Sontronics Saturn

Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone

Published in SOS October 2010
Bookmark and Share

Reviews : Microphone

Sontronics mics usually sound as distinctive as they look — and this one looks more distinctive than most!

Paul White

Sontronics Saturn

Launched at the 2010 Winter NAMM show, the visually distinctive Saturn microphone maintains Sontronics' reputation for avoiding anything that looks too close to the norm: the retro‑style design is something of a Sontronics hallmark, and in this case it is inspired by 1940s and 50s microphones.

On paper, the Saturn is presented as a multi‑purpose, multi‑pattern capacitor mic featuring solid‑state, transformerless electronics and a rugged, shock‑isolated stand mount. It was apparently conceived primarily as a vocal mic, though the manufacturers also recommend it for use with guitars, brass, woodwind, strings, piano and drum overheads. It faces some stiff competition at this price point — but Sontronics' mics are usually as audibly distinctive as they are visually.

Design & Construction

The pancake‑shaped basket houses the dual-diaphragm capsule (which looks to be of the 1.08-inch-diameter type), which is suspended inside a wide metal hoop via four small springs, and it is this annular shape that clearly inspired the name. All the circuitry is housed in the black‑painted brass box 'body' and mounted on a neat glass‑fibre circuit board, partially populated by surface‑mount components. A captive locking ring on the shockmount cradle engages with the threaded housing of the output XLR, so the mic remains secure even if used inverted.

A thumbwheel switch is used to select between the mic's five available polar patterns: omnidirectional, wide cardioid, cardioid, hypercardioid and figure‑of‑eight. A row of five blue LEDs above the switch indicate which pattern is currently active. For use with high-SPL sound sources, there's a choice of ‑10 and ‑20dB pad settings via a three‑way slide switch, and the high‑pass filter uses a similar switch to select between flat, 75Hz and 125Hz. The mic is shipped in a soft‑lined, sturdy aluminium camera case, along with its shockmount cradle, and is covered by a lifetime warranty.

The paper spec tells us that the mic has a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, with a presence hump at around 8kHz. The sensitivity is a typical 20mV/Pa at 1kHz, and the equivalent input noise or EIN is 14dB (A‑weighted). Again, this is typical, and while it isn't what I'd call impressively low for a solid‑state mic, it is certainly quiet enough for all typical studio applications. A maximum SPL of 130dB is specified. This is a realistic value for a capacitor mic without a pad switch, and means that the mic should be able to cope with anything up to 150dB with the 20dB pad switched in. As with most condensers, standard 48V phantom power is required for operation.

 Sontronics Saturn | October 2010 issue by Sound On Sound 


All my comparative tests were done using the cardioid mode of the mic, though individual tests were also carried out for the other patterns. As usual, I selected a reference mic with which I could compare and contrast the results from the Saturn, and this time I chose a Microtech Geffel UM70: this has a similar sized dual‑diaphragm capsule and a predictably Neumann‑esque sonic character. On all the sound sources in the test, which included voices, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and percussion, the Saturn came over as having a valve‑like, low-end warmth combined with a very slightly unfocused but still quite airy high end that produced a very comfortable result — though it was perhaps not quite as transparent to transients as more clinically accurate microphones.

The sound also responded well to EQ — and using Logic's Match EQ 'fingerprint' equaliser, I managed to get the Saturn to sound almost identical to the UM70. Surprisingly, the low end wasn't much different between the two mics, but the equaliser had to create a lot of complex bumps and dips at the high end, suggesting that this is where the main differences reside. I wouldn't normally use a fingerprint equaliser for this purpose, but it has proven to be a useful tool for examining the less obvious differences between mics.

On spoken word, the Saturn produced a natural sound, in which its airy high end was augmented by a warmer lower‑mid range, though I found that working close to the mic does bring up the low end to the point where some low cut may be necessary, so expect the same when using it to record vocals in cardioid or figure‑of‑eight mode. Having two low‑cut settings is very useful in this respect. For acoustic guitar there is, again, a good balance of body and zingy strings, but where you want a bright acoustic guitar to cut through a pop or rock track, there may be more suitable mic choices. The mic fared well on percussion, producing adequate definition with a nice sense of body and weight to the sound, again with lots of room for manoeuvre using EQ.

As with many capacitor mics, electric guitar sat a little less comfortably (with both the Saturn and the UM70, in fact), but here I felt that the Saturn's warmer tonality gave it the edge — and if you're prepared to work at optimising the mic position it should be possible to get perfectly acceptable results. Without EQ, the amp sound comes across as slightly grainy, but otherwise well‑balanced.

Using the other polar patterns on the same sources reveals subtle tonal differences, but most evident is the reduction in proximity effect in the wide cardioid mode, and the lack of it in the omni position. These changes, plus the extra room sound allowed into the mic on wider pattern settings, tend to overshadow any fundamental frequency‑response differences between patterns.

Out Of This World?

