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Blue Microphones Ember

Side-address Cardioid Capacitor Microphone
By Paul White

Blue Microphones Ember

Designed with both podcasters and home-studio owners on tighter budgets in mind, Blue's Ember is a transformerless, fixed‑cardioid‑response, side-address, back-electret capacitor microphone. Housed in a very modern-looking metal enclosure, it measures just 219 x 38.26 x 31.91mm, feels reassuringly solid, weighing in at 0.38kg, and ships in a foam-lined cardboard box (there's no storage pouch included). While most recording enthusiasts will be familiar with the analogue XLR connection, podcasters will want to note that there isn't a USB connection — you will need an audio interface with an XLR mic input that can provide standard 48V phantom power, and to provide your own XLR mic cable. I prefer this arrangement, but mention it here for clarity since I've seen some forum posts criticising the Ember for being a proper 'grown-up' studio microphone rather than a USB mic!

Although the Ember is inexpensive, it exudes a clean sound quality and offers excellent off-axis rejection. Still, for vocals or close speech a pop shield is recommended, and if floor vibrations are an issue you might want to look at a shockmount (such as the Blue S3) rather than the included rigid stand adaptor. There are no pad or low-frequency roll-off switches — while they're desirable features, their omission isn't critical and obviously helps keep the cost down. We're told that the frequency response is 38Hz to 20kHz (±3dB) but the manual has no frequency response graph to show whether or not the mic has any presence peak. The self-noise figure is 19dB (A‑weighted), which is more than quiet enough for its intended close-miking applications. We're told that its sensitivity is 12mV/Pa and that the maximum SPL before significant distortion sets in is 132dB. An output impedance of 40Ω is specified, which is ideally suited to typical mic preamp input impedances. The Ember's off-axis rejection is also very good once you get past 90 degrees off-axis, at which point there's already 12.8dB of rejection.

I'd have liked to look inside the Ember to check its internal build quality, but the oval section body doesn't facilitate the usual 'grab it and unscrew' approach to removing the basket or body retaining ring that usually gets me inside. I'm sure the team at Blue have their own methods of entry, but short of reaching for my angle grinder, which would have done the mic no favours, I couldn't think of anything! The lining of the basket also makes it impossible to see the capsule, but a response to my enquiry revealed that it is 14mm in diameter. Outwardly, the mic looks to be well engineered, and a prominent Blue logo denotes the 'hot' side of the mic — the side you should point at the source you're recording. The included all-metal stand-mount simply screws onto the threaded outer part of the XLR socket extension, and a second captive knurled ring is used to lock it in place.

Its clean, clear sound works well for both speech and singing, making it a practical choice for music, podcasting and other spoken-word recording applications.

So, how does this microphone sound, and how does it compare with similarly-priced mics? For comparison, I dug out my trusty Audio-Technica AT2020, another fixed cardioid-pattern mic available for a similar price, and an LD Systems D1011 stage capacitor microphone. Like the Ember, both use back-electret capsules, though I should note that the D1011 has a tighter supercardioid response. I was surprised at the similarity in vocal sound between the AT2020 and the Ember, the biggest difference perhaps being that the Ember has a little more by way of high-end airiness. Both mics sounded more open than the LD D1011, but to be fair that particular specimen has been around the block a few times!

While the resistance to popping is no worse than for many other studio mics, the Ember really does need to be used with a pop screen for serious vocal work, especially if the singer likes to get up close and personal to exploit the proximity-effect bass lift. But on the whole, it produces a well‑balanced voice tone without needing to use any EQ — its clean, clear sound works well for both speech and singing, making it a practical choice for music, podcasting and other spoken-word applications. (Of course the usual caveat still applies: if you intend to buy a mic for use primarily with your own voice, then it's well worth trying a few different models to see which one you feel offers the nicest-sounding results.) Switching to acoustic guitar produced a lively sound without any unwanted harshness, and while there are certainly technically better mics for that job if you have the budget available, I found the end result more than acceptable, as long as I spent sufficient time finding the best mic position; it's certainly possible to capture a lively sound without unwanted boxiness. Noise was never an issue in either application, and a further test with percussion and some bells confirmed that this mic can handle high frequencies and fast transients without problem. The fact that this mic lacks an obvious 'character' clearly pays off if you need one mic that can be used for multiple applications, and if you want 'colour' you can always add it later using software plug-ins.

Ultimately, this is an entry-level mic and of course you can pay more for a better model — but how I wish mics like this had been available when I started recording! Used with care, it can deliver excellent results on both voice and a number of acoustic instruments. If that cardboard box starts to wear out, though, do treat yourself to a storage pouch because this mic is worth looking after!

Watch the product launch video from NAMM 2019, earlier this year.

£109 including VAT.

www.bluedesigns.com

$99.99.

www.bluedesigns.com

Published June 2019