Bold and beautiful, the Woodpecker has a sound that lives up to the mic''s regal appearance.
Blue has carved out a niche in the audio industry by combining innovative, sleek design with superior sonic performance. The Woodpecker ($999) is a phantom-powered ribbon microphone that has both of those qualities in spades.
Two inches in diameter and 9 inches long, the Woodpecker is striking. It has a golden mesh grille, and its cylindrical lower body is covered in a real wood veneer. The Blue logo badge marks the front lobe of the figure-8 polar pattern. The mic comes in a velvet-lined wooden jeweler's box and is accompanied by a golden spider-style shockmount.
I understand the benefit of shockmounts for reducing floor rumble, but I'd prefer an old-fashioned clip over a less useful shockmount that increases the mic's diameter by a factor of three. If any mic manufacturer provides only a shockmount, it must be an excellent one. The spring-loaded clips on the Woodpecker's shockmount lost their tension after only a few uses, resulting in a less-than-firm grip. I taped the mic in place to keep it from slipping.
When I plugged in the Woodpecker, I immediately noticed a higher-than-usual noise floor, clearly audible as a high-end hiss. One reason is an approximately 4 dB boost centered around 8 kHz. Another factor is an extremely hot output signal, far exceeding an average ribbon mic's output by up to 30 dB, and even rivaling that of most condenser mics to which I compared it.
When I set the preamp to optimize the recorded signal, the noise level was low enough to be inaudible while recording. In the pauses, though, I still heard faint high-end noise a few decibels higher than that of my reference mics. The Woodpecker probably isn't quiet enough for critical solo instrument or voice recording. For recording a medium-to-loud instrument in an ensemble setting, however, the noise wasn't an issue during mixdown, even after I applied EQ and compression. The healthy dose of high end in the mic's response usually allowed me to lay off any additive EQ in that range.
The one time I kept the Woodpecker up as a single mic for a solo vocal and piano performance, the subtle extra noise gave the digitally recorded track an almost tapelike quality that the artist was very happy with, reminding me that a little noise is not always a bad thing.
HOW MUCH WOOD …?
I had two Woodpeckers, and they found their way into all my sessions during the test period. The pair was sonically well matched, making stereo applications a breeze, but it was almost hard to believe they were ribbon mics. In addition to having a hot output (putting fewer restrictions on the choice of preamps), the top end was very present, unlike with any other ribbon I've ever used. The smoothness of the midrange and the warmth in the low mids sounded similar to that of my favorite ribbons, with not as much subrange beef as a Coles 4038, for example, but right in there with the RCA 77DX, Royer R-121, and Royer SF-12.
Vocals sounded fantastic, up-front and clear, with plenty of body. Even with the enhanced high end, vocal sibilance was less harsh than with most condenser microphones. When I used the Woodpeckers as overheads, the metal of the drum kit had loads of sheen but wasn't overbearing, and the toms and snare were clear and full-bodied. Trumpets and saxophones sounded exactly like trumpets and saxophones, although for certain players the Woodpecker accentuated the brassiness or reediness in a way that made me favor my standby ribbons. Electric guitars sounded fantastic as long as the amp wasn't too bright or the mic too close. And I may have found my new favorite mic for grand piano and upright bass. The figure-8 pattern does call for a room that sounds good, though. If you usually use cardioid mics, you may hear a little more of your room than you're used to.
BIRD OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
If it weren't for the minor noise issue and my problems with the shockmount, the Woodpecker would garner the highest rating possible. It really is an exquisite mic in every other aspect, and it's quickly becoming one of my favorite all-purpose microphones. If absolute silence is mandatory, it may not be the mic for the job. But if you want natural-sounding recordings that capture the nuances and spirit of performances in an open and vibrant way, I highly recommend catching this bird.
Value (1 through 5): 4