sE Microphone Model Guide
Many manufactures list the sound sources that they believe their microphones handle best, but in our experience every situation is different and very often the least likely choice of microphone produces the best sounding result. For that reason we’ve put together a few guidelines to help you decide which microphone is most likely to be right for each job, but where time allows, we urge you to experiment.
Small Diameter Cardioid Condenser Models
Small diameter condenser microphones are generally associated with good transient handling and general tonal accuracy, making them suitable for use with a wide variety of sound sources - ranging from acoustic stringed instruments, such as guitars, to percussion and drum overhead mic’ing. Because of their largely uncoloured sound, they can produce high quality recordings from virtually any source, though you may choose to use an alternative type of microphone when a specific tonal character is required. For example, while a small diaphragm microphone can give you a very accurate recording of bowed strings, many engineers prefer to use a ribbon microphone as it helps disguise the hard edge produced by such instruments when heard at close range. Similarly, a small diaphragm microphone used in conjunction with a pop shield will often produce a first class vocal recording though some voices are better suited to a large diaphragm model with a tonal quality that flatters their voice.
Cardioid and hypercardioid versions are chosen when it is necessary to optimise the separation between instruments playing at the same time, or where the effect of the room acoustic must be minimised. However, the off-axis response of all cardioid pattern microphones tends to fall away at high frequencies more rapidly than at low frequencies, so sounds picked up from the sides or from behind, though attenuated, may sound dull compared to sound being picked up on the main axis of the microphone. Note that all cardioid and hypercardioid pattern mics exhibit a proximity bass boost effect when used very close to the sound source. For stereo use, cardioid pattern microphones may be used as a spaced pair or as a coincident pair with their capsules angled at between 70 and 110 degrees depending on the width of the sound source.
Small Diameter Omni Condenser Models
sE4, RN17 (both require optional Omni capsules)
The highly accurate off-axis response of a dedicated small diaphragm omni capacitor microphone capsule makes it extremely flexible and natural-sounding. The fact that an omni capsule picks up sound from all directions makes it less suitable for use in situations where spill or room acoustics need to be minimised, though they do have the benefit that any spill they do pick up from other instruments is likely to sound more natural and so may be less problematic when you come to mix. When close- mic’ing acoustic instruments with omni pattern microphones, an sE Reflexion Filter TM placed directly behind the mic will help exclude spill and room reflections. Because of its versatility, you can use a small diaphragm omni mic on virtually any electric or acoustic instrument (or voice) where an accurate interpretation of the sound source and the surrounding acoustic environment is required.
Note that omni mics do not exhibit a proximity bass boost when used close up and also have a naturally more extended low frequency response than cardioid microphones making them more suitable for the recording of bass instruments in situations where the microphone can’t be placed very close to the source. For stereo use, omni microphones are normally used as a spaced pair.
Large Diameter Cardioid Condenser Microphones
sE X1, G3500, Gemini 5, Gemini II, Gemini III, sE2200a, sE2200a II C (Cardioid only), sE2200a II Multi Pattern, sE2200a T (Tube), sE4400a, sE T2, Z3300a, Z5600a II
sE large diaphragm condenser microphones for use in the studio are side-entry types, where the ‘hot’ or active side of the capsule is denoted by the sE logo. Most large diaphragm models are designed with a specific tonal character to enable them to flatter the sound source being recorded. All sE large capsule models have their own tonal colour and in the case of vocal recording, you should try to pick a model that enhances the good elements of the voice while suppressing those less attractive traits. For example, if you are working with a singer who has a hard or thin voice, then a microphone with a smooth high end and a slightly exaggerated low end may achieve a better result. Conversely, a singer with a softer voice may gain greater clarity through using a microphone with a subtle presence peak.
Though large diameter cardioid capacitor microphones are often perceived as being primarily vocal microphones, their tonal ‘flavouring’ can be used to advantage when recording acoustic guitar, acoustic piano, brass and bowed strings. They are also popularly used in pairs as drum overheads or drum room mics.
Large Diameter Multi-pattern Capacitor Microphones
Gemini III, sE2200a II Multi Pattern, sE4400a, Z3300a, Z5600a II, sE T2
By combining the outputs two back-to back cardioid capsules in different proportions, all the possible pickup patterns from omni, through wide and narrow shades of cardioid to figure-of-eight can be created. While the off-axis response of these patterns may not be quite so precise as those of dedicated single pattern capsules, the multi-pattern microphone is an incredibly versatile tool for use in the recording studio where most of the wanted sound is generally arranged to be on the axis of the microphone. The figure-of-eight pattern is particularly valuable in situations where spill is to be avoided, as this pattern is unique in being almost totally insensitive to sound arriving from 90 degrees off axis. This enables the engineer to aim the dead side of the mic towards the source of spill. Note that like the cardioid pattern, the figure-of-eight pattern exhibits a pronounced proximity effect where the bass response rises significantly when the microphone is used close to the sound source.
Addendum for Tube models
The use of tube circuitry adds a subtle musicality that tends to sweeten the highs and add density to lows, thanks in part to the natural non-linearities inherent in tube amplifiers. Technically this is a form of distortion that also modifies the dynamic range in a similar way to a very gentle compressor, but it is an effect that the human hearing system finds pleasant providing it isn’t excessive. sE tube microphones are designed to exploit the natural characteristics of audio tubes, not to add artificial distortion. All our tube microphones come with their own power supplies and so require no phantom power but are not affected if phantom power is applied.
Ribbon microphones have a natural figure-of-eight polar response, so where a more controlled directivity is required, we recommend using an sE Reflexion Filter TM behind the microphone. Their unique character enhances the interesting mid-range resonances in an instrument while smoothing out the highs, making them ideal for sweetening bowed strings or as drum overheads where you need to prevent the cymbals from becoming too splashy. They are also used by many leading engineers for recording guitar amplifiers as they retain the bite and character of the sound, while filtering out some of the less desirable high-end harmonics. Passive ribbon models have a naturally low output and so should be used in conjunction with a good quality, low noise preamplifier.
Though other manufacturers may provide suggested lists of instruments for use with their ribbon models, we would recommend you try our ribbon models on as many sources you can (other than perhaps close-mic’ed drums), as they often reveal a surprising and musically valid alternative to the more obvious microphone choices. Use a pop shield if using them to record vocals and shield the rear of the mic using a Reflexion Filter or other suitable acoustic absorber.