C1 Solid-State Condenser Microphone
by JD Mars

It was due to a hot tip from an excited cohort at this year's winter NAMM show that I heard about the Studio Projects line of microphones. PMI Audio, distributors of JoeMeek and Trident-MTA products, was showing in the "other" hall, down the escalator, all the way on the other side of the convention, over the river, and through the woods.

The C1 is a cardioid-only, large diaphagm mic, and one of three Studio Projects microphones available through PMI. Also shown was the C3, identical in nature but with three selectable polar patterns (its specs vary ever-so-slightly), and the T3, which is a dual triode tube version of the C3 with variable polar paterns via its included power supply. Not only was I initially wowed by the responsiveness, sensitivity, and robust quality and construction of these mics, but the prices threw me into a Tazman-like tailspin. The C1 retails for $300, the C3 for $600, and the T3 for $1,000. I talked PMI Audio into letting me review one of their C1s.

Martin Mull coined a phrase that has become rather well known—"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Sometimes I feel that writing about audio gear is like dancing about audio gear. Words can be interpreted, but we do the best we can. Enough about me, let's examine the Studio Projects background.

Studio Projects was conceived to offer German-type engineering at a reasonable price, and by partnering with 797 Audio in Beijing China, they have achieved their goal. 797 Audio has been making microphones for 50 years, some of them for German companies. The 797 Audio logo also appears on the Studio Projects mics.

The C1 is a transformerless mic with FET impedance converters, touting good common mode rejection and RF interference prevention. The capacitor element is of the 'center electrode' design, providing an even frequency response over 20Hz to 20kHz. Dynamic feedback at the capacitor element is a technique which eliminates distortion at high sound pressure levels. The capacitor membrane is 6 micron mylar, gold-sputtered, with its voltage polarized by the application of phantom power.

At the NAMM show, I was able to A/B the mic with a Neumann U-87, and though the show itself was noisy, I found the C1's self-noise to be slightly lower than that of the U-87. In my first tests, I set up an AKG 414, an Audio Technica 4050, and the Studio Projects C1. Using vocal improvisation as opposed to a steady test tone, the C1 output was 6 to 10dB hotter than either the AKG or the Audio Technica. I've worked with the 414 extensively (vocals, drums, trumpet, you name it), and have done several weeks of recording vocals with the Audio Technica. Aside from the added output (I attenuated the C1 appropriately to compare), the C1 gave me a warmth, a clarity, a sheen in the upper mids and highs, yea, a presence that I did not experience with the other two mics. Excuse me, I have to go dance a tango now.

Speaking of presence, my experience with a Neumann U-87 was somewhat different than that of the C1. The Neumann has a quality that I want to compare to a telephoto lens. Everything in its field is more reachable, seems closer. There's a certain presence that a Neumann mic posesses.

To test this further, I contacted Hook Studios in North Hollywood. Hook advertises an array of vintage mics, including a stock U-87 and a Klaus Heyne-modified U-87. I asked them if they were interested in a shootout, and studio owner Mike Frenchik graciously complied.

Staff engineer Toshi Kasai set us up with the Studio Projects C1, and AKG 414-EB (silver body), a stock U-87, the Klaus Heyne U-87, and a U-67. The comparison to the EB 414 was similar to the previous 414, with about 10dB greater output on the C1. The 414 is a clean, precise mic, with little coloration. For certain vocals and instruments, that comes across as lackluster. Sometimes that's not what you want.

Believe it or not, the Studio Projects held up against the Klaus Heyne modified mic. There's a definition in the high-end that the Klaus Heyne mods are noted for, and the Studio Projects mic did not posess this definition. However, there's a presence and robustness in the mids that this U-87 had, that was closer in quality to the Studio Projects mic than the stock U-87. I could dance on and on about audio gear, but instead, I'll post the recordings we did of each of the mics. Click for short uncompressed clips recorded with each mic. These are finger-picked acoustic guitar clips at 44.1kHz/16-bit, courtesy of Toshi Kasai.

Ultimately, each of the Neumanns had a signature sound, as did the Studio Projects C1. Not even taking the price of the C1 into consideration, this mic stood up to some rather hefty opponents, and emerged as a contender. For any studio that runs out of mics quickly, or just doesn't want to bust out the name brand mics for a generic session, it would serve them to have a pair of these around.

Hook Studio's analog control room

For any studio that needs an array of mics, or even just one good vocal mic, this is an excellent sounding piece of equipment. Sturdy in its construction, you just cannot beat the Studio Projects C1 for the money. Find out more about the C1, C3, and T3 microphones at www.pmiaudio.com.

I want to give a shout out to The Hook Sound Studios in North Hollywood, CA. Hook sports a great-sounding analog room with a vintage Neve 8068, and a tasty array of microphones (which may include a couple of C1s in the near future). They also have a digital room with a Neve Logic 3. Recent projects include the Tool, Sugar Bomb w/ Mark Endert producing, Dan Hicks w/ Ricky Lee Jones and Bette Midler, and Aimmee Mann's Bachelor #2 CD