Studio sound and road ruggedness go hand-in-hand
Blue microphones have a stellar reputation in the recording studio thanks to their impressive ability to capture a wide array of sounds and their distinctive—and sometimes lovably quirky—looks. Over the last few years, Blue has also jumped into the consumer/computer market with products like the Snowball and Snowflake. The live stage was the last unconquered territory—until now.
Like their studio brethren, Blue’s enCORE Series of hand–held mics stand out from the crowd both visually and sonically. There are three new models: the dynamic enCORE 100 and 200 (a dynamic with an interesting twist) and the condenser enCORE 300. We tested the enCORE 100 and 200 both onstage and in the studio.
Calling the enCORE mics "ruggedly constructed" is like saying a race–bred Porsche 911 GT3 RS is a "sporty" car. Understatement. The first thing you notice when pulling each mic out of the box is its weight; not uncomfortably heavy, but clearly more solid than other high–quality hand–held dynamics. The body feels great in the hand, as well. The ridged slip–resistant texture helps prevent drops, even when you’re working up a vigorous sweat onstage.
The grille is also rugged—something I discovered in the field when the mic stand got knocked over (oh, those blues bar gigs!) and the grille suffered nary a dent. A thick ring in the middle of the grille adds strength without interfering with the sound. Visually, the grille of each mic makes a statement: The enCORE 100’s silver and the enCORE 200’s rose gold–look pop against the smoke–gray finish on the heavy–gauge barrel.
The extensive shock absorption provided by Blue’s proprietary capsule mounting system inside the mic prevents handling noise very effectively—without the use of electronic filters. In fact, if you need to record a singer who insists on using a hand–held in the studio, the enCOREs are just the ticket.
Both the enCORE 100 and enCORE 200 are equipped with Blue’s proprietary dynamic capsule, which is specially tuned for modern audio systems. Compared to a typical dynamic element, the enCORE offers crisper highs and upper mids, which makes vocals articulate without sounding shrill.
The capsule’s cardioid pickup pattern gives good isolation and feedback rejection in real–world conditions. Both mics offer a nice proximity effect; getting close adds low end but doesn’t make either enCORE sound dull or overly boomy.
Remember the enCORE 200’s interesting twist mentioned earlier? It’s Blue’s proprietary Active Dynamic Circuit—a phantom–powered circuit board inside the microphone that comes after the dynamic capsule. This circuit boosts and electronically transforms the output to deliver a hotter signal and more refined sound. It also allows the mic to send a more consistent signal over long cables—and to better match up with the inputs on the various house mixers encountered by working performers. There’s a slick LED to show you and the house engineer when phantom power is active.
I tested the enCORE microphones onstage in two dramatically different settings: during a solo acoustic guitar/vocal performance in a room that tends to make vocals sound muddy; and at a long gig in the aforementioned blues bar, which was both cramped and crowded.
At the acoustic show, I was immediately impressed with the way the enCOREs gave my voice more articulation without forcing me to use the graphic EQ on my all–in–one acoustic guitar/vocal amp. Flattening the amp EQ’s somewhat papery upper midrange not only reduced the potential for feedback on the vocal mic, it also helped the guitar’s tone. (Previously, I’d been fighting the amp to get decent vocal sound while preserving the guitar’s warmth.) The mics also did well handling the widely varying dynamics required by the material. It was easy to get a feel for how to work the enCOREs to get the desired tone and balance between voice and guitar.
The blues gig was a more strenuous test because the conditions at the bar—which has no stage—offered potential for all kinds of mayhem. The only place to put the PA speakers was on a back wall that bounced the sound toward the mics; the vocals had to fight through electric guitar and blues harmonica going through overdriven amps; the band was crammed together; and the PA, well, I think "sucked" is the technical term for its performance. Yet it was easy to position the enCOREs to reject feedback (not the case with another mic we tried at the same gig). More important: the sound was crisp and clear for both the band and the crowd (I asked). To me, if the enCOREs performed well at that roadhouse, they’ll handle anything.
In the studio
I followed up the live tests with a studio session to better hear and compare the mics. I held both during the studio tests, and was amazed by how little my movement affected the sound.
The enCORE 100 offered plenty of detail but also had a lot of warmth. The enCORE 200 was just a little hotter and just a little more present, but it didn’t sound hyped or processed. Blue really got the Active Dynamic Circuit right. (As mentioned earlier, I switched phantom power off during the enCORE 200 test; the mic worked, but without the added coloration of the active circuit.) I wouldn’t hesitate to use either one on a featured vocal track or—thanks to their ability to handle high SPLs—on guitar amps, horns, or drums.
Blue ribbon prize
Both enCOREs performed impressively in real-world conditions, and delivered the sound you’d expect from mics costing much more. (After the review period, we received the newest enCORE, the 300, which exhibits the same great sound, rugged construction, and good feel.) These tough hand–helds are true Blue road warriors.
Features & Specs:
- Transducer: Dynamic moving coil
- Polar pattern: Cardioid
- Frequency response: 50Hz–15kHz (enCORE 100); 50Hz–16kHz (enCORE 200)
- Maximum SPL: 147dB
- Output impedance: 25 ohms
- Sensitivity: 1.55 mV/Pa (enCORE 100); 2.25 mV/Pa (enCORE 200)
- Length: 7.3"/185mm
- Diameter: 1.10" (1.97" max)/28mm (50mm max)
- Weight: 0.88 lb./0.4kg
For situations where you need a versatile mic that captures the best of both dynamic and condenser qualities, check out the enCORE 100 and 200 series. They sound outstanding and have a great look and feel.