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Review: Sontronics Microphones August 8, 2008

Posted by ConnorSmith in : Project Studio, Reviews, Studio Setup , trackback

Sontronics sent The Studio Files some microphones for review.

I cannot wait until their brand becomes more widely distributed in the US.

We received a Helios (large diaphragm tube), Orpheus (large diaphragm condenser), Sigma (ribbon), and an Apollo (stereo ribbon). I had a great feeling about these mics when I was opening them up for the first time. The mics come in flight-style cases (with built-in combination locks). When you open the cases, you find one of two things:

1) A beautiful microphone in a black velvet-lined case.

2) A beautiful microphone in a black velvet-lined wooden case inside of a black velvet-lined case.

This immediately told me that Sontronics cares about their mics. The two ribbons also came with shockmounts in the case. I couldn’t wait to get them plugged in.

I put the mics through the paces during a week long tracking session for a band called Versus the Ocean (out of Michigan). The sources included rock vocals, drum set, big guitar cabs, acoustic guitars, room mics–all the usual suspects. I also briefly used them for some light rock/adult contemporary recordings.

Apollo

This mic is great on anything! (I’ll get into more specifics of course). It also looks amazing, with the open grill protecting the ribbons on all sides. The included shockmount holds the mic securely, with no problems attaching it. The mic is also phantom powered, which made getting a strong output a non-issue (you won’t need a pre specifically designed for ribbons).

Its a very natural sounding mic. When you pull up the fader in the control room, it sounds like you are sitting next to the performer. The mid-to-upper midrange is very well defined, and is where this mic seemed to shine. The first time I used it, I set it up as a room mic on a drum set. It was approximately 10 feet back, and 7 feet in the air (limited by the room size), pointing slightly down towards the cymbals. I threw some AKG414’s up as well (as I often use those as room mics when I can). The band and I both immediately liked the Apollo better for the room mics. As you would expect from a ribbon (as compared to normal condensers), the Apollo was darker in the high end than the 414’s, which really helped to tame the drum set and give it a very natural sound.

I also used the Apollo as the distance mic (about 6 feet back) for a strummed (with a pick) acoustic guitar. It added just the right amount of warmth and really helped to define the mid range (around 600-1.5K) a lot better. The track began with solo acoustic guitar, eventually bringing in the full band. The midrange of the Apollo made it so that I didn’t have to touch the fader of the acoustic guitar once the band came in; it still cut through just fine.

Despite its unique appearance, this is definitely an “everyday” mic for a project or pro studio. I put it on a stand at the beginning of a week long tracking session, and never took it down all week. You will love it.

Sigma

Like the Apollo, I set up the Sigma at the beginning of the week, and never put it back in the case. It’s a beautiful looking looking mic, with the ribbon being very well protected. Its also fairly small in dimension, so you can fit it into tight places without a problem. The shockmount fits snugly and is the same equipment included with the Apollo, which is convenient.
I first used the Sigma on the drum set as a ride cymbal mic. I had a pair of overheads up, but I threw the Sigma up on the ride in case the crashes and China (which were placed physically higher than the ride) would drown out the ride. It was a great mic for this application, yielding the typically soft, defined cymbal sound you’d expect from a ribbon. However, I ended up getting rid of the track for the mix, as the overheads were allowing the ride to cut through without a problem. I also think this mic would make a great shoulder/talkback mic (“slammed” with compression–the typical SSL technique) on drum set.

The Sigma was chosen as the primary guitar cabinet mic for the band (Marshall and B-52 tube half stacks). In almost every case, we either just mic’ed the cabinet in mono with the Sigma, or added a close mic (usually and SM57) to blend with the Sigma. I started with the Sigma a little closer than I would normally place ribbons (approximately 2.5 feet back from the cab), just to hear how it sounded. At first, it seemed a little muddy in the low mids, with not quite enough higher mid definition. Then I decided to move it back a bit more (to about 5 feet away from the cabinet). This was the sound we were looking for. It produced a monstrously huge sound with plenty of definition. Often we would also track a close mic’ed SM57 and hard pan the two tracks left/right.

Later, when tracking some of the lighter adult contemporary songs (obviously a different artist!), I tried the Sigma out on a finger picked acoustic guitar. It was a nice acoustic guitar (Taylor) and I was happy that the Sigma really didn’t color the sound of the guitar at all. Again, like its stereo brother, it was like sticking your ear up to the guitar.

Orpheus

This little guy was my underdog coming into the review, but it surprised us all.

The Orpheus is a large diaphragm condenser with a rather large basket over the diaphragm. It came in another wooden case lined with black velvet. I took this mic out last, as it was going to be compared with fancy stereo ribbons, big tube mics…. etc…. I now wish that I would have grabbed it earlier!

