UK-based Coles Electroacoustics has manufactured and distributed the famous BBC-designed 4038 Studio and 4104B Broadcast ribbon microphones since the late 1960s, when the company inherited the mantle from ST&C (Standard Telephone and Cable).
Product PointsApplications: Studio, broadcast, live recording
Features: Bidirectional (figure 8); ribbon; internal shockmount suspension; hard shell carrying case including velvet mic pouch and multiple mic stand mounting attachments
Contact: Coles/Independent Audio at 207-773-2424 Web Site.
In the pop studio world, the 4038 microphone achieved legendary status thanks in no small part to its extensive use on classic recordings by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many others. Contemporary engineers and producers continue to regularly call on the venerable mic for a variety of recording duties.
Last year, Coles announced the introduction of its first original-design microphone, the 4040 Studio Ribbon ($1,375). The new design retains essential elements of the 4038 and adds several enhancements in sonic performance and physical construction.
The most immediately notable feature of the Coles 4040 is that it looks nothing like its predecessors, or any other ribbon microphone on the market for that matter. Instead of the unique designs that define the Coles mics and the ribbon mic industry in general, Coles built the 4040 within a classic large diaphragm-style body (similar to a Neumann U 49).
Like the 4038, the 4040 has a bidirectional pattern (figure 8). According to the company, the polar response of the 4040 is essentially identical on both sides of the mic, and the pickup pattern radiates evenly across the vertical and horizontal axis.
Coles has isolated the ribbon/magnet assembly from the external casing with independent shock mounts. The suspension system can be locked down for transport via two screws on the bottom of the mic.
Coles says that while the 4038 was exceptionally flat from 30 Hz to 15 kHz, the 4040 extends the response beyond 20 kHz. Coles indicates that the 4040 emits no stray magnetic field, making the mic ideal for head-to-head mounting in a Blumlein configuration.
Having plenty of experience with the Coles 4038 ribbon mic, I was quite excited to try out the first mic directly derived from its lineage. Upon opening the case, I was surprised to see what looked like a high-end large diaphragm condenser mic. But a peek inside the 4040’s heavy casing revealed a familiar ribbon assembly adeptly mounted and isolated within.
I used the Coles 4040 on a number of sessions and in a variety of settings. Being familiar with the 4038, I had no trouble finding appropriate uses in which the new model excelled. By swapping the 4038 for the 4040, I was also able to quickly note any differences.
Right off the bat, it was immediately apparent that the 4040 was the progeny of the 4038. The response and characteristics were similar in many instances, though the 4040 seemed to have a slightly hotter output (always welcome!).
Favorite uses of the 4040 essentially mirrored those of the 4038: trumpet, trombone and other brass instruments were especially flattered by the 4040; overdriven electric guitars sounded great and sidled nicely into complex mixes; when used as a room or overall mic, the transients and punch of rock drums and larger percussion setups shined though the 4040.
Like the 4038, response is uncolored and even throughout the frequency range. Though the top end is extended compared to the 4038, which rolls off around 15 kHz, it is hardly as dramatic as the literature describes.
That may well be a good thing: those well versed in the general use of ribbon microphones, and with the 4038 specifically, will not be shocked by the modifications. Instead, they will hear pleasing enhancements in output and high-end response that fall somewhere beyond subtle but short of being hit over the head.
Though I tried, I did not find a whole world of new uses open to me as a result of the 4040’s extended frequency response. Quickly strummed acoustic guitar still felt mushy and undefined, as with other ribbon mics I have used; however, hand percussion, cymbals and bells fared much better than most ribbons – a little top EQ brought it right in line.
By any measure, Coles Electroacoustics waited a long time before attempting to improve upon its ribbon mic design. The build and sonic quality of the 4040 Studio Ribbon microphone indicates that the Coles engineers were quite thoughtful in their undertaking.
For those unfamiliar with the complexities and peculiarities of ribbon microphones, the 4040 is an excellent way to start, given its extended range and increased output.