As the increasingly interesting ribbon microphone market reaches full maturity, we will soon see its true saturation: with products at every price point offering every single available feature to satisfy every imaginable need.
Case in point: the new 4050 from Coles, a unique product from the distinguished British firm with a history of making robust, future-classic ribbons; Coles’ first stereo mic is an odd bird, filling a narrow, but potentially deep, niche. File this mic under Ribbon>Pro-Grade>Passive> Stereo … with a (magnetic) twist.
Yes, the 4050 is a stereo ribbon mic, but I can’t help but think of it as “dual mono ribbon,” with stereo linking: think of it as you do your favorite dual mono compressor. As such, you can use the 4050’s two transducers as completely separate mono mics, each side with its own superb shockmount, on separate sound sources; in a widely spaced stereo pair; or, as primarily intended, connect the two mics, via strong magnets on the included two-sided shockmount, swivel their ribbon elements to precisely 90 degrees apart (with the helpful calibration marks on the mounts) or vary to taste. Achieve some Blumlein or M/S placement in a neat, tidy and compact package that is very easy to aim and place. Cabling can be routed with the 4050 kit’s enclosed plastic cable clips.
Speaking of the kit, it includes the “two halves” of the 4050, one stereo shockmount, two protective pouches, two aforementioned cable clips and a plastic carrying case. (Some 4050 distributors are encouraging users buy a second shockmount, not normally included in the package, and I couldn’t agree any more; for maximum versatility as described above, it’s a must.) The 4050 largely uses the same guts as the Coles 4040, so you’ll find extended frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 300-ohm impedance and less than one percent distortion at 125 dB SPL.
I began my 4050 testing with the kit configured as a widely spaced pair on drums via Earthworks 1024 pre-amplification. I placed each side of the 4050 about three feet back from the kit; aimed at ride and hat, respectively; and at about 90 degrees and seven feet apart: I was totally impressed. The results were wonderful kick depth, gutsy punch on the snare, toms all popping out, and cymbals nicely tamed, yet plenty bright.
Top end on the 4050 is definitely extended here as compared to typical/standard ribbons I regularly use, but nowhere near approaching shrillness; its sounds are just sweet, smooth and oh so EQ-able. Transients were just right: totally defined, but lightly corralled, just like you’d expect from a Coles ribbon. Serving as overheads in Blumlein (via Grace m801 preamps), the 4050 is great; you can keep them all woody and strong through the low mids, or notch them approximately four dB at 200 Hz and add two dB at 10 kHz, and you’ll swear you’re hearing SDCs that have been to the gym! On stereo drum room, I couldn’t go wrong with this 4050 kit, either. One side at six feet behind the kit and the other out front is lovely; just strap on an 1176 (or 1178) and you’ve have the easy cure for an anemic drummer.
On vocals, a 4050 side behaved like most passive ribbons do: sensitive to plosives, resistant to sibilance, graceful on hard consonants and helpful with harsh frequencies and dynamic peaks. There was no audible difference between the front and rear lobes, and side nulls were smoothly transitioned with nice off-axis pleasantness. With a pop filter and some adept “working the mic” skills, a seasoned vocalist can lean in for some sexy proximity effect and back off for some room and air on crescendos; that’s a dynamic versatility that condensers do capture, but 4050 does so with more musicality. You’ll do best with thinner voices that need some body, as baritones can get a little murky and will likely need some low mid scooping and high-end sweetening.
On piano, I heard the 4050 in a whole new way. I tried a Blumlein pattern (with Grace m801s) about three-and-a half feet out from my Yamaha upright and loved the soundstage (nicely alive with animation, depth and imaging), but heard way too much 200 to 400 Hz and not enough harmonics on the high end. After EQ (notching out the 350 stuff and shelf boosting the top) it all became much nicer, but my clients still couldn’t find enough excitement in the 4050 and we went with condensers. Conversely, for solo piano the 4050 would be just what the doctor ordered, especially after a little low/mid clean up. The 4050 is quite sensitive to preamp impedance — as testing with my Manley TNT preamp’s multiple settings proved, showing sensitivity, noise and EQ differences — so that may be a way to milk exactly the tone one needs out of such a sensitive application.
With care, acoustic guitar also yielded good results. In Blumlein with AMS-Neve 4081 preamplification, the bottom end was superthick and weighty; low mids were a bit overbearing at about 250 Hz; high mids were a little subdued; and top end was smoothly flattering, if a little softer than reality. In the Mid/Side mode, my guitar sounded even better, with improved bottom end definition and more excitement up top plus a gorgeous (and “manipulatable”) stereo image. I tried the good old L-C-R thing on acoustic guitar, too, with an Avantone BV-1 and a Berliner U77 getting sparkly top end L/R, with the 4050 capturing resonant lows and holding down the bottom at Center, gleaning fantastic results.
I’ve extensively used the Coles 4040 ribbon microphone (included in last year’s PAR Session Trial: Ribbon Microphones http://www.pro audioreview.com/article/ 30050), and it sounds absolutely great. The 4050 sounds nearly identical to me, and it’s literally twice the mic! It’s also much smaller, lighter and way easier to use in stereo applications with its nifty magnets, easy rotatable elements and superb shockmount. Add its ability to separate into two mono mics and you have a no-brainer here … unless the cost is just too much to justify. But that breaks down to $1,250 list, per mono mic; consider that and the $2,500 list price isn’t so bad, as you also gain a stereo Blumlein, stereo M/S and spaced stereo tool with the durability and the pride gained by investing in a Coles product. For those reasons, the 4050 is what I confidently call a good deal.
Price: $2,495 list
Contact: Independent Audio (U.S. distributor) | 207-773-2424 | independentaudio.com
Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC.