Benson Audio Labs has been selling low-cost dynamic and condenser microphones into the studio and live sound markets for several years now. One of its latest offerings is the PC11 condenser microphone – an affordable, small-diaphragm electret well-suited for the recording studio and onstage applications.
Product PointsApplications: Studio recording; live sound
Key Features: Electret element; cardioid pickup pattern
Contact: Benson Audio Labs at 412-914-0575
The PC11 uses a permanently charged electret element with a Mylar diaphragm. A traditional axial (end-fire) design, the PC11 offers a cardioid pickup pattern. The mic has a stated frequency response of 80 Hz to 18 kHz, -58 dBm sensitivity and better than 65 dB signal to noise ratio. There are no pad or bass rolloff switches on the microphone.
The mic itself has a solid, hefty machined body and tough metal grille. It’s finished in a satin black paint and has a quality look and feel. The supplied clip uses metal where it matters (on the threads) and holds the microphone securely. Although a microphone’s clip may seem of minimal importance, there’s nothing more frustrating than fighting with a cheap clip that breaks, won’t hold the microphone or won’t even screw on the stand.
You may be wondering what to expect from a $179 condenser microphone from a little-known company. After recording with the PC11 and listening to the results, I was pleasantly surprised with its sound.
The PC11 falls on the brighter end of the scale, with a top-end emphasis that adds needed clarity and detail to some instruments. This same treble rise makes other instruments sound brittle and harsh. I found that rotating the PC11 roughly 45 degrees relative to the instrument mellowed the sound – although the microphone then picked up more room ambience and unwanted noise.
On strummed acoustic guitar the PC11 was too bright when positioned directly on-axis. For finger-picking, however, the added brightness was appreciated. Just for fun, I positioned the PC11 midway between my mouth and guitar and recorded both at once. The result was a nicely balanced sound that few would suspect came from such an affordable mic.
This respectable showing prompted me to try the PC11 on vocals, where it performed well. The mic’s top-end emphasis can make for runaway sibilance but proved very nice on breathy background parts. A small-diaphragm microphone isn’t my first choice for background vocals, but the PC11 would certainly do the trick in a pinch.
The PC11 really excelled at recording percussion, thanks to its spicy top-end response. Shaker was clear and crisp, and the microphone added a nice slap to hand percussion. For drum overheads, high-hat or snare bottom, the PC11 will do very well.
Where the PC11 doesn’t quite keep up with many pricier small-diaphragm condensers is in its sensitivity and self-noise. The PC11 requires quite a bit of preamp gain thanks to its relatively low sensitivity. Its signal-to-noise spec of 65 dB means you’ll be amplifying a fair bit of noise as well. Though it doesn’t challenge most $300 mics in these areas, the PC11’s sensitivity and noise performance places it about midpack for comparable mics at this price-point.
Overall, I was impressed with the PC11’s sound and quality of construction. Its sensitivity and noise performance make it a poor choice for critical recording of quiet sounds, but there are many other applications where this microphone will deliver the goods. For sound quality alone, the PC11 should be considered against the Shure SM94, Crown CM-700, Audio-Technica ATM33a, EV RE-200 and a few other similar mics (many of which cost more).
If you need an affordable, bright-sounding condenser for your studio or live sound rig, the Benson PC11 fills the bill.