SD Systems STM 99, March 2001

May 18, 2004 12:00 PM, By George Petersen


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Over the years, the Netherlands-based SD Systems has developed a number of microphones designed for the needs of reproducing specific jazz and orchestral instruments. The company's latest offering is the STM 99, a modular system intended to provide high-quality miking of saxophones onstage or in the studio.

Priced at $1,395 (individual mic capsules, mounts and accessories are also available separately) with a foam-lined wood box, the STM 99 system consists of three interchangeable mic capsules (cardioid, hypercardioid and omnidirectional), a 5-foot cable connecting the mic body to a 4-inch preamp section (with a standard XLR output), a removable foam windscreen and three mic mounts. Among the latter are a stand mounting clip (for using the STM with other insturments), an on-axis mount that centers the capsule about five inches in front of the sax bell and a clip-on mount with a flexible 6-inch gooseneck.

All of the mounts include shock-mounting hardware that suspends the mic capsule via elastic bands, isolating the mic from thumps, bumps and other vibrations. The on-instrument mounts have thick rubber coatings at the point of contact, which adds to the shock resistance while protecting the instrument from scratches. Either mount holds securely while allowing for easy removal after the gig. A minimal screen over the capsules provides for an open sound, which, unfortunately, exposes more of the diaphragm to smoke, dirt, etc. For live applications, I suggest using the foam windscreen for additional protection. Also, the threads on the capsules are very fine, and caution should be used when changing capsules to avoid cross-threading.

In use, the system offers an extraordinary degree of flexiblity, both in mounting and placement options, as well as in capsule choices. The omni capsule had the best LF response of all and was especially nice on bari and tenor saxes; the omni also exhibits a rising top end that added an airy, breathy quality. The cardioid had the flattest overall response of the three (especially in the upper registers) and was ideal for altos and sopranos, where the omni's HF rise could get somewhat edgy.

The choice here, however, depends on the sound of the sax itself and the type of music or track it was in—for example, as a spot mic on an orchestral or light jazz piece the cardoid may not be right, while that same tone for a screaming rock solo could be spot-on. The sound of the hypercardioid capsule was somewhere between the omni and cardioid in character and, due to its tight polar pattern, would be my first choice on a busy, high-SPL stage where isolation or feedback is problematic. The availability of the on-axis mount or the gooseneck clip also allows for more variation in the audio palette, offering either a down-the-throat growl or a smoother, more ambient effect.

The need for an on-sax mount is obvious onstage, but I'm surprised at how many sax players refuse to stand still in front of a mic while tracking in the studio. For such players, the STM 99 is ideal. But whether onstage or in the studio, the STM 99 offers an elegant solution to an old problem.

Dist. by Advanced Sonic Concepts,

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