Sontronics are best known for their studio condenser microphones, but theyve added a live, dynamic mic to the range and updated their live condenser model too.
The STC-80 is the first dynamic model for Sontronics, a UK-based firm that have their designs built in China and have made inroads into the studio microphone market by offering visually distinctive, good-sounding products at an affordable price. While their studio mics may make a visual statement, the cardioid-pattern STC-80 is more of a stealth mic with its all-black, low-profile finish. It is a relatively inexpensive microphone and the technical spec doesnt give much away when it comes to guessing how it actually sounds, as its documented 50Hz to15kHz frequency response and sensitivity of -54dB ±2dB (0dB=1V/Pa) could equally apply to a number of dynamic microphones out there.
The body of the STC-80 mic is a hint thicker than most mics of this type and a suitable mic clip is bundled to accommodate it. Theres a nice weighty feel to the mic, and the basket unscrews to reveal the capsule, which is held in a surprisingly rigid mounting, though handling noise is not excessive. An internal foam windscreen can be removed for washing in your favourite minty mouthwash, and the mic comes with its clip in a small aluminium carry case. This is all very stylish, but my own preference would be for a simple zip-up vinyl pouch that could be stashed in my guitar case.
Sontronics say that in addition to its obvious use as a vocal mic, the STC-80 can also be used for miking guitar cabinets, snare drums and tom-toms. Theres a subtle presence hump at around 5kHz and a slight dip at around 600Hz, which helps improve the sense of clarity.
With a mic this straightforward, the only thing to do is take it to a gig and try it, which is what I did. Id been having some popping problems with my regular mic ever since we started using a PA system with subs, but there was no such problem with this one. The STC-80 cut through well in a rock mix without sounding excessively harsh, and the general consensus from those out front was that “it sounded fine.” I felt very happy using it, and at the price, theres nothing to knock.
If the extended high end of a condenser microphone is more your style, then the almost identical-looking STC-6 might appeal at around £25 more. This model, which comes with the same clip and case, is an evolution of the older STC-5 and utilises a back-electret capsule with onboard electronics (so requires phantom power), and has recessed switches for a 10dB pad and for a 75Hz low-cut filter. The capsule has a rather more resilient mounting than its dynamic counterpart, but in all other respects what you have is a tough-looking stage mic that feels good in the hand.
Its frequency response is specified as 30Hz to 20kHz, and an examination of the response curve shows a slight low-end lift below 50Hz and a broad presence hump from 2 to 10kHz, giving the mic a very slight smile characteristic. Its sensitivity is -42dB ±2dB (0dB=1V/Pa 1kHz), while the EIN or equivalent input noise is 24dB A-weighted. This would be a touch on the high side for studio use, but in a live situation where the singer is always close to the mic, it wont be an issue. Maximum SPL is 140dB, so the mic would be perfectly happy around a drum kit or guitar cabinet too.
Tests with the STC-6 — first with no filters or pads in place — showed it to have a well-balanced tone with plenty of low end, as well as a more airy high end, and the output was noticeably higher than from the STC-80. However, the impressive low end of the STC-6 microphone also meant that vocal popping was a real problem, so I switched in the 75Hz low-cut filter. This fixed the popping, but it left the mic with a noticeably bass-light sound.
For comparative purposes, I hooked up an old LD1011 back-electret vocal mic, which cost around half of what the STC-6 does, and it had almost as much low-end vocal warmth as the STC-6 without its filter switched in, yet it remained resistant to popping, making it a more practical choice for most singers. Potentially then, the STC-6 is a very good microphone, but the tonal changes imparted by the low-cut filter, which is necessary to avoid popping, do compromise the tone to a noticeable degree.
Both of these microphones have a lot of potential, but to my ears the dynamic STC-80 sounded better than the STC-6 with its low-cut filter switched in, even though the top end wasnt quite so well defined. Where a pop filter is not required, the STC-6 mic sounds exceptionally good given its price, though a redesigned, less fierce low-cut filter would make it into a much more useful vocal microphone.