BLUE DRAGONFLY

This affordable, first-rate mic is a real head turner.Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics (BLUE) received an EM Editors' Choice award earlier this year
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This affordable, first-rate mic is a real head turner.

Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics (BLUE) received an EM Editors' Choice award earlier this year for its Blueberry mic, a large-diaphragm, cardioid-only condenser that impressed us with its bright, revealing sound and superlative build quality at a price that challenged the competition. So we were excited to learn that BLUE has released another large-diaphragm condenser at an even lower price.

At $1,095, the Dragonfly (the least expensive mic in the BLUE catalog) is an attractive deal for the discriminating personal-studio operator. BLUE sent me two Dragonflys (matched pairs can be special ordered - direct from BLUE only - complete with a cherry-wood storage box for $2,800), which not only allowed for stereo-miking, but also let me compare the sound of the mics to each other (they sounded virtually identical). BLUE also included two of its Cranberry mic cables ($44.95 each), which are the recommended cables for the Dragonfly. I worked the mics (and cables) hard for two months in more than a dozen applications, almost always with stellar results.

NOTES OF DISTINCTIONBLUE mics are distinctive on many levels, including the symbolic. Rather than being identified by a series of letters and numerals, as is common with other microphones, each BLUE mic has a name, and a name only. Moreover, the names are apt, making identification easy. For example, the BLUE Bottle mic looks like a bottle, and the Mouse resembles a mouse. But the Dragonfly, with its long, spindly "tail" and wing-like shock-mount, is perhaps the most aptly named in the line.

Like all BLUE mics, the Dragonfly is also distinctive in design and evidences first-rate workmanship in every detail. The narrow, rectangular, pressed-steel body is finished in an attractive rough-coat black enamel (the matched pairs are available in a custom green lacquer finish with gold trim) and topped with a light-bronze-colored, semicircular yoke that holds the spherical capsule/grille assembly in place. Uniquely, this sphere rotates within the yoke nearly 360 degrees in either direction, allowing for quick and easy positioning changes - before, during, or after positioning the mic and stand. This is a wonderful and very helpful innovation, and renders meaningless the terms front address and side address.

Like many other large-diaphragm condensers in its price range, the Dragonfly has a single, fixed-cardioid polar pattern, and does not provide a low-cut filter or attenuation pad. (Actually, none of the mics in the BLUE line provide filters or pads. This is by design, according to BLUE, because switches or extra circuits in the signal path degrade the signal. In addition, these features are commonly found in preamps and consoles.) The active side of the capsule is indicated by shiny chrome plating on the grille and support ring (in contrast to the duller bronze on the other side), making it easy to discern which way the capsule is pointed. This is another nice feature - capsule orientation is a detail that a surprising number of manufacturers do not effectively attend to on their side-address microphones.

Inside, the Dragonfly employs high-quality components and design. The heart of the mic is BLUE's single-membrane, factory-tuned capsule, which has a hand-built, 1-inch diaphragm sputtered with a mixture of pure gold and aluminum. The electronics are Class A and the mic has a transformerless output, meaning no integrated circuits (and thus less noise and coloration) in the signal path.

INTEGRATION INNOVATIONAnother innovation is the Dragonfly's integral swivel/shock-mount. This attaches to the mic by two elastic cords, which fit into a groove on either end of the semicircular yoke on the top and, on the bottom, attach to a ring that encircles the rectangular body. Though easily removed (except for the ring, which is spot-welded to the body), the swivel/shock-mount is designed to remain attached to the mic - a fact made clear by the storage box, which is fitted with foam rubber cut precisely to accommodate the mic and shock-mount as a unit.

Functionally, the swivel/shock-mount is first-rate: it holds the mic securely and isolates it from shocks and rumble with a minimum of parts and fuss. Furthermore, being already attached to the microphone, it makes for a fast setup. (The lovely, well-written, and very helpful manual that comes with the Dragonfly makes the good point that it's easiest to attach the mic to a stand by turning the boom-stand arm or threaded end of the mic stand rather than by turning the mic itself.) I was especially impressed by the construction of the swivel assembly (the part that attaches to the mic stand), which is beefy yet elegant and provides a large, finger-friendly wing nut that locks the swivel securely in place with an easy twist.

My only misgiving - a very slight one - concerned the attachment of the elastic cords to the shock-mount: the small screw-clamps that secure the cords in back have sharp edges that rub against the cords at a steep angle. The cloth on the outside of the cords was slightly frayed at this juncture on both of the mics I reviewed, and I could foresee that in time they might wear through. But this is a trifling criticism (the cords would be easy enough to replace, after all) of what otherwise is an ingenious and seemingly foolproof design.

