YOU ARE LOUD? I AM LOUDER

Consider: the classically designed tube microphone, one modern-design tube microphone, and one electret condenser, respectively. Mix in crust metal. Let steep while Tim Green from The Champs and HMIC at Louder Studios SF does what needs to be done to harrow the BLUE Bottle, the Audio-Technica AT3060, and the CAD e100(2).
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SONGS SUNG BLUE

Modeled after the Neumann CMV, the BLUE Bottle is, in fact, a massive tower of high-grade electronics, an EF86 tube, and transformer. An interface at the top is compatible with an array of BLUE capsules of different patterns and recommended applications. The stock capsule, which ships with the BB is the B6, a large-diaphragm cardioid with a dual backplate. I also tested out the figure eight-patterned B2. BLUE calls this the “vintage capsule” and suggests that it resembles a classic ribbon mic sound with the soft high end, aggressive midrange, and proximity effect the old ribbons are prized for.

Returning from EQ central to the waiting guinea pigs, er, band . . . I immediately put the BLUE Bottle into service. The BB, with B6 attached, found itself facing the business end of a Sunn Model T powered 4x12 cabinet. It was then subjected to 122 decibels of brutality courtesy of crust-metal experts, Dystopia. And I might add: the amp was only at 4! The 9610-power supply has, in addition to its tube-saving soft-start feature, a polarization switch. This lets you either pad the Blue Bottle to handle higher spl’s or to add extra gain when needed. With the switch set a -4dB, the mic handled the glare or the Sunn quite gracefully. It retained a good amount of resolution while still conveying the power of the amp. This mic works well under pressure, which is not always the case with large diaphragm condensers.

DAY TWO: CAP’N’S LOG

OK, first things first on Day Two: On the included literature with the AT3060 is a claim to the “warm classic tube sound,” but, curiously enough, the type of tube is not divulged at any point on the sheet. I suppose we’ll just have to trust that there is some sort of tube in there, although, by the sound of this mic, that would be a pretty big leap of faith. Another AT3060 curiosity is the absence of a power supply. The aforementioned phantom tube runs, conveniently enough, on phantom power. The capsule is of the cardioid condenser type and comes with a shockmount compatible with many of the newer AT large diaphragm condensers.

In addition to servo-head amps and a transformerless output, the supercardioid CAD e100(2) employs a somewhat unique system combining phantom power with two internal 9-volt rechargeable batteries to serve the current-hungry, high speed op amps in its amplifier circuit. According to the accompanying literature, these op amps tap into the reservoir of power to handle transients with maximum efficiency. Unfortunately, as we all know, efficiency is not always a prerequisite for musicality. The e100(2) also comes with its own shockmount.

Now: a battery of tests, the likes of which had not been seen since the space race of the 1960’s, although it is not known whether NASA conducted its trials using an acoustic guitar, a drum kit, and a singer. If they had, they may have made it a lot farther than the moon. At any rate, the mics were all run through modified Trident 65 preamps. This not only served as a known constant, as all channels were fitted with Panasonic hfs electrolytics and TLE2071 op amps at the same time, but also served as a sort of real world scenario: the price of the AT or the CAD would likely be within the budget of a Trident 65 owner. This would also demand performance of all three mics with no support from a superior preamp to fall back on. ‰

On acoustic guitar, the BB, outfitted with the B6, converted sound into electricity — and then sound again, in a beautiful and graceful manner. The mids and high mids were well defined and the low end was full but not boomy or loose. There was an even, smooth frequency response with more sparkle than was audible if you were sitting in front of the guitar itself. The only shortcoming arose when a Klaus Heyne modified U-67 burst onto the scene. Its low mids were a little less murky and the sound was a bit more open in general — so maybe an unfair comparison, but with the prices being fairly comparable it seemed appropriate. The B2 capsule behaved similarly, but produced a less muddy low midrange and, obviously due to the figure-eight pattern, a more spacious sound. The CAD conveyed a decent high end, but with a honky midrange. Although the AT handled the low mids better, the midrange was even more unruly and abrasive. The AT had less low end than the CAD and a generally thin, anemic sound. The chances of a tube actually residing within this mic are beginning to diminish.

The next trial was by drum and air. The three test mics and the rogue 67 were positioned about five feet from the drum kit. In this case the CAD suffered from a murkier, less defined low midrange, but handled the low end more firmly and generously while making the ultra highs shimmer in a manner befitting a mic in a much higher tax bracket. Again, the AT faired better in the low mids, presenting a much less clouded picture of the room and the drums therein. There was much more high midrange to be found in the AT, making for a somewhat gritty sound. In the unfair comparison department, the BB, armed with the B6, blew away the competition to the extent that all other mics in the studio were summarily thrown in the garbage. This included the once cocky U-67, whose low mids were less defined than the BB and whose magic elves delivered less high-end sparkle. It was by a thin margin though.

LOCAL VOCALS

After the rash decision was reconsidered and the remaining mics were fished from the trashcan, the final and most brutal test was initiated: the vocal test. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, just the naked, human voice in all its frailty. Some mics can mock even the most accomplished chanteuse, while others with more compassion will guide and coddle even the lowliest “vocal stylist”.

Here the stakes were raised and each mic was routed first through a Universal Audio re-issued 610 and then a “revison F” UA 1176. The CAD was a little lacking in the low end and the midrange sounded a bit canned, but again, the high end excelled and gave the sound a nice shine. The AT supplied even less low end and rendered an edgy, aggressive midrange. The B6 piloted BB landed a smooth, defined mid and hi-midrange that was not too aggressive, but still very present. It had a nice body to it with no unseemly peaks to be found. In a photo finish, the BB again nudged past the U-67, although with the B2 capsule fitted the race would have run more favorably for the 67. The B2’s midrange was a little too gritty for my tastes — at least for this particular singer. Nor was I moved by the supposed enhanced proximity effect boasted by the capsule’s literature.

AND THE BEATINGS GO ON

Clearly the BB stood head and shoulders above the other contestants, but this is like entering two obese satyrs with exhuma in a Miss America contest. These mics were simply out of their league, so another battery of tests was administered. I’ve always been a fan of Audio Technica; from the AT25 to the 4033 (not to mention some excellent headphones) they consistently deliver the goods well under budget. So I felt I owed a second chance to this 3060, their new, mysterious offspring and, while I was at it, its flat-faced cousin, the e100(2).

The pair went up against the same drum kit, but this time with the benefit of the UA 610 and under the watchful eye of the old standby, the AT 4033. Again both mics failed to make their mark as the 4033 delivered a big, solid low end with mellow mids and shimmery highs, while the 3060 lacked body and sparkle and suffered from the same boxiness and murkiness that the e100(2) did.

The acoustic guitar returned for the next test. Here the e100(2) brought a little warmth via a bigger low end and smoother high mids while the 3060 was stuck in the mud of its own murky midrange and overall canned sound. The e100(2) actually held its own against the 4033 bringing a little more body and smoothness to the guitar, if not as much high-mid detail.

At this point I decided no amount of testing was going to save the 3060. The case may be that the alleged tube inside this thing is actually a plastic tube filled with 741 op amps. Being a big AT fan, I really wanted to like this mic, but I doubt I could find a place for it in my studio. At half the retail price of the 3060, the e100(2) was not too shabby at all. If $300 is at the higher end of your budget I would consider this mic.

But obviously the big winner here was the BLUE Bottle armed with the B6 capsule. The only real shortcoming was the massive size of the bottle coupled with the limited maneuverability of its capsule. Despite the capsule’s ability to pivot slightly, I’d be hard pressed to fit this thing into any tight spaces or unusual angles.