Field Test: Blue Woodpecker Active Ribbon MicHIGH OUTPUT, EXTENDED TOP END, NO IMPEDANCE WORRIES 10/01/2007 8:00 AM Eastern
You've got to hand it to Blue Microphones. Hands down, this company has changed the face of audio's front end with mic designs that use plenty of color, whimsical product names and, of course, great sound. For its first foray into the active ribbon mic category, Blue introduces the Woodpecker. The 1.6-pound, figure-8 pattern mic comes in a warm wood-grain finish with gold-plated exterior hardware. The sturdy grille, base, solid brass shockmount and even the cherry wood box in which it ships all speak of quality and craftsmanship. As an active ribbon, it drinks phantom power without a hiccup, handles SPLs up to 136 dB and exhibits a very uncharacteristic bump from 5 to 10 kHz.
When I used the Woodpecker to record an acoustic guitar, it exhibited an even tone with plenty of string jangle and pick definition. It was placed just above the soundhole where the body meets the neck, about five inches from the front of the instrument. A ribbon mic's performance is not usually the strongest at the high end of the spectrum, but the Woodpecker was surprisingly open. Due to its active design, I could get plenty of level onto tape or into a DAW with little gain from the mic preamp, thus keeping the noise floor low.
Next, I used the mic on a Nashville-tuned acoustic that sat almost equal in the mix with the previously mentioned acoustic guitar track. Once again, and especially with the altered tuning, the higher frequencies and pick definition were excellent. When the player hit the guitar hard, the ribbon tamed the transients nicely as ribbons tend to do, smoothing out any peaks with a pleasant roundness that was easy on the ears.
On the same session, I used the mic on a male lead vocal with great results. The singer was about six to eight inches from the mic, which exhibited plenty of silky highs and a bottom that was in perfect proportion. Once again, I needed very little gain from the SSL 4000 G+ preamps. With no pad engaged, the preamp was barely turned up and provided plenty of clean gain to the Studer 827. This particular singer's favorite vocal mic is the Shure SM7 because it flatters his voice. The Woodpecker easily beat out that large-capsule, moving-coil dynamic mic, providing a better top, smoother transient response and a warm, full-sounding bottom end.
I next used the Woodpecker for re-amping a distorted guitar track that had been laid down in a previous session. The original guitar was recorded on two tracks using a Shure SM57 and a Sennheiser MD-421. One of the guitar tracks was sent out to a Fender Super-Sonic amplifier using a re-amplifying DI and then re-recorded with an Old School Audio Vistaphone mic (reviewed in the January 2007 issue) and the Blue Woodpecker. I placed both mics about eight inches back from the grille cloth and just above the center of the speaker's dust cap. In this case, the Woodpecker added lower midrange and bottom end at about 200 to 400 Hz, which really beefed up an existing track that sounded a bit thin. Once I heard the Woodpecker with the original mics in the track, it became indispensable in the final mix.
During a live tracking session, I used the Woodpecker to record the same Fender Super-Sonic amp with a Shure SM57. The Woodpecker provided more low end, lower midrange and high end than the SM57, and pairing the two mics yielded the ultimate combination of the 57's grit with the broader-sounding Woodpecker.
The mic excelled when it was used to record an upright bass. The transient definition flattered the track, exhibiting a nice roundness when the player plucked the string. The bottom end was thick, warm and delicious when tucked into the mix, behind the kick drum and strummed acoustic guitar.
On soprano sax, the Woodpecker produced an even tone and cut out the harsh edge often associated with this instrument. However, in the same session this mic failed to make first-call on a tenor sax recorded, which needed a mic with more extended top end and a faster transient response.
Blue Microphones is known as a condenser mic company that isn't afraid to venture into new territory with original design, color and features. With the Woodpecker, the company nailed its first foray into the ribbon category. It rendered nearly anything that I threw at it with such personality and tone that it practically gave me shivers. And I like the fact that an active ribbon mic removes any worries about impedance mismatches between the preamp and mic, and eliminates the need to have a specialized mic preamp to provide tons of clean gain. In my tests, I used the Woodpecker with both low- and high-end preamps with great results. Its output was so hot that I barely had to gas the mic at all to get plenty of level to the recorder.
What's most amazing is the price: The $1,299 retail for an active ribbon of this quality is unprecedented. If you've never owned an active ribbon, now's the time to make the jump: This Woodpecker rocks.
Blue Microphones, 818/879-5200, www.bluemic.com.
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