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BLUE Microphones

Every Sunday, Skipper Wise phones one of the retailers that carries microphones made by BLUE (acronymic for Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics), a company he cofounded in the early ’90s with engineer Martins Saulespurens. Wise asks the retailer for names and telephone numbers of people who have recently bought BLUE mikes. Next he’s on the phone with a surprised somebody asking, “How’s it going with the microphone?” That’s super-earnest quality control. (Imagine having received a call from an On the Corner-era Miles Davis, and being asked “Do you like it funky, motherfucker?”)

These colorful mini-machines look like props from a would-be Tim Burton flick chronicling the demented whimsy of a fictionalized Phil Spector, and each mike in BLUE’s catalog has the power to inspire a musician on sight alone-especially if it’s a hopelessly romantic scat-singer who longs for the Art Deco era. After a month of recording with four of BLUE’s phantom-powered condenser mikes-the Baby Bottle, Blueberry, Dragonfly and Mouse-I’ve come to realize that it’s recording engineers and, perhaps without knowing it, audiophile music listeners who will find an even more profound personal connection with BLUE microphones.

Of the four, only the Baby Bottle’s frequency response graph doesn’t resemble the mountains of a Frederic Remington horizon. The peaks and dives are strategically placed to bring out key frequencies as well as curb the presence of unwanted ones such as subsonic bass or piercing high-mids. This fine-tuning of response decreases the need for further EQ at the mixing board, a common practice that has long allowed engineers to create the “pockets” in the soundstage wherein each instrument sits. At times, as I experienced when recording male vocals with both the Mouse and Dragonfly, a BLUE mike can even render EQ unnecessary. Sure, achieving such a feat also involves proper microphone placement, the room, the preamp, etc., but a mike that’s already tuned in this way makes it much easier. And when recording jazz, a little-to-no-EQ situation is invaluable. Subtracting or adding gain from frequencies distorts the reality of what actually happened in the session, thus pushing the listener yet another step away from the actual performance.

Outfitting a studio with a collection of BLUE microphones would be costly-these four mikes range from $650 list for the Baby Bottle to $1,700 for the Mouse-but what you get is sound that rivals that of vintage tube mikes.

The small-diaphragm Baby Bottle was the first to impress me due to the way it captures the sound of midrangy instruments like saxophones, strings, congas and trumpets. It tracks with a smooth and slightly compressed tone and centers the sound in the mix by rolling off boom and shrill highs.

Although the human voice lives in the midrange, I wouldn’t use the Baby Bottle on a jazz vocalist; instead I’d pay twice the cash and secure a Blueberry. The Blueberry’s response features the mids around 2 kH and gives a vocal track punchy definition. The real draw, however, is the Blueberry’s healthy boost at the top end, peaking around 15 kH, which accentuates the breathiness of a voice wonderfully. Anything that needs to sound bright and sparkling-for example, clean electric or acoustic guitar, or cymbals-will benefit from the Blueberry. Save for a nice, nonrumbling tone I got from the Blueberry when miking an acoustic piano, I didn’t have much luck with it for getting great low end.

The Mouse is better suited for lows: kick drum, bass and voices that already have some meat on them. It’s the most expensive but also the most versatile microphone of this lot; you can put it in front of near any source and get a rich, even sound.

My favorite of the four, however, is the Dragonfly-it exhibited the most personality. It has a peak at 100 Hz that adds warmth and calls to mind old-time radio. In a way it antiquates the sound and if used properly can lace a saxophone track with a mysterious tone, or help an amped jazz-guitar track retain its mellowness.

Glancing at the pictures on this page, it’s easy to tell that BLUE is a unique microphone company, but what’s more, the mikes sound better than they look. It’s doubtful Skipper Wise has ever encountered a dissatisfied customer on the other end of his phone.

Originally Published