Most professional microphone collections usually contain at least a couple of high-end “pencil condenser” mics. These cigar-sized microphones (I still don’t know why they aren’t called cigar condensers) are often used for overheads, acoustic guitars, percussion, horns and piano.
Product PointsApplications: Recording; mixing; mastering
Key Features: Three-band stereo tube compressor; adjustable threshold, ratio, attack, release and gain make-up per band; adjustable crossover
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+ Sonic quality
+ Individual bands are fully adjustable
+ Good metering
The Score: This unit is a winner on all fronts: tracking, mixing and mastering.
Their attraction is twofold: being condensers, they generally offer excellent reproduction and, thanks to their small size, they are unobtrusive. Since these microphones can often be a bit pricey, many budding engineers hesitate to add these tools to their arsenal until absolutely necessary. In recent years, however, a number of these small-diaphragm microphones have appeared on the market with quite reasonable price tags. One of the most recent entries to this class is the Audix ADX-50.
The ADX-50 ($289) is a prepolarized (a.k.a. electret), cardioid condenser housed in a brass chassis 160mm long, 23mm in diameter; it weighs five ounces. It has a frequency response of 40 Hz to 18 kHz (+/-3 dB) and a maximum SPL of 132 dB.
The ADX-50 has no internal battery and requires 9 to 52 V phantom power. This mic is part of the ADX contractor series, a new line of products from Audix. Audix recently release a sister mic to the ADX-50 called the ADX-51. This new model will feature a switchable 10 dB pad and bass rolloff, and sells for $329.
The ADX-50 comes with a vinyl carrying case, windscreen and a stand clip. In addition, it has a number of optional accessories, including a shockmount clip and a Cordura carrying pouch.
Since pencil condensers are used in a variety of applications, I tried a few with the ADX-50. Over the course of a month I used it both in my project studio and on a number of sound reinforcement jobs, with a variety of sound sources.
I had a job mixing a band called Ozomatli, who toured this past summer as an opening act for the Dave Matthews Band. On this particular occasion, I used the ADX-50 as a drum overhead. The drummer for Ozomatli used a very sparse kit, concentrated in a small area. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to use the single ADX-50 I had for this review. I placed the Audix about three feet above the kit and the results were pleasantly surprising.
The ADX-50 captured a lot of the high-end detail of the drum kit. It had a nice open sound that gave the high hats a delicate sheen, yet it was still able to capture the midrange crack of the snare drum. I did find it slightly lacking in low-end representation though. When soloed, the ADX’s channel just didn’t have the body and punch for tom fills that some more expensive pencil condensers might display. For rock, pop and country music this might not be a real problem since the toms are often close miked. For jazz, however, this would be more problematic as I tend to rely heavily on the overhead for an overall kit sound.
Using the ADX-50 in the recording studio yielded good results too. I used the Audix to record some acoustic guitar parts for a series of radio spots I am producing. The 60-second spots feature a voice artist talking for about 40 seconds.
There are usually several spare seconds after the intro where I need to blend in either sound effects or some traditional acoustic music as a segue. This music usually takes the form of acoustic slide guitar, in the vein of Ry Cooder. The guitar I use on most of these spots is a Harmony six-string, circa 1960.
This guitar is all mahogany and has an incredibly boxy sound that more than a few people have confused for a dobro. The ADX-50 did a great job of capturing the unique character of this instrument. In fact, the microphone’s diminished bass response allowed me to get it very close to the guitar without encountering severe proximity effect. This yielded a very intimate sound that was full-bodied but still the high end to capture the signature rattle of a brass slide pulsating during a vibrato on bronze strings. Remarkably, these sounds rivaled some that I have achieved using microphones that cost six or seven times what the ADX-50 costs.
My complaints about the ADX-50 were few. The supplied stand clip seems brittle and may break easily. (According Audix, the mic now ships with a more durable clip-Ed.)
I enjoyed using the ADX-50, both in the studio and on stage. It was well suited for drums, percussion and certain acoustic instruments. Considering its price, it is an engaging and usable microphone. That makes it a great value, particularly for a project studio engineer, or a contractor who may have a client on a tight budget.