TEAM PLAYER > The Bluebird is the first mic from Blue that is designed to work on a wide variety of sources. The mic is perfectly suited for vocals, strings, guitars, percussion and more.
Shifting from its typical application-specific designs, Blue Microphones has released an all-purpose condenser with the Bluebird, a Class-A discrete, large-diaphragm cardioid condenser studio mic. The Bluebird is an attractive, bulky number with a powder-blue chassis and brushed-aluminum detail, a shockmount and a pop screen. Like other Blue creations, the Bluebird employs a unique shape, with the circular silver grille perched atop a cylindrical body with a strong, narrow neck. But this mic isn't brand-new; it was originally sold as part of a bundle in collaboration with Digidesign and Focusrite. Although it is now sold solo, the mic is still not alone: Each Bluebird ships with an accessory pack that includes a shockmount, a custom-fitted pop filter (lovingly dubbed the Birdnest) and Blue's Blueberry XLR cable. The mic comes packed in a foam-lined wooden storage box.
With microphones especially, I like to browse through their manuals or check out any online documentation before use to find any helpful tips and check out things like frequency-response charts. Blue's Website has PDF manuals available for download for each model. The short (four-page), concise Bluebird PDF indeed proved useful with its great close-up diagrams of frequency-response and multifrequency polar-pattern charts. The frequency-response chart represents a capsule that is flat from about 125 Hz to about 1 kHz, with mild dips at about 1.7 and 6 kHz and a mild boost at about 3 kHz. A rise and peak occur at about 12 kHz, after which the response starts to slope down, but it still crosses over 0 dB at 16 kHz. From 125 to 55 Hz, the response slopes down very slowly and starts to drop more rapidly at about 30 Hz yet still crosses over 22 Hz at about -8 dB. In addition, the PDF manual includes application tips covering use with instruments such as vocals, strings, drums and brass. The color-coded frequency-response chart is handy and showcases the mic's true cardioid design and dead-on frequency alignment at exactly zero degrees in front.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
For the first round of tests, I placed the Bluebird in its shockmount, which also sports a whimsical name: Birdcage. I installed the pop filter, a simple two-hand-screw affair, and plugged in the mic to a dedicated tube channel strip and set all controls to flat. Although all of the components don't feel flimsy, I had to tighten down the shock's thumbscrew fairly hard to get it to stay in position. The manual warns users not to try to reposition the mic with this screw tightened, and the screw did hold the mic in position, but it felt fragile.
Once plugged in and live, the Bluebird was extremely sensitive, and I could tell that I was in for a treat. With just a decent amount of preamp gain, it picked up and transmitted everything in the room to my headphones, including footsteps, breath from blowing on the mic from several feet away and even ambient room noise that filtered in from the outside (thus clearly reminding me of how not silent the recording room in my studio actually is). I lowered the preamp gain to notch out a little bit of ambient noise, and I began testing by indulging in an unusual, secret personal skill: beatboxing. All manner of vocal-cord-derived kick drums, cymbals, clicks and lip vibrations entered the capsule, which is a side-address type with an edge-terminated, gold-sputtered Mylar membrane. Although the manual suggests keeping vocalists one to four inches away, I found six to eight to be better; in fairness, though, there is a lot of pressure dynamics in a beatbox performance, especially in the low end. The pop screen was especially effective; the Birdnest did a good job knocking down overload. The mic produced clear, robust recordings, especially in the bottom end. The manual also mentions that “there is no need to worry about overloading,” and with my tests, the Bluebird could indeed take a lot of sound pressure with minimal problems.
I continued vocal testing by recording a tenor male vocalist. We did several passes of a quirky David Byrne cover and several passes of just melodic humming. The results were excellent. As with the beatboxing, the screen did a great job of taming the majority of pops, and the recordings were clear, detailed and very out in front. This is one microphone that doesn't miss a thing — engineers and artists looking for an exceedingly natural sound should like its performance, and those who are clean, no-artifact recording perfectionists will find themselves on the editing block. One thing about the Bluebird's sensitivity, however, is that it should be placed on a boom with care, preferably from above if possible. Any contact with the mic stand during recording is easily transmitted through the mic despite the shockmount, so it pays to be careful.
