FAST FACTSCrowley and Tripp Naked Eye Ribbon Microphone
Studio, remote recording
Various characteristics of Crowley & Tripp's top ribbon microphones; versatile on both acoustic and amplified instruments; handles high SPL well; affordable
Crowley and Tripp
- Lower cost
- Sound quality
- Solid construction
- The microphone mount
An excellent product at an excellent price.
A decade ago some folks noticed the new millennium approaching, prompting them to make predictions about audio technology's future. Some of these predictions have come to pass (downloading, high sample rate/high bit rate recording technologies, digital workstations capable of recording and playing back more than 100 audio channels), while others have not (10.2 surround, anyone?). But no pundits predicted that the 21st century would bring in a renaissance of ribbon microphones.
Around the mid '90s pretty much the only ribbon microphone manufacturers were the UK-based Coles, whose 4038 was a '50s design, as well as Beyerdynamic. Though there were old ribbon mics aplenty around in most studios, they had been largely superceded by newer technologies with higher output and greater bandwidth. In 1998 Dave Royer introduced his R-121 — seemingly reintroduced a generation of engineers to the ribbon mic sound. The R121 was based largely on an old B&O microphone; Mr. Royer has since introduced a number of new mics. In a similar vein Wes Dooley at Audio Engineering Associates (AEA) produced a faithful recreation of the venerable RCA 44 and has since come up with a number of his own designs.
The microphones made by Crowley and Tripp don't appear to be based as much on vintage design as they are a fresh approach to ribbon mic technology. The first three microphones released by the company — the Proscenium, Soundstage Image, and Studio Vocalist — are designed, despite their similar outward appearance, with quite different voicings. The Proscenium is tailored more towards a classic ribbon microphone sound, the Soundstage Image has a more natural low and mid-range (though with a more pronounced roll-off above 10 kHz), while the Studio Vocalist is voiced with a rising high frequency response. Now C&T has introduced the Naked Eye: a microphone combining the two flagship microphones' sounds at a much more affordable price of $745.
The Naked Eye departs from the earlier C&T models in a couple of areas: it's a bit smaller than the other product in their line and frequency response is asymmetrical. Each side of the Naked Eye has a distinctive sound. The front side is voiced similarly to the Proscenium, while the back of the mic is patterned after the Studio Vocalist. This gives the Naked Eye quite a bit of versatility. The Naked Eye ships with an "innovative low diffraction rotary mount" (discussed below), and was designed for low noise plus high output.
We record a lot of acoustic projects at my studio, Java Jive, so the Naked Eye saw use on numerous acoustic instruments. One of the first was an overdub session with dobro wizard Rob Ickes. Rob, like a number of Nashville session players, carries a favored microphone into sessions. But we both liked the Naked Eye on his Scheerhorn dobro. In general, we'd set up the Naked Eye beside the microphone usually used in a given application and compare. If the Naked Eye's front side sounded too dark, we'd rotate it to the back side.
Placed about a foot in front of a mandolin, the Naked Eye's front side gave a sound more reminiscent of Bill Monroe circa the '50s. This is not too surprising, since Monroe's recordings from that era were done with RCA ribbon mics. The back of the Naked Eye was closer to a contemporary mandolin sound. We achieved pretty much the same results when recording banjo; the front of the mic worked great for more "old school" sounds, while the back added a bit more high end definition. The Naked Eye's back wasn't as bright as the Neumann-Gefell M582 valve microphone I usually use in those applications, but it certainly worked well with the tracks we were recording. I mentioned earlier that the Naked Eye alone worked well on Rob Ickes' dobro. I also used the front side of the Naked Eye along with a M582 (with the two mics panned left and right) when later recording another dobroist. The resulting sound was quite nice; the Naked Eye picked up the warmth of the instrument and the M582 captured the sparkle.
There's more to using the Naked Eye, however, than simply choosing either the mic's front or back side. Like most ribbons, the Naked Eye has a fairly pronounced proximity effect; judicious placement of the microphone allows for either using the low end boost (captured close to the source) or not (situating further from the source). We also recorded a bouzouki for two different songs on this project. For one of the songs the Naked Eye's back was put about 4" in front of the instrument to use proximity to add fullness. On the second track we backed the mic to somewhere around 18" from the instrument to capture more of a jangly sound that wouldn't take up as much space in the track.
Fiddles can be fairly problematic instruments to record. Most folks want to close-mic them, and the resulting sound is usually pretty obnoxious — overly bright when not downright "screechy" (this is exacerbated when using most large diaphragm condensers). The Naked Eye avoids this problem altogether. Fiddle (and viola) recorded with the Naked Eye were warm yet detailed. Typically, they would sit in the mix with minimal EQ, if any at all.
The Naked Eye stood up to some fairly robust sound pressure levels. It was used on the low rotor of a Leslie cabinet (and I would have happily used it on the upper rotor if I'd a second one), against the grill of a Randall half stack amp and close to a trumpet player's bell with no problems. It also seems to have a higher output than most vintage mics; even with the Naked Eye on fairly quiet acoustic instruments, no preamps I tried maxed out.
My only issue with the Naked Eye is with the mount. Compared with the mounting method of the more expensive Crowley and Tripp microphones — for that matter, compared with most microphone clips — the mount supplied with the Naked Eye seemed to be unbalanced and unwieldy. Getting the mic from its box to the stand requires too many actions for my tastes; and the mic can't be put on a stand without setting parts of the stock mount (or the mic itself) down. Once attached to a stand, the Naked Eye doesn't hang straight. I generally ended up grabbing a generic shock mount from the mic closet to use with the Naked Eye — it was quicker and worked better than the mount supplied with the microphone. I realize that I seem to be complaining too greatly about this one thing, but a simpler mount would be pretty easy for the company to do. Regardless, I'm very pleased and impressed with everything else about the Naked Eye.
The Crowley and Tripp Naked Eye is an excellent microphone both for those inexperienced with ribbon mics and for those who have a closet full. The Naked Eye's asymmetric design — coupled with the (relatively) high output — means not only are a variety of tones available, but also the user isn't limited to a few high-gain preamps. I had the opportunity to try out a couple of other microphones in the C&T range a few months ago, and the Naked Eye has the flavors of the C&T Proscenium and the Studio Vocalist without the cost of buying two microphones — a very good thing.