Blue Microphones enCORE 100, enCORE 200 Microphones ReviewLIVE VOCAL MICS ADD ARTICULATION AND WARMTH 8/01/2011 5:00 AM Eastern
Established as a leading manufacturer of high-quality studio mics, Blue Microphones has turned its attention to the live sound market with the en•CORE Series. Intended for onstage use, initial offerings in the en•CORE line include the 100, 200 and 300 (all of which are designed for vocal applications), and the 100i, an instrument microphone possessing a tight pattern for reduced leakage. For this review, Mix received the en•CORE 100 and en•CORE 200 models, each of which ships in a cardboard box, along with a microphone stand holder and a plush-lined, cloth mic bag.
The 100 and 200 share an identical profile, one similar to that of the Shure Beta 87. They both feature the same proprietary Blue capsule design; the sonic differences mainly arise from the active electronics in the en•CORE 200. The active preamp in the 200 is used primarily as a means of maintaining low noise and remaining sonically consistent over the long lengths of cable one might encounter in certain SR situations. The preamp circuitry yields a hotter output than that of the en•CORE 100, and results in the en•CORE 200’s very low 25-ohm output impedance (whereas the en•CORE 100’s impedance is 250 ohms). The en•CORE 200 should have no problem mating with any preamp input. A red LED set into the 200’s body illuminates to indicate that phantom power is being received. This feature really needs to be made standard among phantom-powered condenser mics. It would save a lot of time that is otherwise wasted on troubleshooting.
Published frequency-response curves for the mics are very similar, showing mild bumps at approximately 150 Hz in the upper-midrange (approximately 2.5 to 5 kHz) and at 10 kHz. At 2 kHz and 45 degrees off-axis, side rejection is about 15 dB, a figure similar to that of a Shure SM57 or SM58. The en•CORE 100 features a chrome grille with a silver-gray body, while the en•CORE 200 is strikingly finished in matte black with a dark copper grille. To reduce chances of slipping, the mic bodies feature a textured finish, and—as we have come to expect from past experience with Blue products—the mics’ fit and finishes are excellent.
ON THE ROAD
I used the en•CORE 100 and 200 while on tour for male vocals in a number of situations with a variety of analog and digital consoles, ranging from Yamaha M7CL, PM1D and PM5D, to Midas H3000 and XL4, to Allen & Heath iLive and Avid VENUE. The most interesting characteristic of both mics was the consistent performance they delivered regardless of which console they were patched into. The en•CORE 100 produced a very smooth response with a slight thickness around 100 Hz (reflecting the published frequency curve), yet it maintained clarity and kept the vocal in front of a busy mix without any trouble. This characteristic precluded the need to apply EQ in the upper-mid region in most situations. The mild LF bump was flattering to vocals, adding a warmth and roundness that can thicken up an otherwise thin-sounding male vocal.
Both mics’ off-axis response was consistent to about 45 degrees; once the mic was moved off-axis beyond that range, volume dropped dramatically and frequency response began to thin out. I thought that the off-axis response of the en•CORE 200 was a bit smoother than that of the en•CORE 100, which admittedly should not be the case as the two mics share a common capsule. Perhaps the active electronics in the en•CORE 200 had something to do with this. Proximity effect was not as pronounced as with many other handheld cardioid mics, and rejection of spill from stage monitors was more than acceptable. Underneath the metal grille of both models is a foam windscreen that provides moderate resistance against plosives and wind noise. Handling noise was about average for a mic of this type, which is to say that it is not a distraction, but can at times be audible. As with most handheld vocal mics, I recommend using a highpass filter to prevent excessive low-frequency noise from reaching devices downstream in the audio chain.
If the en•CORE 100’s strength is added warmth and body, then the en•CORE 200’s strength is articulation: It provides a clarity and definition that works great in a hard rock setting, allowing vocals to cut through crunchy guitars, loud drums and busy arrangements. Compared to the 100, it almost sounded to me as if a slightly “tilted” EQ was applied to the en•CORE 200: The 200 is a hair less beefy than the 100 in the upper bass and has a bit more emphasis in the upper-midrange for added sheen. The 200 is definitely a few decibels hotter than the 100, and in light of its extremely low output impedance, I’d expect that the en•CORE 200 is more tolerant of long lines and varying input impedances. In practice, this was never an issue—neither microphone seemed to care about what it was connected to. I also noticed that both microphones took EQ very well. In cases where the P.A. system lacked definition in the vocal range, a boost of just a few dB in the upper midrange easily placed the en•CORE vocal mics out in front of the mix.
I appreciated the supplied mic stand holder. It’s constructed of hard rubber so it should be resistant to cracking, and a threaded brass insert (as opposed to plastic) mates the holder to the stand.
With the introduction of the en•CORE 100 and en•CORE 200 microphones, Blue has made quite a splash into live sound, delivering excellent vocal mics at very reasonable prices. The price points at which these microphones sell is already crowded, but the market will have to make room for two more very strong entries from Blue.
Steve La Cerra is Mix’s sound reinforcement editor and front-of-house engineer for Blue Öyster Cult.