SE Electronics Z-5600
Multipattern Tube Microphone
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, dist. by SE Electronics USA, 408/873-8606; www.seemics.com.
— George Petersen
DISCRETE DRUMS SERIES TWO
I hate drum libraries. I'm a drummer. I specialize in getting great drum sounds. I've got 70 cymbals, five acoustic kits, two electronic kits, 14 snares and caseloads of percussion at my studio. Nothing's more fun than spending hours in the studio and testing different combinations of exotic and expensive mics in the quest of the elusive, ultimate drum sound.
Here's a snip from a conversation heard in the Mix office last month: “Please don't make me review this library. Can't we just get one of those ‘loop’ guys to check this out? Okay, I'll give it a listen.” This product was reviewed under duress, so keep this in mind while reading this.
Discrete Drums Series Two is a collection of rock drums and percussion, supplied as 11 CD-ROMs of 24-bit tracks in multitrack (up to 16 channels) format; four CD-ROMs of 16-bit stereo .WAV loops (fully Acidized); a CD-ROM of individual drum and percussion samples (24-bit .WAV); and two audio CDs of all the tracks to quickly audition the sounds you need. The 18-disc set (33 songs/743 drum segments/133 percussion loops) fits in a wood-storage box that's smaller than the custom Anvil case where you store that favorite cowbell of yours.
Load-in/setup was no sweat. The 16-bit loops dropped seamlessly into my PC running Acid. The 24-bit multitrack sounds weren't in Pro Tools session format, but imported into my Mac Pro Tools as kick/overheads/stereo room/snare/stereo toms without hassle. The procedure should be about the same with Digital Performer/Nuendo/Sonar/etc.
I started by browsing the audition CDs. Even from these 16-bit clips, I was immediately overwhelmed by Chris McHugh's huge, fat, thick drum sounds (recorded at The Sound Kitchen in Franklin, Tenn., by co-producers Rick DiFonzo and Steve Marcantonio).
The performances on Discrete Drums Series Two sound like expensive major-label productions, but better yet, they even suggest song and composition ideas. I've heard lots of drum collections, but what really sets this one apart are the stacked percussion performances by Eric Darken. Oooweee! The percussion adds a slick, hip and sometimes otherworldly sound to rock-solid, thumping drums. Besides song production (demo or master), it doesn't take much imagination to hear the drums/percussion as beds for film soundtracks or jingles, but the bottom line is that these are highly usable tracks. This library just doesn't have any “filler” material — everything is high quality, from both creative and sonic aspects.
The main drawback to the collection is that it's entirely up-tempo rock. Its punchy sound is equally applicable to mainstream or alternative rock, with plenty of crossover into hip hop, funk and edgy country sounds. There are no ballads. (Maybe in Series Three?) Also, there are no electronic or synth sounds; for that, you should check out its newest release, Craig Anderton's Turbulent Filth Monsters, packed with twisted hardcore techno.
Discrete Drums Series Two has a fresh, modern sound throughout, and provides enough elements to easily customize the tracks into your sound. Retail is $549, but it's available for a limited time at $399; and you can hear clips for yourself on the company's Website.
Discrete Drums, 484/582-0727; www.discretedrums.com.
— George Petersen
Wide Cardioid Microphone
The newest addition to DPA's 4000 Series is the 4015 ($1,850). DPA calls this mic a wide cardioid, and, indeed, between 500 Hz and 10k Hz, the 4015's polar response begins to resemble an omni mic. I was excited about the possibilities of this added coverage, especially in reverberant spaces to capture room ambience but with greater directionality than an omni.
The 4015 uses the same pre-polarized, pressure-gradient condenser capsule as DPA's venerable 4011, but with a wider polar pattern. And like the 4011, the 4015 needs 48 volts of phantom power. It has a frequency range of 40 (±2 dB) to 20k Hz (+3/-1 dB) measured at two feet from a sound source. The 4015's response is relatively flat from 100 to 5k Hz. From there, the mic offers a gentle high-end boost that peaks at 2.5 dB at 11 or 12 kHz, before descending to 0 dB again at roughly 18 kHz.
Despite DPA's modest claims about the mic's low-frequency sensitivity, the 4015 easily handled the lowest lows of a church organ while flawlessly capturing the high sparkle of its zimbelstern. I reviewed an unmatched pair of 4015s, and their individual calibration charts noted that the low-end response tapered gradually upward in level (1 to 2 dB at 20 Hz, respectively). No complaints here.
The 4015's capsule is ¾ of an inch in diameter. The diaphragm is surrounded by an acoustically transparent netting that protects against contamination from dust. DPA claims the 4015's diaphragm is built to handle “aggressive” humidity and that the distance between the back plate and diaphragm helps deter the influences of ambient temperature. These specs appealed to me, because much of my recording is done on location, often in drafty and damp churches and cathedrals. Additionally, the mic handles high SPLs — up to an impressive 158 dB.
Remarkably, the 4015 includes a 20dB pad switch in the center of the XLR connector, so you'll need a small, pointed object to get to it. You won't switch the pad accidentally. No matter what instrument I recorded, I never needed the pad.
The dynamic range of the 4015 is excellent, and the mic has a wonderful multidimensionality. This is possibly due to the fact that the on-axis directionality of the polar pattern narrows sharply above 10 kHz. Recordings with these mics always sounded clean and transparent.
As drum overheads, the 4015 was great: The wide pattern captured the surrounding drums and the cymbals, yielding a smooth, natural sound. The 4015's transient response is also superb: A recording session with a nylon-string guitar demonstrated this. The guitarist wanted to track the sound of the guitar's piezo bridge pickup and the acoustic sound simultaneously. I pointed one 4015 at the spot between the sound hole and bridge, where this instrument had its fullest sound. On the amp, I placed the other 4015 between its four speakers from a distance of 18 inches. Blending the two signals, I captured the full snap of the strings, but with plenty of the instrument's meaty resonance and body.
I took full advantage of the 4015's wide polar pattern when recording a bass koto. I placed one of the mics under the instrument, pointing directly into the sound hole; the other mic was three feet above, aiming across the movable bridges. The extended pattern of the upper mic captured most of the stringed area, yielding the instrument's characteristic pluckiness and a nice amount of the room. Meanwhile, the lower mic accurately translated the warm tone emanating from inside the koto.
The DPA 4015's wide pattern provides a welcome intermediate alternative to omnis and so-called first-order cardioids. The 4015 is also durable and well-built: No matter where I recorded, I never felt compelled to baby it. This is a first-rate transducer that brings out the best in almost any audio source.
DPA Microphones, dist. by TGI North America Inc., 519/745-1158; www.dpamicrophones.com. (After March 1, DPA Microphones, Inc., 866/DPA-MICS.)
— Laura Pallanck