Click here for a PDF of the specifications for the Crowley and Tripp Naked Eye
FIG. 1: Each side of the Crowley and Tripp Naked Eye ribbon microphone offers a different frequency response. The front of the mic has the darker response.
Crowley and Tripp Microphones, a division of Soundwave Research Laboratories, has released the Naked Eye, a dual-voiced figure-8 ribbon mic in a relatively small form factor. The Naked Eye's front side is voiced to emulate the darker response of the company's Proscenium mic, while the rear side is voiced to emulate the rising frequency response of its Studio Vocalist mic. The Naked Eye is less than half the cost of either of these products and is aimed at the project studio. However, it's important to note that the Naked Eye is not appropriate for Blumlein stereo recording techniques because the two lobes are not voiced symmetrically.
The Naked Eye is 5.5 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter, making it small enough to squeeze into tight spaces (see Fig. 1). The mic has considerable heft for its size and has been built with solid and precise machining: there is not a screw or seam to be found anywhere. The body is powder-coated steel, and the logo badge is affixed to the side of the mic that exhibits the darker response. Each mic comes in a beautiful tongue-and-groove box and has a three-year warranty.
The Naked Eye's mounting hardware is innovative. Designed to minimize any sonic interference with the mic, the mount consists of a twisted steel bar that attaches at right angles to a felt-lined circular cup. The mic body has a bottom ring that unscrews and holds the mic solidly in place within the cup. As the cup and steel bar rotate on perpendicular axes, the Naked Eye can be angled into any position you want.
The mic is designed around a custom-wound, high-bandwidth transformer. The published frequency response is from 30 Hz to 15 kHz, and each mic includes a reference plot. The manufacturer states that the response curve is used as a reference and that all Naked Eye mics are matched to it, within a tolerance of ±2 dB.
The response curves that accompanied the review units are fairly flat through most of the range, with the low frequencies beginning to roll off at about 80 Hz (see Fig. 2). There are +2 dB boosts at 100, 300, and 600 Hz, and a +3 to +4 dB boost in the 4 kHz range. From there, the darker side's response begins to drop sharply at around 6 kHz. The brighter side maintains a +1 dB response to about 10 kHz before beginning to roll off.
All of my microphone tests were done at my studio, Perceptive Sound Design, in San Mateo, California. Though I experimented with a variety of tube preamps, I discovered that the Naked Eye sounded best with the Millennia Media HV-3D, a clean, high-gain solid-state preamp. All material was recorded directly to an iZ Radar V hard-disk recorder. My primary comparison mic was the AEA R84 ribbon mic, a superb product that costs about 50 percent more than the Naked Eye.
I've never met a ribbon mic that didn't love to be placed in front of a guitar amp, and the Naked Eye is no exception. I recorded guitarist Seth Chapla playing a custom-built, single-coil Stratocaster-like guitar through a 1965 Fender Bassman amp. I faced the darker side of the Naked Eye about three inches from the grille, halfway between the cone and rim of one of the speakers. For comparison, I then positioned the AEA R84 in a similar position on the other speaker. To maximize the direct signal, the mics and guitar amp were enclosed by acoustic gobos.
FIG. 2: This shows the frequency response of the Naked Eye. The upper graph is of the front of the mic, and the lower graph is of the rear.
For his rhythm parts, Chapla dialed in a straight-up, vintage-rock guitar sound, with the preamp set to generate just a bit of overdrive. Both mics delivered a satisfyingly large, round sound. To our surprise, the Naked Eye's sound was significantly brighter than the R84's. We ended up blending both signals together, using the R84's thick body to support the sheen of the Naked Eye. The resulting sound was tight, clean, and big (see Web Clip 1 and 2).
For a lead guitar sound, Chapla kicked up the gain on the preamp and added a shade more treble to help the notes cut through. In that situation, we used the Naked Eye alone and were delighted with the results: the sound was bright and a bit twangy and had all the retro vibe we were looking for (see Web Clip 3).
Though I usually record the Hammond organ in stereo, for a recent session I went with a single Naked Eye. After a bit of experimentation, I ended up placing the mic about two feet in front of the center of the cabinet at the height of the upper rotors. I initially tried to record without any baffling, but quickly discovered that the Naked Eye's figure-8 polar pattern brought in too much of the room. Placing gobos directly behind the mic solved this problem.
