Studio Projects TB1 Tube Microphone
I’m happy to be writing about this mic. You might recall that in the recent blind mic shootout Don Boomer and I did, most of us picked the Studio Projects C1 as our
favorite on three out of four voices, and also as a snare mic over seven
others. Given the prestigious mics the C1 was up against, I felt a
little guilty, as if we had gotten it ‘wrong.’ But in reality, all that
was wrong was that I had placed too much faith on hallowed reputations
and marketing hype. A mic that sounds good on your voice is just
that—regardless of the cost at retail.
PMI Audio Group (designer and distributor of Studio Projects microphones
and preamps) sent me three more mics, all from the company's new B
series, to review. Sadly, two out of three got lost in UPS! Only the TB1
made it. I was initially disappointed, as I wasn’t really interested in
checking out a tube mic with a separate power supply, even one that
only costs $299 on the street. But fair is fair, so I set out to get
comfortable with this piece of gear. And it’s a good thing—I basically
loved it right away, with a few slight reservations.
The B-series mics from SP seems to be their new "budget" line.
Interesting that a company that is already perceived by a lot of us as
providing impressive bang for the buck would bother to dip down into
this price point--the cheapest B series mic is a knockoff of the C1 and
it runs about $79, competing with the least-expensive large diaphragm
mics I’ve seen. Of the three Bs available, the TB1 is the most
expensive—it's sort of a less-expensive version of Studio Projects' $699
T3, and it has dual-triode hand-tested tubes and a multi-pattern
variable power supply and a faux-anvil "road case" just like the one the
C1 comes in. [an error occurred while processing this directive] It's a
large-diaphragm cardiod mic, with (and I quote from their literature)
"a 3 um dual capsule for thick warm natural reproduction of the vocal
range." Let me continue with more from the “instruction manual” that
accompanied it: sensitivity is rated 25V/Pa (-32db re Odb=1V/Pa); Max
output is 500V rms @1000Hz, <1% THD; Noise level is 16 dB-A; S/N
ratio is 78 dB. Do I personally care about most of these specs? Not
really. If you care about them, please feel free to compare, evaluate
and discuss them in your mic reviews. Just to make it perfectly clear, I
only care about how it sounds, but I fully accept that my philosophy is
not always the most satisfying to other buyers, thus the inclusion of
specs in this review.
The TB1 comes with an almost petite-looking mic clip that I thought was
going to be a joke, but it turned out to fit like a glove, causing me no
real concern that the heavy mic would slip out and crash to the floor.
Still, I think the mic is a little too heavy for this clip—I tried to do
some tricky positioning at one point and the clip kept rotating until I
tricked gravity by manipulating the stand.
But in talking with Alan Hyatt of PMI, he showed me how to tighten a
hidden screw on the clip which should make it stay in place. He also
mentioned that there will soon be a special shock mount holder for the
TB1, though I don't know if it will be included in the purchase price.
The mic comes with a special 5-pin mic cable to hook into the power
supply. This cable was a bit of a pain—the pins were tiny and thin, and
it didn't take much effort to bend them trying to insert the cable into
the supply initially. I eventually got it in, but it started off as a
The mic sat untouched in my studio for over a week, not only because I
was waiting for the other two to find their way (they never did), but
also because I was kind of nervous—this time, I wouldn't be doing a
blind comparison like the last time, but instead focusing on a single
mic. I'd prefer to evaluate without knowing what I'm hearing, because I
think the knowledge of the brand and model can influence me too much.
But hey—I had to get on with it so I could send it back...at least that
was my plan! I sat down to test it in use as I might if I’d owned
it, recording some vocal/piano demos of songs for the new Michelle Abby
project. I already had my main piano mics set up—two AKG 414s running
through Studio Projects VTB-1 microphone preamps with the tube set at
about 9 o'clock. I pulled the TB1 out of its case, plugged in the power
supply, let it warm up for a couple of hours while we went to see One Hour Photo (which has a mostly outstanding film score, by the way), then positioned the mic so I could sing and play at the same time.
You can easily imagine where the mic was sitting, right? In front of my
mouth while I was sitting at the piano. The lid of the piano was open to
the smallest degree. There was some piano bleed into the vocal mic, but
these were rough demos, so it didn't bother me. However, after doing
one song this way, I decided to overdub my vocals so I could isolate the
mic on my voice (and later on acoustic guitar).
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I have to say that my first impression was very positive. My wife Glenda
thought my voice sounded great through it, and so did I. I don't hear
anything I'd consider to be "tube coloring" per se, but once I compared
it to my 414s, the differences became more apparent. I can say with
confidence that just going through the pres on my Roland VS2480 24-track
digital recorder, the TB-1 sounded far more pleasing to me than the
414s used to on my voice—I always felt like the AKGs were missing a
little something, though I definitely could work with them. The TB1
exhibited a kind of silkiness that smoothed out some of the rough edges
of my voice—it got better and better the more I experimented. I brought
Glenda back in to sing a little and though she sounded perfect to me
through the C1, I would have picked the TB1 in a comparative shootout.
Her voice is already silky smooth, and this mic just took it to the next
It might have been something I ate, but the TB1 seemed extra susceptible
to popping so it's kind of a drag that SP doesn't include a windscreen.
I remember thinking that I’d definitely use the windscreen that came
with my C1 when I wanted to use it to close-mic vocals.
On my steel string Gibson acoustic guitar, the mic sounded—well, OK, but
not all that great. It isn't that it wasn't realistic—it was. But there
seemed to be some added low-end boxiness that I had to EQ out. This is
by no means conclusive, as I barely spent any time positioning the mic.
It was still an authentic sound, but not what I was looking for.
My final test was to set the TB1 up right next to my C1, which I have
running through a VTB1 preamp. They both sounded great, but the creamy
quality of the TB1 was awfully nice, especially on louder passages. I
don't have the AT4047 anymore—I only had it for my first shootout—but
I'd say it would sit right in the middle of these two other mics in
terms of brightness and clarity. The C1 has its famous little bump
around 4 kHz (from what I'm told), and the 4047 seem to have some of
that but not as much. The TB1 is not a dull mic at all, but it’s also
not bright like the C1. I'd say if you had any two of these mics, you
probably wouldn’t need the last one, as they all cover at least some of
the same ground.
I have NO idea how the TB1 holds up to other $299 mics, but if they are
all this good, then the world is an even cooler place than I realized. I
wasn't prepared to like this mic—I wasn't looking forward to the hassle
of having an external power supply, I didn't really like the cable, the
clip is a little snarky and it looks an awful lot like my C1, so I'll
probably have to think twice to tell which is which. But it won me over
immediately and just kept growing on me till I bought one for myself. It
also sounds great on my tom toms, though it picks up an awful lot of
cymbal and snare as well. Too bad I don’t like gating my kit—it’s a
smaller jazz kit that rings forever. Anyway, thumbs up for this mic. If
you’re looking for a bit of sonic cream to smooth out even loud vocals,
check it out.
Doug Robinson is a jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist. He
has just completed writing and recording his first feature filmscore.
Check out his new album, "Let Freedom Swing," at www.dougrobinson.com.