The SE Z5600a tube microphone arrived and immediately all the nerds surrounded it to check out the new toy. “Performance-enhancing looks” said the box, sounded a bit cheesy. . . . I ripped it open to reveal an aluminum case that contained the mic inside a simple wooden box, next to the external power supply, shock mount, and cables. It really did look pro, but nowadays, what mid-level mic doesn’t come with some sort of cheap flight case, wooden box, or half decent shock mount? It seems that even the lowest end mics come dressed to impress. This begs the old question: “Put a new skirt on an old whore, and what do you have?”
SE’s company website addresses the issue. “You can be confident that every aspect of both the mic and its accessories has had the same unrivalled level of care and passion right throughout its design and manufacture,” it claims. “Even to the level that every single microphone that leaves the facility has undergone a personal listening test rather than simply being put through a machine.” The website even offers a free 7-day trial through their website. Hmm. It’s enough to make you think there’s something under that skirt.
So it was time to take it for a ride. Out of the box and into my hands, the mic had the look, feel, and build quality of higher end mics. The shock mount was not some crappy plastic add-on, but it was both effective and built strong with classically simple design. The heavy-duty, thick outside casing, long durable cabling, and seemingly rugged power supply all were manufactured with the same classic, simple, almost German-looking construction. The pattern selection on the power supply has nine options, from omni to cardioid to figure eight, and six stages in between.
I tried it on quieter male vocals, where we wanted a very close intimate sound. Using the cardioid setting for two different mics, we went back and forth between a CAD e350, and the SE z5600 — no pop filter, just from the mics through the Focusrite Voicemaster preamp, and then out to a protocols set up. Both mics sat nicely in the mix right away. The SE was definitely brighter, more colored and, with the same settings, had noticeably higher output. The mic is low noise, with a medium high max SPL of 130 dB. Overall this mic shines the “brightest” for vocals, warm, sharp and detailed. The SE mic was neck-and-neck with the CAD e350 for this critical vocal overdub session. The low end for the SE was thicker and, for this application, a bit too rich and bright. After looking at the charts, this could be because of to the bump around 80Hz, 5kHz and also again around 12kHz (in cardioid).
For this particular session, the SE lost out in the end to the CAD e350. On these particular vocals, sibilance was a bit of a problem, and the added high-end detail of the z5600a did not help the situation. But it was a very close race. I also tried this mic out as a drum overhead, room mic, and on a Wurlitzer 200a electric piano. It paired nicely with the dbx 586, as well as Focusrite preamps. Set in omni, the SE’s response is less accurate than what I’ve gotten from more expensive small capsule fixed omni mics, i.e., the Earthworks, or even the Stapes. The figure 8 and cardioid positions hold their own next to some of my favorite moderately priced mics. With six other positions to choose from, this mic wins out for versatility alone.
A pad, and a LF roll off, would be welcome changes in the next generation of this line. I would also like to try switching the tube out, maybe trying the GE 6072a. Overall, I have to say I liked this mic a lot. It’s well-built and versatile. For the price, its options and capabilities are beyond that of similarly priced competitors. I have used other tube and solid-state fixed pattern mics that sound just as good, and sometimes slightly better, but always with the limitation of only one pattern, one sound. The z5600a SE has struck a balance between versatility, quality, and cost that no other mics I have tried have come close to.