A choice of two stylish and affordable microphones, each complete with hard case, shockmount and wind shield.
Studio Projects are based in California, but, in common with many other companies offering low-cost capacitor microphones, the manufacturing is actually undertaken in China, in this case by 797 Audio. The two models under review are both true capacitor designs, the C1 having a fixed cardioid pattern while the C3 is switchable between cardioid, figure of eight and omni. Both come in stylish aluminium flight cases and are complete with shockmount and foam wind shield. Unlike most of the Chinese-built mics I've seen, these have a distinctive cylindrical body shape (2.1 x 8.9 inches) that makes them look not unlike tube microphones, yet the preamp circuitry is based on the well-tried combination of FETs with a transformerless output stage.
The capsules are a little over one inch in diameter and utilise a centre-electrode, six-micron gold-sputtered mylar diaphragm — a design strategy that follows that of vintage European mic capsules. Dynamic feedback at the capsule is used to make the response more linear at high SPLs (131dB max without pad) and the output XLRs, which are offset from centre, have gold-plated pins to ensure reliable connection. Phantom power of 48 Volts is required.
With a quoted frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz (which is incompletely specified insomuch as there's no mention of how much deviation is present at these limits), the C1 comes equipped with a recessed three-way toggle switch that can select a 10dB pad, a low-cut filter (150Hz, 6dB/octave) or a flat response. Note that the nature of this switch means that low cut and pad cannot be used simultaneously. The sensitivity, at 14mV/Pa, is in the same ball park or better than a number of other mics I used for comparison, and the signal-to-noise ratio is 77dB, again a typical and respectable figure for this type of microphone.
The C3 looks almost identical to the C1, but it is marginally less sensitive, at 12mV/Pa, though this isn't evident from a comparative listening test in cardioid mode. In most respects, though, the C3's main figures are within a decibel of the C1. The capsule comprises two diaphragms in order to implement the three polar patterns.
Both mics feature a reasonably wide angle of usability where the tonality of the output is fairly constant. To test the mics I used them on a vocal session with a singer who had a particularly powerful voice, and, as always, a separate gauze pop shield proved essential to avoid popping. I have to admit that it was difficult to discern any difference in quality from some of the other Chinese-built mics I've tried, but that isn't meant in any way as a criticism. Though none of these mics tend to have quite the same silky-smooth high end as a pedigree studio mic, they do present a solid vocal sound with plenty of detail and presence. The large diaphragm 'stealth flattery' signature is definitely there and, while the top end may be a little more clinical than you'd expect from a tube or transformer model, it is adequately restrained and never crosses the line from transparency to brashness. In fact the overall tonal balance is really very good, and if you use the mic at a moderately close distance to invoke just a little proximity effect, the low end warms up considerably.
The C3 manages to retain a nominally similar tonal character across the three patterns, though you have to remember that the omni pattern doesn't exhibit any proximity effect, unlike the cardioid and figure-of-eight patterns, which show a rise in bass response when used very close to the source. Also, the omni pattern of any multi-pattern mic tends to be the most 'uncoloured' sounding because the mic is operating as a single-point pressure transducer, whereas, in the other modes, it measures the difference in pressure between the front and rear of the microphone. In cardioid mode, in particular, this can lead to some phasey coloration which lends the sound a slightly boxy or nasal quality. However, in a well-designed mic such as this, the effect should be minimal.
Both models work very well on vocals and are sensitive enough to use with acoustic instruments such as guitars, hand percussion and strings. I didn't find the sound had any obvious character other than that expected from a large-diaphragm capacitor mic, and to be honest there are other low-cost capacitor mics that sound fairly similar, but I found nothing at all to complain about in the detailed, full and confident sound these mics produced.
Although the Studio Projects models may initially seem a little more costly than their UK competition, keep in mind that they come in a particularly nice foam-lined aluminium case with a foam wind shield and a well-engineered shockmount. It always pays to be aware that every model of microphone has a slightly different tonality, and what suits one voice may not suit another, so if you're looking for a mic to use mainly for yourself then it is best to try as many as you can before deciding on one. On the other hand, if you need a mic that will work well with a number of different vocalists and instruments, either of these models will fit the bill nicely.
C1 cardioid capacitor microphone £207; C3 multi-pattern capacitor microphone £349. Prices include VAT.