As the Hammond tends to be a darker instrument, with a good amount of low and low-mid frequency content, I used the brighter side of the Naked Eye. This helped bring out the upper harmonics a bit. The result was a sweet, smooth, full-bodied organ tone that sat nicely in the mix, requiring just a touch of tube compression and a slight EQ lift in the upper mids (see Web Clip 4).
Female Voice-over Session
Though I typically use large-diaphragm condensers for voice-over work, I gave the Naked Eye a shot in this application and was happy with the results. The talent was a female alto in her midtwenties, recorded in a moderately treated acoustic environment.
I recorded directly into a Sound Devices 722 field recorder, which has a clean, neutral, and transparent mic preamp that is able to easily supply sufficient gain. I had expected the Naked Eye's brighter voicing to be the one we would use, but I found it a bit harsh and sibilant in this circumstance: the darker side gave us everything we needed. The resulting audio was clean, tight, and neutral. I didn't need to apply any EQ or compression to the sound files — all they required was editing and a bit of gain (see Web Clip 5).
No mic is useful for everything, and I was disappointed with the Naked Eye's performance on grand piano. I tried it on my 1927 Mason and Hamlin model AA artist grand. I started with a vintage approach, using a Telefunken V76 tube mic preamp, and tried three miking positions: directly above the soundboard, 4 feet back from the piano, and about 12 feet back. The result each time was thin and unflattering, with a bit of a scooped midrange and a strange overemphasis of the upper harmonics.
At that point, I swapped out the V76 for the Millennia Media HV-3D solid-state preamp and ran all the tests again. There was an improvement, particularly at 4 feet from the piano, but the results were still not what I was looking for. For comparison, I ran the R84 through the same paces, and I liked it a bit better. But it was still not my mic of choice for this application (see Web Clip 6).
Acoustic Bass and Drums
I tried out the Naked Eye on a jazz date, recording acoustic bassist Greg Dunn and drummer Mike McKenzie. For Dunn's bass, I positioned the darker side of the mic about six inches out, and two inches down from one of the f holes, pointing upward toward it.
McKenzie was playing a vintage '60s Gretsch jazz kit. I placed a Naked Eye mic about five feet up and centered over the kit, looking down toward the snare drum. I used the brighter side of the mic to enhance the cymbals a bit.
The recorded results were stellar. The mics delivered clean, natural, solid, unhyped audio, with a smooth, detailed, extended low end for the bass. The drum mic picked up a good balance between drums and cymbals on the kit.
When we listened to the results, both musicians were blown away. “Finally!” remarked Dunn. “That's the sound I've been trying to get out of this bass!” McKenzie was equally impressed, feeling that the Naked Eye captured an honest, unadorned, but very musical version of his drum kit (see Web Clip 7 and 8).
For the lead vocal test, I worked with a male tenor singing over a rock tune. We got a tight direct-vocal sound by placing the mic between two gobos on stands in a V configuration. The singer was placed 8 inches in front of the microphone, and a pop filter was used. Another absorbent panel was placed 2 feet behind the singer.
For this application, we used the brighter side of the mic. The Naked Eye again delivered the goods, creating a good balance between the rich fundamentals of the male voice and an airy top end. The singer had good mic technique and was able to use the Naked Eye's proximity effect to his advantage by leaning in to get a richer tone on more intimate passages. Once again, I found that the tracked material required little processing, and applied just a bit of compression to help it sit well in the mix.
The Naked Eye delivers two distinctive sounds in one microphone. Overall, the sound is tight, clean, smooth, and direct, comparing favorably with that of ribbon mics costing as much as a grand.
The build quality is excellent, the mounting system is innovative and effective, and the mic's relatively diminutive size allows it to fit into tight spots. All of this at a moderate price for a product completely built in the United States. What's not to like about the Naked Eye?
Nick Peck, a keyboardist-composer-sound designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the audio director of a video game company in Foster City, California.
CROWLEY AND TRIPP
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Affordable. Excellent construction. Tight, smooth, detailed sound. Made in the United States.
CONS: Asymmetric lobes make this mic unsuitable for Blumlein stereo recording.
Laboratories/Crowley and Tripp