Field Report: Studio Projects condenser mics

I used to think condenser mics did not sound good on the radio. I had only heard one station that used them and in my opinion they sounded too bright and strident.

But then I started a new job at a station that had the same condenser mics, but at this station, the mics sounded reasonable. Soon after I took over this station, I was directed to move it — I was forced to research the field of condenser mics. I have been a fan of them ever since.

Mic processing and EQ are commonplace at radio stations, but have you ever noticed that many of the agency spots sound better? Ever notice these mics are brighter, with more presence? They are, in short, more realistic. Ever wonder why that is?

Condenser mics. That's what it is.

Have you ever seen any of the old jazz albums from the 50s and 60s, with pictures of the musicians standing around the studio? If so, did you notice the condenser mics? If not, how about this: music videos shot inside recording studios. Did you notice all the vocal mics are of the condenser type?

If you want presence and realism, start with the right type of mic. The addition of EQ and AGC to cheap mics will never make them sound real. Judicious use of EQ and AGC with good condensers can produce a wonderful sound.

The one thing your listeners are familiar with is the sound of the human voice. They hear that more than anything else. If you want your station to stand out; if you want your station to sound as though the jocks are talking directly into your ear; indeed, if you want them to sound as though they are right there in the car, then start off with good mics.

While you can spend thousands of dollars on a single mic, in the last several years, at least a half dozen manufacturers have produced less expensive models of condensers mics, many of which sound close to their ultra-expensive cousins.

Studio Projects has a new line of condensers that I have tried on air and tested against several dynamic mics that are commonplace around radio stations. I tested the same Studio Projects mics vs. two other common condenser types as well. The results were pleasing.

Performance at a glance
  • Condenser-type microphones
  • Wide-diameter mylar element
  • Active-balanced output (C1 and C3)
  • Transformer-balanced output (T3)
  • >125dB SPL capability
  • S/N ratio of at least 76 dB
  • Include shock mount and heavy-duty road case
  • The power of three

    Here are the specs as published in the instruction booklets that come with each mic. This particular line includes three models: the C1 condenser, the C3 condenser and the T3 “dual triode.”

    The C1 is specified as single diaphragm, with a FET amplifier/impedance converter. The output is balanced and requires phantom power (48vdc). The C3 and the T3 are specified as dual diaphragm, one inch in diameter. The C3, like the C1, has a FET amplifier/impedance converter, requires phantom power and has a balanced output. The T3 is not specified as having a transformerless output, as do the C1 and the C3, so I infer that it has a transformer in the output stage. That is necessary anyway because of the vacuum tube amplifier. The T3 has its own outboard power supply, and with the supplied cable, you feed the T3 +200vdc and 6.3vdc for the filaments. (Keep in mind that to install one of the tube condensers, you will need to run this multipair cable along your mic boom. You won't be able to use garden-variety mic cable in this particular application.)

    The T3 and the C3 have adjustable patterns. The C3 will make a cardiod, a figure eight or an omni-directional pattern. In addition to those patterns, there are an additional six (essentially variations on the others) that are available via a rotary switch on the power supply unit of the T3.

    Otherwise, all three have similar specs. Frequency response is listed as 20Hz to 20kHz. The C1 has S/N ratio of 77dB; the C3 and T3 are rated at 76dB. The maximum SPL (for 1 percent THD at 1kHz) for the C1 is 131dB SPL; for the C3, it's 132dB SPL; and for the T3 it's 125dB SPL.

    Published specs only tell part of the story. I tested the sound of the three Studio Projects mics vs. several other common microphones (one dynamic and two other condensers). The test was set up with as many as five mics connected to a Mackie 1604 mixer, using the on-board pre-amps. I listened through headphones from the monitor output.

    Like other large-diaphragm condensers, each of the Studio Projects mics has fine detail in their sound. The dynamic mic sounded lifeless compared to any of the Studio Projects mics. I cannot conceive ever using this particular type of dynamic mic for voice ever again. The Studio projects T3 tube condenser did well against other similar studio condenser mics. I also feel that it had a richer low end than some of the other mics in my comparison.

    Upgrading your station's microphones to condensers will most likely give the sound of your station (whether FM or AM) a boost that is beyond your expectations. The Studio Projects C1, C3 and T3 are worthy of your consideration.

    Irwin is director of engineering services, Clear Channel Radio, San Francisco. William Blum, manager of studio engineering, helped in the collection of data for this article.

    Studio Projects

    P 310-373-9129
    F 310-373-4714

    Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.

    These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.

    It is the responsibility of Radio magazine to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by Radio magazine.

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