sE Electronics’ affordable new pencil mics prove themselves more than capable on a wide range of sources.
These small-diaphragm, fixed cardioid-pattern microphones are available either singly or in matched pairs and, unlike some pencil mics, don’t offer the option of switching capsules. We had a matched pair of sE8s in for review, and they came in a foam-lined aluminium case along with stand clips, a stereo bar and two foam windscreens for outdoor use. The capsules are hand-made in sE’s own Shanghai factory and the spec sheet for the mic boasts low noise, a smooth natural sound plus dual-value pad and low-cut filter switches. To create factory-matched pairs, sE tell us they measure hundreds of individual microphones and then pair up those that have the same characteristics.
A half-inch capsule skinned with a three micron-thick, gold-sputtered diaphragm sits below a very fine grille, with the side venting also mesh-covered. We’re informed that the capsule employs a newly developed backplate to achieve a more consistent off-axis response and a smooth frequency response. All the circuitry, which is Class-A transformerless, is surface-mount and doesn’t include the use of ICs.
Dual pad settings, at -10dB and -20dB, are selected using a recessed slide switch and enable the mic to cope with very high SPLs, such as might be encountered when close-miking brass instruments. A similar slide switch is used for the low-cut filters to offer a choice of flat or first-order filters at either 80Hz or 160Hz. All the on-body legending is refreshingly clear, and there’s a red and silver sE logo recessed into the side of the mic body. Overall the construction is to a high standard, the mics having a reassuring weight of 141g. A dark-grey satin coating is applied to the metal body, which measures 23 x 120 mm overall, producing a very attractive finish, and the XLR pins are gold plated to resist corrosion.
The spec sheet reveals the expected 20Hz-20kHz frequency response, while the response graph shows only the merest hint of a presence hump, starting around 5kHz and peaking approximately a couple of decibels up at around 8kHz. Without the filters engaged, the response is flat down to 30Hz, below which a slow roll-off takes place. A sensitivity figure of 25mV/Pa is quoted, with a self-noise level of 13dB(A) — which is a healthy figure for a small-capsule microphone. The maximum SPL with the pads switched out is 139dB, rising to a huge 159dB with the 20dB pad active. Standard 48V phantom power is required for operation.
My first test was with acoustic guitar, which the sE8s handled very well, avoiding the harshness often encountered when using mics with more pronounced presence peaks. They also worked nicely as more distant mics when recording an electric guitar amp — from 1.5 metres away the sound felt really natural. Percussion proved no challenge for these mics either, and even the loudest drum kits are not going to cause problems, thanks to those dual pad settings. My Rototoms sounded just as I wanted them to without further EQ and without needing to switch in the pads. When I recorded using the two mics as a coincident pair, the stereo image was well balanced, and the off-axis response also holds up well, with relatively little HF drop-off at 90 degrees off-axis.
Given that these are by no means expensive microphones, they perform very well and the sE Electronics sE8s would make a practical and affordable addition to a small studio that already has one or two large-diaphragm mics.
Aston’s admittedly more expensive Starlight mics are still affordable enough to be considered as alternatives, while the excellent Rode NT5 and M5 models, the Sontronics STC-1 and the Audio-Technica Pro37 or AT2021 would also be worthy of consideration.