BLUE's newest hand-built condenser mic is their most affordable yet, and continues their tradition for striking styling. But does it sound as good as it looks?
Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics, more easily known as BLUE, have been building up quite a following over recent years for their quirky but impressive range of hand-built studio capacitor microphones. Manufactured in Riga, Latvia, the entire product line boasts Class-A circuit topology — in either valve or solid state (FET) forms — and highly individual yet functional styling, which makes a very pleasant change in a world dominated by derivatives and clones.
I reviewed the company's Dragonfly model back in SOS February 2002 and, at that time, it was the least expensive mic in the range, costing around £850 in the UK. However, the company has recently introduced an even more affordable microphone, the Baby Bottle, which will bring BLUE's craftsmanship within range of a much wider audience.
The styling of the Baby Bottle is based, not surprisingly, on the company's flagship microphone, the substantial Bottle — this fabulous large-format valve microphone with interchangeable capsules costs roughly ten times as much as its junior stable mate. The new mic is roughly half the size, measuring 222mm long and 45mm in diameter, and the 'bottle' part containing the amplifier electronics is about 135mm long. The microphone weighs a modest 350g and exposed metal is finished in a brushed satin effect, while the bottle body is a sparkly black. A BLUE logo denotes the front of the cardioid pattern, and a plate fixed to the rear denotes the model type and place of manufacture, although I couldn't find a serial number anywhere on the exterior of the mic, which may be a concern to your insurers!
The hand-built microphone capsule is housed behind a spherical dual-mesh metal grille, and comprises a one-inch diameter, six-micron thick mylar-film diaphragm sputtered with a mixture of gold and aluminium. This capsule assembly is supported above the 'bottle' of the mic on a slender stalk, minimising potential reflections from the rest of the body and possibly allowing the capsule to be placed where bulkier mics could not be used.
A 5/8-inch microphone stand bracket is screwed to the base of the mic around the XLR connector, but unfortunately this was not equipped with a thread adaptor for the more usual 3/8-inch European mic stand. An elastic suspension cradle is available as an optional extra, although this clamps around the mic body of the bottle rather than the threaded base. The cradle may seem a rather expensive accessory, but it does come complete with a very natty pop-shield which fits to the capsule stalk at the top of the mic, and the mesh carries the BLUE logo for a very elegant and professional appearance. The packaging deserves a quick mention too — a smart cherrywood box with a sliding lid, and a velvet bag in which to store the microphone. Such a thing of beauty deserves to be cherished in this way!
The impedance converter electronics are all solid-state, discrete, transformerless, and of a Class-A topology. The specifications claim a self noise of just 5.5dBA and a maximum SPL (for 0.5 percent distortion) of 133dB, enabling the mic to be used in a wide range of applications, including those involving more distant miking positions. The sensitivity is a very healthy 34mV/Pa, so it won't strain your console's mic preamps too much, and has an unusually low 50Ω output impedance allowing long cables to be used without problems. The mic requires standard 48V phantom power, of course.
The handbook provides only a generic frequency response plot, but this indicates that the mic is substantially flat between about 60Hz to 15kHz, with a small mid-frequency peak extending between about 1.2 and 2.2kHz, and roughly 2dB high. This tends to enhance the apparent 'detail' and resolution of the mic, but in a subtle and musically complementary way. A plot of the polar response is not given at all, but a listening test suggests it is a fairly broad cardioid, with the usual proximity effects. The typical characteristics of a large-diaphragm mic are also quite obvious, in that the high-frequency pattern resembles a hypercardioid pattern and the low frequencies tend toward sub-cardioid.
The Baby Bottle is claimed to be ideal for recording vocals, percussion, or any acoustic instruments — and I feel happy to go along with that. It seems to be a very 'crisp' microphone, handling transients well on percussion and acoustic guitar, for example. The slightly emphasised presence region means that the mic needs to be positioned and angled carefully if the source is not to sound too hard or edgy, but, conversely, sources did tend to work well within a mix, cutting through cleanly. I found the mic to be a little too fierce on close-miked woodwind, although a more distant placement in a nice acoustic worked extremely well. Despite the simple stand bracket, the Baby Bottle seemed very resistant to rumble and handling noises.
In comparison with the slightly more expensive Neumann TLM103, I found the Baby Bottle to be about 4dB less sensitive and a couple of decibels noisier — still very impressive results, though! While the BLUE definitely has more 'presence' than the Neumann, it also seemed to have a little less 'air' and openness, although you would only become aware of this subtle difference in a head-to-head comparison. Despite its comparatively low price, the Baby Bottle retains all the essential and desirable qualities of its more up-market siblings. If you are in the market for a good, general-purpose large-diaphragm cardioid mic, and you want something that stands out from the crowd, I would recommend the BLUE Baby Bottle without hesitation.