SE give their popular X1 a valve boost, while keeping the price within reach of the masses.
The X series of mics from SE represents the more affordable end of their price spectrum, and the latest addition to it is the X1T. This appears to be based on the original SE X1, and it shares the same cardioid-pattern, centre-terminated, gold-sputtered capsule and cast alloy housing — but with the addition of valve circuitry. Removing the base of the mic body reveals three very neat annular circuit boards with an SE-branded ECC83/12AX7 dual-triode valve in the centre. This is firmly seated and secured in a porcelain socket, and most of the support circuitry, other than the electrolytic capacitors, is surface-mounted. I couldn't see an output transformer, which makes this quite an unusual design for a valve microphone.
A typical valve microphone offers a subtle coloration brought about by non-linearities that create a musical-sounding, very mild distortion that not only fattens and compresses the lows but can also add a sense of air and detail to the highs. The target applications for the X1T cover both vocal and instrument recording and, unlike many lower-cost microphones, this model includes a low-cut switch and a -10dB pad switch located on the mic body, making it suitable for use on louder sound sources.
As supplied, the X1T is presented in an aluminium camera-style case complete with power supply, IEC power cable, seven-pin mic-to-PSU cable and a conventional mic clip with thread adaptor. A standard three-pin XLR connector on the PSU provides a mic-level signal compatible with typical mixer and preamp input stages. As this is a valve microphone with its own power supply, phantom power is not required, though it is tolerated quite happily by the PSU if applied. The SE Isolation Pack shockmount and pop shield and Reflexion Filter range are compatible with the SE X1T and may be purchased as optional extras. I'd certainly recommend a mesh pop shield for any vocal recording.
The basic technical spec for this microphone documents the expected 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range, with a modest presence peak evident above 10kHz to add a bit of 'air' or sparkle. The X1T's -23dBV (mV/Pa) sensitivity puts the output in the same ballpark as other capacitor mics of a similar style, while the 15dB(A) EIN is quite respectable for a valve microphone. Certainly in my close-miking tests on spoken word, electric guitar and acoustic guitar, there was no noticeable noise. With a quoted 135dB dynamic range, it also had no problem dealing with a loud guitar amp, even without switching in the pad.
My guess is that when the SE engineers designed this mic, they wanted it to have a fairly obvious tube character, whereas 'back in the day' when valves were the only game in town, the engineers all did their level best to overcome the non-linearities that make valves sound the way they do. When compared to a typical solid-state mic, on vocals at least, the SE X1T adds a tangible sense of density to the lower reaches of the voice, while also imparting a little sizzle to the highs. It is quite a flattering sound that works particularly well in a pop or rock context, but without going so far as to sound artificial.
On acoustic guitar those same traits combine pick definition with tonal weight. In my tests, what I got back was pretty close to the way I heard the guitar from the playing position, but with just a little welcome 'hyping'. Switching to electric guitar again produced a very usable sound, though the sizzle factor of the mic does tend to bring out the grittiness in overdriven sounds, which, to my ears, produces more of a US rock character than a British one. All these tests were done prior to applying any EQ, so there's always more tonal flexibility to be had, especially when you take changing the mic position into account.
To sum it up very briefly then, the SE X1T is a characterful and flattering little valve microphone with an attractive price. It does a fine job on most routine studio tasks, though will probably be bought mainly as a vocal mic because of its ability to add warmth and sizzle in equal measure. As always, check how it sounds on your own voice if you're buying it mainly for your own vocals, but if you're after a larger-than-life sound for a smaller than expected outlay you shouldn't go far wrong.
Today's microphone market is extremely competitive, though it thins out somewhat when you start to look at valve mics at the more affordable end of things. MXL produce some nice-sounding valve mics that won't break the bank, and I'd also suggest trying out some of Rode's more affordable valve models.
- Competitively priced.
- Flattering sound character.
- No obvious cons, though any mic with a distinct character needs to be carefully chosen when used mainly for vocals.
Though costing maybe twice what you might pay for the solid-state X1, the X1T is a true valve mic with a true valve character, yet still with a project-studio price tag.
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