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BLUE Dragonfly

Cardioid Capacitor Microphone By Hugh Robjohns

Not only is this new cardioid condenser microphone extremely striking to look at, but it also boasts performance which is well out of the ordinary.

BLUE DragonflyBaltic Latvian Universal Electronics (BLUE) are specialist microphone manufacturers with an office in California and a factory in Riga, Latvia. The company produces only half a dozen different models of hand‑built capacitor microphones — and those only in relatively small numbers — but each is a stunning blend of form and function, where innovative and highly individual styling is combined with real craftsmanship. The various models employ either solid‑state (FET) or valve circuitry, but always with the best discrete components and Class‑A topologies.

It's Got The Look

The Dragonfly is an eye‑catching fixed‑cardioid transformerless capacitor microphone, with a styling which easily justifies its unusual name. It has a large spherical grille head and long thin trailing body, the whole assembly suspended at a thirty‑degree angle from the integral elasticated shock mount. This is the lowest‑cost model in BLUE's range, although it is certainly not a low‑cost microphone!

However, its UK price does reflect its technical performance, which puts many revered high‑end classic mics to shame. For example, the self‑noise figure is claimed to be a very low 7dBA, where most capacitor mics offer ratings in the low 20s. The output sensitivity is 21mV/Pa — a healthy enough level, although fractionally lower than many comparable mics — and the output impedance is a very low 50Ω thanks to the transformerless design, which means that it's very tolerant of long or high‑capacitance (eg. Star Quad) cables. As an externally polarised capacitor microphone, employing a solid‑state, discrete FET‑based Class‑A head amplifier, the Dragonfly requires a 48V phantom power supply, but draws a modest current of 3mA. Maximum SPL capability is a very respectable 132dB for 0.5 percent THD.

The hand‑built and hand‑tuned BLUE capsule employs a conventional brass back‑plate construction with a single one‑inch‑diameter, six‑micron‑thick mylar diaphragm. This is sputtered with 'a unique mixture of pure 24 carat gold and aluminium', which is claimed to bestow the mic with an excellent transient response whilst retaining good LF characteristics.

The capsule is supported internally on an injection‑moulded rubber mount to provide a high degree of isolation from mechanical vibration, but must be protected during transport and storage by means of two removable set screws. These are threaded into the circumference ring of the capsule grille and are easily removed and replaced by hand, although the act is somewhat tedious and I would imagine the two screws will be lost quickly. If their securing role is really that vital, perhaps BLUE should consider fitting a small threaded bracket to the shockmount into which these screws could be 'parked' when the mic is in use.

To complete the list of microphone specifications, the whole assembly weighs 640g and has an overall length of 165mm. The bulbous rotating head measures 60mm across, and the main body consists of a 20mm square tube containing the electronics. The spherical capsule is supported from a C‑shaped bracket at one end of the body, while an integral XLR socket occupies the opposite end. Running between the capsule pivot points and a collar fixed part way down the mic body are two elasticated cords (attached permanently) suspending the microphone from the stand adaptor and providing further isolation from vibration. This stand adaptor is tapped for the American standard 5/8‑inch thread — a European 3/8‑inch adaptor was not supplied with the review model.

The capsule assembly is able to rotate almost 180 degrees in either direction — a small knurled stud provides a finger hold and also stops the capsule being rotated all the way around by colliding with the bracket. The front of the capsule is denoted by a shiny, chromed grille surface, while the back has a duller matt finish. Being able to rotate the capsule, even when the mic stand is firmly locked in place, is surprisingly useful for fine‑tuning the tonal balance of virtually any source, especially when close‑miking. A 10 or 15 degree rotation can make all the difference in the sound quality and is far more effective than messing about with the EQ on the desk.

The dragonfly is supplied in an almost old‑fashioned linen‑covered cardboard box with resilient foam padding. Apparently, precision‑matched stereo pairs of the Dragonfly can also be supplied to order, with a very distinctive green lacquer finish instead of the standard black, and stored in handmade cherry‑wood boxes.

Listening Tests

The first thing I noticed was how low the output level of the mic is with the transit screws left in place! Fortunately there is a red tag on one of these screws to remind the user to remove them, and just as well — I wonder how many Dragonflies have been returned to the dealer as defective because of this very unusual arrangement? With the screws removed and the mic functioning properly, I then became aware of just how effective the integral shockmount and internal capsule suspension are. Mechanical vibrations through the mic stand are isolated extremely well from the microphone — made all the more obvious by its very low noise floor, which allows the gain to be cranked up more than normal.

The Dragonfly is not equipped with pad or bass roll‑off switches, so a little care has to be exercised with particularly loud instruments and with the pronounced proximity effect when close miking. The bass tip‑up on this mic is very noticeable even when working at distances of over a foot and, when working closer, changes in distance of a few centimetres altered the response significantly. However, this effect can be used to creative advantage in many situations, and can certainly add a considerable degree of 'body' and warmth to a voice.

BLUE don't provide a polar response for the mic, but do publish a frequency response. This can hardly be described as flat, although, to be fair, the plot is contained within a ±3dB window. However, mics in this price bracket (and most of those far less expensive) are, in general, rather more uniform. This odd response seems to be a design feature of the Dragonfly, though, as all the other mics in the BLUE range have very much more uniform published frequency responses. Strange then that the handbook refers to the sonic character of BLUE mics being developed through 'the consensus of expert engineers and discriminating musicians on the type of sound that is needed in the recording process today'.

