Universal Audio are bringing their cutting‑edge mic modelling technology to new markets with the more affordable Sphere LX.
The price of vintage gear continues its upward trajectory, even in these uncertain times. Luckily, so does our ability to recreate that gear digitally. If you want the sound of legendary studio mics without the price tag, there are now three very tempting options.
Slate Digital were first to market, and their Virtual Microphone System has been continuously developed since its launch. It now offers several expansion packs, as well as modelling the sound of two classic mic preamps. Antelope Audio’s range, meanwhile, is notable for offering a number of different source microphones to choose from, including the only stereo and USB modelling mics I know of. The algorithms can also be run on Antelope’s Synergy Core interfaces, allowing the modelled sound to be monitored in real time at very low latency.
Finally, there’s the Sphere system developed by Townsend Labs, which I reviewed in SOS November 2017. From launch, this also offered the option of real‑time low‑latency monitoring, thanks to a tie‑up with Universal Audio. UA went on to buy Townsend Labs, and we’re now seeing the first UA‑branded Sphere microphones.
The plural there is important, because unlike Antelope, Townsend Labs only offered a single source microphone. This was called the L22, and like some of the Antelope Edge mics, it used a Y cable to deliver the outputs from the front and back of the capsule to separate inputs on your audio interface. Recording with it required precisely matching the gain across two preamp channels, but once you’d done this, you were rewarded with features that went way beyond simply mimicking the on‑axis frequency response of a target microphone. The Sphere L22 system could also model the off‑axis response, polar pattern, proximity effect behaviour and much more.
The down side of this was that the Sphere L22 was more expensive than its competitors, and that’s something UA have sought to address in their refreshed Sphere offering. Consequently, there are now two Sphere mics.
Cosmetics aside, the Sphere DLX is identical to the original L22, meaning that it offers state‑of‑the‑art noise performance and front‑to‑back matching. Its new baby brother, the Sphere LX, is both more affordable and smaller, though very similar in overall appearance. It lacks the DLX’s pad switch, but still presents the front and back outputs separately, allowing the multi‑pattern characteristics of target mics to be modelled. However, it has a marginally less impressive self‑noise figure of 10dBA to the DLX’s 7dBA, and front‑to‑back matching is less tight, meaning that the stereo mode of the L22 and DLX is not officially supported (but still works).
As usual with UA, the packaging is extremely smart, and both mics are supplied in tough padded cases. That of the DLX is much larger than that of the LX, which is less to do with the relative size of the two mics, and more down to the fact that the DLX comes with both a shockmount and a standmount, whereas the LX includes only the latter. Whilst I understand the need to preserve a differential between the two products, this does seem a tiny bit stingy, given that much more affordable mics like the Rode NT1 and Lauten Audio LA‑220 come...
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