The first thing I wrote down in my notes for the review was that this is one of the most convenient mics you will ever use. The switches on the front are great (3 polar patterns, and a +/-10dB button). The switches are big and easy to flip, with no guessing about what position they are in. As simple as it sounds, this was a big hit. No twisting and looking for a symbol; no using a screwdriver to flick a tiny switch that inevitably goes too far; just simple, big switches.

As an additional bonus, this mic sounds awesome too. I first threw it up on acoustic guitar. I actually started in omni, as this was going to be a fairly distant part in a crowded mix. That track made it to mixdown without EQ, just a slight adjustment in the fader. The high end is similar to the Helios (which I will discuss next), and the omni setting negated any proximity effect from micing the guitar so closely. I also close miced an amp (Marshall tube) on clean for a small section of a song. This was chosen over the SM57. While I think the high end may have been a little much for a distorted track, it was appropriate for the clean.

Although the Orpheus was slightly dwarfed for its vocal performance by its big brother (Helios) as well as some other manufacturer’s flagship mics, I think it makes a very nice vocal mic as well. It is fairly neutral throughout the spectrum, with a presence boost up top. I think this mic would also be good on solo strings (although I didn’t have the opportunity to check it out). The +10dB switch would be convenient on softer strings, and the open high end would really brighten things up (but still leaving a fairly natural sound to the original instrument).

I’ve already said it a few times in this review (and you will hear it again), but this is a mic you will put on a stand, and never take down. It sounds very good on any number of sources, and is very convenient to setup (pad, polar pattern, etc.). Given its inexpensive price, this may be the best deal of the Sontronics mics (which is really saying a lot!).

Helios

The Helios is an impressively vintage-looking large diaphragm tube mic. To my ears, it has a vintage inspired sound (plenty of low mids and fairly “tubey”) with a very open and airy top end. In my opinion, the high end of this mic has a similar sound to something like an AKG414 (with a tube in it obviously). The case that guards the Helios is quite cool. Its an aluminum flight case with custom foam inside, holding the mic (in a wood case), the power supply, mic stand adapters, and cables very neatly. The mic has a continuously variable polar pattern selection, and although I didn’t have a ton of opportunity to play with this, I love mics with this feature, as sometimes the standard cardioid just isn’t quite right. It seems that the power supply safely ramps up the voltage to the tube, and the blue light on the power supply lets you know when it is ready. (I would suggest leaving the power supply on for at least 20-30 minutes before you get into this mic. To my ears, the color really comes out only after it really warms up).

I first tried this mic out on the lead singer of VTO. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t care for it on his voice. I felt that it was just a little too colored and “tube” sounding (this of course was exaggerated by the singer’s immense volume). I ended up switching it out for a non-tube, slightly more neutral mic. Nevertheless, I was not dissappointed in the least. It wasn’t that I was particularly “unhappy” with the sound of the mic, rather, just that it wasn’t the “right” sound for that particular situation. Even a C12 running through a Milennia and a Prism converter isn’t “right” on every source material.

I revisited this mic again on another male singer: this time a soft baritone for some light rock.

Awesome. The overtones of the tube added a light “grit” or character to his voice that was really missing. Plus, the slight boost up top let the vocals sit in the track without any additive EQ up there. I really liked it here.

I think at high volumes, this mic really shows its tube side and may be a little colored for some sources (although that may be a fairly blanket statement for tube gear as the input goes up…). At the same time, it can also be a benefit. I tried it out as a mono shoulder mic on a drumset. The tube sounded great, adding a great color to the drum mix.

The Helios could definitely be the “everyday workhorse tube mic” of your project (or pro) studio. Other than not being my first choice on one source, this mic sounded awesome in front of anything. Like the other Sontronics mics, this mic went on a stand at the beginning of the week and was never taken down.

The next time I go to upgrade my mic closet, I will be getting some Sontronics mics. I am very impressed by the microphones’ amazing sounds, as well as their looks and cases. Additionally, the mics are very inexpensive relative to their performance. At the tracking session, I had some mics (by other manufacturers) that ranged from the same price to triple the price of the Sontronics microphones. However, the Sontronics were easily the most used microphones of the session.

Comments»

1. John SPrayee - August 26, 2008

what about the STC2? condenser ive heard its great for spoken word? Computer Music magazine seems to rave about it.

2. ConnorSmith - August 26, 2008

I’m not familiar with that microphone, but if its a Sontronics, I would bet that its a great mic.

I don’t want to go on like a broken record… but these mics are really great.

3. The Studio Files » Sontronics – Interview with producer Flood aka Mark Ellis - July 26, 2012

[…] friends at Sontronics asked us to pass this along. You may remember that Connor reviewed several of their mics a while back and we were all really impressed. Lots going on with our friends across the […]


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