Townsend Labs’ Sphere L22 boldly goes where no mic emulation system has gone before!
Studio owners have spent the last decade being bombarded with digital emulations of classic hardware. Everything from analogue synthesizers to preamps, compressors and equalisers has been transmuted into a software plug-in, and now it’s the turn of the humble microphone. However, different manufacturers have different ideas about what a ‘modelling’ or ‘virtual’ microphone should do.
Some have focussed exclusively on capturing the frequency response and non-linear characteristics of classic microphones, basically by applying equalisation and saturation to the output of one microphone to make it sound more like another. This is the basis of both Antares’ Mic Modeler plug-in and of the Slate Digital Virtual Microphone System, and inasmuch as it works, it can only do so within certain parameters. For sound arriving on-axis in a typical close-miking scenario, the VMS in particular can be convincing; but it can’t capture differences between other microphones’ polar patterns, or the character of their off-axis pickup, or the way in which proximity effect behaves in a specific mic.
At the other end of the spectrum, you could also view the SoundField (and other A- or B-format mics), as well as more elaborate systems like the Trinnov SRP, as ‘virtual mics’. The aim of these systems is not to mimic the prized sound of some galactically expensive vintage vocal mic, but to allow microphone orientation, pickup pattern and so on to be modified without moving the mic itself. In other words, it’s not the tone of the microphone that is virtualised, but its polar pattern and directional qualities.
The Sphere L22 from Townsend Labs is an interesting hybrid between these two concepts of mic ‘modelling’. Like the Slate VMS, it is a bundle consisting of a microphone and a plug-in. However, whereas the mic supplied with the VMS has a single, cardioid-only large-diaphragm capsule, the Sphere mic contains back-to-back cardioid capsules with separate outputs. And although this arrangement doesn’t permit the virtualisation of direction that is achieved by the tetrahedral four-capsule array in the SoundField mic, it enables the accompanying Sphere plug-in to do much more than merely recreate the on-axis frequency response of other microphones.
There are two forms of fundamental or ‘first-order’ microphone. One senses air pressure, and is inherently omnidirectional; the other senses air velocity or ‘pressure gradient’, and has a native figure-8 polar pattern. Other polar patterns are, at least in theoretical terms, achieved by combining pressure and pressure-gradient measurements in different amounts. Combining them equally gives the pattern we call ‘cardioid’ (because it looks heart-shaped when plotted on a graph, though the Germans view it as being kidney-shaped!).
In practice, however,...
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