfully without doing anything to alter it.

CRASH AND BANG

Although the Baby Bottle's manual claims the mic “offers numerous advantages when recording drums,” I think that needs some qualification. The Baby Bottle is not an overhead mic. When getting drum sounds, I start with the overheads. My philosophy is that if the drums sound good to begin with, then well-placed overheads should also sound good; from there I can determine what other mics I need to fill out the sound.

When we tried the Babys as overheads, they threw a tantrum and sounded a bit plastic. They didn't reproduce the depth, dimension, or sizzle of the kit. They didn't do so well as room mics, either. However, I did put a Baby Bottle in front of a kick drum, and the mic handled the sound-pressure level with aplomb, producing a clean, line-level signal. Indeed, it gave me an accurate representation of a lousy-sounding bass drum.

The Baby Bottle did do lovely things with percussion. I usually use mellow-sounding mics when recording percussion, so the Baby played right into my tastes. It was detailed enough on shakers, tambourine, and bongos to sound perfect in the tracks without getting too harsh or irritating.

THINGS WITH MORE STRINGS

I also took the microphones to Rear Window Recording Studio in Brookline, Massachusetts, to introduce them to a Steinway grand piano. This particular piano is on the bright side, and depending upon the nature of the recording, I choose any of a variety of mics (generally Neumann KM 84s or U 47s, Royer SF-12s, or Earthworks TC40Ks). I placed the Baby Bottles in a standard stereo configuration: one over the treble hammers, the other over the bass strings, and each about six inches above the soundboard. A rich, full, and cohesive sound leaped from the speakers.

Just for reference, I placed a KM 84 next to the treble-side Baby and was surprised by how thin and distant it sounded. Just the same, in a dense pop-rock mix, I would likely steer away from the Babys, simply because they convey too much low-mid information. However, in a sparser tune in which the piano takes center stage, I wouldn't hesitate to use the Baby Bottles.

BACK TO SCHOOL

My time with the Baby Bottles reminded me of several lessons my former Berklee students never tired of hearing. First, all great sounds start with great-sounding instruments and players. Second, when you have a great sound source, choose the mic wisely to convey what you need; avoid EQ. Third, don't just listen to the mic on its own — listen to it in context with the other tracks. A great sound on its own might not work in a mix.

The Baby Bottle is a mic that doesn't give you what isn't there. Some mics can dress up a sound source and flatter it. The Dragonfly and the Kiwi will do that, but the Baby Bottle won't. Rather, the Baby will give you a clear, cohesive midrange sound that few other mics can, and it is also able to soften strident sources. (Although I didn't have occasion to test the Baby Bottle on brass and strings, I bet that it would work wonders on those instruments, as well.)

The Baby Bottle fills a niche in the Blue line — or in any mic locker, for that matter — and brings a welcome sound into a price category where I have not formerly heard it. In retrospect, I realized that the situations in which I liked the Baby Bottle most were also situations in which I would commonly use ribbon mics — that is, situations for which I wanted a smooth and natural midrange or simply didn't want excessive high-end sizzle. The Baby Bottle was a bit more focused than my ribbon mics, certainly a lot louder, and perhaps not quite as austere sounding.

For people tired of the hype and flab of many budget microphones, the Blue Baby Bottle is the ticket. It not only affords the budget-conscious recordist opportunities previously unavailable, but it also provides the professional engineer with yet another useful weapon in the battle for cool sounds. Whether plugged in to a classic Vintech mic preamp or a Digidesign Digi 001 interface, the Baby Bottle sounds clear and natural. It's definitely the coolest-looking mic in its price class. This is one Baby that won't keep you up by crying and screaming all night. It will, however, keep you up recording all those tracks you've been aching to hear.


Sean Carberry (www.carpedonut.com) is technical director of The Connection on NPR and a freelance engineer and guitarist in the Boston area. Thanks to Ducky Carlisle for his assistance.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Blue
Baby Bottle
large-diaphragm condenser mic
$649

AUDIO QUALITY 4.5
VALUE 4.5
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Full, natural midrange. Presence without hype or phase problems. Exceptionally low self-noise. Handles high sound-pressure levels well. Easy to position. Solid construction. High output (good for -10 dBV — based studios); works well with budget equipment. Aesthetically pleasing. Comes with clip and lovely cherry-wood storage box.

CONS: High output level can be troublesome, sometimes requiring padding. Mediocre rear rejection. Capsule assembly doesn't swivel. Optional shockmount.

Manufacturer

Blue Microphones
tel. (805) 370-1599
e-mail blue@bluemic.com
Web www.bluemic.com

Baby Bottle Specifications

Element externally polarized, DC bias capacitor (“true” condenser)
Diaphragm 1", 6 µm gold- and aluminum-vapor-deposited Mylar
Polar Pattern cardioid
Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz (±2 dB)
Dynamic Range (amplifier) 128 dB
Sensitivity 33.5 mV/Pa (@ 1 kHz into 1 k•)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio 87 dBA
Self-Noise 5.5 dBA
Maximum Sound-Pressure Level 133 dB (for 0.5% THD)
Power 48V phantom
Dimensions 8.74" (L) × 1.77" (D)
Weight 0.77 lb.

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