Latvia and California-based BLUE has rapidly become a well-respected manufacturer of high-end, high-quality microphones. Renowned for exacting manufacturing standards and irreverent and striking visual design, mics such as the solid state Kiwi (PAR 7/01) and the flagship Bottle (PAR 4/99) and Dragonfly models have made many wish lists.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, broadcast, location recording, live sound
Key Features: Cardioid condenser mic with gold and aluminum sputtered Mylar diaphragm; Class A, discrete transformerless electronics.
Price: $649 list
Contact: BLUE at 805-370-1599, Web Site
With prices reaching several thousand dollars, BLUE microphones have remained out of reach for many. So needless to say, word of the new Baby Bottle turned heads with its $649 list. Can this mic really live up to its pedigree at such a moderate price? My inquiring ears wanted to know.
The Baby Bottle arrived in a cherry box and velvet pouch so luxurious I half expected to open it up and pour the contents into a snifter. Inside, however, was not fine cognac but a solidly built condenser microphone. The Baby Bottle shares the distinctive style of its big brother Bottle mic, with a cylindrical body and protruding lollipop-style grille, although at 350 grams and 222mm x 45mm in size it is much more manageable than its larger relative.
Inside the grille is a single membrane, large diaphragm, gold and aluminum-sputtered capsule. Unlike on some other BLUE mics, the capsule grille is fixed in place, and changing the mic’s direction cannot be done by swiveling the capsule. The only other external landmark on the microphone’s body is the standard XLR connection on the bottom, which also handles the required phantom power. The microphone comes with a standard adaptor/clip for mounting – a shockmount is not included but available as an option. Inside the body are the unit’s Class A discrete electronics and transformerless output, and well, that’s about it for features.
BLUE also offers a fancy new custom BLUE-emblazoned pop filter ($149) (see picture).
The secret to this microphone’s low price is its simplicity. The pattern is fixed in a cardioid configuration, and there is no pad or rolloff available. The designers clearly worked from a “point and shoot” philosophy and saved their big guns for raw sound quality, as is apparent in the microphone’s specs. Sensitivity is rated at 33.5 mV/Pa, rated impedance is 50 ohms. Self-noise is a very respectable 5.5 dBA and maximum SPL is 133 dB. Signal-to-noise ratio is listed at 87 dBA.
The first thing I noticed was a very healthy signal, this unit really cranks it out. Frequency response, as with several other BLUE mics, is not really designed to be flat, and the Baby Bottle is no exception, with a slight presence boost – centered around 2K. Nonetheless, my first impression of the sound was that it was extremely transparent, having that desired and difficult-to-define clarity that distinguishes great condenser mics. The high end was clear, but not tinny or trashy, and the low end seemed to extend for miles, with very round and defined bass tones.
I found this to be especially true on live drum tracks. The Baby Bottle captured the transients and subtleties of a live kit, so much so that when first used as a single ambient room mic with light compression, I was tempted to quit while I was ahead and just mute the close mics I had set up. Cymbals are clear and brilliant, but never overpowering, and kick drum resolute and full, but not boomy. The Baby Bottle won me over as one of the best-sounding mics I have ever heard for live drums – at any price.
The mic also excelled on vocals, although without quite so much drama. The presence peak is predictable and welcome most of the time, although there will undoubtedly be applications requiring a more flat response. Here the lack of a low-end rolloff is noticeable, as the full low-end response becomes a liability on female vocals, for example.
On full-range sound sources such as acoustic guitar and piano, the Baby Bottle’s transparent upper midrange and high end made for pleasing results as well, although the mic’s sensitivity and presence made close-miked electric guitar a little dodgy. High-SPL distorted guitar sounded somewhat boxy and wooden, and I had better results using dynamic mics for this task. The presence was welcome, however, on spoken word projects, where the clean transients and round low end make it a natural for male voiceover or radio work.
Observed self-noise was quite low, and dynamic range was more than ample, with a very smooth response across the dynamic spectrum. The non-adjustable pickup pattern is a straight cardioid, and off-axis rejection was solid. The microphone’s weight, odd size, pickup pattern, and sensitivity make it most suitable for studio applications and some live recording – I would not recommend the Baby Bottle for rugged live-sound use.
Sonically speaking, the Baby Bottle is impressive indeed, and given the cost is nothing short of exceptional. It maintains a delicate balance between warmth and clarity that will make it a go-to tool in most any engineer’s arsenal, even those with many higher priced microphones at the ready.
When matched with digital recording media, the Baby Bottle imparts just a hint of that highly sought “analog” sound. I would not go so far as to call it “tube-like” or extraordinarily warm, but the response is missing the tinny, unwanted sparkle common to mid-priced condensers – making tracking to a DAW a very rewarding experience. For more aggressively warm sounds, the mic meshes well with tube preamps and compressors.
The Baby Bottle has a character all its own, yet remains highly versatile in the studio. While I would hardly mind having variable patterns and switchable pads and rolloffs, the Baby Bottle does one thing and does it extremely well. With a street price in the $500 range, this is one of the best price/quality values I have seen in pro audio, and just about anyone who makes recordings owes it to themselves to check it out.
E-mu PARIS Pro 3.0 DAW; Mackie 24×4 Console; Yamaha NS-10 and Alesis Monitor 1 monitors; Adcom and Crown amplification; TASCAM 48 1/2-inch analog eight-track recorder; UREI LA-4 compressor; PreSonus Blue tube preamp; BLUE Blueberry and Whirlwind cables.