The Black Hole is a large-diaphragm condenser mic offering three polar patterns.
Latvian designer Juris Zarins is responsible for some of the most unique-looking microphones on the market, and the Black Hole large-diaphragm, multipattern condenser mic ($2,395 [MSRP]) is the flagship of his new brand, JZ Microphones. The most striking feature of the Black Hole is its design: it's shaped like a rectangular doughnut. The top of the mic has a compact black cage with two 27 mm capsules, while the Class A discrete amplifier electronics somehow fit into the thin sides of the body. In the hole is a switch for choosing the polar pattern (cardioid, figure-8, or omnidirectional), as well as two nubs, which are used to connect the mic to its innovative stand mount. A thumbscrew (or, alternatively, a coin-friendly screw) at the base of the mount allows you to easily position the mic.
Two other versions of the Black Hole are also available. The Black Hole SE ($1,895 [MSRP]) is cardioid only, and the Black Hole PE ($1,995 [MSRP]) is cardioid only but with an added pad switch (-5 and -10 dB). Although the pad option was added to meet consumers' requests, I never had a need for one — despite having the mic in front of loud brass instruments and screaming vocalists.
The Black Hole's accessories are heavy on design and light on practicality. For example, the little rubber feet isolating the nubs from the mount arms pop off easily (JZ says it's working on the problem), and the mount won't fit in the included wooden box unless you disassemble the thumbscrew. In addition, the magnets holding the box closed are so strong that a considerable amount of force is needed to open it, which could easily send the mic flying when the box pops open (the company says it's updating the box design).
JZ also sells a unique shockmount and pop-filter combo ($360 [MSRP]) that fits all three mics. I like it quite a bit, but it's surprisingly pricey.
A STAR IS BORN
I received two Black Hole mics shortly before I started a film-scoring project, and I was able to use them on a number of different instruments over several months: drums and percussion; various reeds and brass instruments; male and female voices; electric, steel-string, and nylon-string guitar; and upright and electric bass. The mic's standout application was as a drum overhead. The two mics captured the detail and clarity of the cymbals and drums in an extremely open, natural fashion. On at least one session, I was perfectly happy using the Black Holes almost exclusively for the final drum sound (augmented only by an additional mic on the bass drum).
Vocals and reed instruments were crisp and bright through the Black Hole, sounding clearer (though a bit thinner) than through my '60s Neumann U 87. On both nylon- and steel-string acoustic guitar, the Black Hole had much more depth and presence than the Blue Bluebird I had been using, although it should be noted that that mic retails for about one-third the price of the Black Hole. On brass instruments, the Black Hole had a brilliant clarity that worked well for accentuating the upper harmonics on tuba and trombone, although it was a little too bright for trumpet.
When experimenting with the three polar patterns, I found that the cardioid position had a much brighter, more forward sound, whereas the omni pattern sounded darker but more natural, with the added roominess one would expect. Figure-8 was tonally in between, and both sides of the diaphragm sounded identical to me. The cardioid pattern seemed a little tighter than on most of my large-diaphragm condensers, allowing slightly less of the room characteristics to affect the sound of the miked instrument.
I absolutely love the sound of these mics. They have a very open, natural quality, which is achieved by a boost in the high mids and the top end, with a dip in the boxy low midrange. Somehow they manage to do that without getting a brittle or harsh quality, although in a few rare cases I found the mic's sound to be a little thin.
There are many good large-diaphragm condenser mics on the market for considerably less money, but if you have golden ears and the pocketbook to match, give the Black Hole a listen. You may hear what you've been missing.
Value (1 through 5): 4