Technology

Field Test: Apex 460 Tube Microphone

PRICE-BUSTING NINE POLAR PATTERN CONDENSER 11/01/2005 7:00 AM Eastern

In a sea of inexpensive mics, there is a new contender for your dollars: the Apex 460. Squarely aimed at the engineer on a tight budget, it offers features and functionality never before found at this price point. The Apex 460, made in China, is a 1-inch-diaphragm, multipattern tube mic that comes with a power supply, connecting cable, shock-mount and IEC power cable — all for $229.

ANATOMY OF THE MIC
The 460 offers an unimpressive S/N ratio of 76 dB and a self-noise of 20 dB (A). This mic is not at its best when used on quiet sources. The power supply carries an on/off rocker switch, IEC cable input and voltage selector on the back; on the front are a 7-pin XLR input and a standard 3-pin XLR.

Patterns are switched in nine increments between omni on the left and figure-8 on the right via a rotary knob, which is also on the power supply's front panel. Similar to any mic using a thin multipin XLR connector, care must be taken not to force the plug.

SITTING IN THE MIX
I first tried the 460 on a tenor sax. I've worked with this particular sax player in the past and he has good ears and is very picky about microphones. On various sessions, I've heard his sax through a Neumann 147 and U87, AEA R84 and various other mics, and he hasn't fallen in love with any of them. However, for him, the Apex was love at first listen.

I set up the mic pointing just above the bell and ran it through an SSL 4000 G+ Series preamp directly to a Studer A827 multitrack at 30 ips. On a number of tracks, the tone of the sax was balanced, not strident; it sounded good in the mix without requiring EQ. The sax player even bought a stereo pair of the 460s for his own use.

The Apex also shined on acoustic guitar. This particular part was a combination of strumming and single-note lines interspersed. The result was pleasing, and like the sax, the guitar sat nicely in the mix without needing much EQ. It's not blazing on the top end, and there's not a significant low-end bump — it's just right. Switching the patterns produced varying degrees of room in the mix — a nice way to alter your tone and ambience feed with minimal effort.

The mic was a solid winner on male lead vocals when put up against another Chinese-manufactured tube mic and a much more expensive ribbon vocal mic. The Apex had a nice top end that wasn't overbearing and the bottom was not tubby, but a tad too thin for my tastes. Adding a couple of dB at 100 Hz took care of that.

The Apex worked nicely as a secondary mic pulled back from a guitar amp that was miked with a closely placed Shure SM57. The Apex is not very accurate off-axis, so it wouldn't be my first choice as a room mic, but it works fine when used as a trashy room feed that you can compress and add to the final mix.

I didn't care for the Apex as a stereo pair of drum overheads. Compared to a pair of BLUE Bottles used the same day in a later setup, the 460s couldn't handle the loud sonic complexity provided by the cymbals and toms. The Bottles outclassed the 460s, but at $5,000 each, they should.

Using the 460s as room mics produced the same results, although they didn't sound bad when the drummer was playing the ride cymbal: The crashes were washy and the stereo image was poor. I wouldn't recommend them in this application.

It also did a decent job on a pair of congas. The player was not a banger, so the transient issues experienced with the drum application wasn't a problem. It was good, but not great here — certainly good enough to tuck into a mix in a supportive role.

DON'T HATE ME BECAUSE I'M CHEAP
Think of the Apex 460 like your first car or guitar: It's not a Ferrari or a Fender, but it is functional and fun. Functional, because you can throw it up on something as a flavor mic: an extra feed from a guitar amp or as a room mic to crush to a lo-fi death and add to taste in a mix. The 460 also sounded pretty good on tenor sax and acoustic guitar.

Bottom line: At $229, the Apex 460 is a phenomenal buy and although it will never replace its higher-end brothers, it stands up in its own right and does a decent job in a number of applications.

Besides, at this price, it's one that you wouldn't mind opening up to dink around with the electronics or to change the tube. I've already seen modded units available online with a lower output and quieter tube, along with some capacitor changes. This is not a mic aimed at the high-end user, but at the hobbyist and/or home studio owner. For that large chunk of the recording public, owning this mic is a no-brainer.

Apex, 716/297-2920, www.apexelectronics.com.


Kevin Becka is Mix's technical editor.

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