Pearl ELM-C Review

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 | by

In mid-December I was fortunate to receive a package from Pearl Microphone Laboratory via their US distributor, Independent Audio. Inside? A pair of Pearl ELM-Cs! While a pair of large diaphragm condenser microphones arriving at my door is always exciting, their delivery was especially timely because not a week later, I had scheduled a major on-location orchestral recording, and the ELM-Cs were an ideal choice for my central pair.

First, just the slightest bit of background on these especially unique microphones. The Pearl Microphone Laboratory ELM-CPearl Microphone Laboratory ELM-C is a side-address FET condenser microphone based on PML’s unique rectangular-diaphragm capsule, which measures 75mm x 15mm and has a diaphragm whose length-to-width ratio is 7:1. Most impressively, the mic’s self-noise is rated at 10dBA.

However, one of the most interesting claims PML makes is that the directivity of their rectangular capsules is directly related to its size, which can be used to easily isolate sources by picking up less audio on one axis than the other. I point this out because of all the stellar attributes the ELM-C brings to the table, this was the last I had set out to test but one which would prove invaluable.

ELM-C BoxesWhen dropping a significant amount of coin on a pair of mics (just under $4,000 street), one expects to be greeted with a package worthy of their price and the ELM-Cs certainly don’t disappoint. The two sequentially-numbered microphones I received were both packed in solid wood boxes, and included “type 1930” shockmounts and individual frequency plots. The microphone itself is phenomenally sturdy and weighs every bit of its 10.6 ounces, causing me to break out my very sturdy AEA SMP-17 stereo bar.

During the dress rehearsal, I had an opportunity to hang a pair of Schoeps MK4s [Ed. note: the MK4 is a popular Cardioid capsule from Schoeps’ “Colette” series; it fits the CMC-5 and CMC-6 analog head amplifiers.] in a nearly identical ORTF configuration for comparison, though my tracking rig was still being setup at the time and they were able to be used only for comparison and were not recorded. The ELM-Cs compared quite favorably, providing an even and very true response. The Schoeps were slightly more detailed above 10kHz due to the ELM-C’s slight roll-off, however I preferred the ELM-Cs in this application given the high SPL content at high frequencies, especially given the close proximity of my central hang (more on this later), as this made for an overall smoother orchestral recording. The MK4s were slightly warmer overall, however I greatly enjoyed the transparency and detail provided by the ELM-C’s, and was particularly surprised at the size of the image they created.

Interestingly, upon receiving word of the ELM-Cs impending arrival, I took a glance around the web and spoke to several individuals familiar with the mics to get a feel of other engineers’ perceptions. The most common comment was that these microphones are difficult to place. Frankly, after my success with these microphones, I cry foul. The complaints are most likely due to the unusual directivity of the ELM-Cs rectangular capsules; however, when proper care is taken to align the microphones correctly, only the most minor of adjustments were necessary to achieve the desired sound.

Christmas concert; Photo Copyright 2011 Terry Barnhill of Mitchell's StudioI’d mentioned this directivity impressed me, and for that there’s a very good reason. While the concert I recorded was full orchestra, the second half was a variety show that included a vocal soloist and guitarist which were amplified. This wouldn’t have affected my central pair horribly were it not for the two wedge monitors, sitting almost directly beneath the microphones, which were afflicted with a terrible buzz from a faulty DSP card. If you’re thinking “worst possible mic testing conditions ever,” then you’ve read my mind in that moment perfectly. However, after tweaking floor monitor and mic positioning ever so slightly so that the monitors were in the nulls of the ELM-Cs, the DSP buzz was undetectable even in dead silence.

So, how did they sound? As this was an orchestral recording, the ELM-Cs were obviously mixed with outriggers and spot mics. However, for comparison, first is a passage from “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” recorded with strictly the ELM-Cs, followed by the complete mix of all microphones. Obviously, I feel the complete mix is more rounded, however the sound of the ELM-Cs alone is remarkably transparent and provides a fabulous core to the mix.


After spending some time with them, I truly believe that they are phenomenal microphones. They handled delicate passages of pizzicato strings as skillfully as they handled sustained passages at high SPLs without coloration. They also handled both full orchestra and a mixed ensemble including chorus and solo instruments easily, while maintaining a particularly musical blend. Unfortunately, I only had an opportunity to test these mics on orchestra, however I have every confidence that they would handle small vocal ensembles, piano, brass, or strings with absolute ease. They have unique directional and sonic characteristics that certainly place them in a league of their own, particularly when considering large diaphragm condensers as central orchestral pairs. For now, the ELM-Cs are safely back with Independent Audio; however, they’ve also garnered a top spot on my wish list.

Posted in Live Sound, Microphones | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Pearl ELM-C Review”

  1. ricardo

    February 18th, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Rather bass shy and shrill

    The MK4s are already too bass shy for main stereo mikes in a large venue so if these are light compared to the Schoeps, they will sound very thin. The example bears this out.

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