Engineers and music producers are always looking for that certain something in a production that sets their tracks apart from the rest. It could be a high-quality signal chain offering pristine high fidelity, or at the other end, some distortion or trash to bring personality to a recording. The Copperphone from Placid Audio falls into the latter category.
It’s a dynamic, moving-coil mic offering a fixed, narrow-bandwidth output centered between 300 Hz and 3 kHz. The microphone gets its name from its appearance; the exterior shell is a 2.5 x 6-inch, polished copper body featuring an integral metal mic mount and a Switchcraft XLR. Inside, a passive, magnetic moving-coil element is mounted in a tuned resonant chamber that all works together to produce its signature, and unique, sound.
The review unit that I receivedis the company’s flagship model, but Placid also makes the Copperphone Mini ($299); the Carbonphone ($425), offering variable control over the frequency range of the mic; and the Resonator A ($270) and Resonator B ($270), each offering its own low-tech spin at output.
Being a one-man operation, Placid Audio also has a custom shop. On the company’s website, you’ll find the following offer: “Have an idea for a modification to one of our current models? Do you have a completely new idea for a one of a kind microphone? Maybe you are you looking to convert an old/broken vintage microphone with a custom or replacement circuit? Or would you simply like a personalized name plate added to your Placid Audio microphone?” If you want it, owner/designer Mark Pirro can create it for you.
My philosophy when using odd products like this is to stretch boundaries and see what happens. If it works, fine; if not, all I’ve lost is time. For starters, I used the Copperphone around a drum kit to see what it would offer. After trying a couple of different placements, I found a winning position where the Copperphone gave me equal parts snare and kick attack. I carefully snuck the mic perpendicular to the right-beater side of the kick drum, pointing it at the snare body. The microphone was out of the drummer’s way, looking across the kick drum from the low tom side, so there were no complaints there.
The Copperphone sound is very much like the “telephone” sound that you can get by dialing in lowpass and highpass filters—it instantly sounds trashy in a good way. In the body of the entire recorded kit, it worked when I just ghosted the Copperphone track in underneath the full-bandwidth tracks.
But the power here is to make the output more dynamic in the framework of the entire track. To accomplish this, I stripped out the audio between transients on the Copperphone track using Pro Tools Strip Silence. Then I batch-faded them all with a quick 10ms fade in and a 150ms fade out. Next, I muted all of the hits and then picked out select groups of transients to appear only on drum fills, accents, breaks and other choice spots.
Once I compressed the Copperphone track and tucked it into perspective (feeling more than hearing), it instantly brought that “What was that?” coolness to the track. The point is, with something as stark as the Copperphone, you have to do some work to bring finesse to the outcome.
I’m always looking for trash on rock vocals, and in addition to my main mic, I use a Shure Green Bullet through a guitar amp recorded to an additional track to give me something to work with. The Green Bullet sounds fantastic in this application. But you need an extra room for the amp to keep it out of the clean feed, and mounting the Bullet on a stand calls for gaff tape, making positioning difficult.
The Copperphone has a proper stand mount, so putting it next to another mic on another stand, a Neumann U47 in this case, was easy. I could tuck them both together tightly behind one pop filter. Rather than an amp, I chose to run the Copperphone into two consecutive EMI V76 mic preamps to gain up the distortion, which I recorded directly to Pro Tools.
During my tests, I found that the approach of pairing the personalities of the Green Bullet and Copperphone worked very well in putting some space between these two personality mics. The lead vocal using the Green Bullet had more of a throaty sound with frequencies targeted lower than the Copperphone. So I used the Copperphone on backgrounds and doubles.
Once these tracks were mixed with the main mics, then muted dynamically, and even trashed further with Soundtoys Phase Mistress or other plug-ins, it provided me with an infinite variety of dynamic vocal options in the song. Once again, a bit of extra work made this one-trick pony more full-featured.
Finally, I placed the Copperphone next to an Audio-Technica AT5045 to record an acoustic guitar. To be honest, I just did this for fun’ O was not thinking that it was something I’d ever really use. However, once again, the Copperphone turned out to add that extra something that was useful when carefully mixed below the main microphone. The effect was to give the mellow guitar some extra edge, making it peek through the busy track. Mark Pirro from Placid Audio suggested that I try his mic on a piano, but before this writing I never got the chance. Believe me, I will soon because this mic brings the fun-factor up to ten.
DO YOU NEED IT?
Placid Audio’s Copperphone microphone is an affordable, personality-plus transducer that should find a home in every mic locker. There is no other microphone like it in its category and price range. It’s easy to rely on your tried-and-true favorites when tracking and overdubbing, but having the Copperphone around makes you stretch—and that’s a great thing. So get one, or two; at this price it’s a no-brainer.
COMPANY: Placid Audio
PROS: Easy to place. Affordable. Brings a unique sonic character to any application.
CONS: Not your versatile “everything” mic—this is a personality product.
If you want to record trash vocals taken to the nines, use a low-to-high impedance adapter like the Whirlwind Little IMP, or Shure A85F, to plug the Copperphone directly into a guitar amp set for distortion. I usually run this parallel to a proper vocal mic, giving me many options later. You can put the amp in an iso to keep it out of the clean feed, or make a commitment and place the guitar amp at the feet of the singer, miked separately in the same room (kudos to Vance Powell for that idea).
Mix magazine technical editor Kevin Becka also serves as an instructor and co-director of the Blackbird Academy in Nashville.