PROPER PROTECTIONYet another BLUE innovation is the inclusion of two brass set screws, which protect the mic capsule during shipping. Condenser mics - no matter how well packaged - are easily damaged by rough handling. All it takes is one hard bump and the capsule can be knocked askew, often drastically impairing the sound. (I have known this to happen with condenser mics sent to EM for review.) So it's nice to see a manufacturer taking this into account and coming up with a simple yet effective solution.

When fully inserted, the set screws, located on the lower half of the Dragonfly's spherical grille, lock against the mic capsule, thereby stopping it from moving. Note that these set screws must be removed before the mic is used; however, they can easily be reinstalled prior to reshipping the mic.

The Dragonfly is further protected by a large (nearly shoe box-size) cardboard storage box. But if the phrase cardboard box suggests cheapness, let me rectify that impression: this is a sturdy, thoughtfully designed, and very attractive container with a true vintage vibe. (It reminds me of a camera box from the '50s.) Beautifully covered in blue linen, and embossed on top with a shiny silver "Blue" logo and the words "Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics," this classy container won't prove an embarrassment in your mic cabinet, even sitting next to a row of wood mic boxes. Inside, the cut foam is perfectly tailored to cradle and protect the mic, and is enhanced by a top layer of gray flocking (a feltlike material).

A DRUMMER THANGI recorded dozens of tracks with the Dragonfly, including several for CDs currently under way, and it sounded great on almost every instrument I used it on. The overall sound is clear, open, accurate, and very present and detailed. Interestingly, the Dragonfly is flatter and less "hyped" sounding than many large-diaphragm condensers I have used - indeed, it's about as neutral sonically as it is distinctive visually. In addition, it is supremely quiet (self-noise is rated at 7 dB) and the transient response is exceptionally good. For all these reasons, the Dragonfly makes a very versatile instrument mic and a contender for first pick in many applications.

I loved the Dragonfly on percussion and drums. As a percussion mic, it is up there with the best, thanks to its accuracy and outstanding transient response. It proved an excellent choice not only for hand drums such as dumbeks, bongos, and congas, but also for sometimes difficult sources such as triangles, shakers, and rattles. On shakers, for example, some large-diaphragm condensers capture a "slushy" or loose sound due to low-mid boosts, and/or too bright or sharp a sound due to high-mid presence boosting. The Dragonfly does neither, but rather captures a tight, contained, and very natural sound.

Triangles, especially high-pitched ones, can also be a challenge - not just any large-diaphragm condenser can document those clicky, metallic transients and high-harmonic overtones without sounding grating and/or out of balance. But the Dragonfly excelled here as well. Moreover, when I compared the recorded track to the original source, I was very impressed by the near identical quality of the live and recorded triangle hits. Those particular tracks, by the way, were recorded direct to 20-bit ADAT XT through a Langevin Dual Vocal Combo mic preamp and monitored through Vergence A-20 reference monitors. I also tried the Dragonfly through several other mic preamps, including stock mixer preamps, and it sounded good through all of them.

The pair of Dragonflys also excelled as drum overheads - in fact, I liked them in this application as much as any mics I've used. Admittedly, the bulkiness of the integral shock-mounts made it somewhat difficult - at least in my tiny room - to position the two Dragonflys close enough together for an XY stereo pair. (With a higher ceiling and beefier stands, the job would have been simpler.) Just the same, the stereo tracks sounded great: full, warm, well balanced, and not artificially bright (the downfall of some large-diaphragm condensers in this application), with wonderful transient response and excellent imaging.

STRING ME ALONGThe Dragonfly also sounded great on acoustic guitar, lap dulcimer, and piano. The rotating grille was especially handy on acoustic guitar: with the mic positioned near the 12th fret, it was a cinch rotating the grille to find the sweet spot. I also stereo-miked a few different acoustics (including a Martin D-28, Taylor 612-C, and Washburn D-10N) using the Dragonflys as a spaced pair, with the second mic positioned back a few feet from the guitar. Each time, I got great results.

What really turned my head, though, was how good the pair of Dragonflys sounded on piano. I took the mics to Sound Music Studios (in Oakland, California), owned by singer/songwriter/engineer Clare Hedin, and miked her 115-year-old Bechstein midsize grand. We positioned the mics in a fairly standard array, with one down low on the bass strings and the other a bit higher up covering the mids and highs. The resulting tracks were big, open, and gorgeous sounding: smooth and warm, yet very detailed, with a great balance of lows, mids, and highs and a realistic sense of the size of the piano.

Hedin, who typically uses a pair of small-diaphragm condensers to mic the piano, was also favorably impressed. She described the sound as "very beautiful: present and articulate, but in a soft, sophisticated way. The mics totally picked up the harmonics, producing a full, almost angelic sound." Hedin was so excited about the Dragonflys that she is considering investing in a matched pair for her piano. She remarked that she might still choose the "harder" sound of her small-diaphragm mics for certain rock-piano tracks, but she would prefer the softer, fuller sound of the Dragonflys for classical, jazz, or solo piano tracks.

