Technology

Field Test: Brauner Phantom C Condenser Microphone

Brauner has a reputation for building ultratransparent tube mics with very low self-noise and high sensitivity. 3/01/2004 7:00 AM Eastern

Brauner has a reputation for building ultratransparent tube micswith very low self-noise and high sensitivity. Recently, theGermany-based manufacturer shifted direction with its first solid-statemic, the Phantom C ($1,750 list) cardioid condenser.

Despite its moderate price (relative to that of other Brauner mics),it's obvious that no expense was spared in the construction of thePhantom C. Its cylindrical brass body (the same used in the BraunerValvet and Valvet Voice microphones) weighs a hefty 19.4 ounces. Insidethe head grille is a 1-inch-diameter, 6-micron-thick diaphragm.Included with the mic are a sturdy shock-mount and foam-lined aluminumcarrying case. The mic and its accessories convey outstanding buildquality.

The only corners cut are in the mic's feature set. The Phantom C iscardioid-only and lacks any sort of pad or low-cut filter. Consideringthe mic's robust 28mv/Pa sensitivity, the omission of a pad can beproblematic when miking loud instruments with a padless preamp. But themic's high output, hushed 9dBA self-noise and stout 142dB maximum SPL(for 0.3% THD) ratings guarantee a stellar dynamic range and barelyexistent noise floor at the mic's output. The Phantom C's response isstated to be 20 to 22k Hz with no ± tolerances given. Current drawis specified to be a hefty 4 ma.

The Phantom C's intricate shock-mount is more than just astandard-issue gizmo. A pair of semicircular aluminum rings —stabilized by three vertical struts — is suspended by beefyelastic bands inside a pair of larger, similarly constructed rings. Themount can rotate both vertically and horizontally through almost 180degrees of arc. A clever ratcheting mechanism on the mount's standadapter locks the mount in place.

PHANTOM C IN SESSION

Recording male lead vocals, I compared the Phantom C to my NeumannU87A using my Millennia HV-3D 8-channel preamp and Apogee Rosetta 96A/D in the recording chain. The Phantom C delivered far more nuance anddepth than the U87A, lending a striking sense of realism to the track.While the high end was also more articulate on the track recorded withthe Phantom C, it nevertheless sounded natural and unhyped. Both micsreproduced roughly the same amount of bottom end overall, but thePhantom C's bass response was smoother, exhibiting less of a hump inthe upper bass. I won't give away my U87A anytime soon — it's anoutstanding mic with a unique character that flatters in manyapplications — but I was floored by how much depth and nuance theless-expensive Phantom C reproduced.

Results were equally impressive on female vocals miked at seveninches from the Phantom C and recorded through the Millennia HV-3D/8and Rosetta 96. The mic delivered enough bottom to round out thesinger's timbre, and highs were detailed without sounding sibilant. ThePhantom C lent beautiful midrange resolution without sounding“hard” or glaring. Once again, the depth of the recordingwas outstanding.

Next up was a seven-piece Latin band. I used the Phantom C to recordtimbales, which were mounted above the floor tom in a trap set. (Thedrummer played the timbales and traps simultaneously.) I placed thePhantom C behind and above the drummer's right shoulder, 2½ feetabove the timbales and angled 45 degrees downward to face them. Thesound was spectacular, needing only moderate boost in the top octave tomake the timbales cut through a dense arrangement. I missed having amic pad for this application, however, as I used the Phantom C with theMillennia HV-3D/8, which has no pads and produces a minimum of 8dBgain, and a MOTU HD192 I/O box, which has no calibration trims. Withthis setup, I couldn't avoid hitting 0 dBFS on some peaks in DigitalPeformer. The track sounded fine, though, as there was no audiblecapsule or other distortion.

On another session, I used the Phantom C to record a cajón, alarge wooden cube with a circular cutout that is played with atechnique similar to how congas are played, except the musician sits onthe box. Although the spectral balance was excellent, the Phantom Cdidn't have the lightning-fast transient response I was looking for. Mysmall-diaphragm DPA 4011 was a better choice. The Phantom C was alsonot the best choice to record acoustic guitar arpeggios, as the micreproduced a bit too much bottom end and was not quite fast enough tocapture the intricate detail that I was after. Considering the mic istuned for recording vocals, this was no surprise.

WRAPPING IT UP

The Phantom C is an outstanding vocal mic offering excellent resultsin some instrumental applications. Of all the subjective qualities amic might bring to a recording, depth is the most elusive. Braunerprovided the Phantom C's sonic signature with a sense of realismusually only heard in far more expensive microphones. The Phantom Csounds transparent yet big, articulate yet smooth. Add highsensitivity, low noise, wide dynamic range and affordable pricing tothe mix, and the Phantom C is a winner.

Brauner, dist. by Transamerica Audio Group, 702/365-5155, www.transaudiogroup.com.

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