The main response peaks are centred around 100Hz, 2kHz and 12kHz, with the valleys around 5 or 6dB lower at 800Hz and 6kHz. This mountainous response manages to convey a simultaneous sense of extended top end, detailed midrange and warm LF region — a character not dissimilar to some valve mics, in fact. However, these peaks and troughs don't always coincide with the characteristics of every instrument or voice, and so the results can be somewhat unpredictable. This is certainly not a technically precise, clinical kind of mic, but one which oozes character and demands to be used creatively.

The polar pattern seems to be a fairly tight cardioid which narrows further at high frequencies — as most large‑diaphragm mics do. In fact, in the upper frequency range it behaves almost as a hypercardioid, with a noticeable rear lobe and side nulls around the 135‑degree mark. At lower frequencies its response is much broader, again much as expected with this type of capsule, tending towards a figure‑of‑eight response with obvious sensitivity dips to the sides.

BLUE recommend the Dragonfly for a wide range of instruments including voice, acoustic guitar, wind instruments and percussion — the latter taking advantage of its transient capabilities. Its ability to accommodate high SPLs also makes it suitable for use in front of electric guitar and bass cabinets. Although I would not disagree with these recommendations — and I found it was exceptional with a wide range of hand percussion and drums — the mic has a recognisable sonic signature which means that it can be a little erratic. For example, it's stunning with some guitars, and only average with others.

Whereas a more technically accurate mic tends to produce reliable, uniform results almost regardless of the nature of the source, I found that the Dragonfly could be extremely complimentary and flattering with some instruments, yet almost strident with others — and sometimes its character seemed to change if an instrument was played in a different way. This matching issue was also readily apparent with singing voices and seemed to depend on the quality and character of each voice, the nature of the resonances and harmonics. It really worked well with two voices, but prompted a mic‑swapping session with another. In other words, this mic can sound hugely expensive and impressive in some instances, but rather unbalanced and almost 'budget' on others.

When the combination of mic and source worked it certainly produced superbly detailed, intimate and full‑bodied results, and this was, to be fair, the case most of the time. But when the combination of mic and source didn't work, no amount of repositioning seemed to help and I could only acquire rather lacklustre performances — and this in comparison to my similarly priced favourite Sennheiser MKH40 and considerably cheaper Neumann KM184 mics, both of which provided exactly what I was expecting, and with far greater consistency.

Flight Of The Dragonfly

While the Dragonfly isn't a must‑have, it would be a very useful and creative addition to any microphone cupboard already well stocked with more versatile devices. This is a highly desirable mic, from both the aesthetic and sonic points of view, but one which is very much a luxury creative tool for bringing out the best from specific sources in specific circumstances. It's a definite case of try before you buy — it won't suit everyone — but it is certainly worthy of personal investigation, because you may just fall in love with it!

BLUE Restoration Services

Besides the design and manufacture of their own unique range of microphones, BLUE also offer a restoration service for classic Telefunken and Neumann M49, U48 and U47 mics — bringing tired and battered relics back to 'Concourse Condition' in both looks and sound.

Strictly speaking, the treatment provided by BLUE is a refurbishment rather than a restoration, in that the end product incorporates new components to improve and update performance beyond the capabilities of the original design. However, BLUE are careful to retain the original sound qualities of the mic whilst incorporating a more stable and significantly quieter amplifier.

Any refurbishment job starts with complete disassembly followed by acid stripping of the metal body parts and renewed nickel plating. The grille screens are also repaired and the inevitable dents removed before replating. The microphone is then meticulously reassembled, with new Teflon‑insulated silver‑plated copper wiring, and high‑quality capacitors and resistors replacing the original tired and often noisy components. New valves are installed too — an NOS (AC701K) valve in the case of the Neumann M49 and an EF86 for the U47/U48, for example.

The output transformers are either rewired or replaced as necessary, and the capsule is replaced with BLUE's single‑backplate kk47 or kk49 capsule. The microphone cable is also 'rebuilt' with BLUE's own 'Champagne Tube mic cable' and the connectors are either refinished or replaced. The original power supply is replaced with the BLUE 9610 and the rebuilt mic is packaged in a handmade cherry‑wood box with an original‑style shockmount. The whole thing is then protected with sturdy flightcase and comes complete with a one‑year warranty and a bag full of the discarded original components! The whole process takes a couple of months from start to finish.

Although some would undoubtedly describe this kind of rebuilding as sacrilegious, it has the advantage of rejuvenating classic mics with a more modern technical performance, while retaining their principal original sonic characteristics.

Pros

  • Exceptionally low self‑noise.
  • Highly effective integral shockmount.
  • Distinctive styling.
  • Almost valve‑like sound character.
  • Unique rotating capsule.

Cons

  • Uneven frequency response.
  • Unpredictable interaction with instruments.
  • No low‑cut filter.
  • Expensive.

Summary

A uniquely styled microphone with a slightly quirky character, both visually and sonically. Superbly quiet, with an excellent integral shockmount, but the uneven frequency response will not suit all tastes or applications.

information

£846 including VAT.

www.bluedesigns.com

Published February 2002