I also got good results using the Dragonfly on electric guitar cabinet. Here, the sound was natural, articulate, and robust. Depending on the musical style, it may not be my first pick in this application - for example, on blues and rock tracks, I might prefer a tube condenser for the fatness and tube coloration it provides, or a handheld dynamic if I needed midrange accentuation - but the Dragonfly did a great job of capturing the amp as it sounded in the room.

STRAIGHT SHOOTERVocals, of course, are a primary application for large-diaphragm condensers, and the Dragonfly excels in this department as well. I recorded a variety of male and female singers, typically with excellent results. This microphone captures very accurate, articulate, and present-sounding vocal tracks with full, warm lows and airy highs. Rather than the usual presence boost starting at 5 kHz, the Dragonfly's top end is accentuated higher up, around 10 to 15 kHz. Generally, this makes for a flatter, more natural-sounding top end on vocals, with plenty of "air" still, but a slightly less seductive sound than some more hyped vocal mics may provide. (This is all a matter of taste and application, of course: sometimes those crispy highs are seductive sounding and appropriate to the track, and sometimes they aren't.)

On the low end, the Dragonfly is solid and tight, never boomy or "pillowy" sounding. I was especially impressed by the smoothness of this mic's proximity effect - the lows don't sound excessive or unnatural even if you kiss the grille. Rather, you get a subtle, very gradual bass enhancement as you move in on the mic. This, coupled with the Dragonfly's smooth off-axis response, allows singers to really work the mic.

The Dragonfly was quite complementary on Hedin, an alto/soprano with a clear, smooth voice. I also liked the mic on my own voice (I'm a soft tenor), and it sounded very good on a hoarse, tobacco-and-whiskey-tempered country baritone. However, it didn't prove ideal for every type of voice I recorded, especially the more sibilant ones. For example, on a bluesy alto/soprano with lots of bright grit in her voice, the Dragonfly was too edgy sounding - in fact, the singer asked me to attenuate the highs in her headphones as we recorded the track. I cut a few decibels at 8 and 15 kHz (in the monitor mix only) to get a sound she was happy with, after which things went fine. Listening to the track on playback (without the EQ), we agreed that the highs were too prominent. Fortunately, the edginess was easily tempered with modest EQ tweaks and by squashing the track a bit with a tube compressor.

SHALL I COMPARE THEE?To draw a closer bead on the Dragonfly's sonic predisposition (as well as to see how it stacked up against the competition), I compared the Dragonfly to a well-regarded, cardioid-only condenser in the same price range: the Neumann TLM 103. Overall, the Dragonfly sounded very similar to the TLM 103, but with less presence boosting in the 5 kHz region. On vocals, for example, the TLM 103 had that characteristic Neumann "sizzle"; the Dragonfly, in comparison, sounded flatter and "plainer." And while neither mic took well to a high-F diatonic harmonica (both sounded shrill in this application), the Dragonfly produced slightly smoother, more agreeable highs. (Admittedly, high harps are reedy and shrill sounding to begin with, and frequently hard to record with solid-state condensers - a tube mic is usually the better choice.) But again, in the bigger picture, the two mics sounded very similar and of equivalent quality, each capturing a tight, very present, and well-defined sound with good depth of field.

HIGH FLYERIn only ten years, Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics has established itself as one of the premier microphone builders in the world. But then, this is a company that pretty much started at the top: its flagship microphone, the Bottle, has an asking price of $4,500. Fortunately, with the Dragonfly, BLUE has brought its technological know-how and mic-building expertise within reach of the personal-studio buyer.

The Dragonfly is a stunning and unique microphone that sounds good enough to earn a spot in even the best-stocked mic cabinet, yet is versatile enough to be the recording backbone of the humblest personal studio. The sound is very open, present, transparent, and articulate, with warm, natural-sounding lows and airy highs. In addition, the Dragonfly is superquiet and has excellent transient response. Though a great choice for many vocals - especially when you want a clean, present, and relatively uncolored sound - this transducer really soars as an instrument mic. I loved the Dragonfly on drums, percussion, and piano; it also sounded exceptional on acoustic and electric guitars. Indeed, this mic proved so versatile that I wouldn't be daunted were I told I had to use it alone to record an entire album - and that's something I can't say about many microphones.

The Dragonfly is also a delight to use. The integral shock-mount makes for quick setup, and the unique rotating capsule/grille assembly makes placement and fine-tuning a breeze. Then there's the look and build: with its innovative design and superb construction, the Dragonfly is not only worthy of a design award, but it may very well inspire singers to new heights - as the Dragonfly manual points out, "vocalists love singing into unique and impressive mics." With the Dragonfly, BLUE has produced a real winner, and contributed greatly to the personal-studio recordist's quest for high-quality sound and hip style at an affordable price.