The Saturn is a versatile mic with a warm, yet airy character that's reminiscent of some valve microphones I've used. Its top end doesn't seem best suited to snappy transients, possibly due to subtle undulations in the frequency response at the high end of the audio spectrum, but while this might be considered a flaw in some applications, it helps it deliver a kinder, smoother sound in others. Variable patterns add to the Saturn's usefulness, and you can't help but love its quirky, vintage charm — though at this price point it faces an immense amount of competition. If you're looking for a mic to use with a particular vocalist, you must try before you buy, as we've learned that the spec tells you very little about how a given mic and singer will pair up, but in a working studio the Saturn would certainly make a useful addition to a mic locker that already includes some less full‑sounding large-diaphragm mics.  


Within the Saturn's price range, check out the more conventionally styled sE Z5600A, MXL 2010 and AKG 4000B. For a multi‑pattern mic that suits a tight budget, also take a look at the inexpensive Audio Technica AT 2050.

Audio Examples

We've placed a number of audio files on the SOS web site at /sos/articles/oct10/sontronics‑saturn‑audio.htm, so you can hear for yourself what the mic sounds like on a number of sources.

Sontronics Saturn £699$1195
Distinctive retro styling.
Robust mount included.
Genuinely versatile.
None really, though it faces a lot of strong competition at this price.
The Saturn is a warm and comfortable-sounding mic that avoids sounding in any way dull. It is useful for both vocals and instruments, where its multiple pattern switching makes it very flexible.
£699 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
FDW Worldwide +1 608 227 2040.

SOS Readers Ads


of Second-User Gear for sale now — don't miss out!

Audio-Technica AT4047 MP

Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Audio-Technica AT4047 MP

Audio-Technica have added multiple polar patterns to one of their already successful designs, bringing increased versatility in the studio.

Audio-Technica AT4047 MP | Media

Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone

Audio files to accompany the article.

Audio-Technica AT4050 ST

Stereo Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Audio-Technica AT4050 ST

There's more to this variation on Audio-Technica's flagship microphone than the simple addition of a second capsule...

Peavey Studio Pro M2

Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Peavey Studio Pro M2

Paul White explores the capabilities of the understated-yet-powerful Studio Pro M2.

Schoeps VSR5

Microphone Preamp

Thumbnail for article: Schoeps VSR5

Schoeps make some of the most revered mics on the planet, so when they release a commercial version of the mic preamp they use for testing, you have to take it seriously...

Schoeps VSR5 Mic Preamp

Test Measurements

Thumbnail for article: Schoeps VSR5 Mic Preamp

The following charts, made using an Audio Precision Analyser, accompany our review of the Schoeps VSR5 microphone preamplifier.

Blue Encore 300

Handheld Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Blue Encore 300

Designed as a hand-held live vocal mic, this mic has a cardioid pickup pattern, and seems very robustly engineered.

Cartec EQP1A

Mono Valve Equaliser

Thumbnail for article: Cartec EQP1A

British 'boutique' outboard manufacturers seem to be rather thin on the ground these days, but if this Pultec clone is anything to go by, newcomers Cartec look set to make a big impression.

Prodipe TT1

Dynamic Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Prodipe TT1

Prodipe say they wanted to offer a high-quality, live-sound, cardioid-pattern dynamic mic at a very affordable price.

Sontronics Saturn

Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Sontronics Saturn

Sontronics mics usually sound as distinctive as they look - and this one looks more distinctive than most!

MXL Revelation

Multi-pattern Valve Microphone

Thumbnail for article: MXL Revelation

Hot on the heels of the impressive Genesis cardioid valve mic, MXL have unveiled their flagship multi-pattern model, the Revelation. Does it live up to its name?

MXL Revelation | Audio Examples

Multi-pattern Valve Microphone

These audio files accompany the SOS September 2010 review of the MXL Revelation microphone.

Samson Go Mic

USB Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Samson Go Mic

USB mics are nothing new, but the Samson Go Mic is probably the smallest and cutest I've seen to date. This metal-bodied mic,...

AKG Perception 820

Valve Microphone

Thumbnail for article: AKG Perception 820

Does AKGs Chinese-made Perception 820 maintain the Austrian companys impressive reputation?

AKG Perception 820 | Audio

Audio Examples

Hear for yourself how this mic performed during the SOS tests.

Audio-Technica AT4080 & AT4081

Ribbon Microphones

Thumbnail for article: Audio-Technica AT4080 & AT4081

A-Ts brand-new transducer technology has produced a robust design intended to deliver high signal levels as well as that prized ribbon character...

Earthworks DP25C & DP30C

Snare & Tom Condenser Microphones

Thumbnail for article: Earthworks DP25C & DP30C

Despite the ubiquity of the SM57 for use on snare, there are other options — and Earthworks aim to help you capture a more natural sound.

MXL Genesis

Cardioid Valve Microphone

Thumbnail for article: MXL Genesis

We put MXLs Genesis through its paces alongside a much pricier model, to find out just how good a tube mic can be at this price.

MXL Genesis Mic | Audio Files

Hear For Yourself

To accompany our July 2010 Genesis review, we recorded a series of standard tests with the review mic alongside a more established mic (in this case, the AKG C12 VR).

WIN Great Prizes in SOS Competitions!


Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Blog | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help


Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26


We accept the following payment methods in our web Shop:

Pay by PayPal - fast and secure  VISA  MasterCard  Solo  Electron  Maestro (used to be Switch)  

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2016. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents.
The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media