Largely encouraged by the developments of Royer Microphones, ribbon transducers have experienced somewhat of an industry-wide rebirth over the last decade. You’d be hard pressed to find a pro facility without a Coles 4038 pair, Royer R-121s, AEA R84s or, at least, a classic RCA 77-DX or Beyer M 160. Boasting a street price in the $190 neighborhood, the Nady RSM-2 (reviewed by PAR in June 2005) was the first truly affordable ribbon that I encountered. Unfortunately, its performance did not transcend what you’d expect from a sub-$200 ribbon.
Upon hearing about the Cascade FAT HEAD ribbon, which is sold directly from the manufacturer for $159, I expected similar limitations. How surprised I was to find that the mic functions amazingly well.
The FAT HEAD incorporates a hand-tuned ribbon element based on the classic symmetrical ribbon design, which offers a true figure-eight polar pattern. The corrugated aluminum membrane itself is positioned in the center from front to back, thus producing a balanced audio input signal to both sides of the ribbon assembly. This design is very useful when implementing a mid/side or Blumlein recording configuration. Optionally, the FAT HEAD can be purchased with either a Lundahl or a Cinemag transformer for $300 (or $600 for a matched pair). The heart of the FAT HEAD is a 99-percent pure aluminum, 2.5 micron-thick, 1 3/4- x 3/16-inch ribbon. The mic has a sensitivity of -56 db +/- 2 dB (0 dB=1V/Pa) and a frequency response of 30 Hz - 18 kHz (+/- 3dB). The mic’s output impedance is 1000 Ohms. Maximum SPL (1 percent THD @1000 Hz) is 165 dB.
The mic’s packaging is equally impressive as its performance and price. Included with each mic is a suspension shock mount (seemingly an homage to the Audio-Technica AT8410a, which sells for $77/pop), a classy wood box, an aluminum case and a micro-fiber cleaning cloth. The mic’s warranty includes three years on the transformer and one year on the ribbon element.
Project studio, studio
Aluminum, 2.5 micron-thick, 1 3/4- x 3/16-inch ribbon; hand-tuned element with true figure-eight polar pattern; corrugated aluminum membrane; suspension shock mount; wood box; aluminum case; one year warranty; optional Lundahl or a Cinemag transformer for $300 ($600 for matched pair)
Cascade Microphones | 360-867-1799 | www.cascademicrophones.comMy first opportunity to use the FAT HEAD was on a guitar amp during a tracking session. I was immediately impressed with its smooth response and tight bottom end. I later had the opportunity to put the mic to work on a wide variety of guitar textures — from sparkling clean to massively distorted — and in every instance I had good results. I used the mic on tambourine and shaker and again had nice results.
I only had one FAT HEAD for review, so I wasn’t able to test its performance on drum overheads. But, based on its performance on percussion and other acoustic instruments, I’d expect that it would work wonderfully in this application. As a mono source, the mic worked well on Leslie and piano, so I’m sure a stereo pair would really shine. The mic coupled with a Hardy M-1 mic pre and an Empirical Labs Distressor worked wonders on a mono drum room.
Overall, I wasn’t as happy with the sound of the FAT HEAD on vocals as I’ve been with other ribbon mics. The mic seems to be even more susceptible to pops than other ribbons (ribbons are naturally more susceptible to pops than condensers or dynamics), but it does have a nice top end that admittedly worked well in some situations. I also had nice results using the FAT HEAD to mic the body of a Taylor 514-CE acoustic guitar while miking the neck with a Sony C-800G, effectively creating a $159/$7,800 dual-mic configuration. Wow!
While I don’t consider the FAT HEAD to be in the same league as the Royer line of ribbons, I still think it is a fabulous mic and an amazing bargain. It sounds wonderful, is tremendously flexible and at only $159 is a must-have for any studio.