To bee or not to bee? Find out how these distinctive-looking mics performed in our tests.
If you’re not familiar with the name Neat, you will certainly have heard of their parent company, Gibson. Heading up Neat is Skipper Wise, who spent 18 years leading Blue Microphones, so this new brand name comes with a solid provenance. There are four bee-themed microphones, the King Bee, the Worker Bee and a pair of USB mics with inbuilt desk stands: the Bumblebee and the Beecaster. Here we’ll be looking at the King Bee and Worker Bee. Neat mics are designed in the USA but built in China, and there’s no doubt that a lot of technical expertise has gone into the design of the Bee microphone range — but the styling is, let’s say, a touch ‘out there’. However, I’ll leave appreciation of the mic’s cosmetic aspects up to you — I’m more concerned with how well the King Bee and Worker Bee actually perform.
First out of the box is the King Bee, which is quite large and heavy at 785g. The square, black, cast-metal body has three grooves moulded into it, into which are inserted three wide, yellow, rubbery bands to create the bee-stripe styling. The basket is supported on a thin neck and has a flat, gold-mesh front but is curved at the back, where the grille has a black finish. Overall, the mic measures 76mm wide by 216mm tall, and the Neat logo and gold mesh denotes the front — or hot — side of the mic.
The King Bee is a multi-purpose, side-address, cardioid-pattern microphone suitable for all types of vocal recording, as well as being suited to a wide range of acoustic instruments. It comes in a large cardboard box surrounded by translucent, honeycomb-shaped plastic sides and includes a Beekeeper elastic shockmount, a Honeycomb pop shield that clips directly onto the front of the basket, a soft storage bag, and a rather strange desktop ornament that looks like a chess piece from an alternate reality where one of the standard chess pieces is a bee.
There are no radical departures from established practice in the preamp section — Class-A, discrete circuitry headed up by a low-noise FET delivers a frequency response of 16Hz to 20kHz via an output-balancing transformer. Most large-diaphragm mics have a capsule diameter of 25 to 28 mm, but here the capsule is a whopping 34mm across, which in theory should help keep the noise floor low, but at the expense of off-axis response. This is centre terminated and skinned with a six-micron gold-sputtered mylar diaphragm. Indeed, the King Bee has an admirably low noise floor with an EIN of better than 7dB (typically 6.5dB) and can deliver plenty of output level before distortion sets in. The maximum SPL is 140dB. There are no pad or roll-off switches, and sensitivity is specified at 26.0mV/Pa at 1kHz (1Pa = 94dB SPL). Standard 48V phantom power is required for operation, but the circuitry can cope with supply voltages down to 32 Volts.
The documentation, which is filled with bee puns and some genuine information pertaining to bees, also makes a pitch to persuade you to buy the optional Beeline microphone quad-core cable to maintain audiophile sound quality, and maximum noise rejection, though any decent balanced XLR cable will work. Included is a small but revealing frequency graph that shows the mic to have a broad but fairly restrained presence hump reaching a maximum of maybe 5dB or so at 10kHz.
Following a similar visual style but with a much shorter body (overall length 152mm), the Worker Bee is something of an enigma, as peering through the grill reveals a triangular shadow at the capsule position. The documentation tells us that the capsule is actually a 24mm-diameter back-electret cardioid device feeding Class-A discrete circuitry, again with an output transformer and with phantom power necessary to operate the microphone. The basket is essentially the same as for the King Bee, and takes the same pop shield, while the suspension mount, also included with the kit, looks to be identical to that in the King Bee kit. And yes, that weird desk ornament is there too.
The spec shows a generally flatter response than for the King Bee, with no obvious presence lift, and the -3dB points are at 20Hz and 20kHz. There are a few gentle undulations in the response curve resulting in a slight dip at around 2kHz and another in the region of 500Hz, but nothing radical. No pad switch is needed as the mic can take SPLs of up to 145dB, and the quoted sensitivity is 19mV/Pa, just a few dBs below that of the King Bee. Again there’s no low-cut filter. Self-noise is a very respectable 9.5dB A-weighted.
Physically both mics fit their shockmounts snugly and the same pop shield snaps into place over the basket of each one. Starting with my usual speech test, the King Bee actually turns in a very impressive performance. It delivers a big, smooth sound with plenty of detail but no harshness. It manages to be both natural sounding and slightly flattering. It also makes a seriously good acoustic guitar mic capturing both the depth and the articulation of the instrument, with plenty of detail but, again, no harshness. OK, so the tonality goes off and you lose some high end if you move far off axis, but not much more than any other cardioid pattern mic. Inevitably, the larger the diaphragm, the more the off-axis response deteriorates. With both guitar and voice the mic responds well to EQ and you don’t need much upper-mid boost or high shelf to add a bit more airy sparkle, if that’s what you need. Some mics can sound quite aggressive when this kind of EQ is applied, but the King Bee stays smooth. I had reservations about the pop shield being so close to the mic grille, but it seems to do its job with no detriment to the tonal quality of the mic.
Given that it uses a completely different capsule, the Worker Bee doesn’t sound that dissimilar from the King Bee, with perhaps just a slightly more restrained high end courtesy of the flatter response in the upper reaches of the audio spectrum. It too delivers a very full, warm and smooth vocal sound, but it also shares the King Bee’s ability to render a natural-sounding acoustic guitar: the mid-range retaining plenty of character without any phasey harshness and the high end coming over cleanly without sounding aggressive or gritty.
Both mics are available at very attractive prices and they perform really well within that market sector, but their cosmetics may well polarise potential buyers, with those in the more conservative camp being hardest to persuade to give them a try. Nevertheless, if their performance generates enough of a buzz, maybe they’ll earn their stripes? I just hope the styling doesn’t put too many people off trying these mics — it would be sad to see them in a bee stock sale. [That’s enough now — Ed.]
The list of more conventional-looking mics in this price range is enormous but includes models from Rode, MXL, sE, Studio Projects and Sontronics.