Juris Zarins and his namesake company, JZ, consistently offer useful microphone designs featuring a touch of interesting funkiness. Their new small-diaphragm stereo condenser mic, the BT-201, is no exception. I find it to be a unique, yet versatile, winner.
For this review, I received a BT-201 matched-pair package, officially called the BT-201/3S kit by JZ ($1,349 list). Each BT-201 offers a relatively large shaft for a SDC "cigar mic," narrowing down to a 8mm "neck" diameter before expanding back out to the shaft's width at the mic capsule. This may or may not reduce diffraction at the capsule, but when used as a pair, the BT-201 design does allow for some easier X/Y placement and enables the execution of its top feature: magnetically secured, interchangeable capsules. Cardioid, soft cardioid and omni are provided in the matched pair kit (soft cardioid capsules with a -20 dB pad are also available separately), all of which are contained in a luxurious wood box featuring a magnetic clasp.
On drums using cardioid capsules (overheads in ORTF or as a spaced pair on ride/hi-hat), the BT-201s exhibited a slightly emphasized top end that didn't get harsh or strident and never required any subtractive EQ (not even on a "pingy" ride). Their mids were respectably flat and the bottom was a little lean and tight, yet reasonably full for SDCs. High SPLs were handled with no problem (the BT- 201 can take up to 140 dB).
I also tried the BT-201s as overheads with soft cardioid capsules; again, the capsules sounded great, but they revealed some unwanted qualities in my room. I personally preferred the omni caps for ride and hat; they were even smoother and natural sounding. On a 13 x 3.5-inch piccolo snare drum, I taped the BT201 (with cardioid cap) to a beyer M- 201 snare mic (just like I might normally pair an AKG C451 and a Shure SM57) and got nice results: good proximity effect on the bottom end with less "splat" on the top end than a C451 would provide.
While I liked the BT-201 pair on acoustic guitar, they were a little "forward" and a bit too lean. They did provide a detailed sound for finger picking; selfnoise almost became an issue on a very quiet performance. With omni caps, they did sound a bit thicker and would work well with a darker-sounding acoustic guitar — like a Martin, for example. The BT- 201 pair was markedly different from my C451 or Neumann KM 184 pairs; it was not quite as focused with a little more low/mid body. Although the BT-201s may not have the oomph for solo acoustic guitar, I wouldn't hesitate to use them for ensemble pieces where their voicing would help backing tracks sit just right.
On my Yamaha upright piano, the BT-201s delighted me. We tried it all — X/Y, ORTF and spaced pair, each with cardioid, soft cardioid, and omni caps — before finally settling on a spaced pair of omnis. Here, the BT-201s provided a fine soundstage with plenty of width, depth, realism and openness. Coupled with a ribbon mic in the middle for some needed thickness, my little piano sounded quite balanced and, dare I say it, closer to a grand piano than you could imagine (I usually use only a pair of cardioid large-diaphragm condensers on this piano).
Regrettably, the BT-201/3S kit isn't "accessorized" as I would prefer — they come without clips (luckily, Shure SM 58 clips fit them), windscreens or shockmounts (although the JZI-7 shockmount is available from JZ), or even a manual, a seemingly odd oversight. But since they do come with those three capsules — hot-swappable even with phantom power applied — they offer a neat and utilitarian feature that transforms the package from good to excellent. Maybe JZ could put together an accessory kit with all of these aforementioned "missing" accessories and a stereo bar? Doing so would make the BT-201 package an excellent proposition for even more applications.
In a crowded field of small-diaphragm condensers, JZ Microphones offered something pleasantly different with the BT-201/3S kit. In the presence of BT-201s, my trusty C451s face some serious competition.
Contact: JZ Microphones | 888-974-1112 |www.jzmic.com
Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC. He welcomes your questions or comments firstname.lastname@example.org.