In collaboration with the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, one the country’s leading pro audio teaching facilities, PAR has introduced a regular series of in-depth reviews conducted at the Conservatory’s state-of-the-art teaching faculty in Phoenix.
Blue Microphones has added a few more microphones to its line of high-quality products. Continuing on with the clever names, Blue has recently introduced the Snowball, the Kickball, the 8-ball and the Bluebird, the latter two of which are the subject of this review. With these recent additions, Blue has most certainly lived up to their high standards of releasing some of the best sounding (and best looking) microphones available today.
The 8-ball is a pressure gradient, cardioid condenser microphone with a frequency response of 35 Hz – 20 kHz. The 8-ball has a very high maximum SPL (150 dB) so it is a great choice for things like kick drum, snare drum, and electric guitar or bass amps. The frequency response curve has a nice bump in the low end, fairly flat middle, and a smooth, slightly accentuated high end. The 8-ball features a standard thread swivel mount at the bottom center of the mic, or the user can also purchase the Ringer shockmount, which will fit all of the Ball series microphones.
With the Bluebird, Blue has “borrowed the best characteristics” (according to the user manual) from some of their previous models. Initially meant to be sold as a package with other gear, the Bluebird is now available for purchase on its own. The Bluebird is a pressure gradient large diaphragm condenser with a gold-sputtered Mylar capsule. Unlike other Blue microphones, this capsule does not move, swivel, or rotate in any direction.
The Bluebird has a transformerless Class A discrete amplifier circuit, along with a very low self-noise spec (<7.5 dB). Blue claims that these features, along with the high output level of +12 dBV make the Bluebird a great choice for high sample rate/deep word length digital platforms. The Bluebird has a frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, and a maximum SPL of 138 dB (0.5% THD into 2.5?). The mic is also designed to run off of as little as +35V (for phantom power).
The first application I tried the 8-ball microphones on were drum overheads. These mics by themselves did not entirely blow me away, but combined with the other spot-mics I had set up on the kick drum, snare, and toms, they sounded excellent. They were nice and mellow, not being too harsh on the cymbals, and had a good mid-range to them that seemed to pick up the snare and rack toms well. I also tried it as a kick drum mic, on the outside, very close to the head to get some proximity effect, with nice results. I combined it with an inside mic (for a more clicky sound) and the two mics blended very well. The only disadvantage of the 8-ball (like I also found with the Ball) is that the built-in swivel mount will not allow you to turn the mic a full 90 degrees, and therefore is unable to be positioned well on the inside of a kick drum. The Ringer definitely helps with the positioning (I used the Ringer with the 8-balls as overheads) but unfortunately is too large to fit in the hole on the front of most kick drum heads. [Blue Microphones points out that the 8-ball is not intended for use inside a kick drum. For such applications Blue offers the new Kickball mic which will have a special inside-the-drum mounting – Ed.]
I next used the 8-ball on a saxophone, and while it was not nearly as bright and present as the Bluebird, it had a great mid-range, and would be very effective on an alto or soprano sax player who has less control over his/her upper range. Probably my favorite application for the 8-ball is underneath the snare drum (as strange as that may sound). With its fast transient response and nice mid-range, it is my current favorite mic for this application.
The first application I tried the Bluebird on was a soprano opera-like female vocal. I expected the mic to sound good for this application, but it sounded even better than I expected, bringing out a lot of the bright features of the vocalist, without being grating to the ear at all. After using it this first time, it has been the mic I’ve reached for first whenever needing to record female vocals.
I would have loved to have tried two of these mics as drum overheads, and in a few other stereo applications, but alas, I only had one… so I used it as a drum overhead anyway! Normally I would cringe at the thought of not using a stereo pair of mics as drum overheads, (I’m spoiled at the Conservatory with many tracks and many wonderful microphones), but with the Bluebird right in the center of the set, about two feet above the drummer’s head, pointed down towards the set, both the drummer and I were amazed at how great it sounded. He loved the openness and clarity of the mic with his cymbals, and I would have to say I fully agreed. And when the drummer is happy, all is well.
On saxophone (tenor, soprano, and alto) this mic truly stood out from all four microphones I tried that day. When compared to the Bluebird, all the other mics seemed dull and lifeless. Doing a blind listening test, the sax player picked the Bluebird every time above the other mics. Again, the high end was very nice and present, without being at all ear-wrenching, as I have found with so many other mics.
Acoustic guitar was another great application for the Bluebird. Again, I would have like to have two for a stereo pair, but even with one, the guitar just poked right out of my mix, and I actually did not have to use any EQ to separate it from all the other instruments so it would not get lost.
The only problem I had with the microphone was the shockmount. I was loosening the thumbscrew and it just broke in half. However, I have used Blue products many times at the Conservatory, always with good luck, and am convinced that this was just a freak thing. And as soon as I contacted a representative at Blue, I had a replacement shockmount the very next day. (Thanks, Brian!)
The 8-ball microphone is a great and affordable way to expand your mic collection. It has so many uses (virtually any instrument, especially considering the high maximum SPL) that just about anyone could find a “perfect” application for it in their recording scenarios.
The Bluebird is now one of my favorite mics from Blue. While sound-wise it cannot compare with the Bottle microphone, it is only a tenth of the cost, and worth every penny, in my opinion. If you are looking for an affordable, high-quality condenser to add to your collection, you have found it. If you are looking for that one, affordable, high-quality condenser to be your project studio’s “it” mic, you have found it.
Ithought the 8-ball sounded wonderful on bass. It really brought out the low mids, while not being too muddy, and had a great presence to it as well.
-Chris Bailey, digital/MIDI Instructor
Live Sound Instructor
The Bluebird was a great choice for saxophone. It had a brightness that was not too harsh, and lows that were just right. Of all the mics we tried on sax that day, the Bluebird was by far the best.
-Dave Bymes, Instructor/Project Staff