If you're in the market for a big, impressive-looking microphone, you probably won't be interested in the Audix SCX-25. On the other hand, if you're looking for a big-sounding mic that's small enough to fit where most large-diaphragm microphones can't, the SCX-25 might just rock your world.
The SCX-25 large-diaphragm condenser is the top-of-the-line offering from Audix, a company that during the 1990s built an enviable reputation based largely upon its rugged, well-priced, and great-sounding dynamic microphones. The transition from manufacturing dynamic microphones to manufacturing condenser mics may seem like a move up in terms of complexity, but actually, making a first-rate dynamic mic is in many ways the greater challenge, at least from an engineering standpoint. (Consider how many companies make good-quality dynamic microphones — you can pretty much count them on one hand — as compared with the legions of condenser-microphone manufacturers.) That's because condenser mics often employ additional electronic components (equalization circuits, for example) to enhance the final sound, whereas dynamics, not being powered, must reproduce the sound using only mechanical means (that is, the diaphragm, magnet, and voice coil).
Given the exceptional quality of Audix's premium dynamic mics (not to mention its line of studio reference monitors), it's not unreasonable to expect great things as well from the company's flagship large-diaphragm condenser. Unlike most of the large-diaphragm mics that have flooded the market in recent years, the SCX-25 is designed and produced by Audix in the U.S.A. The company provides a one-year warranty with the mic.
The SCX-25 is a side-address, externally polarized (true) condenser mic with a fixed cardioid polar pattern. True to its minimalist design, there are no pads or low-cut switches, and the microphone preamplifier is transformerless. The mic's solid-brass body is quite small (less than 6 inches long) and has a matte black finish punctuated by shiny brass rings around the top of the body and capsule head. All of the metalwork and laser engraving is very well done, and though the mic weighs only 6 ounces, it has a solid and substantial feel.
The SCX-25's capsule is mounted in the capsule head with an innovative suspension system that shock-mounts the capsule within an internal brass ring. According to Audix, this eliminates the need for an external shockmount.
For the most part, the transformerless preamplifier section of the SCX-25 employs surface-mount topology, with a few “through hole” parts populating the circuit board. The mic's gold sputtered diaphragm is just shy of being 1 inch in diameter.
The SCX-25 comes in a very nice, foam-rubber-lined wooden case and includes a nylon microphone clip and Cordura carrying pouch. Incidentally, the foam in the case is cut to hold two SCX-25s, allowing you to carry a pair of the mics in a single case.
I checked out an unmatched pair of SCX-25s on a variety of sources. All testing was carried out using the following equipment for monitoring and recording: a Neotek IIIc console, Urei 809 and Fostex NF-1 monitors, a D.A.V. Electronics Broadhurst Gardens (solid-state) microphone preamp, a Peavey VMP-2 tube preamp, an MCI/Sony JH-24 multitrack recorder, and a Studer A 80 RC master 2-track recorder. I found that the SCX-25 mated nicely with both solid-state and tube-based preamps.
VOICE OF REASON
The SCX-25 proved a nice departure from the overhyped midrange response that characterizes so many inexpensive condenser mics these days. Ostensibly, such “presence boosts” increase intelligibility and clarity. To my ear, though, they often result in an edgy or brittle sound. In addition, recording multiple tracks with such a mic can cause a buildup or “hump” in response at the boosted frequencies.
The SCX-25 eschews presence boosting in favor of a clean, natural-sounding midrange. In my tests, the mic worked great on both male and female vocals, maintaining enough bite to cut through a mix, yet never sounding shrill or strident. Only dull-sounding voices in serious need of brightening would likely be an uncomplementary match with the SCX-25.
The SCX-25 also features a natural-sounding low-end response, and bass boosting from the proximity effect is noticeably less pronounced than with many other large-diaphragm condensers. I put the SCX-25 up for a closely miked and quietly sung vocal track, and both the singer and I were very pleased — the sound was big, yet not lumpy or bloated with boosted bass.
Except for some seriously high-dollar microphones, the SCX-25 is one of the best mics I have used to record piano. When I miked up my Hallet Davis spinet, which admittedly is lacking in bass response and sounds a bit pinched in the mids, the SCX-25s captured that piano's every flaw. I was happy to hear the substandard tones reproduced through my monitors — it meant the mics were doing their job well.
To test the SCX-25s in a more professional setting, I took them along to a local venue that often hosts jazz and classical concerts. The venue has a wonderful 1940s Steinway D concert grand, which I have had the pleasure of both playing and miking several times. Through the well-tuned P.A. system, the sound of the Steinway was the best that I had ever heard it in that hall. By the way, the house engineer is now seriously considering buying a pair of SCX-25s.
The SCX-25 proved a very good choice for a variety of percussion and drum-miking duties. It sounded especially good on afuche (cabasa), tambourine, triangle, and gourd shaker, capturing plenty of high-end detail yet never sounding spitty or harsh. Though in a cluttered mix you might find it necessary to dial in a bit of 2 to 4 kHz to sharpen the sound a bit, for the most part the tracks were ready to roll just as they went to tape.
To test the SCX-25s as drum overheads, I positioned them as a spaced pair above my studio's GMS kit. I was very pleased with what I heard — the SCX-25s sounded nearly as good as the large-diaphragm condensers I normally select for overhead duties (Microtech Gefell MT 711Ss), which are quite a bit more expensive. Indeed, in some circumstances, depending on the musical arrangement, I could see preferring the sound of the SCX-25s over that of the Microtech Gefells.
Next, I pulled the mics back into the room, about ten feet from the drum kit. The SCX-25s provided a nice picture of the kit in the room, but the sound was a bit short of exciting, perhaps due to the lack of presence boosting. Impressively, though, the SCX-25s faithfully represented the slightly dull nature of my tracking room.