COOKIN' WITH KITCHEN UTENSILS
Next, I wanted to test the mic's performance on percussion, so I recorded several passes on two different instruments: a pair of drinking glasses played like agogo bells and shakers of various sizes and bead densities. Agogo bells are typically two-tone cowbell-like instruments, and I substituted a fairly in-tune set of glasses and positioned them on a small table. Playing with a hard wooden mallet, I did a few takes with the mic hovering above and to the side of the glasses, about 10 inches away. The outcome was great: The dry but sparkly attack was sharp and present, and the sound was full, yet the proximity was noticeable. And despite the relatively narrow frequencies of this test, it still showcased the Bluebird's excellent frequency response.
I repositioned the mic to standing level and did various takes with three different shakers: a medium- to lower-pitched one with very soft beads; a typical midrange egg-shake type; and a higher-pitched one with harder, larger beads. I tried different distances, angles, locations and shaking styles on all takes (some accentuating the beads' attack, others accenting the beads' “shuffle”). The Bluebird transmitted each shaker's different characteristics and subtleties. In fact, while the highs and mids were smooth, even and live, the lows caught in the stronger attacks were enough to justify more distance from the mic. Extra space is no challenge for the Bluebird. It can pick up the lightest finger snaps in a live room from (at least) 10 feet away, so recording percussion or other instruments with more distance simply imparts a different, more airy color.
For strings, I tested the Bluebird on nylon acoustic guitar, closely following the directions in the manual. First, I put the mic level with the neck about six inches away from the neck joint, with the capsule tilted in about 30 degrees toward the sound hole to capture some low end. To experiment with a solid-state preamp, I plugged in the mic directly to the Edirol interface I was using for this test and prepared for a fingerpicking session. For the first take, I concentrated in the lower octaves and found the results to be more than sufficiently full; fine details such as fret buzz and finger slides were clearly present, but the bottom end was a bit boomy. So at the manual's behest, I moved the mic away from the guitar to a distance of about 18 inches and angled it straight at the fretboard, pointing less toward the sound hole. I concentrated on the same melody still in the lower octaves, and this setup definitely provided a more balanced, accurate picture of the guitar's sound. There was still plenty of fat low end and smooth midrange; the dynamics were still good; and details such as fingers plucking the strings were fully in the picture. I wanted to try out the Bluebird with more full-range guitar and at the same time try to notch out the lows a bit, so I switched back over to the tube pre (which sounded much better with the Bluebird), engaged a 100Hz low-cut filter and kept the mic in the same general position but with less angle to the floor. Even with the low-cut engaged, the recording still displayed plenty of boom, though not too much, as before.
As the manual attests, how you use a microphone is as much a part of the sound as the mic's performance, and this certainly proves true with the Bluebird due to its formidable sensitivity. I found that this bird didn't miss a peep and translated a wide, robust and clear frequency range across the spectrum. Lower frequencies need attention, as the Bluebird transmits them quite well. Although the frequency-response graph doesn't show a large boost anywhere in the low end, it felt like it was there, and I must admit that I was yearning many times for a low-cut switch. But finding the right sweet spot with the mic was the key to keeping the boominess at bay. In any case, the Bluebird didn't sound muddy in my tests, and it's better to have the frequencies in the recordings than not, as they can be notched out later but never added. I loved this microphone overall, and if I had only one pet peeve, it was the screw on the shockmount, which felt fragile (though when tightened down, it worked). My only concern would be the threads stripping over time, but Blue warns against the practice of moving the mic with it tightened. If that advice is heeded, then the Bluebird and its accessories should build a permanent nest in many studios' mic lockers, with no regrets.
BLUEBIRD > $699
Pros: Unique and attractive. Wide frequency response. Versatile and very sensitive. Strong construction. Class-A discrete electronics. Includes shockmount, pop screen and high-quality cable. Affordable.
Cons: No pad or low-cut filter. Can be bass-heavy. Fragile-feeling thumbscrew on shockmount.