Cosmetics do not affect the performance of any piece of audio kit. However, if the visual of a microphone inspires a vocalist then its appearance does matter as it may elevate the ensuing performance. Ear Trumpet Labs’ Mabel is definitively one of those rare pieces of effectively artsy engineering that inspires performances and possibly shortens lengthy days.
It is easy for me to imagine ETL founder Phil Graham hunched over a workbench in his Portland, Oregon boutique audio workshop, incorporating “found” parts—plumbing pieces, bike gears, assorted tubings and fittings, etc.—into a microphone chassis. I can clearly sense the care put into tuning the 26 mm (1-inch) diaphragm capsules—one per most ETL models, two per this flagship multi-pattern Mabel—and the workmanship involved in ETL mics’ hand-assembly. The electronics are transformerless FET with fully balanced output. Shock and vibration damping are built in to minimize vibration-induced noise.
The $1000 phantom-powered Mabel offers a unique pivoting head; cardioid, figure-eight and omnidirectional polar patterns and comes only with a mic clip. She sits pretty in her own “classic red metal toolbox” of a case. The Mabel package takes on a steampunk/retro-greaser look and feel that proved crucial in its ultimate appeal.
Mabel’s appearance is indeed pivotal, as your client will surely be frothing to cut vocal takes before you ever get to swivel the capsule or hear its performance. I set up Mabel for side-address and placed a Stedman pop filter in front of it. It’s immediately clear that Mabel offers fullness, depth and smoothness yet on the dark side of bright. Such depth often requires a HPF. Mabel shows that she indeed has top end, just very gentle and not at all edgy or brittle. As such, it seems understated against many of today’s super-bright LDCs.
In use, the first vocalist on Mabel was a baritone. As I moved from tenors to altos and sopranos, the mic stayed consistent in voicing: always full down low, always classy and un-colored through the mids and the top never overstated. This versatile, consistent fullness was not unlike a Shure SM7, but with a brighter, “clearly condenser” top end performance. Like an SM7, Mabel did a fine job with screamers, too.
Mabel on percussion was top shelf, with toothy tambos and such taking on a “cutting without irritating” persona. Acoustic guitar sound was similar: a very pleasant, smooth translation that made my comparably bright Taylor sound more like a rich and full Martin. Mabel also worked fairly well on electric guitars though requiring a significant bit of equalization.
Thus far, all of Mabel’s work was in cardioid, though I tried other patterns with predictable results. In omni, Mabel became fuller and darker, with no proximity effect and good performance for handclaps, BGVs and roomy perc. In figure-eight, Mabel got brighter and edgier, with good off-axis rejection and nice response for BGVs and duets and I tried it as the “S” of my Mid-Side array. Being a little dark but nicely EQ-able, Mabel offers versatile ambience. With Mabel in omni, I tracked a singer-songwriter and managed to get a near-perfect balance of vocals and guitar on a couple of the songs. No multi-mic phase error here, simply realism. (Listen to the example webclip: soundcloud.com/pro-audio-review-magazine/ear-trumpet-labs-mabel-mic-on-voxgtr) In omni, Mabel was placed six feet away as a drum room mic and the tone was nicely balanced with ample thump and moderate sizzle—almost as cool as a ribbon.
I wouldn’t recommend Mabel for on-stage use (except for maybe single mic folk or bluegrass applications) due to the polar pattern switch that protrudes from the swiveling head. Ear Trumpet Labs’ Louise or Myrtle are tuned for stage and are likely better choices in those apps.
To My Ears
Mabel is a winner sonically, built like a beautifully quirky steampunk tank and a true joy to have in a mic locker, except for one potentially fatal flaw: its mic clip is way too small. It simply can’t handle the mic’s weight; it’s so undersized that Mabel will pop right out with the slightest bump; I did it once and a client did, too. It took the fall with only a small dent, but the bottom line is this: find your own firmly-clamping mic clip. A mic this lovely, unique and inspiring deserves better than falling to the floor.