In 1995, Skipper Wise and Martins Saulespurens started Blue Microphones with what Wise has offered as Blue's original and simple philosophy: "Let's build microphones that we want to hear as musicians." Nearly 15 years later, it seems that philosophy still holds true at their Westlake Village, California-based headquarters.
But no prior information about Blue Microphones would prepare me for what was about to arrive on my doorstep: Bottle Rocket Stage One and Stage Two, the latest additions to Blue's flagship Bottle microphones series. On opening the 35 lb. ATA flight cases, getting inside, and checking out the contents, the gears in my head started to turn furiously, considering all of the things I could do with this amazingly versatile system.
The Bottle Rocket Stage One is a transformerless, Class A, discrete, solid-state microphone, requiring 48-volt phantom power. Its sibling is the Stage Two, a similarly designed tube mic with a single, hand-selected ECC88 vacuum tube. Both mics feature a bayonet-style, interchangeable capsule system, offering users the ability to hot-swap up to nine Blue capsules; in both packages, a B8 cardioid capsule is included — "the versatile capsule," as Blue documentation calls it.
Both the Stage One and Stage Two come packaged in a custom, slide-top wooden box within an ATA-style flight case. The Stage Two also includes the Powerstream power supply, Blue "high-definition" tube mic cable, and AC power cable. For this review, I also received the Bottle Rocket Capsule Kit, which includes the other eight hot-swappable "Bottle Cap" capsules. The Capsule Kit is also packaged in an ATA-style flight case.
With only the stock B8 Bottle Cap fitted onto either the Stage One or Stage Two, I found that you could put it on just about anything and everything in a recording studio: from vocals, acoustic guitars, strings, and high SPL instruments (within reason) like guitar/bass cabs, and drum overheads. Fresh out of the box, I tried the Stage One on an Ampeg 810 bass cabinet for a progressive metal band that I was recording at the time. Since I didn't have the luxury of time to go through the Bottle Cap kit, I just used the included B8 "all-purpose" cardioid pattern Cap and a Great River MP-2NV preamp. After a couple of small mic-placement changes, I was pleasantly surprised at the wide, full-range sound I was getting from this mic; I was hearing the same spectrum of sound in the control room as I heard in the bass cab room. After adding in a DI signal and a little bit of phase adjustment, this session resulted in one of the better bass tones that I have recorded in recent memory.
Another impressive use of the Bottle Rockets was when I had some time on my side; I had an hour or so before the vocalist arrived, so I plugged the Stage One into a trusty Avalon 737 preamp, and started going through the ATA flight case of Bottle Caps. What I found was a veritable treasure chest full of different patterns, responses, and tones (visit www.bluemic.com/bottlecaps for full descriptions of what each Bottle Cap offers). The fact that Bottle Caps are hot swappable on both Bottle Rockets is cool (just be sure to mute the input channel or disarm your recording devices before swapping, please. Your speakers and ears will appreciate it.)
After going through all of the Bottle Caps on the Stage One, I remembered that I also had the tube Stage Two with me, too. Aside from resembling an American armed forces tank, the Stage Two's Powerstream power supply is notable for having a unique soft start feature, helping maximize tube life while shortening "warm up" time. I quickly set up Stage Two, plugged it in to warm up, and, along with the Stage One, fitted it with the B8 Bottle Caps for a vocal shootout of sorts. As you would suspect, I found the Stage Two had an overall warmer, smoother sound and a comparatively fast transient response. With the vocalist, I tried a couple of different options and settled on the Stage Two with the B0 cardioid large diaphragm Bottle Cap, which seemed to fit his vocal style best (Blue's description of the B0, "the ultimate big vocal sound," performed as advertised). What ensued was probably one of the best vocal sessions I've ever had.
I only had one minor complaint: The cage-tightening screw on both microphone's shock mounts is a bit weak — it feels a bit flimsy — so just be careful with it.
Even with only a Bottle Rocket Stage One, stock with the B8 capsule, you would have a very versatile, functional condenser microphone that will work well on just about any application. That being said, if you were to also acquire the Stage Two and a Bottle Cap capsule kit, the world could be your oyster, my friend.
Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Tim Kimsey and Josh Robinson at Skyline Studio in Dallas, TX.
Sterling Winfield is a Texas-based producer, engineer, and mixer with gold and platinum credits for artists such as Pantera, Damageplan, and HELLYEAH.