And now Blue—the company responsible for the prestigious Bottle mic, among many others—has taken a crack at ribbon production. Since it seems that all I do these days is play with ribbons, the editors of this here prestigious magazine decided to send yet another ribbon my way. So I ripped open the box, and . . .
Not surprisingly, the Woodpecker is an impressive-looking microphone. From its classy wood finish to the gold highlights, it’s obvious that Blue made the effort to engineer a pretty mic. I, for one, appreciate that. It may make no difference in how the unit performs, but you have to appreciate a sexy-looking mic . . . and you know Blue is always good for one of those.
Additionally, the Woodpecker comes complete with a solid brass shockmount and a storage box carved from cherry. Again, you have to give them props for putting out a sharp-looking product. The case by itself is just gorgeous.
But, you say, what about the specs, Jeff? Okay, the Woodpecker (as with all ribbons) is set in a figure-8 polar pattern. What may strike you as strange, though, is that the Woodpecker is an active mic, meaning it requires 48V phantom power to wake up in the morning. Its frequency response ranges from 20Hz to 20kHz, and it can handle some decent SPL (up to 114dB). Furthermore the Woodpecker is all hand-made, from the discrete Class A electronics to the aluminum ribbon pressure-gradient transducer.
So it looks nice, is built solidly, and the spec sheet checks out: Time to round up some musicians, warm up some recorders, and see how it performs.
APPLYING THE WOODPECKER
Before we start, I have to say one thing: The shockmount is a pain, plain and simple. The clips in the middle of the mount are buckles, meaning that you have to slide the mic into position and then snap the ring of the mount around the mic and buckle it in. Out of the box, the ring of the mount was way tight and, with the buckle in open position, I had to apply a ton of pressure to get the mic mounted correctly—thereby causing this beautiful, brand new mic to get scratched. And I hadn’t even tracked with it yet.
Once you get the Woodpecker set up, however, everything is cool . . . so cool. Doing a quick test on male vocals, I noticed the Woodpecker added a nice amount of gloss to the voice. It also had zero noise floor, which was most impressive. There seemed to be a bit of a natural frequency boost around 400Hz, which may be good or bad depending on the source, but a quick EQ notch of around 4dB in that area made everything nice and smooth, and the vocals were sounding really warm. I was excited.
Up next: acoustic guitar for a country album. The session guitarist for the album was playing a handmade acoustic with a maple body that gave most Martins I’ve heard a run for their money. The guitar was naturally rich-sounding and had insane sustain, and the album’s producer was so taken by its sound that all he requested was that we make it sound “spacious.” So I set the mic about 15 inches away from the guitarist, running through a No Toasters Nice Pair preamp with a low gain stage setting to keep from coloring the sound too much. Due to my previous experience with the Woodpecker’s low-end frequency boost, I was ready to break out the EQ, but we got exactly the sound we needed without further adjustments. We simply set the level to tape and hit record . . . and it sounded beautiful.
I like to use ribbons as room mics when tracking drums, as I find the ribbon character adds a much-welcomed vintage flavor to the mix. So, I thought it was essential to take the Woodpecker to task in that scenario. Setting up an old ’60s Gretsch kit in the live room, I guesstimated my mic placement by putting the Woodpecker about nine feet out from the snare. Hitting playback, I found that the kick was cutting too much and the overall drum sound was rather floppy. Turning the mic backwards to see if the opposite side of the ribbon would give a different sound, I noticed very little change. Hmmm. . . .
As the Woodpecker has a figure-8 pattern, I decided to try an old trick by turning the ribbon 90 degrees so that the mic’s front and back faced the walls of the room and not the instrument itself. Perfect, I thought—the drums sounded even and lively, which was just what I wanted. I simply ran my trusty old Teletronix LA-2A in line with a 4:1 ratio (set to around 10dB of gain reduction, to really smash and smooth out the drum submix), and the result was a drum sound that sat perfectly in the final mix.
Blue has become a pretty heavy hitter in both the pro and project studio realms in the last few years, and with good reason. With this mic, I can’t see the Woodpecker doing anything besides accelerating the company���s reputation for making mics that have a lot of character, both sonically and aesthetically. Given its price, this mic is a serious contender and has no problem holding its ground with the higher-end, non-Chinese ribbons on the market. In fact, in certain applications, it beats the competition. To me, the Woodpecker sounds a little different than other ribbon mics available today. Because of the combination of active and ribbon technologies, the Woodpecker offers the warmth and gloss of a ribbon, and the high end and clarity of a condenser.
Product Type: Active ribbon microphone.
Target Market: Mid- to pro-level musicians/engineers who want to round out their mic lockers with a clean-sounding, versatile ribbon mic.
Strengths: Great sounds. Unusually low noise floor. Fair price point. Beautiful packaging.
Limitations: Shock mount, difficult to use.
List price: $1,299
Ribbon Mic Basics
A ribbon mic is a variation on the dynamic mic, but has high frequency detail more like a condenser mic. It achieves this by placing a thin metal ribbon between the poles of a magnet; when sound waves hit the ribbon, the movement of the ribbon cutting through the field induces a voltage in the ribbon, which is then amplified to bring it up to a useable level. As ribbon mics are bidirectional, they are often used in pairs to form Blumlein Pair arrays.
A reputation for fragility endures, because early ribbon mics were indeed very fragile. However, newer materials and construction techniques allow ribbon mics to be used with guitar amps and other loud sources; some are even suitable for live use.