According to Audix, the SCX-25 can be damaged by the high SPLs generated inside a kick drum. Just the same, I tend to like the sound of large-diaphragm condensers on bass drum, so I engaged in a bit of experimentation. I began by positioning one of the SCX-25s about two feet back from the outside edge of the front of my 22-inch maple kick drum. In that position, the mic captured a nice, woody tone with a good dose of low frequencies, albeit with a large amount of leakage from the other components of the drum kit. Next, I moved the microphone a bit closer (about one foot away) from the outside of the drum. That reduced the leakage, but it did seem like the mic was starting to near its limits, as it sounded a bit edgy and strained.
Clearly it was time to bring out the Sonotube! As I described in “Recording Musician: Get Your Kicks” in the July 2002 issue of EM, I sometimes employ a large Sonotube (a thick cardboard cylinder used for pouring concrete forms) as a tunnel to extend the kick drum, thus allowing capture of the bass wave without much leakage from other drum-set components. In this application, using a 4-foot Sonotube, the SCX-25 really delivered the goods, sounding quick and meaty at the same time. Still, this Audix microphone would not be my first pick for kick-miking duties.
HORNS OF PLENTY
I like my brass to sound warm and mellow — nothing sounds worse to me than the square-wave brass sound of early digital recordings. Therefore, when recording horns, I lean toward warm-sounding mics. The SCX-25 again proved itself an appropriate and most worthy performer. It sounded really nice on trumpet and trombone, at least as long as I didn't position the mic too close — as I learned with the kick drum experiments, the SCX-25 is not too amenable to high SPLs at close range. Moving the horns back a bit from the microphone proved to be the key to getting a nice sound.
To test the SCX-25s on my Jean Larrivee Jumbo cutaway acoustic guitar, I started with the pair in an XY coincident arrangement positioned a couple of feet back from the guitar. The SCX-25s sounded good that way, but I found that moving them in closer and spacing them apart in a neck/bridge configuration provided a sound that was quite a bit more pleasing. I liked the sound best when the bridge mic was about 8 inches from the guitar and the neck mic was roughly 12 inches back and aimed at the neck/body junction.
I also tried the Peavey VMP-2 tube preamp with the above setup, and the combination worked really nicely for a solo guitar piece. However, I would not recommend a tube preamp with the SCX-25 if you need the track to cut through a full mix — a clean, solid-state preamp would be the better pick for maintaining the needed clarity. Indeed, though the SCX-25 does a good job of capturing a natural acoustic-guitar sound, its relatively flat midrange response makes it not the mic of choice for getting that bright, jangly, percussive sound that is sometimes called for (in commercial country mixes, for instance).
A side benefit for the engineer: the SCX-25's diminutive size makes it easy to position the mic out of the musician's way. In addition, its light weight lets you move the mic stand as far back as the boom permits, thus allowing more space around the performer.
Keeping in mind the SCX-25's SPL-handling restrictions, I also tested one on a Paul Reed Smith CE 24 played through a vintage Silvertone 1484 amp. The Silvertone is a small tube combo with a single 12-inch speaker loaded in a semiopen cabinet. To my delight, the Audix did a better job of faithfully reproducing the sound of the amp than anything I had previously tried. And I got an even better sound by putting the second SCX-25 behind the amp, positioned a couple of inches away from the open part of the cabinet (with the polarity reversed on that channel, of course). Combining the two channels, I was rewarded with a really nice, thick-sounding guitar track.
I also got really good results using the SCX-25s as room mics for recording electric-guitar amps. At distances ranging from 10 to 25 feet away from a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier played through a Marshall 4×12 cabinet, the pair of SCX-25s sounded great. The soundstage was wide and deep — this mic produces a noticeably better sense of stereo depth of field than other mics I have tried in its price range — and again the tonal warmth was a nice change from the typically brittle sound of many comparable mics.
The Audix SCX-25 is a welcome change from the usual fare in affordable large-diaphragm condenser mics; those looking for a compact microphone that eschews the usual midrange “presence peak” will find it an especially appealing alternative. A very versatile and easy-to-position transducer, the compact SCX-25 boasts a warm, smooth, full, and natural sound, making it a good pick for a variety of instruments and a great pick for several. In particular, those in need of an excellent piano microphone need look no further for an affordable choice. As an overhead drum mic, the SCX-25 provides a transparent and full-sounding presentation that is up there with the best. It is also a great choice for a sizable range of vocal-recording duties, whether for male or female singers.
Though the SCX-25 is not well suited for extremely high-SPL applications, it does work very nicely when positioned a prudent distance from high-SPL sources. At just under $800, the SCX-25 doesn't quite qualify as a budget mic; however, its faithful sound reproduction and high-quality construction make it an excellent value at that price. I wouldn't be surprised if, thanks to the SCX-25, Audix soon became known as much for its condenser mics as for its excellent dynamics.
Elementpressure gradient transducerDiaphragm0.98", 5µ, 24-karat-gold sputtered MylarPolar Patterncardioid (fixed)Frequency Response20 Hz-20 kHz (+5/-2.5 dB)Dynamic Range121 dBMaximum SPL135 dB (@ 0.003% THD)Sensitivity27 mV/PaSignal-to-Noise Ratio80 dBSelf-Noise14 dBPower48V phantomDimensions5.83" (L) × 2.01" (D)Weight6 oz.
AUDIO QUALITY4.0VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Warm, smooth, natural sound with an unhyped midrange response — not strident like many other affordable large-diaphragm condensers. Very versatile; works well on most sources and exceptionally well on piano, vocals, and brass. Small size makes for easy positioning. Internally shock-mounted.
CONS: Limited SPL handling. No attenuation pad or highpass filter.