SE Electronics Z-5600, February 2003

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Several years ago, David Zou—a musician and former conductor
of the Shanghai Symphony—wanted to create quality, affordable
recording mics. Working with Feilo Electric-Audio Equipment—one
of China's leading manufacturers of electronic components—Zou
founded SE Electronics and debuted a line of studio mics. As in many
start-up companies, the first products were uneven; over time, some
not-so-good models (such as the now-discontinued SE5000) were weeded
out. However, some SE mics were quite good, especially in light of
their rock-bottom pricing. The company's latest mic, the
top-of-the-line Z-5600 multipattern tube mic, retails at only $699;
while not the ultimate mic for every application, it is a versatile choice, particularly on lead and background vocals.

Housed in an attractive custom briefcase, the Z-5600 includes the
mic, shockmount, power supply, and 15-foot, 7-conductor cable. The
power supply has a standard 3-pin XLR output, 7-pin XLR mic input and a 9-position
switch to select variations on polar patterns from omni to cardioid to figure-8, and three intermediate
stages between each. A large chrome grille protects the 1.07-inch
diameter, gold-sputtered, dual-diaphragm capsule. In a separate chamber
below the capsule is the preamp circuit with a replaceable 12AX7 tube
and discrete electronics. The mic layout and construction are clean,
and SE thoughtfully places a rubber “O” ring over the tube
as a bumper to protect it from rough handling.

The shockmount is a hefty design with a quality feel, and
effectively isolates the mic from anything but a direct rocket strike.
The power supply's construction is solid, although the silk screening
indicating polar pattern didn't exactly line up with its switch
positioning, so the knob doesn't quite point to the circular omni
symbol when in the full counterclockwise omni position. This looked a
little odd, but didn't affect performance. However, polar-pattern
switching is noiseless, even with the mic turned on—no
ear-blasting “whumps” here—so users can freely
experiment with different patterns without interruption.

I began checking out the Z-5600 in cardioid position on acoustic
12-string guitar at the neck position, about 18 inches from the sound
hole. With an inexpensive tube mic, I expected to hear some noise, but
the Z-5600 is very clean and certainly meets its 16dBA EIN spec. Nice!
However, on guitar, the mic was rather bright and overly bassy.
Switching to the omni pattern, the overall sound was improved, with a
more even response—serviceable, but nothing special.

Moving to the figure-8 pattern, the front side of the mic was
relatively flat and nice, although the rear pickup sounded completely
different: rougher and edgy. Recording mono sources, either side could
be selected for effect—hey, if it sounds right, go for
it—but the sonic disparity of the figure-8 pattern would preclude
the mic's use in an MS recording setup.

My results with the Z-5600 were quite different when recording
vocals. The cardioid setting is quite wide and can be widened or
narrowed to your requirements by moving the polar selector a notch or
two in either direction. I liked the Z-5600 on male and female lead
vocals; here, the omni pattern provided a smooth sound with a touch of
airiness, while the cardioid pattern has a +3dB low bass bump for fullness (even more
pronounced when combined with proximity effect on upclose recording) and an
aggressive midrange that starts building around 1 kHz, rising to 5 to 6
dB around 12 kHz. On vocals, this mic's got attitude! On some female
voices, this was somewhat over-the-top, although a few clicks on the
polar selector (moving toward omni) took care of this and provided a
variety of sounds to choose from. In the full omni pattern, there's a
gentle HF rise peaking around 12 kHz and extending to 15 kHz or so,
which was subtle and just right on layered backup harmonies.

SE Electronics,