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’ Robbie is a single-channel Class A discreet tube microphone and instrument preamplifier. It features an ECC88 twin triode vacuum tube, renowned for its balanced and round musical sound. Its goal is to compete with vintage and boutique preamps that can cost considerably more than its $1,299 MSRP.
The Robbie’s design is at once classic and futuristic. In the tradition of many classic preamplifiers, the Robbie gives the user a clean and simple signal path. It can achieve 34 dB of headroom before clipping. The front panel has a large potentiometer for output gain, a 1/4-inch instrument input for use as a DI, and a window to access the tube (or watch it glow!).
The back of the Robbie has a power switch, XLR microphone in, XLR line out, 48V switch for phantom power, a 20 dB pad and a polarity reversal switch. You will not find compression or equalization options; it was created to only do one thing: provide a full frequency tone that is warm and detailed. The Robbie certainly does this very well.
Blue pays tribute to the science fiction staple Robbie the Robot both in name and in appearance. Although a younger generation of engineers might argue the Robbie’s design is more reminiscent of “Number 5,” the robot from Short Circuit, its look is unlike any other preamp out there and is sure to be a conversation piece in any studio. While Blue Microphones made the Robbie to be a visual centerpiece in the control room, its performance is what will keep the clients coming back for more.
I had the opportunity to use the Robbie in a number of different situations, and I was very pleased with the results every single time. First I used it recording acoustic guitar. The sound the Robbie provided was very big. The detail in the high and midrange frequencies was crisp; the articulation captured intimacy without any harshness. The low was very pronounced without being woofy. I miked a guitar with an AKG C451B with a second C451B placed right next it, as diaphragm-coherent as possible. One was run through the Robbie and the other through one of the preamps on a Neve VR. In a blind listening test at the Recording Conservatory, 23 of 24 students said they like the sound of the Robbie.
In a different session, I used the Robbie for a number of different roles. First, it served as a center drum overhead in a LCR configuration. The drums were handled without any inkling of overload. The transients of stick hits were clean, followed by the round sustain of the drum’s shell. Very nice.
I also used the Robbie as a direct box on bass. This is where the Robbie really shined. While the track went from smooth and melodic to pseudo-funk slap and pop, the Robbie stayed clean and punchy. It captured a full low end which served as a great foundation as well as smooth upper mids that meant the track did not require any EQ to separate it in the mix.
The Robbie also served as my primary mic preamp for tracking vocals. Not only did the track have a round dimensionality, breath was also captured that made the performance very intimate. Again, the track sat out in the mix without needing EQ. Switching to a second microphone for recording a double track allowed the listeners to really hear the difference between the two microphones.
Blue’s the Robbie microphone preamp was designed so the user would see something unique while hearing the warmth, balance, and detail associated with vintage and boutique mic preamps that can cost twice as much. While it is not exactly inexpensive for a single channel, the Robbie’s versatility and outstanding performance, coupled with its one-of-a-kind appearance make it a piece of gear any studio would love to have.
Paul Richards is an instructor at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Science in Tempe, Ariz.
Contact Blue Microphones at 818-879-5200, www.bluemic.com.
“The Robbie really stood out when I used its instrument input to track bass. It delivered punchy mids and low end clarity that allowed the track to sit both comfortably and powerfully in the mix without a lot of effort.”
– Michael Jones, Director of Education, Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences.
“A/Bing the same microphones through the stock console preamps and the Robbie was a night and day difference. The Robbie had a hotter output while being warmer and ’rounder.'”
– David LaBounty, Instructor, Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences.
“Being a drummer I want the drums, especially the kick, to sound huge, and the Robbie gives me that sound without having to push gain staging or adding equalization and compression. It has deep, detailed low end that is not unnaturally emphasized.”
– Matthew Luckett, Head Supervisor of Student Projects, Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences.