Coles 4050 Stereo Ribbon Microphone ReviewSOLID SONIC PERFORMANCE, UNIQUE SWIVEL MOUNT 9/22/2010 12:07 PM Eastern
Coles Electroacoustics started designing microphones for the BBC more than 30 years ago. First employed as broadcast models, Coles mics soon caught on with audio engineers seeking that “ribbon sound” on their tracks. The 4038 is Coles’ most recognized studio model, but now there is a contender for the flagship position.
The new 4050 offers a matched pair of mics mounted on a unique and versatile magnetic mount. The mics—each of which is a 13-ounce, 4x2-inch cylinder—come completely off the magnetic center ring mount, which has a stand mount attached. The capsules can be used together or separately—provided you have another mount, which is available from Coles separately. The twin cylinders mount at one end; the outside ends sport male XLR connectors that resemble a pair of pigtails when cabled for use. A pair of handy cable wrangling “widgets” come with the set and are great for keeping cables neatly tucked in during recordings. When mounted, the mic body angles are infinitely variable and can be set anywhere from 0 to 360 degrees. I found this most useful and a great way to “pan” my image directly to the recorder.
Although providing a hotter output than most passive ribbon mics, the 4050 calls for a clean preamp with a lot of gain. For this review, I used a variety of preamps, including Millennia HV-3Rs, SSL 4000 Series and the preamps on an Avid C24 console/controller. The last were impractical for use with this mic as they get noisy at the point where the 4050 puts out enough gain for use on quieter applications. In louder situations, like a screaming guitar cabinet or over a drum kit, it took medium gain to get the kind of levels I needed.
My initial experience with the mount was mixed. I loved how I could swivel and change the angles of the mics, but the mount didn’t let me set the angles as accurately as I’d like. The early model of the mount resembled a metal doughnut with a hole that connected to the capsules. I commented to Coles that it would be great to be able to measure more accurately how far the mics were off-center. So they reworked the mount into the state it is in now, where you can reference a “dot” that tells you where the engine is pointing, against the outer ring of the mount, which is indexed at narrow intervals.
My first application was to put the pair of mics in front of a Marshall guitar amp. It took the high SPL without wincing. (The mic is rated at less than 1-percent distortion at 125 dB.) This is where the ability to infinitely choose the angle at which the microphones face the source came in handy. In two different setups on different sessions, I experimented with pivoting the mics at 90 degrees and then a tighter angle. When I angled the mics at less than 90 degrees, it tucked the image into wide mono that was perfect for the track. The sound was phenomenal and just what you’d expect from a world-class ribbon: plenty of great midrange and warm bottom end; rounded, ear-friendly transients; and rolled-off top end that placed the guitar just where it needed to be in the overall mix with drums, bass, keys and vocals.
The mic also sounded great when used to record hand percussion such as shakers, Vibra-Tone, bells and blocks. The sound was very “woody” on the blocks and offered nicely rounded and easy-to-listen-to transients that a condenser would render too true for comfort.
I tried the pair over a drum kit, but I like a bit more brightness in my overheads than the Coles could provide. Still, the toms and sound of the overall kit were nicely balanced across the pair, and I liked how I could dial in the stereo image by moving the mics in the mount.
A PAIR TO BE RECKONED WITH
The biggest news is that Coles has created a new stereo ribbon mount that stands in a class of its own. The ability to choose your angle and pan as you track is a great feature, not to mention the fact that the mics can completely separate for dual-mono use or in spaced-pair stereo configurations. Sonically, if you’re familiar with the sound of the 4080, you’ll love the 4050, which provides a hotter output and all the deliciousness that ribbon-ophiles have grown to love.
Kevin Becka is Mix’s technical editor.