Field Test: Studio Projects B Series Mics

Mar 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Nick Batzdorf

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During the past few years, there has been an explosion of almost unbelievably low-priced Chinese condenser mics that look like prized German beauties. But while they look similar, not all of these mics are created equal. Some are shoulder-shruggingly okay, and some are pretty good. However, Studio Projects' B Series, a new line of mics that look like little U47s, range from only $100 to $350 list and sound better than pretty good.

STRIPPED DOWN TO THE FACTS

The B Series comprises three large-diaphragm (1-inch) models: the cardioid-only B1; the multipattern, dual-capsule B3; and the cardioid-only TB1, which uses a tube and comes with a separate dual-voltage (115-volt or 230V) power supply. Although the B1 and TB1 do not have controls, the B3's 3-position switch lets you choose either a highpass filter or a -10dB pad.

While the build quality of these mics is adequate, they do vibrate a little when you tap their bodies, as the manufacturer readily admits, but they certainly don't rattle or feel rickety. Studio Projects recommends using a shock-mount to combat the vibration, and the custom-fitted one provided holds the mics snugly in position. This shock-mount is an improvement over those generic ones with the rubber band in the middle or the nylon cord that quickly loses its elasticity.

The B1 and B3 come in plastic zipper bags, and the TB1 comes in a foam-lined briefcase that holds the mic, power supply and cables, but not the shock-mount. All three models come with a foam windscreen.

THE TEST DRIVE

I ran these mics through a Millennia Media STT-1 channel strip using its solid-state setting with the transformer switched out. This makes the preamp about as neutral as you can get; impedance considerations aside, what you hear is the mic and not the preamp.

You do hear a noticeable quality improvement as you go up the B Series line. However, even the B1 sounds quite a bit better than the Shanghai U87-alike I compared these mics to, and it sells for the same price.

The exception is that the Shanghai mic sounded better than any of the Bs on male voice-over, but that's almost certainly due to off-axis reflections picked up by the Bs' wider pickup patterns. (This includes the B3 in cardioid mode.) The wide cardioid does make them more sensitive to what's going on off-axis, so be mindful of things like nearby walls when you're positioning them. A strategically placed Auralex Max Wall, which is a couple of sideways 2×4-foot foam sheets impaled on a mic stand, can really help.

The B's performance with what's in front of the mic is surprisingly good. Some side-by-side male vocal recordings through the TB1 and a $2,000 RØDE Classic II — an undeniably great mic — were a real eye-opener. The RØDE definitely sounded bigger (and in fact, it is bigger!) and is more midrange-forward, but I couldn't say that the TB1 sounded worse in this application — just different.

Normally, you can identify inexpensive mics right away by their steely high end, but the TB1's high end is smooth and open, toe-to-toe with the RØDE — very impressive. While the solid-state mics (B1 and B3) aren't quite as nice overall, they do share the same sound quality.

The TB1 has a noticeable amount of the typical “tube” sound, a buttery effect that you hear on the transients and not very different from tape compression. That isn't always what tubes do, but in this case, it's reasonably descriptive. The effect is quite obvious on shaker, a broadband instrument that behaves almost like pink noise with transients, and can really point out what a mic does to the sound.

Studio Projects bills all three models as general-purpose recording mics, which is fair, as they have some character and a slightly recessed midrange, but the sound isn't colored enough to relegate the Bs to specialty mic status. The Bs work on a lot of instruments that many users wouldn't think of recording with a large-diaphragm mic. For example, I wouldn't normally mike a solo cello with a large-diaphragm mic, but the B1 didn't bring out the resonances to excess. That's not to say that it would be my first choice, but it does work. The TB1's recessed midrange sounded good on alto recorder. It also sound okay on acoustic guitar, although it's certainly not rare to use a large-diaphragm condenser in that application.

The B Series mics also did well on instruments that are normally captured with a large-diaphragm mic., such as close up on an upright piano. The proximity helped bring out some of the low end on a small piano that's pretty weak at the bottom.

Two B3s or a B1 and a B3 would make a very nice budget M-S miking setup. The B3s' 14dBA noise rating (12dBA for the B1) proves that they're quiet enough to use some distance from the source, which would also make them good choices as room mics.

Even though the TB1 is noisier than the other two (18 dBA), its tube circuitry gives it a rounder sound that makes it very appealing. The B1 and B3 specs list a 132dB SPL handling ability (128 dB for the TB1), so you're not likely to blow these mics out in front of a guitar amp. Their output is hot enough to allow the preamps they're feeding to operate at a comfortable, quiet range.

THUS

It's pretty scary that mics this inexpensive can sound this good. By all rights, the $100 B1 shouldn't even be usable, and the $200 B3 shouldn't be a dual-capsule model with switchable patterns. But if you have to choose one of the three to get excited about, it's the TB1, a $350 tube mic that stands up to world-class mics that cost more than five times as much.

Studio Projects, dist. by PMI Audio Group, 877/563-6335, www.pmiaudio.com.


Nick Batzdorf is a composer, audio and music toy boffin, and writer.






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