What Is Classic?

By Sven-Erik Seaholm

Classic is an interesting word to me. Probably because it’s just so prevalent in our everyday conversations, as in, “That was the classic preparation for Eggs Benedict.” or “Dude, did you see his reaction? Classic.” Not to mention the names of several long-standing sporting events, etc.

When you think about it, though, it seems to have a more universally understood meaning: A “timeless” kind of quality or an especially representative sense of excellence. Even then, just referring to something as having a classic quality tells us less than one might think.

Let me be clear, then.

A ’70s-era Neumann U87, with its solid-state FET condenser design, gently warm proximity effect, and open upper midrange is a classic microphone. As is its predecessor, the U67 tube mic, which exhibits s a more “forward” character with exceptional highs and a surprisingly flat response, making it ideal for vocals and acoustic guitars alike.

You also have some from AKG, like the C414EB solid-state condenser mic, with its ruler-flat response and slight bump at 15k that makes it the perfect match for vocals, strings, and really any source with high transients, like percussion, banjo, mandolin, and acoustic guitar. Or the C12 tube microphone, which has a full-bodied flavor that is iced by a wonderfully sparkling, harmonically rich top end.

Then there’s my dream mic: the Telefunken ELA M 251, which is, in a word, perfect.

At this point the folks at Studio Projects (www.studioprojectsusa.com ) and their distributers at PMI Audio are probably (along with you) wondering why I am mentioning all of these highly sought-after vintage microphones in a review that is supposed to be focused up their own T3 Tube Condenser Microphone ($699 list, $499 street).

At nearly two pounds and nine inches long, the T3 is both hefty and sizable, making a professional stand a necessity. There are no filter or attenuation switches on the mic itself, which connects via a gold-plated 7-pin XLR connector. It comes with a sturdy, proprietary shock mount that makes positioning the microphone both easy and secure. I really felt the need to crank that baby down, though!

Also included is an external power supply, which of course powers the tube within the mic. Located on the power supply is a pattern selector switch, which features positions for Cardioid, Figure 8, and Omni-directional patterns, as well as several in-between settings. I love using that feature to dial in just the right amount of room tone into the signal.

To begin, I ran directly from the output of the power supply into the XLR input on my Presonus 16.0.2 mixer, so that I could most accurately assess the character and “sound” of the mic and its tube’s character. I had a vocal due on a project, so I sang it a few times through and took a listen back.

I was instantly impressed with the self-compression of the “naked” tube. It sounded as if I had added just the right amount of light compression to the signal, helping to keep it consistently round and present. The highs were to die for, with all of that expensive-sounding “air” and shimmer some of those previously mentioned mics exhibit. Even then, I found no need at all for a de-esser, as that upper frequency bump rose just above where nasty sibilance lives. This kept things feeling exciting and alive, without any trace of harshness.

Even after all the great things that can be said about the T3’s shining upper registers, it’s the bottom end on this mic that truly gets my creative juices flowing. While the microphone exhibits a slightly less pronounced proximity effect than many other mics in its class, its overall spectrum is supported by a sexy, almost FM DJ-like bass response that I have only ever seen exhibited by one other microphone: a vintage Neumann U47 tube mic.

That’s right, I said it. In fact, I’ve worked with a total of four of those in my career thus far. That cinnamon-honeyed Sinatra sound of his best recordings is the sound of a U47. The Beatles loved them. As do most of the experienced recording engineers out there. Now THAT in my humble opinion, defines a “Classic.”

At around $500-$600, I’d say the T3 stands up extremely well when compared to that unsurpassed (and extremely pricey) standard.

Male vocals take on an authoritative romance, super intimate and hyper-realistic, with just enough aggressive grit when pushing the tube on louder passages to bring the vocal forward in a dense mix. Female vocals and high male tenors were particularly magical in timbre. Bolstered by the solid bass response and 12AY7 (6072) dual-triode tube’s inherent low noise, female vocals rule the sonic roost in a way that I’ve heard few other mics could.

Acoustic guitar didn’t seem nearly as suited to this mic, which I found surprising. Its upper harmonics seemed very over-compressed and fatiguing and I never found a position that it sounded great in. Electric guitar amps sounded amazing, however, and I found that the T3 really opened up a whole new set of textures when pushed with other high volume sources.

Drums, especially toms, sounded divine. I found a good bass drum sound about a foot and a half away from the front of it. I also set the mic up chest high at four feet away and got a great “Rudy Van Gelder Era” picture of the whole kit.

My favorite usage for this mic (just as with the U47) is on bass sources. Upright bass is captured in all of its rustic glory, with a wonderfully deep, yet tight bottom-end. Augmented by its upper range, you can almost see the bassist playing! On an electric bass amp, a wonderful creamy quality blossoms forth, extending the lower registers into sub woofer territory, but again, in a very controlled way.

The T3 is not an all-around mic, but it more than excels at several things. It does them so well in fact, that I truly believe it deserves to be considered a “classic” in its own right.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer as well as a singer, songwriter, and arranger Find him on Facebook or dig his extensive discography at www.kaspro.com.