Cloud Microphones’s new Cloudlifter CL-Zi ($379 street) is a well-built, steel-chassis box featuring a variable impedance knob (labeled “Z”) and high-pass filter (HPF) to allow tone shaping through the manipulation of impedance loading. Most importantly, it serves as a phantom-powered microphone preamp as well as an instrument DI. As such, it is a superb tool for the professional-level working musician as well as a great recording and live sound I/O tool for any audio engineer.
When engaging the HPF switch, the CL-Zi’s smooth variable tonal control ranges from a 150 ohms/4 kHz roll-off frequency to a 15k ohms/70 Hz roll-off frequency with 6 dB per octave slope. This wide HPF allows the CL-Zi to act as both a surgical cleaning tool as well as a creative tonal box, useful on instrument or miked sound sources.
I/O includes a combo XLR/quarter-inch input and XLR output, the latter of which should be paired with 48 V phantom power. The CL-Zi features a three-position gain switch, allowing for minimum gain (3 dB/instrument, 6 dB/mic); more gain (6 dB instrument, 12 dB mic); or the maximum gain available (15 dB/instrument, 25 dB/mic). According to Cloud, this allows players to access clean gain and a lower noise floor for various studio or stage applications—e.g., an electric guitar via amp modeling or an acoustic guitar, bass or keyboard direct.
In use, this “clean gain/lower noise” claim certainly proved to be true. Whether during recording or in live performances, stringed instrumentalists using the CL-Zi absolutely loved it, too. In particular, acoustic musicians utilizing pickups claimed that it sounded “most natural,” and the HPF allowed them to dial in hot, tight signal to FOH.
I also used the CL-Zi with dynamic and ribbon microphones both in and out of studio confines with great results. It effectively boosts signals when used alongside high-gain condensers, allowing better mic level matching, literally, across the board. Suddenly, a ribbon you may not choose is hotter, thus more detailed, rivaling condenser choices that may be just a bit too bright or edgy for particular sound sources. That, and the variable HPF knob allowed lots of creative sculpting of microphones, too. It’s a fun tool.
Based in Tucson, AZ, all of Cloud Microphones’ products are made regionally from start to finish, creating jobs and benefiting small businesses around Tucson, Phoenix and in the Navajo Nation. While I don’t buy products based on where they are made, this is certainly a feel-good perk of buying anything from Cloud’s superb lineup.
Strother Bullins is NewBay Media’s Technology Editor, AV/Pro Audio Group, active musician, recordist and club-level sound reinforcement wrangler. email@example.com